Dr. J. Ligon Duncan gave the Chancellor’s Address for the RTS Luncheon at the 49th PCA General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Duncan’s address was entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here? RTS, the PCA, and the Reformed Movement Worldwide.”
Friends, thank you so much for being here today. It’s a joy to spend a little bit of time with you, and I hope to give you just a little bit of encouragement. We are in the midst of challenging circumstances, and often in discouraging situations in the churches today. But challenging circumstances and discouraging situations are an opportunity for us to trust in the goodness of God and the wisdom of his providence, and walk by faith, and not by sight. For these momentary light afflictions are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen.
Yes, we are traversing a polarizing moment in our country, in our culture, and in our churches. Yes, there is a deep-seated political and social division in the nation that shows no sign of short-term resolution. Meanwhile, there’s spillover from the culture into the church: the pandemic, war, abortion, rising fuel prices, racial tensions. All of these things that are a part of our current situation have invited the polarization of the country into our churches. And I find disheartened ministers and members as I travel about, whether it’s sex abuse scandals in evangelical circles, racial tensions, and on and on and on. There is much for discouragement.
The State of Seminaries Today
And by the way, this discouragement— you’ll also find it in theological education today. Have you been watching the headlines in Christianity Today and other outlets? These are hard times for seminaries: Challenging circumstances and discouraging situations are an opportunity for us to trust in the goodness of God and the wisdom of his providence, and walk by faith, and not by sight.Gordon-Conwell Seminary selling their property and moving to a leased location, Trinity Seminary in trouble, Fuller Seminary in trouble— those three seminaries, major seminaries of the neo-evangelical movement in the mid-twentieth century.
In fact, recently, Kirsten Sanders of Christianity Today wrote an article called “Seminaries in Trouble.” And here’s her opening sentence: “There is no good news coming from freestanding seminaries, and there hasn’t been for some time.” Au contraire, Pierre! There is enormously good news. The Lord has blessed RTS. And I think even as you hear Ric’s statements, I want you to know we do not take ourselves very seriously. The Lord has done all of this. He gets all the credit. We are simply his instruments and the servants and means that he has appointed for his own glory. And so, RTS is very unimportant. And God’s glory, and the gospel, and the Lord Jesus Christ are very important. But we intend to be faithful uses; we intend to be faithful means of the Lord in his work. And there’s really good news about RTS.
The State of RTS
First of all, I want you to be encouraged by this. RTS is teaching more residential MDiv credit hours for people preparing for the pastoral ministry— men preparing for the pastoral ministry— than any seminary in North America. Even the two largest seminaries in North America do not teach as many residential credit hours for men that are preparing for the gospel ministry. That is incredibly encouraging. RTS, over the last eight years, has not only grown 12%— while almost all other seminaries are in steep decline or at the very best, stagnant— RTS has not only grown, but RTS has prepared for the PCA and NAPARC more ministers, more campus ministers, more counselors, more chaplains, more missionaries than any other seminary. We are profoundly thankful for what the Lord is doing in our midst.
Prioritizing Residential Theological Education
RTS is teaching more residential MDiv credit hours for men preparing for the pastoral ministry than any seminary in North America.We believe that the more personal theological education is, the better it is. And that’s why we do everything we can to facilitate residential theological education. So we’re giving five and a half million dollars a year— scholarships— in order to make residential theological education affordable for our students so that they become alumni like you, and begin serving in the churches not burdened with the costs of seminary education. That is a commitment from RTS to you, to the PCA, and to the Reformed movement worldwide. And God, in his kindness, has chosen to prosper those efforts. We thank God for that. Now, as you have already perhaps perceived from the video, I have two very significant and happy announcements to make.
Upgrading RTS Jackson
The first announcement is that we have just signed the papers, just over two weeks ago, to relocate the original campus in Jackson, Mississippi. We are moving to Interstate 55 and Meadowbrook Road in Jackson, Mississippi. We purchased a beautiful new campus with housing and we hope, by God’s grace, to move in by the summer of next year.
Now, I want to tell you something about this move. It is not the kind of move you have seen stories about many other seminaries around the country, including Fuller and Gordon-Conwell, selling their property and trying to relocate. They are doing that because of decline. They’re doing that because of enrollment decline. That is not why we’re doing this in Jackson. This is a 50-year investment. In fact, we’re about to invest $25 million in this move. Now, you don’t do that because of decline. You do that because of growth and opportunity. And so, we will be upgrading to a state of the art facility at the new location in Jackson.
