Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“Covenant Seminary: The new princeton”? (article: Salt, Covenant Theological Seminary student journal)

Official Student Journal
Covenant Theological Seminary
January/February 1973

A fictitious conversation took place over Christmas vacation between a senior at Covenant Seminary and a Covenant Seminary alumnus. The following is a rough causerie of that chat. First, the senior speaks:

STUDENT: One hears talk these days of a new wind blowing across Covenant Seminary. There are murmurings, encouraged by the student journal and the Student Council, that we at Covenant might be heirs, in part, to the “old Princeton” theological tradition. The murmurers are even referring to Covenant as the “new Princeton”!

GRAD: The “new Princeton”! Pray tell, gentle brother, what is the basis for this effrontery?

STUDENT: Do not be dismayed, oh aghast one, for these Covenant students are quite willing to ride on the accomplishments of their teachers and their more gifted fellow-students — proper stewardship of their own gifts having little consideration in their thinking.

GRAD: But, gentle brother, even if what you say is true, that most of the students are playing with tinker toys rather than the truth of the Scriptures, how can anyone say that Covenant has claim to a piece of the old Princeton pie?

STUDENT: Well, skeptical one, the connection is made, and legitimately I think, on the following grounds:

1. Covenant Seminary is the sole Presbyterian Seminary holding to the Westminster Confession of Faith to produce a systematic theology since A.A. Hodge published his in 1860. Additionally, Dr. J. Oliver Buswell’s systematics is not only systematic in nature, but apologetic in form — similar to the theology of the Hodges’.

2. Covenant, like Princeton, is a denominational seminary of the presbyteroi form of government because it rightly sees its primary duty to be the theological training ground and underpinning for a group of churches who have voluntarily submitted themselves to each other for the glory of God. As such, the faculty of Covenant has a close kinship to the faculty of old Princeton in that they emphasize piety with academic achievement. One is not taught to the exclusion of the other in the New Testament. That is why at Covenant, great emphasis is placed on the kerugma of the church of Christ.

3. Covenant’s curriculum is intended to defend and assert the Gospel (Acts 19:8). That is, within the faculty emphasis is given to apologetics and evangelism. It’s true that often our classes do not reflect a perspicacious presentation of either emphasis but that doesn’t negate the fact that the basic thrust of Covenant is the same as that of old Princeton — to maintain a distinct witness to the Scriptures to a world which badly needs forgiveness.

4. Covenant’s approach to apologetics is distinctly old Princetonian. It’s not Dutch (pre-suppositionalism), it’s not English (evidentialism), and it’s not African (ostrich). It is rather a blend of Scottish rationalism and New Testament realism, a la James M’Cosh. Take a look at Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology, I, pp. 1-18 and Buswell’s Systematic Theology, I, pp. 81-100 for the inductive approach to theology.

5. Covenant (like only a handful of sister seminaries) builds its curriculum around the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Scriptures, in the manner of A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield (see their “manner” in the Presbyterian Review, 1881-83). While there are a number of evangelical seminaries which on paper subscribe to the Biblical doctrine, only a remnant faithfully and unashamedly articulate a defense of this position.

6. Covenant (like many non-dispensational evangelical seminaries) uses the exegetical approach and method that epitomized old Princeton — the historical-grammatical approach to exegesis of R.D. Wilson, J.D. Davis, B.B. Warfield and J.G. Machen. Our Old Testament and New Testament Departments clearly show a deep appreciation for the scholarly groundwork laid by these men and their colleagues. Our Systematic Theology Department plainly posits itself in the old Princeton camp by using the Bible as a textbook from which to derive a theology by induction. Our Practical Theology Department takes us to the Scriptures to demonstrate the Biblical foundation for presbyterianism, Christian education, expository preaching, sensitive counseling, evangelism and confessional worship.

Unfortunately, oh incredulous brother, as you can plainly see, this noetic disposition inherited by Covenant resides primarily in the faculty and not in the student body. Contrarily, the majority of students would rather play soccer, watch television, go to the movies, or get a position in some local church than analyze modern trends in Biblical prostitution or strive to develop their full mental capabilities for the spiritual battle that awaits them as under-shepherds of God’s flock. Now doubting friend, I’m not suggesting that sports, leisure activities and church participation are bad — not for a moment do I suggest this! But they are unjustifiable (and therefore censurable) when they impede the intellectual progress of a young workman who desires to be approved before God.

It’s a shame no one flunks at Covenant because if the grading were more difficult, we sinful seminarians would be forced to the books for survival alone. It is far too easy to graduate from Covenant with a grade average which permits one to erroneously think of oneself as an above-average (B) student, when in fact one might not be able to even make it through other graduate schools (seminaries included) on the same meager effort. It seems clear in the New Testament in the portions dealing with stewardship that if a man won’t put his energies into being true to his “talents” then that man will be held accountable before God for being a lousy steward of his divine gifts (Matthew 25:14-30). A seminarian’s family should know (arid should be encouraged in understanding the seminarian’s position) that for three or four years while a man is attending Covenant, his mind should be undergoing a radical transformation from simply being a “believer” to being a “workman,” and this will be achieved only by long hours and great toil by both the workman and his family. “And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required, and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12:48b). Seminary must not be (as I fear it might be for some at Covenant) a cake-walk!

