More Details on the Closing of the Division of Biblical, Religious and Philosophical Studies at Trinity International University

trinity-evangelical-divinity-school-of-trinity-international-university

We reported on this story yesterday.

Today we received an announcement from TIU president Nicholas Perrin.  Notice what Perrin says about Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Judson University, Gordon College, Wheaton College, and Indiana Wesleyan University.  This is the new reality for Christian colleges.

At the beginning of this fall semester at Trinity, I made some significant announcements to our faculty, staff, students, and parents. I want to share this information with you as well. This relates to personnel changes which have already been announced within our faculty, as well as staff changes which will be determined and implemented over the course of the next few weeks. 

As we discuss changes of this type, it is helpful to note that Christian higher education in recent years has been experiencing intense fiscal pressures, often resulting in various degrees of reorganization. In the fall of 2015, for example, nearby Judson University cut 34 faculty and staff; two years later, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary cut 10% of its full-time faculty. Last summer Moody Bible Institute significantly downsized their Spokane campus and reduced approximately one-third of its faculty organization-wide. This past spring Gordon College combined a number of majors, cutting 17 faculty and staff members. This summer Wheaton College announced the closure of its Department of Intercultural Studies (eliminating jobs for, arguably, some of the most long standing faculty on campus). Last week, Indiana Wesleyan University, renowned as one of the fastest-growing Christian schools in the past decade, announced that it will be cutting nine faculty members at the end of this year. These are but a few examples. Fiscal realities have recently forced almost all institutions of Christian higher education to develop new strategies in executing their mission, and those new strategies can sometimes require painful decisions.

Today, as I write you, I wish I could tell you that Trinity has been immune from the same challenges, but that would not be true. What is true, however, is that we remain resolute in our efforts to offer our students a high-quality education that is also affordable. In the midst of this disrupted landscape, we must continue to offer the quality education our students expect and deserve, while also lowering operating costs. In short, this is a stewardship issue. I am writing you today to inform you that not yet three months into my presidency, I have – in consultation with my leadership team – approached this stewardship challenge by making a difficult decision.

Early last week, we announced a plan to eliminate five faculty positions within the undergraduate (Deerfield) Department of Biblical Studies and the Department of Christian Ministries. This change – first announced to faculty and staff on August 26, and then to students the next day – will take effect beginning Fall 2020. 

The consequences of this decision are, in part, curricular in nature. In terms of current academic programming, this decision will have limited impact in the short term; in the long term, it will mean their reconfiguration within a new major taught by members of the Divinity School faculty. This does not eliminate these programs from our undergraduate offerings but changes the way we will deliver coursework in these areas. This is not a hasty decision: as I understand it, Trinity has been considering this model and its long-term benefits for years.

It might be helpful to think about this in connection with specific student populations. For those who are starting their final year of undergraduate study in a Biblical Studies or Christian Ministries major, this decision will not delay their academic progress. Deerfield undergraduates returning for the 2020-21 academic year will be able to complete their majors as indicated in the current catalog. As we look toward the 2020-21 academic year, we expect to enroll new students in a newly reconstituted Bible, Theology, and Ministry major.

Practically speaking, the more profound change bears on the issue of personnel. Beginning in Fall 2020, our undergraduate Bible, Theology, and Ministry courses will be taught and administered by our TEDS faculty. To date, roughly a dozen TEDS faculty members already have expressed an eagerness to teach undergrad students. I am grateful for this. At the same time, I have asked our deans to carefully vet those aspiring to these teaching assignments, as it is imperative that we preserve the undergraduate professionalized liberal arts identity. I well remember the thrill of pivoting from leading doctoral students through the Greek text in the morning, to an evening discussion of the equivalent English texts with college freshmen over my wife’s home-cooked spaghetti. Coming from all walks of life, these faculty members are no less excited to engage and mentor these undergraduates.

There will be certain advantages in our achieving greater verticalized integration on our Deerfield campus, breaking down the structural walls of separation currently standing between our undergraduate Bible and Ministry majors and our world-renowned MDiv and MAs. It is also true that our accreditors will be encouraged by our compliance with their request to break down Deerfield’s academic silos. But these collateral benefits will mean little, even after having realized considerable savings through these cuts, if we fail to deliver our traditional caring, student-centered, and liberal arts-oriented undergraduate education. We aim for nothing less.

The reallocation of our Bible and Ministry faculty will not be the only staffing change this fall. This past week I also invited faculty representatives to join me in reviewing operating expenses and structures in order to identify cost-saving staff reductions. Like many of our peer institutions, we have – both in the seminary and in the college – significantly smaller enrollments than we did a decade ago. Through a multi-layered, creative, and prioritized approach, my hope is for Trinity to realize a staff reduction roughly commensurate with the decrease in the student body. My stated priority is to minimize the impact on student experience.

Even so, such changes are hard. Eliminating positions at any organization is painful, but it is even more painful at Trinity, where we feel much more like a family than an institution. However, these are necessary changes which we owe to our students who, together with their parents, make great sacrifices to pay college tuition. These are also missional changes, not only because cost-savings frees up funds for new endeavors, but God has a track record of using scarcity to bring about what in retrospect turns out to be divinely orchestrated missional adjustment. Given your affiliation and support for Trinity, it was important to me to write you directly to inform you of these changes.

We have some exciting initiatives in the pipeline, positioning Trinity to meet the needs of today’s Christian students. I would love to elaborate, but for now I would ask you simply to pray for us in this hour of adjustments. Pray for those faculty who have already felt the impact of the changes recently announced. Pray also for the staff (their number yet unknown) who will be more immediately affected by the upcoming cuts. Finally, please join me also in praying for God’s continued leading of our Trinity community, that He might use Trinity more and more to fulfill his kingdom purposes in and through the lives of students.

