Life at RPTS

For those of us who love to study the Bible and rave theology, there’s Puritan board, Facebook groups and our own feisty blogs. For a privileged few, there’s something else. An incubated world of intense theological learning and discussion. It’s called seminary. It feeds you all you want: books, books and more books. Classes with debates and lively discussions. Ingenious professors who have encyclopedic knowledge on the topic of your choice. Blogs seem bland in comparison. BBs become child’s-play. There’s no more time to answer questions on pet topics like predestination that run into pages, stretching your scroll bar’s ability to stretch. Enter this wormhole and your whole life-course is forever changed. In 2013, God put us through just that. A year ago, I wrote an article on our church’s blog on life at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary here at Pittsburgh. Venky and I talked about the same at a sponsor’s dinner. It’s a good starting place to help you see where we are currently in our theological journey, compared to where we were 4 years ago.Below is a reproduction of the article from #secondreformedpresbyterianchurch blog. Happy reading!

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Three years ago we knew that God was changing our course. Our home was constantly buzzing with bible studies and theological discussions. Young Christian men were spending days, weeks and sometimes months with us to grow in the new-found graces of the Gospel. Tables were filled with food, fellowship and fiery talks over the weekends  and our living area was truly a glimpse of heavenly brotherhood. God was doing something extraordinary and we were  filled with awe and wonder. That’s when we knew God was calling us to prepare for His pastoral work ahead.  My husband, Venky, was scouring for seminaries online and if you are familiar with the New Reformed world, you would already know the top 3 on his list: Westminster, Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) and perhaps Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (we were presbyterian by then, by the way ). Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) was dropped off the list early on as they were a new seminary then and had scant scholarships. The other two were by no means cheap, but we started praying and planning ahead, saving every little penny we had. You must know this, we are Indian.

In another part of the world God was moving an elder from Second Reformed Presbyterian Church who, through a strange turn of events, came to know about us and was praying for us simultaneously. With time we got together and spent two years talking, praying, envisioning and planning for Christ’s Kingdom in India. He encouraged us to seriously consider the denominational seminary –Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (RPTS). One look at the website told us this was small, quaint and family. By this time we were on board with most of the nagging issues about the denomination’s distinctives. We could still opt to go to Westminster or Reformed Theological Seminary.  After all, who doesn’t want to sit under Horton or Frame? After much thought, we knew what we needed was RPTS. You’ll see why.

Pittsburgh welcomed us with warm and vibrant shades on a cool August noon. We turned by the curb expectantly looking out for an expanse of green dotted with a few 18th century manors  and an archaic archway etched with the words “Welcome to Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary” (home of the bright and bold, truly Scotch fold!) Well, there was nothing more than one antique mansion spread out on a generous piece of grass, right around the corner of a busy side street. My first thoughts? Humbling.

But building is not seminary. A seminary is rated on various parameters: scholarship of faculty and students, their ratio and relationship, alumni & faculty participation/contributions in the larger Christian world, financial aids & scholarships, community life, pastoral stability & growth, etc. So, does RPTS cut it? On every count. Let me unfold this by sharing some of our unique experiences during the first quarter at RPTS.

RPTS is communal

The seminary is small, and that means good. We got a warm and personal welcome from each professor on the first day followed by a  formal dinner  during which time we sat with the seminary President Jerry O’Neill and his wife who were so involved in getting to know us. Dr. O’Neill is more a father than a professor, for there is not a time when he sees us and doesn’t stoop down to give Venky and me a warm hug. When I thought his name was too wordy to pronounce, specially with his title attached, he nonchalantly replied, “Call me Dad.” Not to forget, he also had us home for dinner the first weekend of our arrival. Now, that is definitely not something we could dream of doing with a Robert Godfrey or Ligon Duncan. Most of us live around the seminary property and that gives us access to both professors and students all day. We own no car, but that has not immobilized us as some sisters take me shopping almost every week. Seminary women gather every month to fellowship and discuss a subject of interest, and wives of seminarians informally meet to pray and fellowship every other week. Often Venky looks out of the window, and mentions those who make their way in and out of the seminary, and the pleasant sight of friends walking to and fro makes us feel more at home where we are. Well, that’s our little entertainment.

