“I make it my ambition to preach the gospel,
not where Christ has already been named,
lest I build on someone else’s foundation.”
— Romans 15:20 —
I teach theology because I love our triune God, I love the gospel, I love the Word of God, and I love helping others rightly understand how doctrine centers on Christ and impacts every area of life. More recently, I’ve been thinking about why I teach theology at Indianapolis Theological Seminary—a school that has over the last three years developed from a dream into a reality.
For the last four years, I have taught adjunctly at various Bible colleges and seminaries, but ITS has received the bulk of my attention. And though my home is now in Virginia, and my pastoral labors are 100% committed to Occoquan Bible Church, here are the four reasons why I teach and serve on the board at Indianapolis Theological Seminary.
May God be pleased to establish this school as he sees fit for the glory of his name and the strengthening of his church, in Indianapolis and beyond.
First, Indianapolis is the nation’s fourteenth largest city. But in this growing city, there is not one Evangelical seminary. Yes, there are extensions from other seminaries; there are a few Bible colleges; and there are some graduate programs that have “Christian” in the name. But there is no residential seminary degree available that adheres to the historic confessions of the faith. This reason alone makes teaching at ITS worthwhile.
But there’s more. Church history has shown that revivals and church planting movements are strengthened and sustained by schools of divinity. As in Acts, when a region is serviced by a place of teaching (like Paul’s three years in Ephesus), a whole region can be reached with the gospel (19:10). Ministering in Southern Indiana for seven years, I observed how there are great pockets of need throughout that state. Unfortunately, when such a school is lacking, ministers are left to their own devices, or they take classes at schools with liberal teaching, or, in our day, they go on-line or leave the city to find a robust theological education.
With roots in Indiana (my ancestors were founders of Shipshewana) and more than seven years of ministry in the Hoosier State, my heart longs to see a faithful seminary flourish in Indianapolis. And thus, while home is now Northern Virginia, I happily make the trip back to Indianapolis to teach at ITS.
Second, few schools are organized quite like ITS. Instead of trying to relocate students to attend our seminary, we want to aid the churches in and around Indianapolis in the training of their leaders. Similarly, while some schools are sponsored by large denominations or centered around the magnetic ministry of one proven leader, ITS is led by coalition of local pastors and ministry leaders from diverse denominations.
Thus, ITS is held together by a common agreement on the historic confessions, a commitment to a theologically-robust curriculum, a gospel-centered and Word-saturated approach to ministry, and a commitment to the local church. We want to teach and defend a winsome, evangelistic Reformed approach to life and ministry, but beyond that we want to serve anyone in Indianapolis who wants to know more of the Bible or receive greater training for service. All who love the Bible are welcome and will enjoy it.
For this reason, the vision is far larger than an individual church promoting its brand. Rather, collaborating together we believe we can do more for the kingdom by equipping faithful ministers from Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican, Sovereign Grace, Bible Church, and other gospel-centered traditions. Accordingly, the model of our school requires each student to complete nearly 1/3 of their credits in their own local church, under qualified supervision. Hence, the logistics of this model truly support the efforts of local pastors who are seeking to raise up future ministers, just as Scriptures intend—pastors who are equipped to call forth more leaders from local churches.
Third, long-term I believe this model will have a greater shelf-life. While not pretending to be a prophet, I am doubtful that mammoth seminaries are the future of theological education. For the last 150 years or more, America has been blessed to see a plethora of large, amenity-rich schools flourish. Tens of thousands of ministers have come through these schools, and millions of disciples have been blessed by these centers of theological training.
Entering into the twenty-first century, a time recognized as “post-Christian” by some and under threat by others (i.e., the future of religious liberty is in question), I suspect that theological training will have to morph over the next 50 and 150 years. What models of theological education will, therefore, be most effective? I believe it will be models of ministry that look more like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s seminaries in Germany. Should any changes come to the tax codes or should religious liberty be removed in our nation, then the large seminaries that trained pastors and missionaries a generation ago may not be able to sustain their large campuses. But seminaries comprised of local churches—think people gathered, not buildings—will remain, and must be ready to train future ministers.
In the absence of these schools, or even in their ongoing presence, I believe schools like ITS are needed to unite gospel-centered churches, to pool academic resources (e.g., biblical languages, theology, church history, etc.), and to further equip all levels of church leadership. Online classes may deliver content in the future, but ultimately the lasting fruit of such delivery systems is still unknown. We are convinced that the best context for theological training is always face-to-face (cf. 2 John 12; 3 John 13–14). And thus ITS’s model retains that while seeming to be reproducible in other contexts.
Even more, because ITS does not depend on any one church or single ministry, it makes the likelihood of transferring its structure to another region more plausible. To be fair, such collaborative efforts among multiple churches may make ITS a bit more unwieldy or difficult to raise up. But such dynamics also make it a model adaptable, even reproducible in foreign contexts—something that cannot be said of the large, campus-based seminaries in North America.
It is for this reason, in particular, that I teach at ITS, with hopes that if God confirms the work of our hands, we might be able to bless other cities and nations with a working model and many lessons learned as we encourage theological education around the world. What a joy it would be to see other seminaries like ITS bringing together like-minded, gospel-centered confessional churches in places like Salt Lake City, Rejakavik (Iceland), or Northern Virginia. It’s with this potential for seminary-multiplying, that I teach at ITS.
Finally, I teach at ITS because I want to invest my two talents in something that may double my eternal joy. When I considered doing doctoral studies, the deciding factor was the possibility of training pastors in the future. Teaching at ITS gives me that opportunity, but more than that it takes a risk in training pastors at ITS instead of a more established school.
I have and will (if God allows) teach adjunctly at other seminaries. But ultimately, I want to give the fullness of my efforts to ITS because of what Paul said in Romans 15:20. There are many places where the Word of God is being faithfully taught. But there are even more places where seminary training needs to be brought. If ITS could do that in Indianapolis, a city that currently does not have such a residential, church-centered school, my joy would be doubled. If ITS could be a school whose model of ministry is able to be reproduced in other places, my joy would be multiplied all the more.
In truth, I want to pursue the things in life which will amplify my eternal joy. Serving the Lord in North America where I live with much material ease means I must go out of my way to pursue risks. ITS is a risk, but that for me is all the more reason to give my prayers, effort, money, and energy to it. Indeed, life is short and eternity is worth it, and when that day comes when I see my Savior, I don’t want to say that I held back because it was risky, difficult, or uncertain.
Rather, like Paul I want to venture where the Lord leads. And I believe that ITS is such a venture. Is it crazy to try and plant a seminary? A little. But it is more crazy to squander the treasures God has given to us. In glory, I don’t want to be like the “untried soldier in the presence of battle-hardened heroes who have fought the fight and won the victory and have the scars to prove that they were present when the battle was joined” (A. W. Tozer). No, I want to, as much as God allows, join the battle, risk for the glory of God, and see what God may accomplish in our day.
The Word of God is clear: we are to love our neighbors, teach sound doctrine, make disciples, plant churches, and train future pastors. ITS exists for all of these reasons, and that is why I teach there.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds