Ever since I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary 30 years ago, I get questions from those who ask me if they should attend the same school. For a long time, I would say “No,” because what they were seeking at DTS could be gotten far faster, far more efficiently, and for far less money at a Bible college, or a good Bible correspondence course.
Today, I would still not recommend DTS. Or Covenant. Or RTS. Or any other “mainline” evangelical seminary, except under exceptional circumstances. At best, these institutions confer a credential that may be useful. But the price – both actual (in terms of dollars) and potential (in terms of eternal damnation of human souls) – is too high to risk except by the most clear-sighted and spiritually fortified ecclesiastical guerrillas.
American evangelicalism today is pretty much where it was at the end of the 19th Century – beset by increasing waves of theologically aberrant notions. Then it was Darwinism and the optimism of social progressivism that infected the churches. Today, egalitarianism is the chief path by which the world has co-opted the soul of evangelical Christendom. The seminaries are now well-anchored beach heads for the egalitarian captivity of the Church.
SEMINARY TRAINING IS MANDATORY
No evangelical church is going to hire pastoral staff without an academic credential. And, that credential is now deemed by all to be the seminary degree. Without the seminary degree, no one is going to get his foot in the door that leads to vocational pastoral ministry.
Because evangelicalism is balkanized along various theological lines, seminaries are similarly balkanized. If one wishes to minister as a vocational pastor in Reformed churches, one had best NOT attend an Assemblies of God seminary. Baptist churches hire pastors from Baptist seminaries, Methodist churches from Methodist seminaries, and so forth.
Some seminaries, of course, claim a “non-denominational” status – owing no allegiance to any denominational confession (nor to any who would police the seminary’s compliance to any confession). Among these are schools such as Fuller Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Talbot School of Theology, and similar schools.
What is common to all these institutions, however, is the license granted to the seminaries by the churches to confer credibility to the seminary graduates, who are afterwards hired by the churches for their own congregational leadership. The premier institution for the formation of pastoral staff within evangelicalism is the theological seminary, a creature that, at best, wears a light rein, only rarely disturbed by denominational authorities. For seminaries free from any denominational monitoring, there is no ecclesiastical rein of any kind. Their confessional allegiance is to a standard of their own making, and to whatever “market” exists for their graduates.
ALL THE “BEST” SEMINARIES ARE EGALITARIAN
In his recently published work Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? Wayne Grudem documents the correlation between religious feminism and theological liberalism. Indeed, he shows the two to be virtually identical, making the title of his book ironic. One might as well have written a book entitled Waterfalls: A New Path to Getting Wet? One Amazon reviewer entitles his review “Slippery Slope? Or Has the Slope Been Slid?” Indeed.
At the end of the book, Grudem appends a note entitled “Places Where Evangelical Feminism Already Has Much Influence.” Again, it appears Grudem is addicted to understatement, for concerning seminaries, this is what he has to say:
Among seminaries, evangelical feminism is the only position allowed at Fuller Seminary, and it is strongly represented on the faculty at Denver Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Seminary, Bethel Seminary, Asbury Seminary, and Regent College-Vancouver. Even among seminaries that are committed to a complementarian position, some have begun hiring women to teach Bible and theology classes to men, arguing that “we are not a church” ….
“COMPLENTARIAN” SEMINARIES ARE ACTUALLY EGALITARIAN
Continuing his understatements, Grudem explains why females teaching males in seminary erodes the Apostolic mandate for the male leadership of the Church:
… it will be very difficult to explain why a woman can teach the Bible to men in a seminary on Monday but cannot teach the same passage to the same men in a church on Sunday – on the surface it seems inconsistent.
And it will be difficult to answer the argument, “If a woman can train hundreds of pastors to preach, surely she herself should be able to preach!” I think most Christians will reason that, if we allow the one, surely we can allow the other. So I personally expect that seminaries who hire women as Bible professors will move in a more egalitarian direction in a few years.
