My program at Westminster requires I take two external courses. I did one at Princeton and will do one at Villanova next semester. I bade farewell to the chaps at Princeton Seminary today of PT 9074. Like at Central Seminary and unlike at Westminster, the class was taken out to lunch. I really like that part. It was a very good class too. Here’s some observations based on having taken only one class at PTS.
- Class size was a big difference. We were only six total students in the class. Most of us were PhD students and two were MDiv students. On the whole, because I am not in Biblical Studies classes perhaps, at Westminster I’ve had larger class sizes and inverted graduate to post-graduate student ratio.
- Students at Princeton in general are more connected to what is going on in class. Part of this is the concern that they not be overcommitted while going to school, and there is lavish supply for their needs. We studied Bernard of Clairvaux in my class. In one of his letters he writes to a monk who has run away from the barebones Cistercian monastery in a swamp to go to sumptuous Cluny. With an $800,000,000 endowment, Princeton Seminary is Cluny. But part of it also is that that kind of engagement is expected, and the teacher was extremely personally attentive to us. Having students doing other things on their laptops, dozing off for legitimate or illegitimate reasons, or just not engaged never occurred. Our teacher was unexpectedly unable to attend one of the first sessions and the students carried the class on with zeal and great profit. It was like being in a class all of girls, except there were no girls.
- One of the things Westminster wants to guarantee is its MDiv product. There are various reasons for that: why it was founded, who it answers to, how it is set up. The result of having a clear view of an outcome even in the way the classes you take are structured makes, for better or worse, a kind of conformity throughout, in all classes. It is more noticeable than, for instance, at Central Seminary, and I’ve been surprised. At Princeton there is no sense that you have to come out one way or another (and I inquired about it too). This indifference to where you end up opens up inquiry along the way, and you can sense that all options will be considered.
- The weaseling about terms such as ‘gospel’ and ‘resurrection’ and other such key parts of a theological vocabulary is palpable at Princeton. Sometimes we are clear, sometimes we are not clear, and too often the reference is ambiguous. Part of that is the prevailing Barthianism—those are just the conditions that will apply with that kind of theological outlook. Part of it is the religion of nonjudgementalism, which is the religion of polite and affluent America. I think in that regard Princeton is a funny place, a mixture of right and left in various shades. One description one of the students gave me is that it is too conservative for the liberal students and too liberal for the conservative students. The result of the ambiguity is that you sit there thinking: wait, that was properly worded, but do I agree? And then you go home wondering if you spoke out too much and annoyed people about things beside the point, or you go home thinking you didn’t have the courage to disagree with something preposterous. I’ll just say that in terms of theological education, what I believe, how we talk about theology and what we mean, I’m glad I go to Westminster.