What is Happening at Trinity International University?

TC

Trinity College, the undergraduate college of Trinity International University (TIU) in Deerfield, Illinois, recently announced that it is closing its Division of Biblical, Religious, and Philosophical Studies.

Here is the announcement from new TIU president Nicholas Perrin:

Dear Students, 

I am writing you with difficult news. Beginning Fall 2020, Trinity International University will be undergoing a partial restructure, involving the formal dissolution of one of Trinity College’s academic divisions, the Division of Biblical, Religious, and Philosophical Studies, and within it the Department of Biblical Studies and the Department of Christian Ministries. New and continuing students will be able to complete their programs and courses this academic year and indeed for the remainder of their undergraduate career without interruption. We expect to enroll new students in most if not all of the same courses in the 2020–21 academic year in a newly reconstituted Bible, Theology, and Ministry major, as well as in the continuing Philosophy major, which will be housed in the Division of Humanities. In other words, this change will have no material curricular impact on currently enrolled students who are guaranteed to graduate under the catalogue with which they matriculated. The fundamental implications of this decision revolve around faculty changes: beginning in Fall 2020, our undergraduate Bible, Theology, and Ministry courses will be taught and administrated by our TEDS faculty.

I am under no illusions: for many if not all of our majors, as well as a good many non-majors, this comes as impactful news. At the end of this year, Dr. Chris Firestone along with the Department of Philosophy will be moving to the Division of Humanities; the faculty lines for Dr. William Moulder, Dr. Sylvie Raquel, Dr. Greg Carlson, Dr. Michael Reynolds, and Ms. Jana Sundene will be eliminated. With years of teaching experience under their belt, these faculty have given their very best year-in and year-out to Trinity’s students. I am grateful for their incalculable contribution not only in providing high-level instruction in the classroom, but also in enriching the lives of countless students, faculty colleagues, and staff by their very presence.  

While there will be more communication about this transition in the months ahead, for now I would encourage you, if you have any immediate questions, to make an appointment with Dean Hedges, who will be glad to engage you. In due course, we will be inviting Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries majors to an open forum, where Dean Hedges and Dean Cole will be happy to share more information regarding this transition, and to answer any lingering questions you may have. In the meantime, if you have been privileged to take a class with any of these professors, and/or benefited from their mentorship outside class, I encourage you, as occasion presents itself, to express to them your gratitude for their dedicated service and their shaping influence on your lives. 

Here are the faculty who were fired as part of this restructuring:

William Moulder taught at Trinity College for more than 40 years.

Sylvie Raquel has been at Trinity College for 15 years.

Greg Carlson has been at Trinity College for 12 years.

Michael Reynolds has been at Trinity College for 13 years.

Jana Sundene has been at Trinity College for 29 years.

I don’t have any inside information about these changes, but it appears, at first glance, that Trinity is restructuring to look more like Southern Baptist seminaries.  Many of these seminaries have undergraduate divisions, but seminary professors teach the biblical studies and theology courses.  Maybe someone who knows more about this can chime-in.

In other Trinity International University news, the school’s last president, David Dockery, just joined the faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Evangelical Free Church Drops Premillennialism

TEDS

TEDS campus

When I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) between 1989 and 1992, the official position of the sponsoring denomination, the Evangelical Free Church of America, was premillennialism. In other words, in order to teach at TEDS or receive ordination in the denomination, one needed to espouse the belief that the second coming of Jesus Christ would usher in his literal 1000-year reign as king of the earth.

Since my early evangelical experience was filtered through premillennialism, I never really thought twice about any of this.  I have always been interested in the relationship between premillennialism and American evangelicalism, but at the time I was a student at TEDS I was more obsessed with the intramural theological debate over whether or not one was a dispensational premillennialist or a Reformed or “covenant” premillennialist.  Theologians of both persuasions taught at TEDS.

Now, as Daniel Silliman reports at Christianity Today, the Evangelical Free Church has decided to drop the word “premillennial” from its statement of faith.  Here is a taste of his piece:

An internal document explaining the rationale for the change says premillennialism “is clearly a minority position among evangelical believers.” Premillennialism has been a “denominational distinctive” for the EFCA, according to the document, but shouldn’t be overemphasized.

“The thought was, we must either stop saying we are a denomination that majors on the majors … and minors on the minors, or we must stop requiring premillennialism as the one and only eschatological position,” said Greg Strand, EFCA executive director of theology, in an interview with Ed Stetzer.

The revised statement says, “We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Whether or not Jesus will set up a literal kingdom on earth for a millennium is left to individual discretion.

The EFCA has been considering the change for more than a decade. John Woodbridge, a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), the ECFA-affiliated seminary in Deerfield, Illinois, spoke in favor of the shift back in 2008.

Read the entire piece here.

As of Friday night, August 23, 2019, the doctrinal statement of TEDS still reads:

We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.

I will be eager to see how this change will influence future faculty hiring at TEDS.

Here are the Long-Forgotten Lyrics to “So Many Views”

TEDSWARNING:  This post gets deep into the weeds of my evangelical divinity school experience.

Several of you have asked me for the words to “So Many Views,” the parody song I co-wrote about my experience at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where I was a student from 1989-1992.  I am not going to mention my co-author or the members of the band we formed that performed this song and others.  The innocent must be protected!  Tim and Karl, if you want your full names mentioned let me know.  🙂

For the uninitiated,  I referenced this song in my recent post on Southern Baptists.  Here is the relevant part of that post:

At this particular moment in my life (it was the early 1990s), I needed a place like TEDS.  I loved the fact that evangelicals could disagree on some matters of biblical interpretation.  (I even co-wrote a song about it titled “So Many Views,” sung to the tune of the Monkey’s “I’m A Believer”).  I learned how to think critically and theologically.  I knew that there was a larger theological world out there beyond the evangelical boundaries of TEDS and my experience in Deerfield gave me the skills to navigate it.

