Analysis of the Erskine BOT Meeting

 

The Erskine Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting of February 18-19 has come and gone. Not unexpectedly, news as to what took place is slowing seeping out. The following report reflects information that the Editor of ARPTalk has collected from multiple sources.

  1. The discount rate for this year’s Freshmen Class is 68% on tuition. This is the highest discount rate that has ever been extended to a Freshman Class. The average discount rate on tuition for all classes is 63%. The class of 2010, including transfer students, was reported at about 170. The 2010 class was one of the smallest in years. This means that, with fewer students and a higher discount rate, the revenue from students is significantly less.
  2. When the Editor was on the BOT (1998-2004), the recruitment goal for the next year’s Freshmen Class was about 100 deposits by the end of January. The goal for the 2011 Freshman Class is about 250 students. At the time of the BOT meeting, 26 students had made deposits for 2011. Who is in charge of recruiting? This is not a good sign for recruitment or cost covering income!
  3. Revenue from fundraising is down. However, help is on the way from an estate that has recently been settled. Between $500,000 and $700,000 should be available before the end of the financial year. Fortunately, for Erskine these unrestricted funds may be used to lessen an anticipated deficit.
  4. The draw from the Endowment is 7%. This means that all interest and some principal are being used in an attempt to balance the budget. The Erskine Endowment was about $42,000,000 in 1998 when the Editor become a member of the Erskine BOT. Thirteen years later, the Erskine Endowment is still about $42,000,000. The difference is that $42,000,000 bought more in 1998 than it does in 2011. A static Endowment means that the Endowment is losing ground.
    • Some have asked if there is a percentage beyond which the Endowment cannot be drawn down. There is a guideline of 7%; however, that is only a guideline, that is, a suggestion. The percentage may be changed at the discretion of the BOT. Interestingly, in the past, when Erskine Administrators stated to the General Synod that budgets were “balanced,” one did not know whether the money had come from generated income or from Endowment principal. The Moderator’s Commission reported at the March 2010 Synod that the current withdrawal practices cannot be sustained. That warning is still relevant.
  5. It was reported that there have been no raises in three years. It was also reported that there were positive conversations about raises for this coming year. How can that be? The anticipated income from the estate settlement is not enough to balance the budget. How is it going to provide extra funds for raises? Is there going to be a last minute raid on the Endowment?
  6. In the face of another deficit, there is reluctance to layoff faculty members and other employees. As the Editor sees it, the only way the present faculty makeup at the College and the Seminary can be maintained is to draw down the Endowment again!
  7. According to the proposed new bylaws, the membership of the BOT is to be reduced from 36 to 27. At first glance, this seems to be a positive move. However, looking at the proposed bylaw changes and counting the number of advisory people who will meet with the BOT, the multitude that meets will be large. When the Editor was on the BOT, it took the Founders Room to seat the BOT and all the people who met with the BOT and the room was very crowded. It seems that not much has changed. And, please, be aware of who all the other people were. They were the lobbyists. Why can the BOT not meet alone and call in individuals as they are needed.
  8. The meeting of the Seminary Committee was indeed eventful. It even continued after the BOT adjourned.
  • It was reported for the past two or three years that ETS has been running a deficit of about $500,000 a year. In spite of the claims of former Executive Vice President Neely Gaston that the budget was balanced, ETS was not standing on its own. The balancing was being done as a result of a transfer of funds from the College to the Seminary. The picture repeatedly portrayed regarding the financial stability of ETS to the Seminary faculty members and the members of General Synod by both retired President Randy Ruble and former Vice President Neely Gaston was considerably misleading. Currently, ETS is running a $300,000 deficit and the financial year is not over until July. It was also reported that there is a sum of $500,000 outstanding in the accounts receivable. This means that there is a sum of a half-million dollars in uncollected fees and tuition. One must ask: What have the business practices of ETS been in the last three years?
  • The matter of what Professor Richard Burnett believes regarding the inerrancy of the Bible does not go away. Dr. Burnett has often and publicly declared that he does not affirm the position of the ARP Church on inerrancy. If the Editor understands correctly what is taking place NOW, Dr. Burnett has changed his mind and is now saying that he affirms inerrancy, but he affirms a definition of inerrancy that redefines inerrancy. That is still a rejection of the position of the ARP Church on inerrancy.

