These directions are an appendix to Howe’s A Discourse on Theological Education, which you can find on Google Books. I commend them (both from an historical perspective, and a practical perspective) to anyone considering gospel ministry or involved in preparing men for gospel ministry.
Several random thoughts came to mind as I read and transcribed these directions (you’ll have to read the directions for some of these to make any sense):
1. It doesn’t seem like we tell young men considering the ministry that all of their educational endeavors are foundationally important for the ministry. Howe writes, “All sciences may be and are properly connected with theological truths more or less closely, and he is not a complete theologian who is not acquainted with them all. There are no branches of college study which are not important, either for the discipline they furnish to the mind, or for valuable and useful knowledge they convey.” We need to start telling that to our sons and young boys even before the Lord calls them to the ministry. As a math and history major, I especially appreciated his comments regarding math (“The mathematical studies are the least directly connected of any with the preacher’s and pastor’s wants, yet are the most useful in training the mind to exactness and conclusiveness in reasoning and in strengthening its powers of attention.”), and history: “The study of History is important, in a thousand ways, to the minister of Christ, 1) as illustrating the dealings of God with nations as well as individuals, and teaching the true nature of man; 2) as revealing those principles which are conservative or destructive of man’s virtue and peace; 3) as pointing out those things which have contributed to the advancement or retrocession of the mind in knowledge and strength; 4) as disclosing the source of those influences which have contributed to form the present generation of man; 5) as indicating the dangerous and the safe; 6) as enabling one to anticipate and provide for the future, and 7) as illustrating the sacred writings by early traditions, or the contemporaneous history of heathen nations.”
2. The 19th century ministers were far more trained that we are today, especially in the Classics (Latin and Greek). Their learning, particularly before seminary, puts us to shame – though even back then students weren’t learning Hebrew until seminary, and even back then there was the problem of unprepared seminarians: “The teacher of theology is often pained at seeing with what a small degree of knowledge and mental discipline, young men sometimes think themselves competent to enter upon the study of theology – a study which is the noblest and most exalted a man can pursue, and which tasks the powers of the strongest minds. Oftentimes those present themselves for admission to our seminaries who are as yet too little advanced to make use of the labours of those mighty minds which have gone before them, too little to have any proper conception of the method of critical investigation which the theologian must adopt, or to understand a lengthened argument, much less to conduct one himself with success. A student needs far more than a mere academical education, and far more discipline of mind than it supposes, to be at all competent to pursue successfully that system of theological education taught in our seminaries. It is comparatively of little service to be dragged through the curriculum of study, to master which, one must seize every subject with a strong grasp, and discuss it with some portion of independent effort and thought.”
3. It is interesting that Howe recommends an “Introduction to Theological Studies” course, along the German model. RTS Jackson offered this, but (unfortunately from my vantage point now) I was given credit for it because of my RUF internship and didn’t have to/get to take it.
4. It is fascinating to me how much influence Germany exerted even on the South in 1844, though Howe definitely saw the unbelief in much of what was coming out of Germany.
5. I was surprised to see that Howe recommends the critical editions of the Greek New Testament (Griesbach’s edition in particular). I was under the impression that all the Southern Presbyterians were suspicious of the critical text, but obviously not Howe.
6. Another surprise was Howe’s preferred method of theological pedagogy: not lecturing, not reading textbooks, but the study of theology by topics – independently thinking, investigating and writing dissertations on each topic.
7. Howe recommends two exegetical exercises that he found fruitful: writing out one’s own translation of a particular book of the Bible, and writing out an analysis of the argument of a particular doctrinal portion of Scripture.
8. We see from these directions the important role that Natural Theology played in the theological education of 19th century Presbyterians.
9. Howe’s directions to recall every night what one learned (“either by a lively effort of the mind, or in conversation with a fellow-student, that those impressions may be imprinted on the memory, and the mind be quickened after a season of rest for new effort”) was given to me by my professors even at LSU, but alas, I never put it into practice as I should have.
10. Even in 1844, the discipline of Biblical Theology was known – though it wasn’t emphasized. Howe mentions “the example of Edwards in his History of Redemption, of Morus in his Commentarius Exegetic Historicus, and of Hengstenberg in his Christology, [to see] how the doctrines have been revealed in the different ages of the Church.”
11. Several decades after the French Revolution and after the Enlightenment proper had ended, Howe is urging students to “remember that ‘free thinking’ and free speaking have been greatly idolized and abused.” There is nothing new under the sun.
12. We often credit Charles Hodge with a quote to the effect that “Princeton Seminary never produced a new thought.” Might he have gotten such a sentiment in part from Howe? The latter wrote, “[I]n Theology there can be nothing new. The first publication of divine truth was the best, for it was inspired, and great and wise men have not studied the word of God these eighteen centuries in vain. Every important principle in theology has long since been discovered. New opinions here always prove to be old and oft refuted heresies, revived to be again refuted after having covered their author with confusion and done unspeakable harm to the church.”
13. Here is Howe’s three year seminary curriculum:
Greek Grammar reviewed
Systematic Theology I
Another language (French, German, or Italian, or Chaldee)
Systematic Theology II And III
History of Doctrines
Systematic Theology III
Hebrew and Greek Exegesis
Some things haven’t changed much, though I do like parts of his arrangement better than the order I took my classes. And again, they were just smarter and far better educated than we are today in so many ways.
14. Howe has good directions on preaching. Two of them stand out: vary your method and don’t imitate other preachers.
15. It is striking how many books Howe recommends, and how many of these books are completely forgotten and unknown by us today. That reminds me of the fact that many books published today will be forgotten two hundred years from now, as well as the fact that there is a lot of goldmines from the past that we would do well to recover. Howe would have been a great teacher to sit under, and it is nice to be able to glean from him even these small fragments of wisdom.
16. Finally, Howe challenged ministers to continue their education post seminary; indeed, he states that their three years in seminary is just the starting place for their learning. It’s not until they graduate that they will have an opportunity to read every book he recommends. One of the best quotes from the piece is this one: “But even this is but the beginning of theology. There are profounder abysses and loftier heights than his thoughts have yet reached. He must press on continually in the quest of knowledge, and be ever filling his urn at the fountain of eternal truth.” Unfortunately, speaking from my own personal experience and my observations of other ministers, we don’t do a good job of continuing to study and learn. May the Lord use even this short article to spur us on to a love of learning, our people, and our God.