At TEDS I learned that evangelicals championed orthodox beliefs– the deity of Christ, the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, the Holy Spirit’s role in the pursuit of holiness, and the necessity of living-out the Great Commission through evangelism.  But I also learned that evangelicals differed on what my professors called the “secondary” or “minor” doctrines: the ordination of women, the proper form of church government, the proper mode of baptism, capital punishment, the relationship between God’s providence and human free will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.), war and peace, and the way one’s faith should manifest itself in the political sphere, to name a few.

I had classmates from every Protestant denomination imaginable–Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Anglicans, and Presbyterians.  Students were preparing for ministry in evangelical denominations like the Evangelical Free Church, but they also trained for work in non-denominational megachurches and mainline Protestantism denominations.

At this particular moment in my life (it was the early 1990s), I needed a place like TEDS.  I loved the fact that evangelicals could disagree on some matters of biblical interpretation.  (I even co-wrote a song about it titled “So Many Views,” sung to the tune of the Monkey’s “I’m A Believer”).  I learned how to think critically and theologically.  I knew that there was a larger theological world out there beyond the evangelical boundaries of TEDS and my experience in Deerfield gave me the skills to navigate it.

I understood the culture at TEDS as representative of the spirit of American evangelicalism.

Here are the words to “So Many Views.”  As noted above, we performed it to the music of “I’m a Believer.”

Came to TEDS to learn about theology

Seems the more I learned, the less I got

Oooh, Carson’s out to get me (and so is Doug Moo…)

That’s the way it seems

Parsing and accents in my dreams….

 

CHORUS:

So many views (so many views)

What do I believe now? (what do I believe now?)

Gotta choose (I gotta choose)

Can women preach? (can women preach?)

With all I owe, (oooooh)

Gotta believe now I couldn’t leave now if I tried

 

What is the women’s role in ministry?

Should their heads be covered or should they not?

Oooh, Grudem’s out to get them (and so is Doug Moo…)

Liefield and Tucker too (and so is Doug Moo…)

Will someone please tell me the right view?

 

CHORUS

 

Am I dispensational or covenant?

Should I sprinkle or should I dunk?

Oooh…Kaiser’s out to get them (and so is Doug Moo…)

Who will be next?

Gotta keep my finger on the text….

 

CHORUS

 

Should my sermons be expository or topical?

Should their be 3 mains or only 2?

Oooh…Larson’s out to get them (and so is Doug Moo…)

Critique form and pen

Gotta watch my videotape at ten

 

CHORUS

There you go.  I am sure some of you will have a field day deconstructing the evangelical seminary experience of thirty years ago, but this was my world back then.

Is the Southern Baptist Convention Evangelical or Fundamentalist?: Some Thoughts on the Beth Moore Controversy

Beth Moore

As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, I am not a cradle evangelical.  I spent the first sixteen years of my life as a Roman Catholic.  I had a conversion experience as a sophomore in high school and I left the Catholic church for a non-denominational Bible church.  In other words, I became an evangelical.

When I converted, the word “evangelical” or “evangelicalism” meant nothing to me. I don’t think I ever met a born-again Christian until I started attending the youth group at Gilgal Bible Chapel in West Milford, New Jersey.  I went from the cloistered community of a working-class Catholic upbringing (I seem to remember mostly Catholics and Jews in my public high school, although I am sure there were Protestants as well) to a similarly cloistered evangelical world.  My only exposure to evangelical Christianity came through Gilgal, a church plant with an authoritarian pastor located on a multi-acre site that included a Christian camp and a conference center. (Gilgal had its own unique approach to evangelical Christianity, and its authoritarian pastor had a tragic fall from grace, but I will need to save that for another post or perhaps another book!)

My conversion was real and life-altering.  I put aside a journalism career and prepared for a life in the evangelical ministry.  My pastor recommended I go to Bible college.  So I did.  I initially thought I would be spending the next four years in residence at a place similar to a monastery, but I soon realized that most Bible college students were no different than the students who attended my public high school.  They dressed the same way, had the same haircuts, listened to the same music (despite the fact they were not permitted to listen to “secular music”), drove the same cars, and had the same ambitions and vices.  They baptized these traits with their “calls” to ministry and a sense of Christian piety.  For some, these “calls” were real and I had much respect, and continue to have much respect, for many of my classmates.  For others, I had no idea why they were in Bible college.  In the end, I had a great time at Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University).  I played basketball and made some great friends.  It was like I was attending a four-year Christian youth retreat.  But I digress…

By my senior year I realized that I wasn’t getting much of a liberal education.  In the 1980s Philadelphia College of Bible was a dispensational school.  Bible and theology professors taught us that God had different plans for Israel and the Church.  (One professor, John McGahey, would scream at us: “ISRAEL IS NOT THE CHURCH!). The purpose of this Bible college education, if you could call it that, was to indoctrinate students in dispensational premillennialism. We were required to buy a copy of the Scofield Bible.  We read books by dispensational luminaries such as Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, and J. Dwight Pentecost.  We waited for the rapture–the moment when God would raise-up the true believers to meet him in the air.  And our teachers made sure that we knew the rapture would come before the seven-year tribulation.  All of my Bible professors had advanced degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary, the intellectual home of dispensationalism.