In 2 Timothy 2:15 we are given a verse which should accompany every student if he is to lay claim personally to any tradition that even smacks of old Princeton. More importantly, each seminarian must personally deal with this verse if he is to lay claim to the apostolic tradition (paradosin) of the New Testament. “Be diligent and eager, do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing — rightly handling and skillfully teaching — the Word of Truth.”

A close look at this verse will bear on our discussion, oh dubious brother.

spoudazon is the aorist, active imperative of spoudazo (“to be zealous, eager, to make every effort, to do one’s utmost”). As such it connotes a persistency and a durative quality that is not limited by any time element, i.e., “you must be diligent and you must remain diligent.” Interestingly, the KJV translates this command, “study,” which is really more of an interpretation of the verse than a good rendering of the word.

seauton is pretty straightforward, as the accusative of heautou it means simply “yourself.” dokomon is the accusative of dokimos which can mean “approved by testing” (James 1:2), “tried and true” (I Corinthians 11:19), and “genuine” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

parastesai is the aorist, active infinitive of parastemi (“to show, to present, to bring before”). The context of this verse (vs. 14: “in the presence of God”) would indicate a forensic setting — in the court of God. Usage of this verb elsewhere in the New Testament would support this view (Acts 27:24; Romans 14:10; I Corinthians 8:8, 2 Corinthians 4:14). Moulton and Milligan, as well as Arndt and Gingrich, confirm this connotation. So what seems at stake in this verse is just not momentary success or failure at personal stewardship, but rather an ultimate assessment of one’s stewardship at the judgment throne (2 Corinthians 5:10). Hendriksen notes, at this point, “Timothy must exert every effort so to conduct himself that even now before the bar of God’s judgment he stands approved, that is, as one who, after thorough examination by no one less than the Supreme Judge, has the satisfaction of knowing that the latter is well-pleased with him and commends him” (p. 262, Commentary).

The phrase, to theo, is quite plain and contains no linguistic difficulty. However, it is this phrase, coupled with verses 14 and 17 (cf., I Timothy 1:20) which gives the verse its focal point, its importance and its awesomeness, for it is God, Himself, who will accurately judge our efforts here at Covenant Seminary.

ergaten is simply the accusative of ergates (“a worker” — Matthew 9:37-38; “a laborer” — Matthew 20:1-2; “an artisan” — Acts 19:25). “Workman” here must be seen as a parallel term to “faithful men” (vs. 2), “soldier” (vss. 3-4), “athlete” (vs. 5), “farmer” (vs. 6) and “I” (vss. 7-10), and in marked contrast to those who “wrangle over words” (vs. 14), those who engage in “worldly, empty chatter” (vs. 16), those who “upset the faith of some” by heresy (vs. 18) and those who are quarrelsome (vss. 23-24). anepaishunton is the accusative of anepaishuntos which means “does not need to be ashamed.” This is the only usage of this word in the New Testament. Vine believes this is an intensive adjective because of the strong combination of the negative, a, and the preposition, epi, and the root noun aishune (Vine, p. 78, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Both Moulton and Robertson in their Greek grammars, as a confirmatory note, indicate that prepositions, when in compound form, can indicate an intensified connotation to the root meaning. Guthrie provides an apt conclusion to this brief look at these two words, when he writes, “A workman that needeth not to be ashamed must, therefore, he understood in the sense of a Christian teacher who can unblushingly submit his work for God’s approval, like the men in the parable of the talents who had gained other talents.” (p. 147, Tyndale commentary)

orthotomounta is perhaps the most interesting word, linguistically, in this verse but all the controversy has little bearing on the importance of the verse to us. The form is the present, active participle accusative of orthotomeo. This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament, so the meaning is somewhat elusive. However, from the context, from its usage in the Septuagint and from its compound nature, we can get the intent of the word. In the Septuagint, the translators used this word in two places — Proverbs 3:6 and Proverbs 11:5 — to indicate a cutting of a path in a straight direction or a keeping of a path in the right direction. In both of these references the word hodos (“path,” “way,” “road”) is used. Both Simpson and Bauer transpose this physical sense of cutting a straight path in Proverbs over to this 2 Timothy passage and come up with meanings such as “straightforward exegesis,” making the road of truth “so straight that all deviations of heretics will be evident,” and “guiding the word of truth along a straight path. Arndt and Gingrich hold that if we interpret 2 Timothy solely on the basis of Proverbs we get something like this: “guide the word of truth along a straight path like a road that goes straight to its goal.” However, the context and the compounding of the word do not seem to give only this meaning.