What Wayne Grudem “expects” will happen is already a settled situation in much of evangelicalism. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, consider the testimony of a recent graduate of Covenant Seminary, a denominational school of the Presbyterian Church in America. Written policy binds both the PCA and its seminary to confess, to teach, and to defend male headship in marriage, family, and church. But, as this recent graduate’s testimony shows, paper policies are pointless if they are never applied, and especially if they are actively undermined in a seminary context:
After spending three years (2001-2004) at Covenant Theological Seminary and receiving my M.Div. there, I am in complete agreement with Tim’s statement about the theology fostered by Covenant’s president. Though President Chapell may be quick to define himself as complementarian, the institution he is responsible for does very little to promote the biblical doctrine of sexuality.
On a number of occasions I heard professors declare that chauvinism, not feminism, is the main problem in the church today. The work of complementarian authors (including Piper/Grudem and their “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”) was denigrated as “demeaning to women.” After a lecture on 1 Corinthians 11 which neglected to address any implications of this passage for women today and focused mainly on how men should respect women, I spent some time speaking with the professor. He said he had been asked by Covenant’s administration to develop a course on the roles of men and women and would appreciate any input. When I suggested that feminism, not chauvinism, was the problem in the church today, he seemed surprised.
I left exasperated and realized then that the academy, and specifically Covenant, are a long way from the church and the souls within her. Not once in a marriage and family counseling class did I hear any approaches that were sex-specific. Not once during my three years of course work for the M.Div. were headship and submission mentioned. In general, biblical headship was caricatured and biblical submission was ignored. And the message was clear institutionally, also: women pursued M.Divs as stepping stones to higher theological degrees so that they might teach theology-and not in a Titus 2 sense-and they audited homiletics courses.
The combined weight of all of Covenant’s teaching (or lack of teaching) most definitely gave the impression that she and her president were convinced egalitarians, promoting and practicing the idea that “a woman may do anything a non ordained man may do.” Covenant’s whole approach to ministry and life was sex-neutered.
EGALITARIAN CHRISTIANITY IS THE FUTURE
At the end of the 19th Century, American Protestantism faced two challenges. On one hand, there was Darwinism which caught the imagination of the Academy and emboldened Christianity’s cultured despisers to trumpet the scientific validation of social progressives everywhere, while denigrating the pre-scientific parochialism of Biblical Christianity. On the other hand, American seminaries increasingly hired professors whose chief credential was their education within the European Academy, which was merrily applying the newly fashionable evolutionary schema to the study of Biblical texts, generating things like the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis. According to “the best scholars,” the Bible was not “true” in any objective, scientific sense; and, its very form and content were determined by centuries of scribal editorializing and revisions. Moses on the Mountain? Pshaw!!
Thus, the seminaries provided the beachhead for the invasion of theological liberalism in mainline Protestantism from the 1890s through the 1920s, and the departre of the evangelical orthodox into the ecclesiastical wilderness. These seminaries incubated the European theological virus within their own graduates, who then passed it on to the congregations who called them as leaders. By the time the original Fundamentalists were well-up in arms, the denominational structures were firmly in the hands of the revisionists, as well as many of the flagship congregations of all main-line denominations.
The same process has been at work within broadly evangelical Protestantism since the 1970s, when feminism established its own beachheads in American culture and the American Academy. Evangelical seminaries, lusting after “academic credibility,” imbibed deeply from the cultural wells of feminism, just as the seminaries of the previous century had drunk from the wells of Darwinism and the Documentary Hypothesis. After the same amount of time (approximately 30 years), modern evangelical seminaries have become every bit as infected with the current spirit of the age as the main-line seminaries of the late 19th Century were infected with the spirit of the age at that time.
INSTITUTIONAL EVANGELICALISM BELONGS TO THE EGALITARIANS
The irony in all this is that the current evangelical institutional establishment – seminaries, denominations, publishing houses – had its roots in the expulsion of evangelicalism from main-line Protestantism in the wake of modernism’s triumph at the beginning of the 20th Century. Barely a century later, those same institutions are thoroughly compromised by the late-20th Century ascendancy of feminism.
As modernist Christianity spent most of the 20th Century consolidating its power and developing ever more exotic elaborations of its foundationally anti-Biblical tenets, so egalitarian Christianity will do the same in the 21st Century, expelling traditionalist and Biblicist Christians from feminist evangelical institutions and consolidating its power in seminaries, mission boards, denominational associations, and publishing houses that are evangelical in name only.