Coming Around the Table To Explore Our Reformed Identity
Published by Calvin Seminary
Calvin Theological Seminary recently hosted two roundtables to discuss the Reformed tradition and how it shapes life and learning at the seminary. The following excerpt is adapted from these discussions between seminary scholars. To view the roundtable discussions in their entirety, view on YouTube.
Adjunct Professor of the History of Christianity:
Let’s start by talking about in what ways the Reformed teaching of our various subject areas is distinctive and valuable at Calvin Theological Seminary.
Adjunct Professor of New Testament:
What I have enjoyed about the Reformed tradition is that we say clearly and absolutely that the Bible is central to everything we say theologically. So when you think about the great traditions that have come to us over the last 2,000 years—the great confessions, the creeds that we all celebrate today—the Bible is the principal conversation partner in all that is said to us inside of the creeds.
Professor of Systematic Theology:
We are part of a long tradition. It goes way back to the early church. Calvin and the other reformers didn’t think that they were inventing something new. They thought they were recovering something that was very old, that had been lost and needed to be restored.
And we’re in that process of trying to continue that work. I think it’s important that at Calvin Seminary we interact with Christians from other traditions and with writings from other traditions to see what we can learn from them.
We are part of that broader Christian catholic church that also includes an international community. We have an international community here, but we also want to see ourselves as part of a whole international community of Christians around the world. Not just one narrow little slice of Christianity, but part of this broader, important Christian tradition.
So that leads us to another question: We identify ourselves as a Reformed seminary. What does it mean to take that Reformed identity seriously here at Calvin Seminary?
President, Calvin Theological Seminary:
Our leadership takes place, especially in a Reformed context, in a community of faith. You’re not an individual leading a group. You’re actually joining a group, a covenant community, and helping them learn, question, and discern together where God is leading you in ministry.
We’re not separate from that kind of catholic view of the church, but we also want to say directly that we take sin seriously in our tradition. We also take grace very seriously. We identify the fact that as you come to know Jesus, as you come to know what it means to give of your whole life, we’re actually saying to people: this isn’t just about believing in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, but also in terms of Redeemer for your life, and one who is the king of this world.
Professor of New Testament:
In the area of New Testament I think I have to concede, and it’s an important concession, that much of our Reformed hermeneutic we share with many other Christians, so that picks up the catholicity aspect of our faith. And so we emphasize here the languages, as many traditions do, and appropriately so. As someone once said, every translation involves interpretation.
We try to equip future leaders to be able to have tools that handle the text in the original languages. The historic element is really important. You know, revelation happens in history and real situations in time. And so we try to equip students with knowing more about the history and the personalities and the specific churches that are being addressed.
A more recent phenomenon is literary—in other words, an appreciation for the form and structure and how that’s important for communicating information. You take seriously, is this a letter, and how do we interpret a letter as a letter? And what about apocalyptic writings—what things do we need to know about that in terms of properly interpreting it?
But the area maybe where the Reformed faith comes more to the fore has to deal in what we sometimes call the more theological approach. And one of those theological themes [is] the paradigm of creation, fall, redemption, consummation. So that’s an important Reformed distinctive to emphasize in our teaching.
Another one would be the lordship of Jesus Christ over every aspect of life. There are some Christian traditions which maybe give the evil one too much power, and there’s a sense that we Christians are weak and vulnerable. The Reformed faith has taken seriously the final words of Jesus: that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, talks about how God has raised Christ above every principality and power in a position of supreme authority. And so that is an important theme for us as Christians because that gives us the authority to speak and to evangelize and to proclaim God’s kingdom here on earth.
So on one hand in our biblical teachings, we share a lot with other Christians. That’s the catholicity aspect, but there are a number of distinctive Reformed emphases, which we also try to highlight in our courses.