We will be upgrading to a state of the art facility at the new location in Jackson.And the great thing about it is, we’re moving closer into the city of Jackson. If you know anything about RTS Jackson, we were started on a horse farm in West Jackson— so far into West Jackson, we’re almost in Clinton, Mississippi. Now, we’ll be right in the heart, the hub of the city, closer to the churches that we support. And so, we’re very excited about this move and will be sending out information to all of you. There’ll be more video and more pictures so that you can visualize what this new campus— every time I look at the design, it just gets me excited. It has been a tremendous process. Without Richard Ridgway, my chairman of the board, and without Larry Edwards, this never would have happened. These two men have done more than anybody else to make this happen. It is incredibly exciting. And let me tell you some other good news. We’ve already got half of the cost pledged, and a good bit of it given. And it’s my prayer that within a year, we will not only have it paid for, but we will have it endowed for the future so that the moneys that I put in, I can put in to my students. That’s where we want to deploy the resources of Reformed Theological Seminary.
QEP: Quality Enhancement Plan
And I have a second encouraging thing I want to share with you, and that is, one of our accreditors, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, requires us to do a QEP, a Quality Enhancement Plan, to give value added to our students. About 15 years ago, what we chose to do was Islam. We found out that many of our students, when they came to the seminary, knew nothing about Islam, and that is a social, religious and cultural force that you need to know about if you’re a gospel minister. And so, we took Islam as our QEP and created a course in the curriculum called Christian Encounter with Islam. If you want to see James Anderson‘s course, Christian Encounter with Islam, you can pick up the RTS mobile app— by the way, completely redesigned in the last month. You can get it for free, download it in your app store, whatever your particular phone device is, and watch that whole course for free. We’re going to keep that course in the curriculum, it was so good.
But this time we have chosen as our QEP the Westminster Confession of Faith. RTS is committed to the authority of Scripture, to the Reformed faith as it is expressed in the Westminster Standards, and we want to be obedient to the Great Commission.We’ve always been committed to the Westminster Confession, but we are going to make sure that the confessional standards are woven throughout the curriculum at RTS, because more and more people come to seminary with very little theological background, and we don’t want the standards to just be over in a few courses in systematic theology. We want the standards to be woven throughout the curriculum.
We are also going to be producing material, much of it free for the churches, for officer training. Pastors have to spend a lot of time developing material as they invest in the officers of their congregation. We want to help you. We want to give you some material that’s going to help you in that process, along with— just like the faculty wrote the book on covenant theology, and the faculty wrote the volumes on Old Testament and New Testament— we’re going to be producing at least one volume on the Westminster Standards out of this QEP. I want you to know that RTS is committed to the authority of Scripture, to the Reformed faith as it is expressed in the Westminster Standards, and we want to be obedient to the Great Commission. And I really think that’s what we need in our denomination and in our world today.
Now, let me just to give you a few encouragements before I close. There are so many good things happening out there in the midst of the discouragement. Let me tell you this one. Did you know that the Senior Chaplain at West Point is an RTS graduate? Did you know that in the Chief of Chaplains office in the Pentagon, there are four PCA men, including RTS graduates? There are unbelievably exciting things going on in the world today. Let me share one with you. Jay Harvey is our Executive Director at RTS New York City. Do not be discouraged. The Lord is moving. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in the country and the culture. The Lord is moving.RTS New York City is now meeting at Central Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue in New York City. When Harry Emerson Fosdick preached his sermon, “Shall The Fundamentalists Win?” at First Presbyterian Church New York City, and the presbytery of New York City kicked him out of the pulpit, John D. Rockefeller built him [the church] which is now Central Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue. And that is where our RTS New York City graduations are. So as I stood in Harry Emerson Fosdick’s pulpit, I said, “Shall the fundamentalists win? Apparently so.”
The Lord is doing incredibly— do not be discouraged, brothers. Do not be discouraged. The Lord is moving. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in the country and the culture. The Lord is moving, and we’re happy to be his handservants in helping that go on, especially by preparing the pastors and the church leaders for the PCA of today and the future. Thank you so much for being here. We’re going to sing together, “The Church’s One Foundation.”