“God’s revelation is utterly profound, as well as essentially simple, and no amount of study and reflection on our part will exhaust its riches.” – Tyndale Fellowship Mission Statement
If you walk into the DBTS building this week, you’ll notice something unusual for a school: no classes are going on, but still, students occupy the largest theological library in Southeast Michigan with the classic combination of laptops, books, and caffeine. Most professors are in their offices, and you may overhear passionate discussions on theological issues or quiet sessions of prayer in faculty offices.
This week is Winter Break, or Reading Week, an event rich with historical significance and purpose. For years, research universities have scheduled a reading week – a time for students to engage in serious course reading and study or to catch up on rest and family without the demands of spending time in class. DBTS has always had a reading week, though its function has morphed throughout the years. It used to be the point in the semester where students were required to finish all course readings so that the rest of the semester could be spent in profitable discussion and writing. Now it’s a time for students to catch up on reading and start writing major semester papers. Regardless of its function in the academic calendar, this week is just one evidence of the priority DBTS places on theological research and study.
Rather than disengaging from the academic community, DBTS professors and students regularly contribute to and engage with leading conservative theologians – in articles, published books, or forums like the Evangelical Theological Society. And students in DBTS classrooms benefit from our professors’ research and writing in some ways more than students at larger schools because small class sizes also give professors time to share their learning personally with students. Brian Trainer comments on the DBTS environment: “DBTS is a unique marriage of deep research and practical experience that you receive in few other places.”
This research-focused environment gives students two primary benefits. First, they get a deeper dive into the Scriptures and relevant theological writings. Students in Church History read extensively from the Church Fathers; students in Systematic Theology, a wide range of orthodox perspectives.
Seminary is a time where students are figuring out where they land on the theological landscape and DBTS classes do not shy away from discussing differences of opinion in conservative theological thought. Being at a small seminary gives students the opportunity to dialogue with published professors both inside and outside classroom to help determine these positions. Graduates walk away with a settled, grounded assurance in their faith and the ability to proclaim and defend the truth to their congregations.
Second, students are prepared to tackle further degrees like a Th.M. or Ph.D. at other research universities. Graduates from DBTS have gone on to complete degrees from Westminster, Southern, Trinity, Dallas, and Southeastern, to name a few. Graduates have also become professors of theology all over the world. This focus on theological research, far from making students out of touch with the church, enables them to serve the church in great ways. As the mission statement of the Tyndale Fellowship says, “Committed and qualified Christians are needed to do research and to write tomorrow’s textbooks; such textbooks will mould the thinking of tomorrow’s teachers and preachers and so ultimately affect profoundly the future life of the church.”
Professors at DBTS are expected to and given the time to write. Teaching loads are kept relatively light and classes are scheduled only in the morning, giving professors and students time in the afternoons to read, write, and study. As Brian Trainer explains: “The expectation for the professors is that they continue their professional development within their areas of expertise. It’s expected that they will get further education and produce. We even make it a point to incentivize professors to publish papers and books and submit papers to peer reviewed journals.” Indeed, two professors are currently working to publish books in 2017.
Tim Miller, professor of New Testament Studies and Greek, is currently working on a second Ph.D. and is working to publish a modified form of his first dissertation, “The Triune God of Unity and Diversity: The Trinitarian Theological Method of Vern Poythress and John Frame” this Spring. He comments that he loves DBTS’s emphasis on giving professors time to research and write as part of their job. He completed his first Ph.D. while teaching at a school with a heavy teaching load and appreciates having the time to spend with his family now that he’s working on a second Ph.D. Look for his book, published by P&R Publishing, to release in March 2017.
Kyle Dunham, professor of Old Testament Studies, is publishing a commentary on Ecclesiastes in collaboration with retired DBTS professor Dr. Robert McCabe. The commentary will be combined with a commentary of Song of Solomon and published as part of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series by Logos and Lexham Press.
They wanted to give a fresher insight on the structure of the book and a unique take on some of the issues addressed in Ecclesiastes, such as the meaning of the Hebrew word hebel, traditionally translated ‘vanity.’ “We’re going to argue that a better way of rendering that is enigmatic or ‘that which is puzzling,” Kyle said. His specific area of contribution to the commentary pertains to how intertexuality relates to Ecclesiastes. See Dr. Dunham’s recent blog series on intertextuality to get a first look at his unique contribution to the literature on Ecclesiastes. Look for the commentary to release by the end of 2017.
As C.S. Lewis famously said, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than He is of any other slacker.” If the Lord wills, DBTS professors and graduates will continue to write and to influence the theological landscape for the glory of God and the good of the church for many years to come. Our students need the rigorous preparation and our churches desperately need theological depth and understanding. We are blessed to be a resource for helping young men correctly handle the Word of Truth.