Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - Conclusion.

The United Presbyterian Synod considered carefully the question of altering the way theological education was carried out in the Church. While the old system had produced some of the greatest theological minds of the nineteenth century, and the professors had more than proved the possibility of combining deep theological learning with a pastoral charge, the Synod felt that the Church's reputation would be raised still further by a full-tile theological college and faculty. It was decided to open, for the first time in the history of the body, a theological seminary like that already possessed by the Free Church of Scotland in New College. It was resolved that the old Hall should cease to exist at the end of the 1875 session, and that in November 1876 the new Seminary should open with a full staff of professors.

Of the existing faculty, two would never see the new system begin. In 1874 Dr. M'Michael died suddenly. He would be replaced before the opening of the new College. The other man to die before opening was Dr. John Eadie. The brilliant commentator died on 4th June 1876, again, quite unexpectedly. He was at the time of his death the greatest Biblical scholar in Scotland, a man who had entered into the depths of the Word of God. His Greek Text Commentaries and other writings have recently been reprinted by Solid Ground Christian Books, and will amply repay the reader. He combined this deep scholarship with a confessional orthodoxy even greater than that of Dr. John Brown of Broughton Place.

The opening of a theological seminary, as opposed to the old-style Hall, meant that three new Professors had to be elected. They were Mr. Paterson, Professor of Hebrew, Dr. Duff, Professor of Church History, and Dr. Ker, Professor of Pastoral Training. Dr. Harper was elected Principal of the new College.

The United Presbyterian College was moved to its permanent home in the Synod Hall (illustrated above in its later guise as a cinema), in 1877, where it remained until it was dissolved by the union of the United Presbyterian Church and the majority of the Free Church of Scotland to form the United Free Church of Scotland. While it was to boast such brilliant professors as Dr. James Orr, it never really attained to its promise. It was as if the separation of the professors from their pastorates, rather than setting them free, bound them to a more speculative scholarship.

We have said several times that there is no one 'right way' to give theological education. Some men -although they are the exception, not the rule - need little guidance, they learn easily, and all they need is a little advice on what to read. Others - and they are probably the majority - need some more formal education. We feel that the method pursued in the Secession Hall is at least as good as any, that learned men are enabled, whilst retaining their pastorates, to pass on their learning in an academic setting to ministerial students. This has method combines all the advantages of the academic seminary with those of the informal study. Let us not despise seminaries because some have become seed-beds of heresy rather than orthodoxy, but let us seek instead a seminary that keeps Professors and students close to the Church. This is the ideal, Scholarship and pastoral ministry combined, not separated. It is this separation of learning and the pastoral ministry that has given us on the one hand seminaries that overflow with heresy, and on the other ministers who have little learning, and who are as a result mere entertainers.



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