A Note From Dr. Greg Tomlin
In 1988 and 2019, respectively, two steamboats—the Arabia and the Malta—were uncovered after being buried by river silt and the sands of time for a century and a half. They were once useful for commerce, travel, and entertainment, but had ran aground, sunk, and been left behind as the Missouri River changed course. Both were deep inland and nearly forty feet deep in the dirt.
Somewhere along the way, the pilots of each of these shallow draft vessels had neglected his duty. Why he neglected his duty (laziness, inattention to detail, drunkenness, inexperience, or something else) does not really matter. What matters is his ship was lost to the river.
The pilot was the indispensable member of the crew on such ships. He was the man—or woman in the case of Mary Miller in 1883—recognized by the crew as the one who best knew the rivers, with all of their obstacles, shallow sandbars, and rocky hazards. Mark Twain once wrote in Old Times on the Mississippi how he initially believed piloting a steamboat was an easy task for someone. All that was necessary was to keep the boat in the middle of the river, and his first experience in the wheelhouse was in the fair daylight.
As darkness descended, however, things were different. “Here was something fresh—this thing of getting up in the middle of the night to go to work. It was a detail in piloting that had never occurred to me at all. I knew that boats ran all night, but somehow I had never happened to reflect that somebody had to get up out of a warm bed to run them. I began to fear that piloting was not quite so romantic as I had imagined it was; there was something very real and work-like about this new phase of it.”
That work, Twain learned, was observing the narrowing bends in the river, fields of stumps, and rocky outcroppings which looked vastly different in the dark of night, especially when the night was “dingy.” He took comfort when other river pilots, even those off duty, decided it best to man the deck, watch for danger, or assist with soundings (measuring the depth of the river).
Today, many tributaries have converged to form the river of faith in America. On occasion, they have together swollen the river and it has poured over the banks of orthodoxy. Historians—gazing from high above—can now trace where the river’s bends and loops have silted in, formed stagnant backwaters, or continued on into navigable, productive waters. And, as this river of faith flows, changes course, or runs dry, so do many of the ships on it—our churches.
Is there a better reason for theological education among our pastors and, indeed, the lay leaders in our churches? Night is falling. Some hazards are obvious to us, but danger also lies just beneath the surface. We need pilots who know the river, have excellent vision, and who can navigate over or around obstacles both hidden and revealed in order to avoid the “shipwreck” of faith (1 Timothy 1:19-20).
The Bible, of course, does not speak of ship pilots. It speaks to us of pastor shepherds, overseers, and elders. In most Baptist churches today, a single pastor leads. In an increasing number, leadership has fallen to a group of elders. And some churches have entrusted lay leaders with the authority to help guide congregations. Theological education is for them all. Yes, “seminary” exists for you and for your church, and this is our “all hands on deck” moment. Every eye should be watching the river as it rolls along.
The word “seminary” is derived from the Latin seminarium. When the word was coined, it was used in reference to a nursey of sorts, a seedbed where smaller plants grew up and were prepared for transplantation and the bearing of fruit elsewhere. Somehow, in a way lost to us in history, the term was eventually applied to specific schools offering theological education, first by Roman Catholics and, after 1791, by Protestants.
Noah Porter, who was named president of Princeton in 1871, wrote in The Educational Systems of the Puritans and Jesuits Compared: A Premium Essay for the Promotion of Collegiate and Theological Education at the West, that these institutions, among the Protestants, were meant to:
- Develop a deep reverence for the authority of God’s Word;
- Add dimension and depth to the study of God’s Word through the use of its original languages;
- Assist God-called men and women in investigating every aspect of Truth in order to develop an apologetic defense of the faith against false doctrine;
- Refine the soul of the student, settle the conscience, and examine the obligations given by God for the pastor, teacher, professor, missionary, or denominational worker;
- Ensure the transference of biblical knowledge from generation to generation through able expositors and teachers of the Bible, Theology, Christian History, and other disciplines.
- Stoke the missional imperative so students would seek the expansion of God’s Kingdom for His glory.
For these reasons and more, we serve at B. H. Carroll Theological Seminary, a graduate-level community of faith and learning which equips men and women called to serve Christ in the diverse and global ministries of His church. Through our investment in modern technology, innovate program design, and flexible degree options, we help students achieve their goals where they live, work, and serve.
Our goal is to assist God-called men and women to prepare for service—ministers and laypersons whose knowledge is like the river pilot who seeks to keep the ship in the deepest channel of the faith, whose skills help them navigate a changing culture without running aground, and whose eyes are alert for hazards both hidden and revealed. With the right training, good pilots—our pastors, other ministers, and educated laypersons—will help keep our churches off the shoals and keep our focus on that fixed star, which is Christ our Lord. We ask you to help us in this endeavor.
It would be a shame to falter in this task and find our churches buried in our nation’s memory, if not deep in the ground, covered by the eroded waste of our culture, 150 years in the future.