It was 10 years ago when I began my journey in graduate and postgraduate theological education. I had a few short breaks over this period, but on the whole, I have been in school this period. I wrote something of my story in my first 30 years several years ago, but my goal today is to reflect on my experiences in graduate I arrived as an “adult” student, though I was young(er) at 25 years. For you to know my story, you have to know something of the past. I had a good upbringing in home schooling, but I also attended adult Bible classes as a teenager and even did two years in a program like a Bible Institute at Calvary Chapel School of Ministry (Farmington, NY near Rochester). It is not that these programs were bad, but I did find that there were many questions left unanswered. More was to come.
In the years after Calvary Chapel, I was a young man and wrestled about my faith. During this early season, I also found myself working on an associate’s degree at a local community college in IT. During that time, I remember interacting with a professor who did not believe in God if I recall and also remember hearing indirectly of the messaging of Da Vinci Code about the Bible and issues of canon. Some progress was being made, through such books as A General Introduction the Bible by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix and through the ministry of the Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis. However, spiritual struggles continued fueled by questions about understanding Bible Doctrine and the Bible’s authority.
As I was getting back on my feet spiritually, it was 10 years that I discovered a special program at Baptist Bible College & Seminary in PA (now called Clarks Summit University). At the time, I had two associates degrees — one from Calvary Chapel in theology and one from my local community college in IT. This program would allow enabled me to enter a graduate master’s Bible program without a bachelor’s degree. If you’d like to see the page about the program, you can see it on the Wayback Machine.
So, it was in October after gaining admission that I started my first class. It was How to Develop of Biblical Worldview. It was a graduate school class taught by the dean of the seminary Dr. Mike Stallard. I still have the Reflection Paper I wrote for that class. It was here though that Dr. Stallard ignited a love for systematic theology and reignited a love for traditional dispensationalism. I also got introduced in this class to such authors as Carl F. H. Henry, D. A. Carson and others, No single class I have ever taken been so significant. While this was one of only 2 classes I have taken with Dr. Stallard (3 if you count where one of his students taught me a class he authors on dispensationalism), he has definitely impacted me more than nearly any other professor. I have continued to follow his ministry in past years, and hope to have another class later in my current program with him.
After four years, I was able to finish the original master of arts degree there. I eventually got to go to Maranatha Baptist Seminary for a few years and was significantly impacted by Dr. Larry Oats there. It was Dr. Oats’s book The Church of the Fundamentalists and his class on American Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism that I became a convinced, though imperfect, separtist fundamentalist. I wrote about young earth creationism and fundamentalism in an assignment for that class which was published elsewhere (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Now, I get to be in a PhD program at Calvary University. I am through my first year of the PhD program, with two more years of classes and a year of dissertation writing. Academics is hard work, but one of the helpful components was it provided me with the structure and the motivation for discipline to work hard at study. I have matured, and I do believe my PhD program is going to be my final stop of this journey.
If I was going to say anything about my early training, what may have lacked is how to bring systematic theology into the mix. One class was a major exception, and I remember it well. But on the whole, this is what I lacked. It may have been reinforced by my own personal tendencies too. So often, the focus I gleaned was more of a “running commentary” on Scripture without showing all the pieces. Thankfully though, I know those early years of training prepared me that when God lead me first to BBC, I was ripe to blossom, and I have this past 10 years. I have farther to still go, but I am thankful. Does everyone need to go through what I have? Not necessarily, but each in accord of his gifts should pursue greater biblical and theological knowledge. We are called to know God and to make Him known. That may include graduate theology or even undergraduate theological education, or it may include reading many good books. I encourage you to pursue such studies as a means to know God. I thank God for his using BBC at that time, and for the other schools I have attended and have made an impact on my life thus far. I look forward to finishing this journey with my terminal PhD degree from Calvary University. I hope to be able to serve the church by preaching and teaching in the coming years. With the state of higher education, local churches need to return to providing this kind of training. Soli Deo Gloria.