Southeastern Seminary (3): A Curriculum Marked by Five Core Competencies

[Note: This blogpost is the third installment in a five-part series which articulates and expounds Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s mission to be a Great Commission seminary.]

In light of their desire to facilitate a learning environment consistent with the seminary’s Great Commission vision, the Southeastern faculty and administration have identified five core competencies which undergird its curricula: spiritual formation, biblical exposition, theological integration, ministry preparation, and critical thinking and communication.

1. Spiritual Formation: Students are provided with the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue an authentically Christian way of life, manifested by trust in God, obedience to Christ’s commands, and love of God and neighbor. An Old Testament course, for example, teaches syntax and exegesis not as an end in itself, but as a means of increasing one’s affection for God, one’s desire to worship and obey him, and one’s determination to share the gospel with one’s neighbor. The proper end of any seminary course is not merely sciential (oriented to conceptual knowledge), but sapiential (oriented to wise living).

Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well [that] the maine end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternall life, Jn 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. –Founders of Harvard College (1643)

2. Biblical Exposition: Students are taught to interpret, apply, and communicate the Scriptures, and to do so appropriately and effectively. Each of the courses in the seminary’s curriculum is shaped in some manner by Christian Scripture, and therefore each course is a rich environment for biblical reflection. An evangelism course, for example, equips students to rightly interpret the biblical teaching concerning the gospel so that they can communicate it in personal conversations or public speaking opportunities.

But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they [the Fathers] have erred as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred. –Martin Luther

3. Theological Integration: Students learn to understand and apply the doctrines of Christianity to life and ministry. A seminary is by design an integrative institution. Reality is a coherent whole, so each discipline is integrally related to all others. Although a healthy approach to specialization can yield rich and deep insights within a particular field of study, unhealthy approaches tend to seal themselves off hermetically from other disciplines, thereby distorting and fragmenting a body of knowledge which should be unified and coherent. A seminary course in church planting, for example, might draw upon an exegesis of the book of Acts, a systematic treatment of the doctrine of the church, a historical overview of church planting methods, and an anthropological assessment of challenges for cross-cultural communicators.

Fields of study and areas of life that are frequently compartmentalized in people’s minds actually belong together, particularly in our use of the Bible. God created us to be whole people. We are meant to respond as whole people to the whole of God. Every aspect of our being—our minds, our emotions, our physical abilities, our digestion, our tears—has been created by God to play a role in our communion with him and our service to him. The Psalms are examples in words of what holistic response involves….Stretching our categories helps force us to think about integrating what we may have too neatly compartmentalized. –Vern Poythress

4. Ministry Preparation:  Students acquire knowledge, skills, and the disposition necessary for ministry and leadership in the church and world. Every course at the seminary—bar none—exists to prepare students to minister Christ’s gospel in this world. The seminary is not a research university or a think tank. It is a greenhouse for gospel ministers. A philosophy course, for example, introduces metaphysics or epistemology, but never as ends in themselves; it covers such topics in a manner such that they can be comprehended by the broad range of students at the seminary and can be utilized in Christian ministry.

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. –The Apostle Paul (2 Tim 3:14-17)

5. Critical Thinking and Communication: Students learn to think critically, argue persuasively, and communicate clearly. Every aspect of Christian life and ministry is the argument of a thesis: Jesus is Lord. Critical thinking and communication are vital to the life of the seminary. A New Testament course, for example, will necessarily recognize the centrality of logic to the entire endeavor of New Testament studies, as an interpreter must draw upon powers of valid induction and deduction moment-by-moment in order to exegete a biblical text.

Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly. –Ludwig Wittgenstein

There are two sorts of eloquence; the one indeed scarce deserves the name of it, which consists chiefly in labored and polished periods, an over-curious and artificial arrangement of words….The other sort of eloquence is quite the reverse to this, and which may be said to be the true characteristic of the holy Scriptures; where the eloquence does not arrive from a labored and farfetched elocution, but from a surprising mixture of simplicity and majesty. –Laurence Sterne

The faculty of Southeastern fosters these competencies across the curriculum, instilling them while cultivating a delight in God, his word, and his church. Because Southeastern seeks to be truly a “Great Commission Seminary” and envisions every classroom a “Great Commission Classroom,” each member of the faculty is committed to carrying out this mission.

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