Professor of Old Testament:
I think one of the precious motifs of Reformed theology is the concept of covenant. As far as Old Testament goals, we really take the Old Testament seriously as the Word of God, and we want to make sure we listen to God carefully through this revelation in the Old Testament and then also connected with the rest of Scripture, the New Testament, as well.
And we also try to not lose the forest for the trees, so to speak. We want students to have a good idea of, what is the Old Testament and what message does it bring to the church today in terms of witnessing to the triune God’s mission in the world? We want students to be able to parse that theological part of Scripture really well, too.
It’s very important to talk about Reformed identity and what that might mean at the seminary. And sometimes it can come down to certain words, but these words carry weight. So if you think of the paradigm of creation, fall, redemption, consummation, it seems like, well, that’s a list of words.
But each one of them carries a lot of weight for our teaching. So, the Reformed emphasis on creation says that God created the world good, right? And that has implications for our own lives as human beings, but also for our care of the natural world. And also at consummation, the idea that God will restore what He originally made good.
So we’re not sort of disembodied souls floating around. There are these really important concepts that shape what it is to be Reformed, and those hopefully are integrated in each of our classes, regardless of our disciplines.
Professor of the History of Christianity and Reformed Theology:
Now, redemption is at the center, and Christ’s redemption is so powerful that it encompasses the whole creation. Now, within the redemption that Christ has given us, we are not afraid to take the step.
We are not afraid to wrestle with difficult issues. We are not afraid to try to find the answers in conversation with the sciences, with other areas of studies.
May I bring in the question of evolution, for instance. We are not looking at it as a taboo or something not to be discussed, but we are willing to study to learn and to try to find the answers together with scientists or other experts. That’s one of the emphases of what it means to be Reformed that really enriches us. When I was a student at Calvin Seminary, that already opened my mind, and that has helped me to open more doors in my studies.
We are all on a journey, both the faculty and the students. As faculty, I never promise my students I know all the answers. But we learn together. I also tell my students, I personally am never “there.” I have never arrived, but I keep continuing my journey and asking the questions, and asking the questions together.
Karin Maag: Always reforming, right?
Yudha Thianto: Yes!
Karin Maag: Our students come in also with knowledge that we need, particularly as our student body becomes more international, more diverse. There are stories and experiences that really will help us as a community as well.
Dean of Students:
One of the blessings of Calvin Seminary is having students who come from all around the world—to be able to sit in a classroom or sit over coffee in the student center and talk with a student who’s been planting churches in Kenya or who has been active in ministries in Brazil, and to discover that God is at work in those other places. They’re bringing a story, they’re bringing knowledge and experience to the table, so that in the classroom and in these conversations, we are all sharing together.
God has been at work in our lives in our different contexts. And so that helps us to understand as we bring a biblical text, as we look at a theological concept, how does that relate in Brazil, or in Guatemala, or in Korea, or in Chicago? It helps us see God is at work in all these places, and we all bring part of the story to the table.
Professor of Worship:
One of the joys of being in seminary is being with students from so many different cultures, so many different kinds of congregations, and with people who aspire to serve in so many different ministry settings. [When] students leave Calvin Seminary, they will be leading in worship, preaching or helping shape worship behind the scenes even if they never appeared up front.
And that might be in a large church. It might be in a tiny house church, it might be in a summer camp. It might be in a dementia unit, a hospice unit, or in the military. They might be leading worship in a very formal context, or in a very informal context. They might lead worship in a place where a service should not go longer than an hour, and they might lead worship in a context where worship is almost always longer than three hours. And it’s a beautiful thing to learn to recognize the beauties and opportunity of those spaces, for all of us to understand and realize that throughout a life we ourselves will be in and are really called to be engaging with people in many contexts and cultural spots.
And so I always think when students enter seminary—coming with one powerful experience that may have brought them—to think of seminary as a great opportunity for cross-training and to gain expertise and experience in serving the kind of place they’re already familiar with. And then learning to love and embrace, be comfortable in, and recognize the unique opportunities in other contexts as well.
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