The following six value statements help clarify our ethos and provide guidance for the way in which our work is done.
A curriculum based solely and comprehensively on scripture
It is difficult to overemphasize the centrality of Scripture as our first, sufficient and final authority. One of the biggest challenges to the church through the ages has been the way Christians so readily substitute other forms of authority for the Bible. These other forms of authority may be tradition, personalities, fads, supposed new revelations, even confessions of faith. If we are to be faithful to Christ, if we are to help Christians to be faithful to him, then we need to embody and teach the principle of sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. While we recognize the value and necessity of church traditions that are good, we seek to allow the Scriptures to stand alone as they dictate both the shape and the content of our curriculum. With this we seek to counter the “theology of unbelief” that has infected so many theological institutions and effectively robbed so many people of God’s word by reducing the Bible to mere human opinion.
A ministry that is local church based and focussed
We recognize the central role that the local church plays in God’s plan to make disciples of all nations. It is primarily in the local church that believers can be taught to obey all that Jesus commanded us (Matt 28:18-20). For this reason, the focus of our training is ministry in and through the local church. Whether we are training pastors or other believers, we want to see them ministering effectively within the context of the local church. Thus we are local church focussed.
Teaching which demonstrates personal interest in the students
Too much teaching, especially at tertiary level, is just a matter of making knowledge available without recognizing the importance of human interaction between teacher and student. In the case of a distance learning institution, this problem becomes all the more acute. Since SGTS uses a distance learning approach, we face many challenges in developing relationships with the students and showing that we are committed to them personally. However, we seek by the Lord’s help to overcome these challenges. Scripture shows us that discipleship and training must occur in the context of relationships (e.g. 1 Thess 2:6-12). Paul gives us an example of how, when he was separated from the believers through distance, he continued to develop his relationship with them through visits and letters. At SGTS we aim to increase opportunities for lecturers to make contact with the students through contact sessions, email and other correspondence; by partnering with local churches and appointing local tutors we want to help students to feel that they are really cared for. We also urge students to make use of these opportunities and, from their side, to develop meaningful relationships with the Seminary staff.
Programmes based on sound educational principles and practices
Not only is theology the “queen of the sciences”, but pastors are “doctors” of the eternal souls of men and women. Thus the standards of knowledge and skill required of pastor-teachers are just as high as those for doctors, engineers and other professions. We do not degrade kingdom work by suggesting that any kind of elementary knowledge and skill will equip a person to meet its demands. Because the work of the kingdom is so demanding, we realize that great skill and effort are required to train people effectively for it. We thus seek to use the best educational principles and practices in all our programmes.
We believe that it is important for all Christians to be thinkers, and to learn to hear God speaking in his word rather than just taking over the opinions of other people. One of the tools which is important if we are to achieve this aim is academic excellence; thus we seek to embody this value in our research and teaching. By “academic excellence” we mean:
All seminary staff are spiritually, morally and academically qualified
It has been said that “a seminary is one thing—faculty. . . . Everything else is incidental” (John Piper, Brothers we are not professionals, p.262). As is the case with all ministers of the word, seminary faculty are their own tools: they must think with their own brains, feel with their own hearts, and speak with their own voices (C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to my students, p.7). All our vision, mission and values, however noble, will come to nothing if the seminary staff, who must put these ideals into practice, are not spiritually, morally and academically qualified.