Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XIV.

While Dr. Dick had been professor, the Chair of Systematic Theology at the United Secession Hall had been the most important, simply because of Dr. Dick. With the reorganisation that followed his death, all four chairs were on a level. Each professor was equal to the others, there was no principal or president of the Hall.

The new professors were all older men, Dr. Balmer was forty-six, Dr. Brown fifty, and Dr. Duncan was fifty-six. While some thought that professors ought to be younger, the Synod had in fact acted wisely. Older men tend to be more stable and less easily drawn aside by the allure of novelty. Thus older professors act as an anchor to keep their students from wandering too far from the old landmarks. Secondly, in maintaining the old tradition of the professors being pastors at the same time, the Synod ensured that they were not mere ivory-tower academics, separated from the congregational life of the church and the realities of the ministry. This also tends to act as a check on foolish speculations, as it keeps the mind on the practical aspects of Christianity. Of course, there is no easy way to keep some men from embracing heresy, but by the time a man is fifty, the direction of his thinking ought to be obvious. A man who is an orthodox Calvinist at forty-six will probably still be one at sixty, but a man who is an orthodox Calvinist at thirty may be an Arminian by the time he is sixty.

The question of location was solved by the Synod dividing the class in two, with the junior class consisting of students in the first two years, and the senior of students in the last three years of their course. The Senior class, taught by Dr. Balmer and Dr. Duncan, was to meet in Edinburgh for the convenience of Dr. Balmer, who had to travel from Berwick-upon-Tweed, while the Junior class met alternately in Glasgow and Edinburgh, again because of the professors. Whilst this was an understandable system, it meant that the 'Hall' did not in fact have one location, and therefore that the hall library was not equally accessible to all the students whilst the Hall was in session.

Every theological institution has a top capacity of students, and even with four professors, the United Secession Hall struggled with an increasing intake of students. For one thing, there were fears that there would not be enough churches for them, even if some went to the colonies. As it turned out, however, the intake stabilised at an acceptable figure of twenty-five or so new students every year.

Dr. John Brown, Professor of Exegetical theology, was undoubtedly the Hall's best known professor in this period. AS we have previously written about him on Free St. George's, we direct the readers there for further information on this notable man. Dr. Brown taught exegesis as it ought to be taught- by example. He worked through books of the Bible. The final results of these lectures may be found in all good Christian bookshops today. Simply put, Dr. John Brown was probably the greatest exegetical theologian of his day. Thus he taught his students how to interpret the Bible by means of the Bible. This is the first rule of good preaching, that it has to be founded on the exegesis of the text itself. Thus, by providing a Chair of Exegetical Theology, the United Secession Hall gave students exactly the foundation that they needed to be accurate and Biblical preachers.

Next time, God willing, we shall continue this series.



Post a Comment

<< Home