Editor’s note: We at RTS-Orlando are thrilled to have a student body made up of men and women from all sorts of church backgrounds. Though we teach consistently from a Westminster Standards perspective, we welcome and enjoy interacting with and learning from students with different views. As Dean of Students, I am very interested in understanding what it is actually like for students who are not, say, Reformed Presbyterians. In particular, we have a large number of Baptists who, in theory, could have attended seminary at any number of high quality institutions such as SBTS, Southeastern, New Orleans, Dallas, Denver, Midwestern, and so on. Why did they choose RTS-Orlando? And what has that been like for them? I posed this (and a lot of other questions) to two of our students who are winsomely but firmly Reformed Baptist. I will post their responses in a two-part series (go to part 2). Fascinating stuff!
Hunter Guthrie is an MABS’17 student, and Clay Kraby is an MDiv’18 student (who blogs at http://reasonabletheology.org/).
Q: Why did you choose RTS-Orlando over what one might consider to be more “obvious” choices likes SBTS, Dallas, Southeastern, Denver, etc.?
Clay: When I was choosing a seminary my primary concern was finding one that was distinctly Reformed in its teaching. I knew that RTS was going to be an option, and since I had two different friends from our church get their M.Div through RTS-Orlando it was at the top of my list. Since we only have about 6 Presbyterians where I’m from (North Dakota), it didn’t really occur to me that RTS would be predominantly Presbyterian in terms of students and faculty.
Hunter: I wasn’t necessarily looking for a school to affirm my own beliefs down to the letter, and I don’t know if I really held the most stringent “Baptist” commitments when I was applying, anyhow. I was mainly looking for a faculty with excellent academic qualifications, a commitment to the truthfulness of scripture, and a heart for pastoral ministry. RTS seemed to fit that. Upon arriving, I found that the smaller size of RTS enabled me to develop deeper relationships than I would have been able to at larger, more “obvious” choices.
Q: What has stretched/challenged you most in the curriculum?
Clay: In regards to credo vs paedobaptism, the most challenging aspect of the curriculum was gaining an accurate understanding of the difference between these two doctrinal positions. My Covenant Theology class was very helpful in showing me that baptism is not the central difference between Baptists and Presbyterians. Rather, the different conclusions reached on baptism are the result of our different understandings of covenant theology. Debates about proof texts or instances of household baptisms have their place, but these discussions are ultimately secondary in nature.
Hunter: I would second Clay here. I would also add that I felt far more competent to enter ministry before I came to RTS than I do now as I prepare to leave. I thought I knew far more than I do now. While that probably sounds counter-intuitive to most people’s understanding of what seminary is intended to do, I find that it is really a strength of the curriculum and of Reformed Theology in general. In its steadfast commitment to the whole of scripture, Reformed Theology is constantly challenging our idols and daring us to seek God for who he is according to his word. And I think it provides a beautiful freedom for students to come and study under learned professors, find that they (the students, not the professors!) adhere to a number of subpar theological convictions, and admit that they were wrong. I know that this happened to me in almost every class that I took. (One notable exception to this trend was on the topic of Baptism, and regarding that position I am hopeful that my professors and fellow students will eventually feel the freedom to renounce their own views in accordance with scripture!) (Editor’s note: Mark Dever would be proud)
Q: What were some surprising aspects about studying as a Baptist student at RTS?
Clay: Honestly, I was surprised with just how often the topic of paedobaptism came up in various classes and conversations. Some days it seemed like you could be studying Greek, talking about Christian education, or deciding where to grab lunch and someone would shoehorn infant baptism into the conversation.
Another surprising aspect for me was the polity jargon. Given my lack of exposure to Presbyterianism, it took a semester or two before I knew what anyone was talking about when they mentioned sessions, synods, Presbyteries, EPC, OPC, PCA, ASPCA, … (Editor’s note: he’s missing a few!)
Hunter: I guess I was kind of disappointed in the lack of beards across the student population. I always figured that was some sort of Reformed prerequisite.
Q: How has the general atmosphere been in terms of theological discussion/debate/etc. with (a) students and (b) faculty?
Clay: Overall, I think the conversations, discussions, and debates at RTS have been respectful and usually enjoyable. The professors created an atmosphere where you could ask questions and interact with the course material from a different doctrinal angle. I never once felt as though I might receive a bad mark on a paper or have my opinion discounted in a class discussion because of my views on baptism.
Engaging with my fellow students on the issue was more of a mixed bag. Some enjoyed having an open and lively discussion on the issue, others had genuine questions to help them understand the credo-baptist position, and others seemed determined to convert any and all Baptists to the paedobaptist camp. My overall impression was that the Baptists I studied with were willing to look closely at the Presbyterian view of baptism and the Presbyterians students were also willing to look closely at the Presbyterian view of baptism. Many had not exposed themselves to serious arguments for credobaptism.
Hunter: He pretty much covered this one.
Q: What are the most common misconceptions your non-Baptist peers have about (Reformed) Baptists?
Clay: I’ve encountered a few who are under the impression that “Reformed Baptist” is an oxymoron. Some think that anyone who does not hold to infant baptism cannot truly hold to Reformed Theology, and others view the credobaptist position as a relative latecomer to the theological landscape. I would disagree with both of these assessments and I think they can be refuted theologically and historically.
Hunter: For some reason they assume that exposure to Reformed Theology is somehow going to make us less curmudgeonly. For better or for worse, this is an integral part of our identity as Baptists and a sprinkle of Calvin here and there isn’t going to change that.