Philosophy of Graduate Education
Our philosophy of graduate education is rooted in the belief that the Bible is the inspired and infallible word of God. Therefore, it provides the coordinating center for all degree programs, and the standard for evaluating all truth claims.
We believe that truth must be loved and lived to be truly learned.
As a result, we seek to design our graduate degrees to enable and encourage the integration of learning and life.
We also believe that God is more glorified and His church is better served by:
- Christlike servant-leaders whose knowledge of God and His word has been deepened, and
- whose ministries have been enhanced by advanced study and skills development.
Therefore, we seek to provide a context in which such learning is developed together with Christlike humility and others-oriented service.
All full-time graduate faculty are expected to be:
- in agreement with our statement of faith
- submitted to the authority of God’s inerrant, infallible Word
- theologically Wesleyan-Arminian and passionate about sharing the message of Spirit-filled, holy living
- committed to a contextually-sound, Spirit-illumined exegesis; Spirit-anointed exposition; and Spirit-empowered application.
- engaged in living holy lives, and determined to proclaim the redemptive power of the gospel and the transformative truth of Scripture.
Theological Method and Biblical Worldview Development
At the core of our graduate program’s theological method is a commitment for each course to pay conscious attention to its content to how biblical, systematic, historical, and practical theology integrates with method and practical application.
Philosophically, this method reflects:
- our commitment to the authority of Scripture
- our belief that systematic doctrinal formulations must be scriptural, reasonable, historical, and experientially feasible while addressing contemporary issues
- our awareness that we stand in a millennia-long stream of Judeo-Christian interpreters from whom there is much to learn
- our passion that our lives and ministries should flow out of our theological commitments rather than be pragmatic responses to the exigencies of our time.
The Holy Spirit uses Scripture as the prime means of the believer’s sanctification (John 17:17; 2 Cor. 3:18), that is, his/her restoration into full Christlikeness (Col. 3:10). Therefore, Scripture must not be merely foundational but must be structurally constitutive of the believer’s beliefs and behavior. Scripture as both ground and substance of our formulations is itself essential to the grand consensus of Judeo-Christian understanding (Isa. 8:20; 1 Thess. 2:13). Thus our approach is firmly rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
We understand Biblical Theology to encompass exegesis, the theological affirmations of Scripture, and the necessary implications of those affirmations.
Systematic Theology utilizes all the data of biblical theology both to generate an orderly topical account of Scripture’s teaching upon God, man, sin, salvation, etc., and to provide answers to contemporary issues in theology, ethics, theodicy, and so on. Historical theology traces the history of the interpretation of Scripture and of theological formulations from their earliest stages through the modern period. Practical theology seeks to apply theological truth to all of life, particularly the life and work of believers as the body of Christ.
Course requirements and their associated grading rubrics are, therefore, developed to highlight the expectation that students think:
- biblically, not only in terms of specific relevant texts but also in terms of the comprehensive biblical storyline
- systematically, recognizing the theological entailments of the biblical text. historically with an eye to the history of interpretation, theological formulation, and practical application
- practically, applying truth to their life and the life of the church
In this way, students integrate biblical, systematic, historical, and practical theological analysis in their academic products.
While this does not mean that every course will give equal attention to these four theological domains, it does mean that attention to them in proportions appropriate to the subject under study will be given in each course.
For example, in practical theology courses, where skills development is the focus, the emphasis will naturally fall on practical application and implementation. Nonetheless, we avoid pragmatism by formulating our application and implementations within a framework of conscious attention to Scripture, its theological entailments, and the way in which godly persons have implemented truth throughout history. This may look like requiring students in a homiletics course:
- to access ancient, medieval, or reformation commentary or sermons on the text they are preaching (historical theology)
- to use the index of systematic theology texts to observe the ways in which the text has been used in systematic theology
- to note the biblical theological contexts of their passage, while giving focused attention to shaping the application so that is accessible by the modern audience
Approach to Learning, Loving and Living the Truth
It is well known that graduate theological education is often heavy on knowledge acquisition, light on actual personal and ecclesial application, and lacking attention to the development of proper affection for the truth.
Scripture teaches that truth is not merely theoretical. It must be lived (Psa. 86:11; 2 John 1:4). And to be lived effectively, it must be loved (Zech. 8:19; 2 Thess. 2:10).
We are committed to pursuing the integration of learning, loving, and living the truth.
Program-Level Approach. To facilitate living the truth, our students are required to be actively engaged in ministry throughout their entire program. Beyond taking the practical theology courses embedded in each degree, students are required to reflect in written form on the application of their coursework to their ministries and to interact with a graduate mentor of their choice regarding how they are integrating their learning with life.
