Erskine Theological Seminary: An Amazing, Technicolor, Stereophonic, and Multifaith Theological Experience!

 

This photograph is of Claremont School of Theology (CST). IS THIS THE FUTURE FOR ERSKINE THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY (ETS)?

Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, was founded in 1885 and is historically affiliated with the United Methodist Church (UMC). The school has about 400 students and offers the following degree programs: MA, MDiv, DMin, and PhD. In 2008, the Board of Trustee of CST launched the Claremont University Project by voting to adopt the following as the mission statement for the seminary: “As an ecumenical and inter-religious institution, Claremont School of Theology seeks to instill students with the ethical integrity, religious intelligence, and intercultural understanding necessary to become effective in thought and action as leaders in the increasingly diverse, multireligious world of the 21st century” <link>.

As an inter-faith institution, on June 9, 2010, the leaders of CST announced programs to train Muslim Imams and Jewish Rabbis and plans for programs to include the training of Buddhist and Hindu clergy. President Jerry Campbell said: “Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams and eventually clerics from other religions will be educated side by side, each in their own traditions but also with classes in common so they learn to work together to address the problems that face humanity today and that can only be solved if religions work together across their boundaries” <link>. Some in the UMC are calling this a bold experiment in multicultural ecumenicity and diversity in theological education. Others in the UMC are calling this the abandonment of the Christian faith by CST.

CST is an example of what happens when theological liberalism takes over a theological institution. Having rejected the Bible as the only inspired authority for life and faith, the imperial claims of Jesus as the only Savior and Lord are also rejected: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6) and “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And having rejected the imperial claims of Jesus as Savior and Lord, God is reduced to just another among gods. And, then, having reduced God to just another god among gods, all religious ideas and ways to god are authentic and equally acceptable. Indeed, in such a theological mishmash, the exclusive claims of Biblical and historic Christianity are embarrassing to the pluralistic and inclusive elite.

Well, all of this is mind-boggling to those of us who are historic, evangelical Christians. There has to be something more to this. What is it?

Could it be that CST is responding to declining religious demographics in the mainline churches in California and the rest of the West Coast? In the past decades, CST has led the way in defining not only liberal Methodism but liberal Protestantism. Interestingly, and to use a phrase from the movie Field of Dreams, CST built it and no one came. It is no secret that the UMC has lost over half its membership on the West Coast. Is it now getting difficult to recruit ministerial students to come to CST from its liberal constituency? Well, if one has no way to win the “heathens” to one’s religious system, why not simply embrace them as “us”? Besides, having first exsanguinated historic Christianity theologically and then rejected historic Christianity as the only life-giving faith, a nice multifaith and diverse universalism is intellectually acceptable, and it has potential financial benefits, as it opens doors to new sources for revenue. Those extensive and expensive facilities at CST have to be maintained . . . somehow!

Most certainly, this is not a new, bold, and expansive experiment in religious openness and pluralism by the liberal leadership of CST. After all, liberals have been making noises along this line for many decades. Rather, this is financial desperation.

Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler refers to CST as “The Amazing Technicolor Multifaith Theology School” <link>. Since Erskine Theological Seminary (ETS) now matriculates Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics into the DMin program, could CST’s path be the future for ETS? Is this already ETS? Using some of Mohler’s words, the Editor of ARPTalk asks this question: Is ETS now an amazing, technicolor, stereophonic, and multifaith theological experience on the wide-screen of theological education? Yes, this is an experience that is so big and so wide and so culturally “with it” and so stupendous that you do not want to be the only one you know to miss this eighth wonder of the universe!

It is no secret that ETS has been and is matriculating Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics in the DMin program. Why is this being done? A straight answer is not forthcoming from the ETS administration. In the last 12 months, Executive Vice President Neely Gaston has been asked twice by members of Second Presbytery for an explanation and he has not given a straight answer. A motion was passed at the June meeting of the ARP Church that asked the Erskine BOT to investigate this matter and, hopefully, get a straight answer. Why has Executive Vice President Gaston been so reticent to give a straight answer? Is there a straight answer to be given?

Why would the ETS administration seek to matriculate Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics? Is it because of a grand liberal scheme that would have ETS experimenting with multiculturalism, multifaithism, and inclusivism? The Editor really does not believe that to be the case. While the Editor has many theological issues with the present ETS administration, the Editor does not believe that anyone at ETS has a grand scheme for ETS that would purposefully transform ETS into a muti-flavored theological mishmash of everything under the sun. The current ETS leadership is just not that thoughtful or reflective!