RPTS is pastoral

Everyday,  professors share their lunch hours with students getting to know them and helping them with their school work, and this brings me to the second point: the professors here are firstly pastors. Rev. Paul Martin takes care of the student housing, and once when he came to our home, he was fixing our sink and feeding us with the Word. Dr. Williams, our OT professor, has a gentle and patient disposition in answering the questions of even the most argumentative students.  Dr. Scip would decimate a flawed thesis in class, but would come around and spends hours counseling weary souls without expecting anything in return. Prof. York who teaches pastoral theology drove us seven  hours to Indy, listening to us and sharing pastoral insights the whole time. It is no wonder that the seminary’s punch line is Study under pastors.

RPTS is missional

One of the first things that struck us early on was the sheer diversity of our school. Nearly 50% of students are internationals, another 20% are from the ethnic Afro-American community.  Hardly three students in our batch are formally part of the RPCNA, with the majority of our students from Presbyterian Church of North America, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Free Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Baptist and even Pentecostal backgrounds. Although the seminary is formally under the RPCNA, the adjunct professors are from varying denominations. The seminary actively reaches out to the surrounding Afro-American community by opening up their quarters to a specialized leadership program. But that’s not it. The whole denomination has been deliberately  praying and preparing to equip  internationals for pastoral training. As recently as last month, we witnessed a team spearheaded by our President traveling to South America and working with the Reformed brethren there, to help equip them with pastoral resources. Pastors are being equipped in our seminary to be sent out to countries that are hostile to the Gospel. All our classes are now available free on the Internet to give access to brothers far and wide to sound Reformed doctrine. With the burgeoning number of churches abroad, we desperately need seminaries that are missional, and RPTS is definitely one of them.

RPTS is historical and accountable

It’s nice to be in a seminary where everyone holds hands and sings Kumbaya. But a seminary means serious business. They are preparing warriors for the battle, mustering armies for the Armageddon. You don’t pick a seminary which is going to define your life, casually. You study it, sift through it’s history and beliefs to see if it’s been stable and tenacious through the years. Believe me when I say this: RPTS is perhaps the only Christian seminary that has held its roots in the last 200 years! All it’s counterparts such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale fell away owing to rampant liberalism. RPTS continues to hold on to the tenets of the Historic Christian faith articulated in the 1647 Westminster Confession, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Westminster Directory of Publick Worship and the RP Testimony – all part of the Constitution of its mother church, the RPCNA. All professors are ministers teaching in local RP churches and are appointed directly by the highest governing body -the Synod -of the denomination. The seminary raises up pastors to fill up the pulpits, and these very men who grow in grace and experience keep the seminary’s doctrine and life in check. This, and this alone was our prime reason in opting for RPTS over the top three Reformed seminaries in the US. We also noticed a healthy tension between their professed orthodoxy and their present orthopraxy. Let me give you a sobering example. One professor who had to deal with higher criticism with Mosaic texts gave us a good overview of their positions but also refuted them point by point though rational, cogent and biblical arguments. However, his interest did not lie in expounding further such futile research. Rather, he turned our attention to Christ and His sovereign act in preserving these texts. Each professor had the uncanny knack of making every intellectually stimulating class also deeply devotional. My husband and I have always come away from the classes enlightened and excited about our faith. Some of these professors could spend their lives in ivory towers writing books, but they have rather become humble shepherds walking alongside ignorant sheep like us.

We have barely begun our journey here, but already feel like we’ve crossed considerable milestones with the kind of pastoral and professional care that we’ve been receiving. Our professor Barry York recently penned an inspiring post from his perspective about the seminary. Alumni from RPTS also share a similar story as ours. We can’t all be biased. But we are all deeply thankful for this opportunity to study and serve here. Soli Deo Gloria!

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