Rejoicing in God's Grace and Godly Men at Southern Seminary

The following is an email in which I replied to a friend about some of the professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I post it here as a way to honor the professors with whom I have interacted and to express my thanks to Christ for allowing me these (nearly) three years at this fine institution.

Hi Derek,

Could you tell me who the favorite SBTS professors are, and why?  I am curious about the types of relationships and impact the SBTS professors have had on you and other students.

Great question.  I have had several professors I have enjoyed during my time at Southern and each for different reasons.

I loved Dr. Tom Nettles for Church History 1 and 2.  His warmth and love for Christ and the church coupled with his knowledge of the subject matter made every class a joy and a tremendous learning experience.  Before he started teaching, he always read a chapter from the New Testament, and his prayers at the beginning of class were sometimes the highlight of my day.  He was also fair in his presentation of church history (in my limited opinion), while still maintaining a reformed viewpoint throughout.  This sentiment is shared by other students I know as well.

I was greatly impacted by Dr. Russel Moore in Systematic 1 and 2 and Introduction to Christian Ethics.  He likes to paint in broad strokes, reading across the whole Bible within the framework of creation – cross – new creation.  He is excellent pedagogically: he is clear and he takes time at the end of every section to answer any and all questions.  Sometimes these Q & A times would last for an hour and would be some of his best material.   He is also very good at “fitting” the Bible together and bringing theology into practical ministry and life.  I think I got saved in every class : )  He is also hilarious.  And although Dr. Moore is busier than anyone I have ever known, he takes time to meet with and counsel students.  A good friend of mine here has received great help from Dr. Moore in these personal meeting times.  Dr. Moore is also currently the teaching pastor at High View Baptist – Fegenbush Campus.

I only had one class with Dr. Gregory WillsBaptist History – but thought he was excellent!  His profound knowledge of Baptist history and American history made me wonder if he had actually read most of the library of congress!  Anyway, I am lamenting the fact that I did not take more classes with him during my time at SBTS; at least I am taking Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism with him this Spring.  In my judgment, he is a godly man who loves his students and loves the truth.  This came out in every class.

I had Dr. Bruce Ware for Theology of Worship and Models of Divine Providence.  Both were excellent.  I had Models of Divine Providence this past semester and learned a lot.  He treated this class much like a doctoral seminar and he challenged us with reading several primary sources from Process and Open Theism, as well as Arminianism.  Dr. Ware is very intelligent, he is an excellent teacher, he has a firm grasp on philosophy and how philosophical categories inform (and distort) theological categories, and he has a passion for God and for truth.  When I asked if I could talk with him about PhD stuff, he took me out to a very nice, long lunch and treated me with great kindness and warmth.  I sat next to a student in Models who moved to Louisville to attend Southern for the primary purpose of taking classes from Dr. Ware.

I had Dr. Tom Schreiner for only one class – Greek Exegesis of Romans. I wanted to take New Testament theology with him in the spring but it doesn’t fit into my schedule!!!!  Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Romans.  Dr. Schreiner took us through key texts in Romans, carefully exegeting them with us after we had done our preliminary exegesis.  We would do a detailed grammatical diagram and then complete the assignment by tracing the argument (putting the text into propositions and then showing the relationship between those propositions – inference, grounds, situation-response, etc.).  This was a very helpful class and I have found his form of tracing to be the most helpful.  (I can understand it better than Piper’s arcing, although it is, for all intents and purposes, the same thing, only written differently).  It was a joy to sit under Dr. Schreiner.  He is an excellent teacher, he explains things exceptionally well, he always has solid, text-grounded reasons for why he believes what he believes, and he is pretty funny, too!  We is a popular professor among the students.

I also had Dr. Bill Cook for New Testament I and II.  He is my pastor and I have great admiration of his knowledge of Scripture and of his godliness.  I have gotten to know him over the past two years and have come to love and respect him tremendously.  I am thankful he is my pastor.  I also had Dr. Peter Gentry for Hebrew, Dr. Jonathan Pennington for a Greek elective, and Dr. Robert Plummer for Greek syntax.  All of these men exhibited great competence in their field, genuine love for the students, and a keen wit – especially Dr. Pennington.  Dr. Gentry is well-loved despite the fact he is by far the most demanding professor on campus.  I received my first C since the 7th grade in Elementary Hebrew from Dr. Gentry.  He is the kind of man who, when he says he has looked at all 751 uses of a particular Hebrew word in the Old Testament, you believe without qualification.  I also had Dr. Donald Whitney for Spiritual Disciplines and Dr. Stuart Scott for Biblical counseling.  Both of these classes were excellent.