Upon graduation, I knew that I wanted to continue my theological education. But I did not want to go to Dallas with some of my other classmates.  I enrolled at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Deerfield, Illinois.  TEDS was an evangelical seminary, but it was not dispensational in orientation (although it did have a few dispensational professors).  I chose TEDS because I knew that I would find evangelical professors who would expand my horizons.  My goal was to pursue a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree and use my time to figure out what I might do with such a course of study.  At the very least, I thought an MDiv would allow me to think theologically about the world.  I had no real long-term plan.  My parents helped me out with the tuition, but I also worked as a security guard at various places to get myself to graduation.  I eventually fell in love with history, added an M.A. in church history to my vita, and headed off to pursue a Ph.D in American history.

When I arrived at TEDS in the late 1980s, the school prided itself on its commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible.  Kenneth Kantzer, the retired dean of the seminary, had attracted some of the best evangelical theologians to TEDS for the purpose of providing an inerrancy-based alternative to Fuller Theological Seminary, the Pasadena, California school that abandoned the doctrine of inerrancy in the 1960s.  (See George Marsden’s book Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism).

Some professors made a big deal about inerrancy.  Others rarely mentioned it. I took Scot McKnight for a Greek refresher course.  The subject of inerrancy never came up.  (Nor did it come-up much in his Synpotic Gospels course).  John D. Woodbridge, who taught me how to think historically and encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D in history, was a staunch defender of inerrancy.  My other church history professor, Tom Nettles (who I did not know as well as Woodbridge), did not say too much about inerrancy despite the fact that he was an important historian of the doctrine during the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Church.

But what I remember most about TEDS was the theological diversity of the faculty.  While some of my readers might wonder how a school that upholds biblical inerrancy could be theologically diverse, at the time I did not see it that way . TEDS was not Philadelphia College of Bible or Dallas Theological Seminary.  During my three years on campus I took courses with dispensationalists (Paul Feinberg) and covenant theologians (Ray Ortlund Jr and Walter Kaiser).  I took courses with faculty who opposed women’s ordination (Wayne Grudem) and those who championed women’s ordination (Walter Liefield).  There were Presbyterians and Baptists, Calvinists and Arminians.  I even had one professor (Murray Harris) who did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I sat-in on courses taught by some of the founders of the neo-evangelical movement:  Carl F.H. Henry, Kantzer, and Gleason Archer.  I took theology with Harold O.J. Brown, the Harvard trained scholar who was one of the leading voices of the pro-life movement.  I made a few visits to a class on Puritanism taught by English theologian J.I. Packer.

I don’t know how all of these professors got along in the faculty lounge, but they always modeled a spirit of conversation and debate.  Evangelicals had core convictions, but what made them evangelicals was their irenic spirit and acceptance of those with whom they differed.  This spirit, perhaps more than anything, was what made them “evangelicals” and not “fundamentalists.”  As Marsden once put it, “a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something.”

At TEDS I learned that evangelicals championed orthodox beliefs– the deity of Christ, the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, the Holy Spirit’s role in the pursuit of holiness, and the necessity of living-out the Great Commission through evangelism.  But I also learned that evangelicals differed on what my professors called the “secondary” or “minor” doctrines: the ordination of women, the proper form of church government, the proper mode of baptism, capital punishment, the relationship between God’s providence and human free will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.), war and peace, and the way one’s faith should manifest itself in the political sphere, to name a few.

I had classmates from every Protestant denomination imaginable–Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Anglicans, and Presbyterians.  Students were preparing for ministry in evangelical denominations like the Evangelical Free Church, but they also trained for work in non-denominational megachurches and mainline Protestantism denominations.

At this particular moment in my life (it was the early 1990s), I needed a place like TEDS.  I loved the fact that evangelicals could disagree on some matters of biblical interpretation.  (I even co-wrote a song about it titled “So Many Views,” sung to the tune of the Monkey’s “I’m A Believer”).  I learned how to think critically and theologically.  I knew that there was a larger theological world out there beyond the evangelical boundaries of TEDS and my experience in Deerfield gave me the skills to navigate it.

I understood the culture at TEDS as representative of the spirit of American evangelicalism.

I have been thinking lot about my experience at TEDS as I watch the debates over the role of women in the church currently taking place within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In case you missed it, last month there was a pretty significant Twitter battle on this topic.

It all began when the bombastic Southern Baptist seminary professor Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary published a piece on women in the church at his blog “Thought Life.”  Here is a taste of that May 7, 2019 post:

Biblical teaching on the sexes is not bad. It is not harmful to women. It is good–thunderously good–for women and for men. If we take the Bible at its word, then we recognize that there is no way for a woman to instruct the gathered church, whether in an authoritative or “non-authoritative” way. Congregational preaching and teaching is authoritative, for the Word of God is authoritative. There is no “non-authoritative” way to preach and teach the Bible. Any who doubt this point might recall how Paul contrasts the “word of men” with the “word of God” in 1 Thessalonians 2:13. If you speak and interpret the Scripture, you speak with the weight of eternity upon you. It cannot be otherwise.

Beth Moore and J. D. Greear are two popular Southern Baptist voices. Both Moore and Greear are gifted individuals, respected within the SBC and beyond it. In recent days, I was surprised to see these two figures endorse, in the context of the church’s gathered worship service, a woman teaching and preaching to the corporate body (see here and here). This was new to me; Southern Baptists have never embraced such a view. As mentioned above, there is no New Testament precedent for a woman teaching the corporate body of Christ (Priscilla’s words in Acts 18 to Apollos came in private, not in public), nor were women called to serve as priests in the old covenant era. Christ did not appoint a woman to be an apostle, nor did any woman serve as an elder in the first-century churches spoken of in Scripture.