Well, this matter can be cleared up easily. It is widely known that the Editor of ARPTalk has been critical of what Dr. Burnett teaches on inerrancy. The Editor affirms what most would call a historic view of inerrancy. Below is a short and simple statement of what the Editor believes about inerrancy.

The Editor of ARPTalk believes that the Scriptures claim to be without error and inspired by God down to the very words of the Biblical text, and yet it is well known that the manuscripts of the Biblical texts were not transmitted without some scribal mistakes. Thus we speak of the Bible as “inerrant in the original autographs” and with the firm assurance that God has providentially preserved the text substantially intact. Because of this, our copies and translations are altogether reliable and authoritative; although, technically speaking, they contain some scribal mistakes over which students of the Bible puzzle – matters known to all who have studied the Biblical text and matters that do not challenge cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. The Editor affirms that there was an original text of the Bible that was given by divine inspiration and that reflected the perfect and flawless nature of God Himself. The Editor stands with the ARP Church and affirms that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God without error in all that it teaches” and that “the Bible alone, being verbally God-breathed, is the Word of God written, infallible in all it teaches, and inerrant in the original manuscripts.” The Editor also reaffirms his ordination vows that “the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments [is] the Word of the living God, the only perfect rule of faith and practice, to which nothing is to be added and from which nothing is to be taken at any time or upon any pretext.”

-Charles W. Wilson

Although the above statement is a bit wordy, it is straightforward. The doctrine of inerrancy is not a complex mystery. As it was used to respond to liberal theologians who were casting doubts on the reliability of the Biblical text and the veracity of the Bible, the doctrine of inerrancy answers three questions:

  1. Was there an original text that was “God-breathed” and reflected the flawless and perfect and sinless and error-free nature of God?
  2. Has that text been transmitted to us in a form that we can trust? and
  3. Is that text authoritative for what we believe and practice?

What does Dr. Burnett believe? The box below is reserved for Dr. Burnett to state what he NOW believes about inerrancy. Dr. Burnett, will you please be so kind as to inform us as to what you NOW believe? The Editor’s personal e-mail is wilson6114@bellsouth.net.

Also, Dr. Burnett, will you also tell us what you believe about Natural Revelation? Do you unambiguously affirm the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith on Natural Revelation? If not, where do you differ? And finally, Dr. Burnett, will you tell us what you believe about the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith that Christ died to save the elect and that only those who turn to Christ in faith are saved from eternal condemnation in hell?

There was a common refrain from the members of the Erskine BOT with which the Editor spoke. They were amazed that there was no sense of urgency at this meeting. Yet Erskine College and Seminary are still in conflict with the General Synod of the ARP Church AND, in spite of the windfall from an estate, the College and Seminary are still swimming in red ink.

Finally, Dr. David Norman is not the author of the mess that now is Erskine College and Seminary. He has inherited years of administrative failure and BOT dysfunction. The task that is before him is heavy. Thankfully, the promise of the Scripture is that, for those who ask for wisdom, the God of the Bible gives liberally and upbraids not. The prayers of the Editor are with Dr. Norman.

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

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  1. Tony Locke says:

    I’d like to post some of this to our church website section on inerrancy. Is that o.k.?

     
  2. Mark Wright says:

    I would like to suggest the ARP go a step further in its stand on inerrancy. We should adopt The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

     
  3. Tony Locke says:

    I also think we should adopt the Chicago statement.

    Our church uses that explanation for our church identity http://firstprestucker.org/about-2/theological-identity/whats-inerrancy/

    and we provide a link for downloading a PDF of the declaration http://firstprestucker.org/about-2/associate-reformed/chicago-statement-on-inerrancy/

     
  4. Brian Smith says:

    Didn’t Pastor Locke a few months ago agree with Dr Burnett’s position on the Bible?!?!

