Why I Really, Really, Really Want to Attend Erskine Seminary


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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  1. Tony Locke says:

    I wanted to attend Erskine because I root for the home team, loyalty to the (church) family, begin life connections with future ARP friends and colleagues, participation within the history of our denomination, shared experiences, and a Reformed perspective on the Gospel. I think all those goals were accomplished by going to Erskine Seminary. Admittedly, if the price had been the same as RTS, it would have been a much harder decision.

    For progress in preaching, I thought Michael Bush was helpful to show me how my sermons fell within the historical Reformed tradition. I made changes because of that insight. Read a sermon of mine preached last Sunday. Not cherry picking, just my latest. Isn’t that a worthy representation of the good training Erskine provides?


    As an aside, the ARP Student of Theology in my church goes to RTS. I am not trying to convince him otherwise at this time.

  2. Brian Smith says:


    Should I assume that what you mean by a ‘Reformed perspective on the gospel’ incorporates somehow a denial of the authority of the Scriptures. I understand that Dr Bush and Drs. Burnett (maybe among others) publicaly deny the position on the Bible that your denomination adheres to and even have mocked it in their classes! Why would you condone them?

    My hope is that you only suffer from the ARP nice-guy syndrome and are unwilling to call for accountability because you like your professors. It would be tragic if you were converted to the liberal position of ETS…

    FWIW: My friend is is Presbyterian PC-America and he found scholy money to RTS- Orlando and another guy I know goes to G-ville seminary, a small seminary committed to the historic Reformed faith and the full authority of the Bible.

    I don’t mean to argue with you, I’m just not sure that you understand that your profs at Erskine were actually liberal on the bible. If you understood this, why are you not concerned, especially as an ARP?—-Yikes!

  3. Erskine has its weaknesses, to be sure. It also has its strong suits. I’m enjoying D. Min classes within the Institute for Reformed Worship, especially those by Dr. Ross and Dr. Old. I’m thankful for the ARP scholarship that covers most of my tuition and glad that many of my classes are located in Columbia. I’m sad that her reputation is weakened when there is much good to be found.

  4. Tony Locke says:

    Positing that the school subverts inerrancy on a public forum isn’t going to help the conversation. We can find fault with just about anybody.

    We should not be looking for fault with the men of whom you speak. The PC USA guys submit to the authority of the scriptures. They have wives in subjection to them and the church, their children are exemplary pillars of godliness, their own lives are filled with personal holiness and charity. They are men of whom this world is not worthy.

    Have you ever read Jonathon Edward’s notebook called Miscellaneous? He posits that Jesus might be an emanation of the Father’s subconscious. Crazy trinitarian views and other heresies are developed. We appreciate him, more, we lionize him. Rightly so.

    When I received the email which had a link for this article there was a quote from Bonhoeffer who is clearly neo-orthodox. Bonhoeffer denied the historicity of the resurrection and the virgin birth – in writing. Yet, we find him helpful to the church.

    My point is that these men are the best men we will find within the PC USA to be on the Erskine Faculty. Do we need PC USA guys at ETS? According to our current marketing and positioning within a broad evangelical market we need them.

    This is where our conversation should be directed – at the make up and direction of the school.

    We should not be bashing the men we asked to stand with us against modern liberalism. We are co-belligerents with them in the battle. If we change our strategy then we can cut them loose. Right now they are our allies. Be nice. We sought them out to join our team. Remember that.

    And if you want to understand them, which I know many of our righty-tighties don’t, then we should see their position and use of language as seen from within the PC USA environment. From the USA’s perspective the Erskine guys are right wing radicals. We should at least be friendly to the public and vocal antagonist of our greater foe.

    Within our contexts any affirmation of Barth is a kiss of death, but if our PC USA guys don’t embrace Barth then they are not even given a platform to enter into dialog within their denomination. Have some compassion for the position we asked them to put themselves.

    And try to hear what they are saying. The Erskine PC USA guys are fearful of the misuse of the word inerrancy, so they use definitions instead of a clear YES when asked if they hold to inerrancy.

    How can the language if inerrancy be misused? As a proof that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. Our WCF clearly states in chapter one, paragraph five, that the beauty and excellencies of scripture do not affirm that it is the word of God. Way too many people in my camp use inerrancy as a proof that the Bible is God’s word. The PC USA guys at Erskine see that danger and help us not misuse the word inerrancy while at the same time helping us fight off liberalism.

