Reformation through Theological Education

Posted On March 10, 2018

Theological education is one of the forgotten legacies of the Reformation. We often think of the Reformation only in terms of the contributions of single individuals such as Luther and Calvin. But we often forget that they collaborated with a host of other likeminded theologians to usher the teaching of the Reformation into the modern world. The genius of the Reformation is seen in the efforts of these pastors to build infrastructure that would carry the teaching of God’s Word to future generations. Churches were planted. Confessions were written. Books were published. And academies were established.

Part of this concern was driven by a desire to see the Reformation reach down into the lives of God’s people. In the words of John Knox, “the virtuous education and godly upbringing of the youth” is essential for the “advancement of Christ’s glory.” This vision of Reformation through education sustained the work of Luther in Wittenberg, Calvin in Geneva, Puritans in Cambridge, and Presbyterians in Princeton. Wherever the convictions of the Reformation took root, a commitment to theological training emerged.

The establishment of theological schools helped codify Reformed theology for students. When John Owen wrote his massive commentary on the book of Hebrews, one of his objectives was preparing future generations to defend biblical teaching on the Person and work of Christ against false teaching that was prevalent in seventeenth century England. This pastoral concern flowed from his years of teaching students at Oxford University where he expressed his desire that the “rising generation” would give themselves to a study of theology. He wanted his students to know “the sacred treasury of theology” in order to reach both “the Church and the schools” with the gospel. “Our energies belong to the Redeemer: we have Christ Himself as president and judge,” Owen states. “Upon our watchfulness, zeal and efforts depend the glorification of truth, the respect for religion, the luster of the arts and the sciences, and not in any small degree the safety and happiness of the country itself.” England, in order words, needed theologians.

The conviction that theological education is vital for the advancement of church and school arises from the firm belief that what we believe about God shapes everything in life. By focusing on students, the reformers hoped that over time their teaching would spread throughout the world. The need today is no different. Doctrinal decline within the church and moral degradation outside the church have always plagued the people of God. To equip the saints to stand for the truth of God’s Word, in whatever calling they serve, we must recover the Reformation emphasis on theological education.

For this reason, Reformation Bible College was founded in 2011. At our five-year anniversary, Dr. Sproul shared his vision for the college. He mentioned that his dream for RBC was that it would be “a small, intimate, dedicated school” dedicated “for people to understand the faith, to know the faith, to be able to defend the faith, and to be able to contend for the faith.” He wanted to found a college where students would not be simply “adherents to the faith, but advocates of the faith.” RBC stands in a long line of institutions dedicated to advancing the Reformed classical tradition through theological education.

Dr. John Tweeddale is academic dean and professor of theology at Reformation Bible College.