There is no mention in this 2 Timothy passage of roads or building or terrain. S. John Parry suggests rather the figure here is a workman or artisan who shapes and fits pieces of building material into an integrated whole. The Vulgate, for all its drawbacks, supports this view as it translates the word, “handle rightly.” Commending the “straight path” view, Arndt and Gingrich claim the context of 2 Timothy would add the following words to their above definition: “without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk.” Guthrie, holds that the “main idea” in the Timothy context, “seems to be that Timothy must be scrupulously straightforward in dealing with the word of truth, in strong contrast to the crooked methods of the false teachers” (p. 148, op. cit.) For my own view it seems better to go with Jerome, Parry and Hendriksen in taking the word to mean, “handle aright,” in light of the context. Mickelsen correctly concludes, “The passage urges a careful handling of the various elements in the message of truth as one puts them together and proclaims that message” (p. 4, Interpreting the Bible).

The compounding of the word would lend itself to this position as well. orthos appears only four times in the New Testament (Mark 7:35; Luke 7:43; 10:28; 20:21) and it means “rightly” or “correctly” or “properly” in each case. And, for what it’s worth, Clement of Rome in his letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4, writes: “If thou hast offered aright (orthos) and hast not divided aright (orthos), didst thou not sin?”

This passage refers to Genesis 4:7 and does show that orthos was used in the first century to connote a “right” or “correct” handling of something, and not the compounded literal sense of “straight” handling. tomounta is derived from temno (“to cut”) which doesn’t appear in the simple form in the New Testament — it is always in a compound form (Romans 9:28 is the only other appearance of temno compounded in the New Testament, but notice dichotomeo in Matthew 24:51 and Luke 12:46). However, the adjective tomos (“sharp,” “cutting”) appears once, in Hebrews 4:12, and does help define the word more closely. Interestingly, it is from temno and ana that we get our word “anatomy,” meaning the dissecting of a plant or animal in order to determine the position, structure, importance, etc., of its parts.

It is pointed out by Hendriksen, and confirmed by Robertson and Moulton and Milligan, that compound verbs lose their derived meanings when they become composite. Hendriksen states, “In a composite verb the meaning-emphasis may shift to the prefix, until in the semantic process the literal sense of the base is lost” (p. 262, op. cit.). It is because of this shift in emphasis that “straight cutting” of Proverbs can be taken to mean “straight cutting” in Timothy. Hendriksen points out that “cutting” can be taken in its non-literal sense of “handling.” This seems quite legitimate for one can move from “cutting” to “dividing” to “analyzing” to “handling”, depending on the context, without damaging the true intent of the word. Our glance at orthos and the context of 2 Timothy would substantiate this movement.

The last phrase in this verse is ton logou tes aletheia (“the word of truth”) , which is defined in the New Testament as “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13), or simply “the gospel” (Colossians 1:15), or the instrument by which God “brought us forth . . . so that we might be as it were, the first fruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). In general, the “word of truth” is God’s total redemptive message to man.

So now, oh confused one, as we reflect on the verse as an entity (considering the context of the passage, the meaning of the words in the verse and the general exegetical principles we have used), we are drawn to the Amplified Bible’s rendering of ” this verse for a comprehensive exposition: “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing — rightly handling and skillfully teaching — the word of Truth.”

GRAD: But, gentle brother, after you have said all this, what is the point?

STUDENT: Puzzled one, in some respects the point should be obvious, but the matter is so important to both Covenant and its individual seminarians that I feel a bit more application is in order. On the basis of this verse, which is a commandment given in “the presence of God” (this is only one of a number of verses encouraging this very thing), and on the basis of an authentic appreciation for our own theological and ecclesiastical tradition it is apparent that we seminarians at Covenant need to re-evaluate our commitment to the truth of Christianity as it has been handed down to us.

I mean by this re-evaluation, is it a proud workman who needs his English Bible to get through his Hebrew and Greek exegesis classes?

GRAD: I don’t think so, gentle brother.

STUDENT: Is it a proud workman who is satisfied with the fact that because of his indifference and naïveté he will graduate from Covenant a theological illiterate unable to articulately discuss his own systematic theology (if he has one) against the prevailing theologies of chaos and chance in America and Europe?

GRAD: I don’t think so, gentle brother.

STUDENT: Is it a proud workman who subjects his classmates to cheap, shoddy efforts in homiletics, class after class after class?

GRAD: I don’t think so, gentle brother.

STUDENT: Is it a proud workman who is satisfied with simply graduating (thereby insuring himself a job in the church somewhere), and not being disciplined enough to carry out a Pauline ministry (I Corinthians 9:25-27; I Corinthians 11:1), i.e., one which defends the faith (Acts 19:8), encourages the faithful (I Corinthians 4:14-16), and reproves the faithless (Galatians 2:14)?

GRAD: I don’t think so, gentle brother.

STUDENT: The point of all this, oh mystified mystagogue, is that if we seminarians at Covenant believe we have been called by God to study His Word in-depth then we should quit playing games with ourselves, with each other and with the faculty and begin to be in earnest concerning out deposit of truth. If we are not, personally, willing to devote ourselves to this task, then I suggest we need to reconsider, each one of us, whether or not we should be at Covenant Seminary.

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