The Church and its New Seminary
The Free Church of Scotland and its 'College' are living through a time when it has to take stock of what is core and must not be dispensed with – no matter the cost – and what can be changed without affecting its mission under the Lord, Jesus Christ. No one who passionately cares about glorifying God in Scotland and beyond will be at ease as they go through these processes.
We want to describe the kind of institution which the Free Church College has been in the past, and what Edinburgh Theological Seminary will continue to be in the future.
The Seminary is avowedly confessional
This does not simply mean that those who teach within the Seminary subscribe to the Confession of Faith. It also means that what is taught in the Seminary will reflect the main emphases of the Confession. Central to this confessional framework is the Department of Systematic Theology. It has traditionally been shaped – as the library is shaped – by the doctrines of the Confession of Faith. Within this department, the ‘whole counsel of God’ is explained and taught. Moreover, it is taught at the level which enables students to know the main doctrines well enough to both proclaim and defend them.
The Seminary is biblically reformed
In Systematic Theology, the core doctrine has to do with the doctrine of revelation and its relation to Scripture: the Bible is the word of God. Good Biblical Studies will approach the word of God with an unwavering respect for the divinely inspired nature of the material in terms both of the bigger picture and the finer details.
The importance of the detail provides the reason for the study of the Biblical languages, in particular, Greek and Hebrew. The Free Church has always insisted that all Free Church candidates who intend to be ordained as teaching elders be required to study Greek and Hebrew. There are other forms of Christian service which will not require such intimate knowledge of Greek and Hebrew – and the Seminary wishes to be help in their theological education as well. However, Edinburgh Theological Seminary has no intention of shifting from its strong recommendation that all those who are preparing for a full-time teaching ministry anywhere in the church of Christ should study Greek and Hebrew. Indeed, this is one of our niche offerings.
The Seminary is denominationally rooted
The Seminary is linked to the Free Church of Scotland – and no one wants that to change. The Seminary will continue to be known as the Free Church of Scotland’s ‘College’. That is part of its strength, not its weakness. The ‘College’ has helped the church keep its focus in the past; and the church has helped the ‘College’ by its care in appointing and overseeing those who would teach. Yes, we want other denominations to share in this avowedly confessional, biblically reformed theological education, but not at the expense of its connection with the Free Church. Edinburgh Theological Seminary is totally at ease with this denominational rootedness, believing that it provides strength, stability and purpose.
As Edinburgh Theological Seminary, this College has no intention of dispensing with its ‘Scottishness’. Indeed, we consider this to be our niche. We believe that our postgraduate courses in Scottish Church History and Theology offer something which no other theological college offers.
The Seminary is academically validated
In 2000, The Free Church College, at the instigation of the church and its candidates, asked for academic validation of its main course and received it without altering what it had always taught. It remains as avowedly confessional, and as reformed in its biblical studies as ever. Indeed, Glasgow University recognised the uniqueness of our validated programs within a Scottish reformed heritage, and are happy not only to validate relevant programs but to play a role in supporting this reformed heritage.
Why validation? The reasoning was that the students were already doing the work, and knew that it was worthy of a degree award. This would enable the Seminary to train students from other denominations, offering a degree course that was still avowedly confessional and biblically reformed. This validation by Glasgow University provides an opportunity for mission in the wider theological educational training associated with the mission of the church of Christ. Edinburgh Theological Seminary highly values this academic validation.
The Seminary is passionately vocational
The ethos of the Seminary is vocational. The content of the programs – both undergraduate and postgraduate – are thoroughly vocational. This affects the selection of the material which is taught in the departments. The Bachelor of Theology and the Master of Theology (both Taught and Research) may be academic programs, but they are taught firmly within a vocational framework.
Because the Seminary sees itself as vocational at its core, it also offers programs other than those validated by the University of Glasgow. The Certificate in Theology and the Diploma in Christian Studies are intended to encourage Christians of all ages to delve deeper into the Word of God and provide opportunities for local discipleship. The Access to Theology course is suitable for students looking for a broad but rigorous introduction to theological study, as well as for those who wish to pursue further studies in theology but lack entrance qualifications. The Diploma in Christian Youthwork is a means of providing selected theological and practical training for those who wish to be involved in discipling and evangelising young people. Sabbatical Studies in Theology and Mission provides further opportunities for those already in various forms of pastoral ministry to develop vocational gifts and pursue supervised theological/pastoral research in areas that are related to their present spheres of ministry, or future areas of service.
These programs, like the Bachelor of Theology and the Masters in Theology, are all taught within a vocational ethos and serve to enable Christians from all denominations to prepare for ministry. The Seminary, like the Church, is determined that this vocational emphasis should not be lost.
The Seminary is enthusiastically missional
Like many other conservative denominations, the Free Church of Scotland is increasingly aware of the need to reach out to all parts of Scotland, and to nations beyond our own shores, with the gospel of the grace of God. While many of our students go into already established ministries, others seek to bring the gospel into new areas, planting new churches, revitalizing old ones. All of them seek to bring the word of God to rural regions or urban conurbations in a way that is faithful to the truth, and relevant to their own generation.
Edinburgh Theological Seminary is equipped to prepare missionaries for reaching out to such a secular world. It does so, not at the expense of a theological focus, but by offering, in addition, training in defending and proclaiming the faith. These hugely important aspects are delivered by those who are recognised specialists in mission, apologetics, ethics and cross-cultural evangelism. Edinburgh Theological Seminary will retain and develop this missional emphasis for the benefit of individuals and denominations in Europe and beyond who are equally burdened to prepare for mission in the 21st century.
Good theological education...
In conclusion this is the kind of theological education we wish to be involved in; one that is -
- avowedly confessional
- biblically reformed
- denominationally rooted
- academically validated
- passionately vocational
- enthusiastically missional
The transition from Free Church College to Edinburgh Theological Seminary will certainly help the Free Church and its ‘College’ to share this theological education in a manner that will, with God’s help, benefit the wider evangelical community as it seeks to serve the Lord and his mission. That is our desire, the desire of Principal Martin, and the desire of all the staff at ETS.