Nov 17, 2010 | Comments 5
With all that is going on at Erskine Theology Seminary, why would anyone want to attend Erskine Theological Seminary?
Now that is an intriguing question. Most ARP candidates for the ministry are answering the question by attending another seminary. Recently, by default, Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte has become the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
The Editor was taken aback recently when he came in contact with a young man who was not an ARP and who wanted to attend ETS. When asked, “Why do you want to attend ETS?” the young man answered:
“I want to attend ETS because it’s free.”
The young man said that he was told by administrators that if he could get individuals to contribute to ETS in his name that those contributions would be credited to his account. In other words, if he could raise his tuition, then it would be credited to his account.
How is that “free”?
The great English preacher, C. H. Spurgeon, once wrote that some books, if you have to read them, are too expensive even if they are free. Well, there are other things that are too expensive even if they are free!
“I want to attend ETS because of the theological diversity that is at ETS.”
The young man was not focusing on the ETS student body. Everyone knows that seminary student bodies are diverse. What the young man had in mind was the faculty. He was not looking for a seminary that was confessionally faithful to the Reformed Christianity. He was not looking for a seminary that was ecclesiastically faithful to the denomination that the seminary represented. He was not looking for a seminary that was forthrightly conservative and evangelical. He was looking for a theological smorgasbord of theological gobbledegook. Indeed, in ETS, he has found that for which he was looking, that is, a little taste of Calvinism, a little taste of Arminianism, a little taste of Barth, a little taste of Methodism, Presbyterianism, and congregationalism, a little taste of old liberalism, and where nothing is for certain. One wonders if such an education of “little bits” will prepare him to service in the ministry of his denomination. Perhaps his denomination is the Church of Odd (that is, the Presbyterian Church USA). Here is a question: Is this ETS education of “little bits” one of the reason that ETS grads who are ARPs do so poorly when they are examined by their Presbyteries?
Well, after a bit, the young man concluded the conversation. He was very uncomfortable with the questions that were being asked of him.
The Editor has been thinking about this young man. What are some of the other things that he might have said about the reasons he wanted to attend ETS? He might have said:
“I want to attend ETS because I will be prepared to do PhD work.”
Well, that is true if one PhD in the last ten years is a record of success. As far as the Editor can remember, in the last 10 years, only one ETS grad has gone on to earn a PhD. ETS simply does not have a stellar academic record. A good beginning was made under the administration of Dr. R. J. Gore; however, that effort was aborted under the present leadership.
“I want to attend ETS because ETS is so highly respected in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church?”
ETS is not highly respected in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Many ARPs have written ETS off; it is the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in name only.
“I want to attend ETS because ETS has a record for developing outstanding preachers.”
Can you name one? Outstanding preachers are normally taught by a professor who is an outstanding preacher. Who teaches preaching at ETS? ETS has an outstanding preacher; however, he is rarely asked to teach preaching. Near the end of his life, PC(USA) theologian Dr. John Leith publicly complained that Erskine Seminary has a record of not producing good preachers. Dr. Leith was correct.
“I want to attend ETS because my educational experience at ETS will prepare me to be a capable pastor.”
Who is teaching the practical course at ETS now?
Executive Vice President H. Neely Gaston, who was hired to be the chief administrator of ETS, is now teaching the practical courses. Does an honorary degree of DD from a Baptist seminary in Grand Rapids prepare one for such a task? The specifications of the ATS manual take umbrage with such an ignoring of protocols. But who is to say nay to Executive Vice President H. Neely Gaston? Professor Gaston is the boss. Such an attitude of hubris, however, is probably not helpful for a ministerial candidate. It could be his undoing.
Many will say that Mr. Gaston’s time at ETS has been marked by organizational decline, political manipulation and obfuscation, an unwillingness to take responsibility for the hard times that have befallen ETS, and disloyalty toward the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in countenancing faculty members who have attempted to sue the seminary’s denomination in civil court.
“I want to attend ETS because I want to be a part of a growing seminary.”
ETS is NOT growing. When was the last time you were in Due West on a weekday? Once it was impossible to find a parking spaces in front of the seminary if one did not arrive early; it is possible now. Once the ETS chapel services were crowded; those services are not crowded now, unless 20 – 30 makes a crowd – and half of those attending are faculty and staff. Once the hallways were congested with students; that is not a problem now.
If ETS is growing, it is through the online program. Question: Is ETS on the way to becoming an online degree mill?
Well, there is one positive: the faculty to student ratio is small.
“I want to attend ETS because of ETS’ historical emphasis on the powerful proclamation of God’s inerrant Word written, the Bible.”
That ain’t true! It is difficult to say such a thing without laughing. The ETS faculty as a whole is not able to affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. The faculty of the seminary as a whole cannot affirm what the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church affirms! This has been true for at least 40 years!
Honest, at this time, the Editor does not know why anyone would really, really, really want to attend Erskine Theological Seminary – not even really want to – not even want to!
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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