Personal update: Union Presbyterian Seminary

July 18, 2012

As I announced last year at this time, I moved back to Charlotte to begin seminary training for the purpose of ordination. For the last year, I have had the joy of such training at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. RTS is a fine school in many respects, but I have been in the process of discerning whether RTS is the right fit for me. More pointedly, the question is whether the RTS vision for ministry, and the theology that underwrites that vision, is faithful and properly focused. There is no simple, yes or no, answer to that question. Yet, the weight of the “no” has dominated my thinking and praying, just as I am grateful for the “yes” in abundance at RTS.

So, this past semester I applied to Union Presbyterian Seminary, which has a campus in Charlotte. I was accepted, with nearly all of my credits transferred from RTS. Union is a seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is the denomination of my church, Westminster, and the denomination in which I will pursue ordination. So, there is an obvious denominational advantage to Union over RTS, which primarily serves the other Presbyterian denominations which are, more or less, hostile to the PC(USA).

The shift from RTS to Union parallels a shift in my own Christian convictions for several years now, away from a type of evangelical theology that dominates conservative circles. It would take too long to enumerate the many influences and events along the way: the professors, the books, the peers and friends. Needless to say, a guy who loves Karl Barth and Simone Weil is not a typical evangelical, if an evangelical at all.

The classical Reformed tradition has much to offer. It is properly theological as Barth himself understood in his appreciative treatment of Dort. But, the current proprietors of this classical Reformed theology are, far too often, compromised by a conservative cultural captivity that severely limits the life of theology in the church. This captivity is further compounded by a “worldview” suspicion about anything outside the church. Thus, theology is isolated from other disciplines, which themselves are transformed and mutilated in order to conform to a “Biblical” worldview. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the whole fiasco over evolutionary science, which has lately resulted in evangelicals moving even further to the right. The same can be said for the understanding of history, philosophy, art, and particular areas of study, such as gender. Currently, the method of engagement by conservative evangelicals, especially the Reformed, is wholly inadequate. I’ve harped enough on these issues in the past, so I won’t rehearse them now. As it stands, such conservatism will thrive to the extent that it can isolate itself from responsible study of the world, as it presents itself to us. Such isolation is increasingly difficult to maintain, with information technology and the migrations of people. But, the fear surrounding these cultural changes has been a boon for conservative religious circles…for the time being.

I also have little sympathy for theological reflection that barely moves above the level of the text, and I assume that readers know what I mean. Perhaps inerrancy is to blame for this, or at least an inerrancy that “secures” the foundation of all dogmatic formulations (such that, Biblical inerrancy comes before the doctrine of God!). My own view of Scriptural inspiration may or may not be classified as inerrantism, and I don’t care if I could pass that test. I am really striving for the God behind the text, which serves as a temporal and provisional witness.

These are just some examples that have come to mind. Certainly, no particular topic can be isolated and made a determining factor in my shift to Union. Nor do I wish to caricature RTS as wholly obsessed with certain hot-button issues, as if to the neglect of all else. I could detail a host of excellent things, from fine professors, that I have learned at RTS. I am thankful for that, but excited to be moving on.

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10 Responses to “Personal update: Union Presbyterian Seminary”

  1. Bobby Grow said

    This makes much more sense to me, Kevin. RTS, from what I knew of your own theological trajectory didn’t seem a good fit. I just looked, quickly, at some of the faculty at the Charlotte campus, and it looks like Thomas Currie’s interests are right up your ally (like Karl Barth for example). Sounds like you’ve chosen wisely, Kevin.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, Dr. Currie is great, and he’s both the dean of the Charlotte campus and the professor of theology. I’ve gotten to know him over the last several months, including at the Karl Barth reading group at my church, and his vision for theology and the ministry is very much my own…and what I learned at Aberdeen. Dr. Currie received his Phd under Thomas Torrance at Edinburgh, and his son is currently writing his dissertation at Edinburgh on Karl Barth.

      • Bobby Grow said

        That is awesome, Kevin … to sit under a guy who directly received his PhD under TFT would be a privilege … you’re privileged. Does Currie’s son have a blog? Does Dr. Currie have a blog?

      • No, Dr. Currie does not have a blog. He has written for some popular outlets, like the Presbyterian Outlook. For example:

        Muddled in the Middle

        This a great reflective piece on the homosexuality debate.

        As for his son, all I know is that he’s writing on the threefold form of the Word of God in the CD.

      • Bobby Grow said

        Cool, thanks Kevin.

  2. Bobby Grow said

    I am pretty sure a guy I know, Josh Ralston, is just starting out as a professor at Union Pres Seminary at the Richmond campus. Josh was a classmate of my younger brother in California, and his dad was my social studies teacher in high school and junior high :-) … small world.

    • Interesting. I just checked his page at Union’s website, and I see that he has done a lot of work on Muslim theology and Muslim-Christian relations. That should make him a great asset to the seminary community. I took a class on Islam while a Religious Studies major at UNC-Charlotte, and I’ve been meaning to seriously delve back into it. I’ve had the fortune of meeting some very fine Muslims in the past several years.

      There has been a push by ATS to make a course on Islam a part of the standard seminary curriculum. Next year, RTS is adding a course on Islam that all M.Div. students will have to take. Both Union and RTS were recently re-accredited by ATS, so this makes sense.

      • Bobby Grow said

        I didn’t realize Josh was into that. I did Muslim Evangelism for two years in undergrad, and was a leader of Muslim workshop at the school; I led trips to a local mosque, a very interesting experience to say the least. Working with Muslim’s is not an easy task, it is much easier to study their beliefs, than it is to dialogue with those beliefs with real life Muslims.

  3. WTM said

    I’m glad to hear of the strengthening in your commitment to the PCUSA. We need all the good theologians we can get!

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