     
  5. Tony Locke says:

    Ouch Brian. I disagreed that inerrancy is a measuring stick for the Bible’s authority since the WCF 1.5 says that I can’t do that. The only basis for the Bible being authoritative is the Holy Spirit working faith in my soul.

    It was an argument on the margins. With my whole heart and passion I affirm inerrancy, but I do not use that doctrine to bolster my reverence of the Bible.

     
  6. Tony Locke says:

    We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

     
  7. charles w wilson says:

    Dear Dr. Burnett,

    Why have you not responded? Space is reserved for your response.

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    Editor, ARPTalk

     
  8. Glenn Rhyne says:

    I don’t think WCF 1.5 is asserting that the “only basis for the Bible being authoritative is the Holy Spirit working faith” in our souls. WCF 1.2-5 has already made it clear that Scripture is authoritative because it is the divinely inspired Word of God. It is authoritative whether we recognize it or not. WCF 1.5 is dealing with how we come to recognize this authority. Because Scripture is the inspired Word of God it possesses objective evidences of its divine authorship [inerrancy being one]. Still our “full persuasion and assurance” can only come through the “inward work of the Holy Spirit.”

     
  9. Ralph Smith says:

    WOW…I would concur with Mr. Rhyne! Mr. Locke advocates the neo-orthodox position but then back pedals to his personal view of inerrency. Maybe Mr. Locke been drinking the Erskine profs’ coolaid and become a little tipsy?

     
  10. Tony Locke says:

    Glenn, thanks for a thoughtful response.

    I went round and round with Chuck Wilson on this matter over a year ago. He would argue that inerrancy is not a label determined by my intellectual critical analysis of the biblical data, but rather a doctrine.

    I am persuaded that Wilson is right. The Bible claims to be perfect. Labeling the Bible inerrant does not make me the arbiter of it’s authority. This is the false charge of the PCUSA Erskine teachers.

    The conservative-evangelical PCUSA crowd does not consider inerrancy a doctrine. This is the Achilles Heel of the conversation.

    Guys like Burnett claim that inerrancy is a man made conclusion about the Bible. It is one of the many incomparable excellencies. Inerrancy is a buzz word for the entire perfection of the Bible. In Burnett’s mind, inerrancy is nothing more than one of the many “arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.”

    Burnett’s best argument is that the Bible does not become authoritative after I chase down every alleged discrepancy and conclude it is without error. Rather, one comes to faith that the Bible has full divine authority via the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit in the heart (and this happens every time we receive it by faith).

    Now in that classroom explanation of inerrancy is hidden a neo-orthodox Barthian slant.

    Under the cover of false piety they claim that they can’t fully embrace the word inerrancy because it would make them the authority over the Bible by which the Bible is then declared to be God’s word and authoritative.

    They nod their heads to the perfections of the Bible, but for them it is nothing more than an intellectual argument unworthy of a confession. For them, inerrancy is a conclusion of the human scientific mind. For them, inerrancy is not part of the doctrine once for all delivered to the saints.

    Through the ministry of ARPTalk and the kind pursuit of Chuck Wilson, I seen behind this ruse and discerned the influence that Erskine faculty made in my understanding on this topic.

    I have come to the strong conclusion that inerrancy is not an intellectual construct that I conclude in my mind as I approach the Bible. I do not label the Bible inerrant after a careful analysis of the data. The Bible claims the inerrancy label for itself and therefore it is a doctrine.

    Erskine students are told inerrancy is not a Bible doctrine. They are taught that inerrancy is an incomparable excellency of the Bible and recognized by human observation. Inerrancy is nothing more than a summary of the Bible’s perfection.

    If you accept this argument, as I did for a time, then the whole inerrancy debate becomes a fools errand. The word inerrancy becomes nothing more than one label in a list of all the other excellencies and perfections of scripture. It is diminished to an intellectual exercise like math.