Course-Level Approaches. In our information-oriented classes, students are given assignments that incorporate reflection on and, at times, implementation of practical applications of the truths learned. Such reflections seek to engage students in pondering how their affections are manifested in their life, how love for truth is measured and developed, and how the learning, loving, and living the truth interrelate. Application involves personal engagement with the truth (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6), interaction with fellow Body members for edification purposes (Rom. 14:19), and engagement with the world in doing good to all men (Gal. 6:10).
Distinctive Ideological Commitments
Loving God and Others in Graduate Education
The most common sin associated with a graduate instruction, both in receiving and giving, is pride. Its manifestations are multitude. As a violation of love for God, pride fails to acknowledge that all capacities and positive consequences are ultimately dependent upon God’s grace for enabling and superintending. As a violation of love for others, pride encourages high-mindedness, dismissal of opposing points of view without appropriate engagement, belittling of incorrect viewpoints, and an unwarranted privileging of one’s own point of view.
As mentors and models, graduate professors’ attitudes, language, and approach speak more loudly than the content of our lectures.
Holiness of life is the outflow of love for God and others.
A primary consideration in all our interactions, deliberations, and communication must be “Am I treating others as I would desire to be treated?” The implementation of love for others guards us against the common practice of inflicting academic pain on others simply because we endured similar academic pain.
Presentation of and Use of Critical Methodologies
Research methods and the assumptions or presuppositions a researcher brings to his/her use of them are distinct and distinguishable. Any research method that necessarily requires the acceptance of presuppositions that involve a denial of the truthfulness of the totality of Scripture are unacceptable and may not be commended by faculty.
We understand “critical methodologies” to include historical-critical research methods such as source, form, redaction, tradition, composition, and narrative criticism. We affirm that biblical authors received direct revelation, made use of oral and written sources, utilized standard literary forms, and edited their own works. None of these realities is contrary to Scripture’s character as God’s Word.
However, the majority of those who practice critical methodologies in biblical studies do so in a way that implicitly or explicitly undermines the trustworthiness of Scripture. For that reason we strongly agree with Grant Osborne’s assessment that “evangelicals need continuous reminders regarding the dangers of critical tools, and we must police ourselves on these issues.”
The hermeneutical framework within which all faculty members, whether full-time, adjunct, or visiting, commit to operate is one in which the trustworthiness and truthfulness of Scripture in its entirety are affirmed and articulated. All intended affirmations of Scripture, regardless of their subject matter, are true; that is, they are fully in harmony with reality as it is known by God.
Any research method that results in denying the truthfulness or historicity of any part of Scripture is, therefore, necessarily flawed and yields false conclusions.
Human inability to reconcile Scripture’s affirmations with experience or perceived evidence is never a basis to question the veracity of Scripture. It is instead a basis from which to raise questions about our understanding of Scripture’s intent.
Such questions should be pursued through the application of a grammatical-historical-contextual hermeneutic, with confidence that the correct solution will always be in complete agreement with Scripture and validate its affirmations.
Relation of Textual Criticism to Inspiration and Inerrancy
Thoughtful evangelicals have historically affirmed both the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture as well as the necessity of textual criticism.
- Inspiration affirms that the final text written by the human authors was God’s word.
- Inerrancy affirms that the text is completely trustworthy in all it affirms.
Precisely what the text affirms depends first upon what the text actually says. In both the Old and New Testaments, no reasonable evidence exists to question 85-90% of the original text.
Though marvelously preserved by God across its millennia of transmission, the copies of the Scripture we have today do not agree in all particulars. This necessitates the science of textual criticism which seeks to arrive at the most likely reading of the original text in those relatively few places where the original text is uncertain.
The presence of copyist mistakes in no way impugns the character of the original, nor does the absence of autographa render claims of their inspiration and inerrancy mute. No essential theological claim of Scripture, such as the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the virgin birth, justification by faith alone, etc., is called into question by the differences that exist in the hundreds (OT) and thousands (NT) of extant copies of Scripture.
Human and Divine Elements in Scripture
We understand the humanity of Scripture to be a function of its use of human languages through human authors and mediators, whose vocabulary, syntax, and literary styles are reflected in its text.
The divinity of Scripture is a function of the fact that it accurately reflects the message the Holy Spirit intended to communicate through the human authors in such a way that its words are God’s words. No perspective which Scripture affirms may be construed to be contrary to God’s perspective or contrary to the truth.
Approach to Genesis 1-11
We understand from the grammatical, syntactical, lexical, and literary features of Genesis 1-11 as well as from its reception and interpretation in the Old and New Testaments that God intended it to be read as historical narrative. That is, that it was intended to be read as affirming the occurrence of actual events in human history and the actual existence of the named persons.
Thus, we understand God to have created the universe in six days, Adam and Eve to be the first humans and the historical individuals who parented the entire human family, the flood described in Genesis 6-8 to have covered the entire planet, the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 to reflect individuals whose actual life-spans and immediate progeny correspond to those given in the text.