    This is the truth of the situation at Erskine. Understand this and your rhetoric will ratchet down a few notches.

    Sincerely trying to be your friend, Tony Locke

    P.S. I am not soft on the problems at Erskine. I recently preach against the drift I see there. Click below to see my public commitments and prayer that Erskine be orthodox.

  5. Daniel Stephens says:

    I don’t want to attack or defend Erskine here, but offer some correcting/clarifying comments.

    I hope you simply used the wrong word in saying that their wives are in “subjection” to them. I would be offended if any Christian held that to be a test for orthodoxy. Submission is not subjugation. For instance, Jesus submits to the will of the father, but in no way is he subjugated in a despotic manner. I’m pretty sure you meant submission.

    Even if you did though, it isn’t the man’s job to make the woman submissive. Paul addresses that section of Ephesians to wives explicitly. I think one of the best definitions of submission comes from Karl Barth, who defines it as a free, humble, and loving choice. I can’t remember the quote in its entirety. And I think that might also show that you overstated your case in saying that any affirmation of Barth is a kiss of death in conservative circles.

    Amen to understanding the context of the PCUSA in trying to relate to all of this.

    I’m a bit confused as to how PCUSA professors encourage a broadly evangelical admissions policy. The PCUSA is one of the mainline churches that tended to accept German higher criticism and reject the authority of scripture. Evangelical churches tend to be the break away churches from that mainline over the issue of the higher criticism and the authority of scripture. On the face of it, it seems that mainline professors would discourage evangelical students from attending and evangelical professors would discourage mainline students from attending. I’m not making a statement on whether or not Erskine should have PCUSA faculty, I just don’t see how having that faculty will encourage evangelicals to attend.

    You are right that inerrancy is misused when it is used to show the Bible is the word of God. It works in the other direction, one believes the Bible is the word of God, and then believes the Bible is inerrant because of how the person understands God.

    Now, you say the WCF doesn’t affirm the Bible as the word of God. If that were true, then the WCF doesn’t follow the Bible’s teaching on that point, because the Bible is abundantly clear that it is inspired of God. Here is a brief set of examples:

    Exodus 4:10-16, 7:1-4
    These passages are fundamental for understanding what prophesy is. For a person to be a prophet they must 1. not speak for himself, and 2. the person for whom he speaks must be as a god to him.

    Deuteronomy 18:14-21
    You wouldn’t put this passage in your book if you were creating a religion. If anything was mistaken about a prophesy, that person was to be killed as a false prophet. Anything less than perfection means you aren’t speaking for God. Thus, we believe that if God has spoken, it will not contain errors.

    Jeremiah 1:4-10
    This one doesn’t even need comments. Also, thumb through Jeremiah and Isaiah. Before every prophesy we see “The Lord says” or some variation.

    Jeremiah 36
    What God says is capable of being understood and written down. Plus, Jeremiah didn’t like this message. If you were creating your own ideas and you didn’t like them, you’d simply change them. Jeremiah did not have this option on this an so many others. He didn’t have a choice because it wasn’t his message.

    Galatians 1:11-2:21
    Paul says his message is from the risen Jesus.

    1 Thess 2:13, 1 Cor 2:6-13, and 2 Timothy 3:16
    No comments needed

    1 Corinthians 14:27, 33
    We may debate whether gifts of the Spirit manifest themselves today, but nobody doubts they were happening in Corinth. Here Paul says how real gifts from the third person of the trinity may be manifested. The only way to do that is to speak with the authority of that trinity.

    Jesus’ use of the scriptures is remarkable on this account as well. He quotes scripture to ward off the devil. He says “the scriptures cannot be broken” and that it is easier for the entire universe to cease to exist than it is for any part of the scriptures to pass away. And when making a point using the Bible, Jesus picks out the stories that seem most unlikely and declares them as fact. (Direct creation of a historical Adam, the flood, Jonah, etc).

    So when I’m affirming the divine origin, and consequently, the inerrancy of the scriptures, I’m simply doing it as an act of devotion to and emulation of my savior.

    also trying to be a friend,