    This is a crafty and insidious approach by the left. If inerrancy is not a doctrine, then it isn’t worth defending. If inerrancy is not a doctrine then we all need to stop talking about it.

    If inerrancy is not a doctrine then we can take it or leave it.

    Below is my recently formed conviction:

    Inerrancy is closer to a theological construct like the Trinity. To not fully embrace the doctrine of inerrancy is to put the Gospel and your soul in danger.

    I agree with Burnett that inerrancy is not an argument for the authority of the Bible. But I would suggest that it is the witness of the Bible to itself, and therefore inerrancy is a Bible doctrine.

    Inerrancy must be professed/confessed without equivocation. We need to treat the doctrine of inerrancy like we treat the virgin birth. It is a Bible teaching with certain theological ramifications.

    As advocates of inerrancy as a Bible doctrine, we must be careful not to say that the Bible is God’s word BECAUSE it is inerrant. When we make that claim we give the Barthian advocates ammo to convince students that inerrancy is being wrongly used by the radical right.

    Does the Holy Spirit give inner witness to our souls that the Bible is the divinely authoritative Word of God? Yes, at the moment of conversion.

     
  11. Dear Mr. Locke,

    Wow! Thank you for your comments.

    Once again, I ask Dr. Burnett to respond.

    Dr. Burnett’s view on the Bible is what ignited the controversy that has raged in the ARP Church for the last three years. We are now informed by Erskine administrators that Dr. Burnett’s view on the Bible is compatible with the view of the ARP Church on inerrancy. Here is one of Dr. Burnett’s students saying otherwise.

    Dr. Burnett, what is your view? Are you willing to state your position on the Bible in writing as so many of us in the ARP Church are willing to do?

    Dr. Burnett, where are you? The whole evangelical world would like to know!

    Dr. Burnett, is your silence an admission that you are not willing to affirm a historical view on inerrancy?

    Once again, thank you Mr. Locke.

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    Editor, ARPTalk

     
  12. Ralph Smith says:

    I think Mr. Locke has either done an ‘about face’ or now understands the crucial issue with Biblical authority. The above statement is sound. I am glad to read the clarity of his post at this time.

    However, I am still confused as to the general acceptance of Barthian doctrine being taught in a denominational seminary. The ARP says one thing and does another. I’m also not persuaded by the argument that it’s good for PCUSA doctrine to be taught in a denomination’s seminary that affirms inerrency the Westminster Confession seems silly to me. What would this accomplish. It would certainily hurt the ARP, already shaky in its doctrinal positions. Don’t you worry about dumbing down your seminary education? Instead, why not help the PCUSA so-called conservatives/evangelicals by supplying them with teachers who truly believe in inerrency and the Westminster Confession? The ARP could love the PCUSA folks better by being faithful to its own standards and teaching truth.

     
  13. Dear Mr. Smith,

    You have asked a good question: Why does the ARP Church allow “strange fire” to be taught at Erskine Seminary? You write that the idea is “silly.” No, it’s money – simply money!

    By the late-60s Erskine Seminary had wandered off the evangelical theological reservation. In a desire for academic standing and ecclesiastical acceptance amongst the mainline Presbyterians, a new faculty was brought to Erskine that was either Barthian or Liberal. That was the time that saw the beginning of warnings throughout the denomination. In a denomination that had a high view of Scripture, inerrancy was abandoned at Erskine Seminary. In a denomination that did not ordain women to the office of Elder, the ordination of women to the office of Elder was taught by men who advocated the ordination of women to the office of Elder. The result of those “silly” moves was an abandonment by ARP students for RTS-Jackson and other seminaries. This saw the loss of money. The new Dean, Dr. Randy Ruble, moved the Erskine Seminary from being a denomination seminary to a regional seminary when he saw the opportunity to get Methodist students and others, that is, when he saw the revenue stream. Alas, the Methodist stream is now dry as sand.