Why would the ETS administration seek to matriculate Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics? Is this being done for the sake of evangelism? What a wonderful opportunity to expose people of other religions to the Christian faith, some will argue. No doubt such excuses will be made (and are already being made!) by some in positions of Erskine leadership. Such an assertion is absurd. Those Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics who are being matriculated into the doctoral program are professional religious leaders. They already know both their own religion and a good bit about evangelical Christianity. They are not religious neophytes. They are doctoral students. Besides, has anyone ever heard of a false religious leader being converted to evangelical Christianity because of his/her doctoral studies in a seminary? The task of a seminary is education and not evangelism. No, the Editor does not believe that Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics are being matriculated at ETS into the DMin program for the sake of evangelism. What a naïve notion!

Furthermore, does anybody really believe that the presence of Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and goodness knows what else in the ETS classrooms will not affect what goes on in those classrooms? After all, if you invite such people to study at your school and you take their money, prudence suggests that it is best not to offend them with forthright claims about the exclusivity of the Christian gospel message and the exclusive claims of Christ. And so what has been called the “scandal of particularity,” that is, the exclusivity of the Christian message, will quietly be laid aside in the interests of “niceness.” As the Editor has previously reported, such a chilling effect has already been seen in ETS classrooms with regard to the issue of women’s ordination. Because ETS admits women to its ministerial training programs, ETS Executive Vice President Harvey Neely Gaston informed ETS faculty members several years ago that they are not permitted to express support in the classroom for the ARP position that limits the offices of minister and elder to males.

Why would the ETS administration seek to matriculate Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics? The Editor was told by a member of the Erskine BOT that the reason was so that Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics could be introduced to the evangelical Christian culture. That sounds noble, but it does not hold water. These clerics are Army chaplains who live and work in a multicultural environment. They have already been exposed to evangelical Christianity. These chaplains know one another very well.

So, why would the ETS administration seek to matriculate Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics? Could it be because ETS and CST have two things in common: a lack of students and a lack of money?

It is no secret that ETS has lost a major part of its student base under the leadership of Executive Vice President Gaston. Under Executive Vice President Gaston’s watch both the United Methodist Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church have withdrawn their endorsements of ETS as a seminary for the training of their ministerial candidates. A bungled attempt to open an off-campus site in New York City ended with ETS nearly being sued by the state of New York because ETS representatives failed to observe the regulations regarding graduate schools and seminaries that operate in New York State. As of late, other ETS off-campus sites are struggling to survive and some have been closed. Attempts to attract students from the conservative congregations in the PC(USA), the EPC, and the PCA have largely failed. Theological differences with the ARP Church have resulted in a loss of credibility for ETS among ARPs, and small wonder that most ARP ministerial candidates have now abandoned ETS for other seminaries. The number of graduates in the MDiv program is declining. The financial woes at ETS are many and they are increasing.

Enter the savior! ETS has been able to establish a DMin program for Army chaplains. The program brings in about $250,000 annually. So, why does ETS matriculate Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics? It is because the Army sends them to ETS and the ETS administration jumps to attention to the Army’s tune. ETS is too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives. Therefore, since both conservative and liberal churches are not flocking to ETS, the largesse of the government of the United States is needed! ETS has become a ward of the state!

Sadly, the ETS administration did not have to sell the theological soul of ETS in order to do business with the Army. The Army understands and honors academic standards for entrance into an academic program. The Army respects the historic theological prerequisites of institutions. Contracts can be framed to protect academic and theological standards. The problem is not the Army; rather, the problem is with the same ETS administrators who failed in New York City, lost the support of the UMC and the AME Church, alienated a significant portion of the ARP Church, and failed in gaining constituencies with the conservatives in the PC(USA), the EPC, and the PCA. This is the same crowd that is overseeing the closing of off-campus sites, and is witnessing a decline of MDiv graduates.

Yes, ETS is an amazing, technicolor, stereophonic, and multifaith theological experience! However, this is not because ETS is a wild-eyed liberal and neo-pagan religious experiment like CTS. ETS is an amazing, technicolor, stereophonic, and multifaith theological experience in administrative mediocrity and incompetence. This is an effort that is being driven by “filthy lucre.” That is, it is all about getting money from the government. Some trust in God, but the ETS administration trusts in the government’s money.

No wonder Executive Vice President Gaston is not forthcoming with a straight answer when asked why Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics are being allowed to matriculate in the DMin at ETS!

It is embarrassing to stand before one’s fellow ministers and colleagues and answer: WE DID IT FOR THE SAKE OF MONEY BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO MAKE ETS WORK ANY OTHER WAY!!!

Dear friends, let us mourn God’s poverty for we can no longer say that the God of the Bible owns the cattle on a thousand hills! That is, God can no longer be counted on the supply the financial needs of ETS through the faithfulness of God’s people in the ARP Church and other evangelical churches!

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

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