Editor’s note: This post builds on Part 1 by Hunter Guthrie and Clay Kraby on their experiences as Reformed Baptists students at RTS-Orlando.
Q: What are the benefits and tradeoffs of pursuing your degree in a place that, though the student body is nearly 50% non-Presbyterian (Baptist, Anglican, non-denominational, “other”), essentially all the faculty are subscribers to the Westminster Standards as well as (mostly) ordained Presbyterians?
Clay: I think the biggest benefit of being at a seminary that did not subscribe to credobaptism was that it forced me to critically evaluate my beliefs and learn to articulate my convictions in a more intelligent way.
The tradeoff was that nearly every guest lecturer, chapel speaker, and promoted ministry opportunity was Presbyterian. This made it difficult to benefit as much as my colleagues did in ministry connections that could be gained while at seminary. It also gave me a deep sense of guilt for eating free Chick-fil-A lunches knowing full well that I wasn’t going to join the Presbyterian ministry providing them!
Hunter: I am convinced that every theological tradition, because of human depravity, has certain blind spots in its theology. This has been true of every church in every age. As a Baptist coming to RTS, I have greatly benefited from interaction with the “outside perspective,” of my Presbyterian peers and professors. They’ve been able to press me on assumptions or convictions that I have taken for granted, and I found it helpful to learn how their practices flow from their theological convictions — as opposed to temporal or pragmatic concerns. I think by coming here I’ve grown more vigilant in watching for my own blind spots. Hopefully, we have had a similar effect on our friends and professors here at RTS-O.
Q: What do your Baptist (Reformed or otherwise) peers outside of RTS – e.g., friends, family, pastors, etc. – think about your choice to study at RTS? Do they look at you funny now?
Clay: I’m not currently in a location where people would be familiar with or have any preconceived notions about RTS. Since they aren’t familiar with the theological differences Baptists have with the school as a whole, it hasn’t really been an issue for me to work through.
Hunter: That’s because the entire state of North Dakota (all 50 people) is either Baptist or Lutheran…
Clay: Hey, we Baptists are fairly lonesome up here (though not as lonesome as the Presbyterians). That’s why we couldn’t afford to have me convert to paedobaptism while at seminary. The majority of churches you see are Lutheran or Catholic, along with E-Free.
Hunter: Probably the best reaction I’ve gotten was from my mother who is convinced that my attending this seminary means that I have become a “liberal.” I usually respond by quoting Fezzik from The Princess Bride: “That word — I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Though I was raised SBC, I’ve been enmeshed in the non-denom (AKA covert Baptist) world as of late. In general, I have found them to be very supportive of RTS simply because it is a conservative, evangelical seminary. That it is confessionally Reformed is usually icing on the cake. One of my most pleasant surprises was that my home church — a large, SBC church which does not espouse reformed convictions — held RTS in such high regard as to offer me a partial scholarship to attend. I think this sort of healthy interaction between bodies of nuanced theological traditions is to be desired for the American Church going forward.
Q: Granted that we are obviously not primarily teaching/promoting distinctive Baptist theology (that is, where there are disagreements), do you believe the Baptist views are fairly represented and respected? (this may be a loaded question…)
Clay: Overall, I would say that the professors and the curriculum do fairly represent the Baptist view of things when it comes up. However, most often the Presbyterian view is simply assumed in the course content as being the correct view, and us Baptists are left to apply the material through our Baptist framework.
Hunter: I found that the professors here are intellectually honest. This extends to the way they represent and respect where Baptists may disagree, and even to the way they represent critical scholarship, which I would be far more tempted to throw under the bus with cheap shots. I feel like I have learned how to engage with other views and even poorly informed views well from the professors here. I don’t feel like the professors have ever thrown us under the bus. A few of the students on the other hand…
Clay: …would do well to follow the great examples set by President Swain and Chancellor Duncan.
Q: A friend of yours has recently read a lot of John Piper and Mark Dever and is now fired up about Calvinism. He wants to go to seminary and asks you about RTS. What would you want him to know?
Clay: I would want him to understand that he will likely hold to a minority position on the issue of baptism (as well as some church polity issues) in each of his classes, and that many of his fellow credobaptists will defect to paedobaptism along the way. However, I would also tell him to not let that get in the way of the many positive aspects of getting a seminary education at RTS. As C.H. Spurgeon said, “If I disagree with a man on 99 points, but happen to be one with him in baptism—this can never furnish such ground of unity as I have with another with whom I believe in 99 points, and only happen to differ upon one ordinance.”
Hunter: I would make sure he/she isn’t fostering any illusions that RTS is going to affirm the same views that Piper, Dever, Spurgeon or any of the great pastors through the ages have held. Of course, this would be true of any seminary. That said, I think there is a great benefit to learning from those who disagree with you, and if you go to RTS as a Baptist, you can pretty much count on that. In the scope of all things theology, our differences are far fewer than our agreements. I certainly feel that I’ve gotten a quality education even if I differ from my professors in some regards. I think it can be useful.