    During this time, the reports that were being given to General Synod was that Erskine Seminary was operating faithfully to the ARP Church and was financially in the black. Now, you’re going to ask: Did we really believe it? The only answer that I can give is this: Either we ain’t real bright or we’re like Miss Scarlet – and we will think about it tomorrow!

    The grand vision of the late-90s that Drs. John Carson, Randy Ruble, Neely Gaston, and others had was an alliance with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the confessing element in the PCUSA, the liberal element in the Southern Baptist Convention, and the more liberal element in the PCA. Erskine Seminary would become the seminary for those who are not too liberal and those who are not too conservative. Erskine Seminary embraced the lowest common denominator ecclesiastically, theologically, educationally, and intellectually. The seminary took on the character of tepid coffee. Well, they built it and they have not come! The grand visions for money are now gone, gone, and gone. The realities of broke and ruination are upon Erskine Seminary. Thus, a new vision: the US Army. The only stream of revenue that keeps the Erskine Seminary boat afloat! However, this may be a tsunami and not a stream. The word “Christian” has been de facto removed in order to receive non-Christians students from other religions. And how much money did it take for Faust to sell his soul to the devil? Faust got a better deal!

    Dr. Richard Burnett is the poster boy for all this, as you call it, “silly.” He’s not welcome in the PCUSA’s seminaries, and he’s certainly not welcome in the ARP Church as a minister. I do not know of a Presbytery that would receive him.

    Notwithstanding all that I have written, there are faithful men teaching at Erskine Seminary. They are embattled. There are also faithful men who have graduated from Erskine Seminary. They had to struggle through the deception and false teaching and theological oddities of professor like Dr. Burnett.

    We are now being told that Dr. Burnett has changed his position on inerrancy. In the words of the old Wendy’s commercial: “Where’s the beef?” Why does Dr. Burnett NOT respond? Is he on vacation? Is he taking a nap? Is he taking his ease? He had time to compose a 22-page screed attacking the inerrancy position of the ARP Church and Dr. Bill Evans a few months ago. I am told that he has said that he wants to debate me on inerrancy. In the past, I have offered him space. Once again, I offer him space. Dr. Burnett, are you “Care 54”? Dr. Burnett, where are you?

    Mr. Smith, I ask you to be kind to Mr. Locke. Unless you have actually experienced the power of a false teacher who is friendly and kind and a master of intellectual and philosophical and theological obfuscation and disinformation in the propagation of error and you immediately saw through the sham, be kind. I rejoice with Mr. Locke.

    Mr. Smith, I suppose it’s time to return to your question. Well, now that the noonday sun is shinning on the Erskine mess, let’s see if there is enough theological and ecclesiastical integrity and strength left in “the old girl” to do the right things. However, whatever we ARPs do, don’t expect it to be fast! We are like Tolkien’s Ents!

    Now, I have a question. Has Erskine gone so far in turning away from God that what we are now seeing is the smiting hand of God as he visits the woes of Deuteronomy 28 on Erskine Seminary?

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    Editor, ARPTalk

     
  14. Daniel Wells says:

    Rev. Locke, thank you for your insightful words on inerrancy. I think you are right about the issues on the table and why those of a Neo-Barthian persuasion (Dr. Burnett) as hesitant to embrace inerrancy.

    It seems that Burnett and others (including inerrantists!) confuse how we come to know something is true versus what is actually true. In other words, we often confuse epistemology and metaphysics. The WCF ch. 1 doesn’t buy into the evidentialist paradigm in terms of how we demonstrate the Bible’s authority. Rather it states the metaphysical reality that the Bible is authoritative and infallible (and remember, infallible entails inerrancy). The primary way we “know” this to be true is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

    I think this is what Dr. Norman (and many other inerrantists) mean when they say that inerrancy is a presupposition, not a conclusion. As a committed Van Tilian, I think such a notion is correct. The argument for inerrancy is that Jesus believed in inerrancy.

     
  15. Daniel Stephens says:

    Hroom