And here is his Strachan’s conclusion:

Though many paint women monolithically today, seeing them as instinctually feminist, there are many women in submission to God who wish for men to lead them well and preach the Word faithfully. They do not see the Bible’s teaching on womanhood as “restrictive,” nor the complementarian movement as “afraid” of womanly gifting. Rather, they approach the Word of God with great reverence and awe. They wish to know the will of God, and do it. They take no pleasure in quieting or softening the Bible; they recognize the order that God has established, and they love it. There are scores of such women in church history, in Baptist history, in the modern SBC, and in the broader evangelical world. I know they are out there; I have heard their testimony firsthand. With the whole church of God, these women gladly confess that the counsel of the Lord stands forever (Psalm 33:11), and that the law of God’s mouth “is better…than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72).

There is much the Word frees women to do as mentioned above. But for the women I speak of, where the Word gives them a prohibition for God’s glory and their good, they receive that commandment with gladness. They submit to God, as we all must do (James 4:7). In our God-defying age, this posture stands out sharply. It is driven by our total confidence in the unerring mind and will of God. We think of Psalm 119:89 on this count: בַּשָּׁמָֽיִם נִצָּ֥ב דְּ֝בָרְךָ֗ יְהוָ֑ה לְעוֹלָ֥ם, “Forever, Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.” It is not man who has “fixed” the word of God, and written it in the sky. By God’s own hand and mind, there is order in the home; there is order in the churches; there is order in the world God has made.

Let no one defy this order.

There is a lot that could be said about Strachan’s post.  I disagree with him on the role of women in the church and the family, but my intention here is not to get into these theological and interpretive weeds.  There are indeed a lot of denominations that do not ordain women, including the Roman Catholic Church.  But I will say this:  by ending his post with the words “let no one defy this order,” Strachan reveals his dogmatism on this issue.  I wonder what he would think about someone who does “defy this order?”  Are they living in sin?  Are they outside the fold of Christian orthodoxy?  Of evangelicalism?  Will Strachan still have Christian fellowship with them?  Should they be cast into perdition? What is at stake here?

After he wrote this piece, Strachan turned to Twitter to promote it:

It was at this point that the wildly popular evangelical preacher Beth Moore entered the fray:

Strachan initially responded politely:

But then his Twitter feed got snarky.

For example, he retweeted this:

And then his many followers and others of like mind started chiming in:

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And then this week Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, added fuel to the fire with this tweet:

Those familiar with Mohler will remember that he was instrumental in making Southern Seminary a complementarian school and the Southern Baptist Convention a complementarian denomination.  When one listens to Mohler and Strachan, one gets the impression that they believe their view of what the Bible teaches on the role of women in the church and the home is not a secondary issue of faith, but one that is essential to Christian orthodoxy.  I honestly don’t believe that they really think this, but their rhetoric is so definitive and dogmatic that it certainly sounds like they do.

Strachan is not letting go of this position.  He sees the denial of the pulpit to women such as Beth Moore and others as a non-negotiable theological view in the SBC. In other words, those who take a different position do not belong in the denomination. Here is his tweet in response to Mohler (notice how he continues to see himself in the vanguard of those who led the conservative resurgence, even going to the point of capitalizing the word “Resurgence”):

Of course the Southern Baptist Church leadership has the right to define the role of women in the church in any way they want to define it.  This is what religious liberty is all about.  Millions of evangelicals attend churches that do not ordain women.  As noted above, the largest religious body in the world–the Catholic Church–does not ordain women.  But Strachan and other Southern Baptists also like to fancy themselves as heirs to the evangelicalism that I experienced at TEDS nearly thirty years ago. Strachan writes books and edits books for conservative Christian publishers extolling people like Carl F.H. Henry, Charles Colson, and other members of the neo-evangelical movement.

My professors at TEDS had firm convictions on a whole host of issues, but they did not promote them with the fundamentalist spirit to which I see coming from Strachan and his followers.  In fact, it was this very spirit–the kind of militant spirit I see in their tweets–that made fundamentalism so repulsive to people like Carl Henry, Ken Kantzer, and the other neo-evangelical leaders who broke from fundamentalist militancy in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Southern Baptist Convention can work out their issues on women in the church on their own, without my help, but if you are going to try to make complementarianism a defining and non-negotiable characteristic of SBC orthodoxy please stop writing about how much you love the neo-evangelical movement.

On the other hand, if you do want to claim the Henry/Kantzer/neo-evangelical mantle, perhaps it is time to rethink the Convention’s position on this issue and broaden the tent a bit.

Doug Sweeney is the New Dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School

Sweeney

Congratulations to Doug Sweeney!  He moves from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois to Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug replaces founding dean Timothy George.  Here is the press release:

Douglas A. Sweeney has been named the new dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham effective July 1. 

Sweeney is only the second dean to serve the interdenominational seminary, which was established in 1988 with Timothy George as the founding dean.

Sweeney’s appointment follows a national search to replace George, who is retiring as dean at the end of the current academic year. 

“I am absolutely delighted at the choice of Dr. Doug Sweeney to be the next dean of Beeson Divinity School. He brings to this role superb scholarly credentials along with a deep love for Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, the Lord’s church and God’s mission in the world,” George said. “The future of Beeson Divinity School is as bright as the promises of God, and I look forward to welcoming Dr. Sweeney as our friend, colleague and leader.” 

A world-renowned scholar of American theologian Jonathan Edwards, Sweeney comes to Beeson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he is the Distinguished Professor and Chair of Church History and the History of Christian Thought and founding director of the Jonathan Edwards Center. 

Having served on Trinity’s faculty since 1997, Sweeney was the founding director of the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity, 2000–2012. He raised nearly $4 million for the center, supervised staff, collaborated with boards, and hosted conferences and lectures. 

Prior to his tenure at Trinity, Sweeney served at Yale University where he edited The Works of Jonathan Edwards and was a lecturer in church history and historical theology.  