I also enjoyed my classes Dr. Wellum.  I have never sat under a man who has brought such clarity to my mind as Dr. Wellum.  When class is over, you know exactly what he is talking about and you finally begin to see how the Bible fits together with Christ at the center and fulfillment of all of Scripture.

Dr. Wellum was very careful to teach us to understand Systematic categories by first working in biblical theological categories, seeking to understand the progressive nature of God’s revelation and making the appropriate continuity/discontinuity distinctions between the two testaments.  This comes out especially in his treatment of the covenants and how they relate to believer’s baptism (in Believer’s Baptism by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright).  He sees the whole of Scripture working toward God’s promise of a New Man (and a new humanity) fulfilled first in Christ and then in his people, the church.  He is careful to show how the Old Testament, beginning with Adam (after his fall), looks for the new Man, true Israel, the Great High Priest, the final Prophet and perfect Sacrifice, and how all these longings are fulfilled in Christ.  Therefore, Dr. Wellum sees typology as an essential component to hermeneutics, although he does desire to only see types where they are warranted by the text (where some see types all over the place: e.g. Rahab’s scarlet thread is a “type” in that it stands for Christ’s blood that protects those who find refuge in his “house,” etc.).  Wellum instead sees things like the Exodus, the Sacrificial system, the temple, the tabernacle, etc. as clear types of Christ since they have warrant in other texts.

I have taken three classes from Dr. Wellum and in each, he always begins with a discussion of theological method.  This has been extremely helpful and valuable.  He wants us to read the Bible as a self-revelation that involves a historical progression and to be careful to trace this historical unfolding of redemptive history throughout all of Scripture; all the while seeing Scripture as organically related.  He wants us to read texts according to their textual horizon (what the text actually says), their epochal horizon (where the text is in the flow of redemptive history), and their canonical horizon (where these texts are in relation to the promises of God and their fulfillment in the coming of Christ).  The promise-fulfillment motif is key in reading the Bible – one of crucial ways of demonstrating promise-fulfillment is through typology (persons, events, institutions, etc.).

This is the work that must be done before moving to systematic theology.  When we do come to the systematic categories, we must also make sure we are taking into account all the biblical data, not just particular words and themes, but all the related words and themes, understood in the context of the whole of Scripture.  This is why his Doctrine of the work of Christ class involved 135 pages of dense single-spaced, type-written notes, beginning in Genesis and following the subjects of prophet, priest, king, atonement, reconciliation, propitiation, conquest, redemption, substitution and a host of others themes related to the work of Christ through the entire Bible.  When he was finished, I saw clearly where Joel Green and Mark Baker have gone wrong in their undermining of penal substitutionary atonement (Recovering the Scandal of the Cross) and how they came to the conclusions they came to.  I finally started to see why some positions can confidently be considered “biblical” while others cannot.  For me, this is HUGE.  Wellum’s thoroughness, his sharp understanding of Biblical theology and theological method, his ability to answer questions with lucidity and depth, his fairness with opposing arguments, and his irreplaceable note-packets made my time in Wellum’s classes a tremendous learning experience.

Dr. Wellum is also a member at my church and leads a Bible Fellowship Group and regularly preaches in the evening service.  He is well-loved and highly respected.  He is kind, unassuming, humble and always ready to talk. (Interestingly, he also has an incredible grasp of contemporary culture; including issues in politics, religion, media, etc.)

Anyway, sorry for the theology textbook length of this email.  I guess Dr. Wellum, if nothing else, taught me to be thorough.  I hope this is helpful, or at least sparks some questions I can try to answer in more detail for you.  I am so thankful for my time at Southern.  All my professors have demonstrated they not only love Scripture and theology and Greek and Hebrew – they love Christ and their students, and they are all, without exception, men who love and serve the church.  They are all regularly available to get together with students and can be found in the cafeteria, in their offices, or off-campus, spending time with students.  We are blessed to have the faculty we have.  To whom much is given…

Let me know if I can answer any other questions for you, Gunner.  I am happy to talk with you about these things!

Love you,
Derek

Picture: Todd Young

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