Evergreen PCA, Salem OR
Chemeketa Community College
Stephen and his wife, Amy, have six children.
Thirteen years ago when I was setting off for Escondido, CA to study at Westminster Seminary California, not everyone who knew me was thrilled. Some people at my church worried that it would ruin me. They often referred to seminary as "cemetery." Upon graduation, one of my relatives gave me a book—All The Things I Didn't Learn in Seminary. If they knew much about WSC, the anti-seminary crowd would especially be worried, since my education focused on subjects like Greek and Hebrew, redemptive-historical exegesis, confessional Reformed orthodoxy, and preaching, rather than on fundraising, church boards and committees, organizing community art events, exegeting pop cultural trends, and how to take your church's web site to the next level. (I would take Greek grammar with Dr. Baugh any day over that kind of stuff.)
To humor my anti-seminary friends, I’ll concede that WSC was a "cemetery" of sorts because during my studies I was buried six feet under with reading assignments and Hebrew vocabulary lists. But a resurrection occurred. I had entered WSC loving the Scriptures and believing that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God, but I didn't see Christ and the gospel in all of Scripture, and my mastery of Bible trivia was not going to sustain me in the storms of the pastorate. At WSC, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Clowney helped me begin to see Christ in all of Scripture—both the Old and New Testaments. At first I thought redemptive-historical interpretation was just a fun game whose object was to hunt for mysterious literary foreshadowing and, if necessary, force a Christ-figure into the text. I remember looking for chiastic structures everywhere, and spinning out theories as to what they meant. Only later did the big picture of christological exegesis hit me, as I began to see the gospel permeate through biblical passages.
For the past 8 years I have been a PCA church planter in Salem, Oregon. Many people have done their best to try to knock seminary out of me, but there are some things that simply won't wear off: I can't help but analyze life and various arguments without using the grids given to me by Cornelius Van Til and John Frame. My way of understanding contemporary American church life is deeply colored by Dr. Godfrey's church history classes. The comparative religion classes I now teach at our local community college have Peter Jones' and Dr. Godfrey's fingerprints all over them. At first I couldn’t get over the fact that Dr. Godfrey was so adamant that the Psalms are central to our worship. In time, I walked away from his classes with a passion for sola fide, for preaching Christ rather than moralism, and for valuing the ordinary means of grace rather than the latest revivalistic techniques. Likewise, Dr. Strimple made sure I understood the "extraspective" nature of faith in Christ, an emphasis that constantly surfaces now in my evangelistic conversations and in my pastoral counseling.
Something I never anticipated receiving from WSC was lifelong friends and counselors. Even though hundreds of students have passed through the halls of WSC since I graduated, there are still faculty there who pray for me by name. About 4 years ago, my church planting work was so fragile and weak that I was seriously thinking about quitting. I called Dr. Duguid and got through to him personally. He prayed with me, gave me perspective and advice, and flew up to Oregon to preach a couple of years later when our church plant was finally particularizing.
What needed to die and be buried in seminary was my personal pride and arrogance. Unfortunately, much of it survived because the WSC were so kind to me when it came to grades. All except one. One faculty member threatened to give me an F grade when I submitted my term paper 5 minutes late. I still think his threat was a little over the top, but he succeeded in sobering me up—to what extent was my GPA an idol? Far from being a place of death, a killing field where my supposedly pristine faith was ruined, WSC was used of God to be a place of new life for me. Without WSC, not only would I have never been ready to face the rigors of ministering to a neo-pagan, post-Christian, un-churched Pacific Northwest culture, but my own faith in Christ would be floundering on the rocks of pastoral disappointment. WSC helped point me to Jesus, and that has made all the difference.