Samford Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs J. Michael Hardin said, “Dr. Sweeney brings together internationally renowned scholarship, academic administrative experience and a deep love and commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Samford President Andrew Westmoreland said, “Dr. Sweeney is ideally prepared to provide wise, visionary leadership for Beeson. His commitment to the relevance and authority of Scripture, his strong record of scholarship, his devotion to equipping those called to ministry and his engaging, irenic spirit will serve him — and Samford — well.”

Gary Fenton, former longtime pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, and senior advancement officer at Samford, is delighted by Sweeney’s appointment, having personally benefited from his book, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement.

“Dr. Sweeney is an outstanding evangelical scholar, who is committed to excellence of the mind, spiritual depth and Christ-like passion,” Fenton said. “He is an excellent choice to build on the rich theological foundation that Dean Timothy George has provided for this school. I am so grateful for the school’s past and excited for its future.”

Sweeney is an active member of St. Mark Lutheran Church, an evangelical Lutheran church affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, serving as both an elder and vice president. A former Baptist, he is a longtime Sunday School and Bible teacher, whose ministry extends into many other churches.

Sweeney holds degrees from Vanderbilt University (Ph.D., M.A.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A.) and Wheaton College (B.A.). He and his wife, Wilma, have one adult son.

“I consider it a great honor and privilege to serve as the next dean of Beeson Divinity School. I have long been an admirer of Dean Timothy George, and think that Beeson is the best-conceived and cultivated divinity school in all of North America,” Sweeney said. “My approach to theological education meshes well with Beeson’s guiding confessional documents, academic culture and personal approach to teaching and mentoring students. In fact, for me, moving to Beeson is like moving to a school that was designed to facilitate the kind of academic work, ecumenism and ministry I have done all my life. These are exciting times in which to serve the Lord together at Samford. Please pray with me that God will guide us firmly into the future.”

Jared Burkholder Reviews *Believe Me*

Believe Me Banner

When you get a chance, check out the new look at Jared Burkholder‘s blog The Hermeneutic Circle.

Today he is running a review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This is my favorite review so far! Not only is it a positive review, but I appreciate the way Jared connects Believe Me to some of my earlier work in the history of 20th-century evangelicalism and fundamentalism and my experience as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I am also guessing that he will be the only reviewer to suggest that the Anabaptist heritage of Messiah College may be rubbing-off on me!

Here is a taste:

Historian John Fea gets back to his roots in explaining the “81%.” (The percentage of evangelicals who supposedly voted for President Trump.) Though he has a long list of accomplishments in mainstream historical circles, Fea’s original forays into writing about history was as a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he studied the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism under old-school church historian, John Woodbridge. I got to know John after he moved on from Trinity, but it was through the influence of him and others like him that I enrolled in the same program. In fact, when I had Woodbridge as a professor, our class used a bibliography on American fundamentalism that Fea had compiled while he was a student. While at Trinity, he completed a thesis on hard-core conservative fundamentalists. So while Fea has moved on to weightier topics such as the American Revolution, the early Republic, and Christian nationalism, he knows a thing or two about conservative evangelicals and the roots of the Religious Right. Fea draws on all these experiences in writing about how evangelicals helped to put Trump in office and why many continue to support the president, despite the president’s lack of Christian virtue.

Read the entire review here.

There is a Copy of a John R. Rice Book at the Bottom of the Ohio River

bobbedOver at Baptist News Global, Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, writes about the time she took a copy of Baptist fundamentalist John R. Rice‘s book Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers and tossed it into the Ohio River.

This piece caught my eye because I spent a lot of time reading Rice’s newspaper, The Sword of the Lord, for my M.A. thesis on separatist fundamentalism.  Those were some long days at the microfilm reader in Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s Rolfing Library.  If I remember correctly, I was working right next to a large bust of evangelical theologian Carl F.H. Henry.  (Hey current TEDS students–is that bust still around?) And thanks to my sometimes online nemesis Darryl G. Hart (some of you on Twitter now him as Old Life) for serving as a reader on that thesis! 🙂

Here is Marshall:

I was a Master of Divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1973 to 1975. As regularly occurred with women students, I had been admitted to the School of Religious Education. Yet, I enrolled in all M.Div. courses because I had some burning theological questions.

I then had to talk my way into the School of Theology with the dean of the RE school. He was not easy to persuade; however, he approved the transfer. I was one of only a handful of women, even though in the early ’70s mainline seminaries were beginning to welcome many women.

One day I was in the library looking for resources to assist in my quest to learn about what the Bible really teaches about the role of women in ministry. I stumbled across the nefarious concoction of an over-achieving fundamentalist, John R. Rice. I was incensed at the title: Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers. Of course, I had experienced gender discrimination all my life as a Southern Baptist – at my home church, in college, in churches I had served as youth minister – but the sheer contempt of this book startled me.

I did what any self-respecting woman called to ministry would do: I flung it into the Ohio River as I crossed the big bridge heading into Indiana. (You recall that throwing things into the river has a venerable history in Louisville; that is where Muhammad Ali tossed his Olympic medals in protest of the racism of America.) I considered it an act of prophetic resistance (of course, I would not sanction destruction of seminary property now).

Read the rest here.

What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998

grudemI am guessing a lot of my readers have never heard of Wayne Grudem.  He is an evangelical theologian and the author of a very popular one-volume treatment of evangelical systematic theology. He is also well-known within evangelical circles for defending a “complementarian” view of gender roles in the church and society.

Grudem is the quintessential evangelical insider.  He speaks and writes for evangelical churches and rarely ventures out of this subculture to engage a broader American public. This is why most people outside of evangelicalism have never heard of him.

When I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1989-1992) I took a theology course with Grudem.  I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that Grudem spent a lot of time talking about his work on the Biblical idea of prophecy. (I also remember having to read all of Calvin’s Institutes!). He would eventually argue that today’s Christians needed to reclaim the gift of prophecy.  If I remember correctly, he argued that the Holy Spirit could bring divine revelation to a believer’s mind.

During my time at Trinity I attended a major conference called “Evangelical Affirmations.” The purpose of the conference was to draw clearly defined theological boundaries around the word “evangelical.”  Leading evangelical theologians and pastors (mostly conservative evangelicals who upheld the doctrine of biblical inerrancy)  gathered on the Trinity campus in Deerfield, Illinois to try to figure out who was “in” and who was “out.”

One of the most heated debates focused on whether one could truly be called an “evangelical” if he or she did not believe that hell was a literal place–a place of fire and brimstone where unbelievers would spend eternity suffering for rejecting the Christian gospel.  I am guessing that most of the delegates to the Evangelical Affirmations conference would have affirmed the existence of such a place of eternal torment, but whether its literal existence should serve as a defining marker of evangelical faith was complicated by the beliefs of one man: John Stott.

Next to Billy Graham, John Stott is probably the most important and well-respected evangelical of the post-war era.  Even New York Times columnist David Brooks has sung his praises as a thoughtful, wise, humble, and respectable voice of modern evangelicalism.

Stott did not believe in a literal hell.

When the majority of delegates said that a true “evangelical” must believe in a literal hell, someone stood up (I can’t remember who it was) and begged, quite passionately I might add, that the group not define evangelicalism so narrowly that someone as influential as Stott would be excluded. (Stott was not present at the meeting).  Debate raged

Midway through this heated discussion about hell and John Stott, Wayne Grudem stood up.  I remember it vividly.  Grudem recognized Stott’s evangelical faith and his contribution to global evangelicalism, but he also articulated his strong conviction that the evangelical movement must, Stott or no Stott, affirm a belief in a literal hell.

I remember Grudem speaking with a great deal of certainty that day.  Frankly, I could not interpret his words apart from what he was teaching in his class about the so-called gift of prophecy.

I thought about this moment, and Grudem’s views on prophecy, when I read his recent article endorsing Donald Trump for President of the United States.  You can read it here.  I am not going to use this post to argue with his political views.  Later this week I will be a guest on a Christianity Today podcast that, from what I understand, will be using Grudem’s piece as a framing device for a larger discussion on evangelicals and the 2016 election. I will probably offer some history-informed commentary there.  I also appreciate the responses to Grudem’s piece written by Jonathan Merritt, Thomas KiddWarren Throckmorton, David French, Beth Allison Barr, Scot McKnight, Randal Rauser, David Moore, and John Mark Reynolds. Check them out.

In his argument in favor of Trump, Grudem wrote:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

It seems like Grudem wants to ignore these character issues when it comes to Trump’s candidacy.  But back in 1998 he thought that the character of the POTUS was important. Here is a taste of a statement that evangelical leaders signed in response to the moral indiscretions of President Bill Clinton:

We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

(Thanks to Katie Manzullo-Thomas and Devin Manzullo-Thomas for digging up this statement when I was writing in June about James Dobson’s support of Trump).

I am not sure which Wayne Grudem to believe–the 1998 anti-Clinton version or the 2016 pro-Trump version.  Perhaps Grudem has changed his mind about presidential character.

Whatever one thinks about Grudem’s views of prophecy, it is worth noting that he does think that prophets are human and sometimes may be wrong. On page 69 of his book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today he writes: “The prophet could err, could misinterpret, and could be questioned or challenged at any point.”

GOP Candidates and Their Evangelical Constituencies

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Is there a “Billy Graham” wing in American evangelicalism?

Last week I wrote about Marco Rubio’s new religious liberty advisory committee.  In that post I argued that the make-up of the committee suggests Rubio’s attempt to appeal to mainstream evangelicals.  I compared these evangelicals with those evangelicals who support the Ted Cruz and Donald Trump candidacies.

Today I learned that Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church, offered a similar analysis.  Here is a quote from an article at Roll Call:

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Trump, Cruz and Rubio are appealing to disparate camps of evangelicals.

“I would say that Ted Cruz is leading in the ‘Jerry Falwell’ wing, Marco Rubio is leading the ‘Billy Graham’ wing and Trump is leading the ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ wing,” Moore said, meaning that Cruz has largely followed the classic Moral Majority model that was the face of the conservative movement — he has received endorsements from figures such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson — while Trump “tends to work most closely with the prosperity wing of Pentecostalism” which tends to believe that God would financially reward believers.

I chose to use the adjective “mainstream” to describe the Billy Graham wing of evangelicalism.  This wing of evangelicalism, which I would associate with Christianity Today, Graham, Wheaton College, Moody Bible Institute, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Campus Crusade for Christ (now called “Cru”) and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is the kind of evangelicalism that I am familiar with because it is the evangelicalism that  I joined as a teenager in the 1980s.

But after thinking a bit more, I wonder if this wing of evangelicalism is still “mainstream?”  Perhaps Moore’s “Falwell” wing or Trump’s “prosperity” wing may now be more mainstream.

Thoughts?

Thanks Tom Nettles

Tom Nettles

While I was was a student studying church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, I took several courses with Tom Nettles.  He arrived on campus a year after I did and, as a southerner with a heavy southern accent, he was an immediate curiosity among the mostly Midwestern students who attended Trinity.  (As a New Jerseyan who was raised Catholic and probably never met a Southern Baptist until Nettles, he might as well have been from another planet).

I did not get to know Nettles very well during my tenure at TEDS, but I learned a lot from his classes.   During my last year in Chicagoland Nettles left for Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.  He spent 17 years there.

Today I learned that Nettles was retiring from teaching.  I wish him well in his retirement.  I am sure that there are a few more books in the works.

I will close this post with a few memories of Nettles:

  • One day in a course on Jonathan Edwards, Nettles walked into the classroom wearing his graduation regalia. Without an explanation he marched straight to the lectern and started reading/preaching “Sinners in the Hands of the Angry God.”  I remember wondering what Edwards would have thought of a guy with a southern accent reading his sermon.  Nettles was a strong advocate of the idea that Edwards did not simply read his sermons, but he preached them with passion.
  • In a course on 19th century evangelicalism Nettles assigned everyone in the class a prominent religious figure from the period.  After we spent the semester studying this figure we were required to participate in a free-for-all theological debate (moderated by Nettles) in which each student had to embody the figure they were assigned.  My figure was D.L. Moody so all I had to do in the theological debate was assert something about preaching the gospel to the lost.  I remember Nettles getting a kick out of my consistent portrayal.
  • During the Jonathan Edwards class Nettles would illustrate some of Edwards’s deep theological arguments by referencing episodes of the television series The Wonder Years.
  • On more than one occasion Nettles would break out into song during a lecture.  I never knew the hymns he sang, but he loved to sing them.
  • I used to work in the TEDS mailroom and Nettles taught his Introduction to American Church History course in an adjacent classroom. Though I did not take him for this course, I got to listen to all of his lectures while I sorted the mail. (His voice really carried!). I remember one day he was lecturing on the pro-slavery position in the antebellum South. His pedagogical approach was to take on the persona of a Christian slaveholder (perhaps it was Dabney or Thornwell).  The students in the class were debating him, trying to make a theological argument that slavery was wrong, but Nettles (in character) kept hammering back with Biblical citations that shot down all of their arguments.  It was fun to listen to.  I am almost certain that some of the students thought Nettles was pro-slavery.  
I am curious if any of his current students or other former students have had these classroom experiences.
Congratulations on your retirement, Dr. Nettles.  I am not a Southern Baptist, but I am still glad our paths had the chance to cross.

David Dockery Named 15th President of Trinity International University

As some of you know, I have a graduate degree from this institution.  At first glance it may seem odd that a conservative Southern Baptist from Alabama would take the reigns of a northern evangelical institution with Scandinavian roots, but Dockery is actually a perfect fit.  Northern evangelicals and conservative Southern Baptists have bonded, over the last thirty years or so, around the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and, to a lesser extent, Calvinism.  I am not sure if Dockery is a Calvinist, but if he was not an inerrantist he would not have been appointed to the Trinity presidency.

When I was in seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember few Southern Baptist students or professors.  When Southern Baptist church historian Tom Nettles arrived during my second year at TEDS, I thought he was a strange creature from another planet.  He talked with a heavy southern accent and had us read people like Robert Lewis Dabney.  As a Jersey kid who was transplanted to Chicagoland for seminary, I don’t think I had ever met a Southern Baptist before I took Nettles’s course on Jonathan Edwards.  (When I spoke at a Southern Baptist Church in Houston last summer it was the first time I had ever set foot in such a church).

But after I graduated from TEDS in 1992, I recall that several professors left Deerfield for Southern Baptist Seminary (Nettles, Bruce Ware, and Mark Seifrid come to mind).  In addition, some of the earliest graduates of the TEDS Ph.D program started to populate the faculties of Southern Baptist seminaries and colleges (Steve Wellum, Andreas Kostenberger, and Robert Caldwell come to mind).  Meanwhile, Southern Baptists started to embrace the legacy of neo-evangelical theologians like Carl F.H. Henry, especially in the area of biblical authority.  (I took Henry’s course on American evangelicalism at TEDS).

This Southern Baptist–Northern Evangelical alliance has now been solidified with the appointment of Dockery.  I think he is the first non-Evangelical Free Church president of Trinity.

Here is a taste of the press release:

Following 18 years of transformational leadership at Union University, Trinity International University’s Board of Regents unanimously selected David S. Dockery to become its 15th president.
“We are overwhelmingly grateful to God for the invitation from the Trinity Board to serve the students, staff, faculty, and various institutional constituencies in the days ahead,” Dockery said. “We are humbled by the confidence that the Board has communicated to us in this call to guide Trinity forward in the days and years to come.”
Robert Kleinschmidt, chairman of the TIU Board of Regents, said he was excited for Dockery and his wife Lanese to join the TIU family.
“Dr. Dockery brings a great wealth of experience and knowledge about higher education from his years at Union University,” Kleinschmidt said. “I know he will be a great leader for Trinity and look forward to the tasks ahead.”
Located in Deerfield, Ill., Trinity International University consists of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, one of the most highly respected evangelical institutions in the country; Trinity College, a liberal-arts based institution; Trinity Graduate School, with programs in such fields as biomedical ethics, leadership, and education; and Trinity Law School, located in Santa Ana, Calif. Total enrollment for the university is about 2,800.
“What a joy it will be to seek to reflect the influence and leadership of 20th century evangelical giants like Kenneth Kantzer and Carl Henry, who invested so much at Trinity,” Dockery said.
“Their emphasis on serious and rigorous academics shaped and informed by the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the full truthfulness of Holy Scripture, international missions, cultural renewal and engagement, transdenominational and transcontinental evangelical cooperation and service to the global church will, we trust, continue to characterize all aspects of Trinity’s life and work.”
During Dockery’s 18-year tenure as Union University president, the institution saw 16 straight years of increasing enrollment and more than doubled in size, growing from a fall enrollment of 1,972 to 4,288 in 2013. Donors increased from 1,600 to 6,000 annually. The budget expanded from $18 million to more than $90 million per year, and the university’s net assets grew from less than $40 million to $120 million.