Joe, That Ain’t Rain!


The Erskine Theological Seminary Self-Study Report for ATS (Association of Theological Schools) was finished and distributed in January. With 465 pages, the document is massive. The paper is a chronicle of the monumental failure that ETS has become as a result of the feckless leadership of retired President Dr. Randy Ruble, former Executive Vice President of the Seminary Dr. Harvey N. Gaston, Academic Dean Dr. Robby Bell, and the EBOT (Erskine Board of Trustees). In a word, ETS is on life-support. The report details 34 “Recommendations” (that is, serious VIOLATIONS of ATS protocols) that must be resolved immediately – and that may not be fast enough to stay off punitive measures by ATS. Presently, a sword of Damocles hangs over the head of ETS: what has been missed and awaits discovery by ATS auditors?.

What the Editor of ARPTalk has been reporting for the last four years now has a stamp of validation. All that the Moderator’s Commission reported at the “Snow Synod” also has a validation stamp now. My only complaint with the members of the Moderator’s Commission is that they thought it distasteful to reveal everything that they had uncovered.

This Fall ETS opened the doors to about 35 new students in the MDiv program. At this writing, ETS has about a total (head count) of 180 students. In the past, the FTE (Full Time Equivalency) has run at about 45 percent of the head count for the seminary. That means the FTE is about 80 students for all programs (MDiv, the various MAs, ThM, and DMin). To give perspective as to how far ETS has fallen, what some have called “little GPTS” (non-ATS-accredited Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) now has more MDiv students than ETS. Apart from the receipts that come from the government for the DMin program for Army Chaplains, ETS would have already had to make drastic cuts in personnel, shut down programs, and may have closed.

The members of the EBOT who pride themselves on their “fiduciary responsibility,” and “engagement,” and “loyalty to Erskine” have, for the last eight years, indolently watched as Dr. Harvey N. Gaston ran roughshod over personnel, launched ill-advised programs, set a theological path that guaranteed a collision with the ARP Church, and wasted money like it was water, and, all the while, he sent reports that indicated he was running balanced budgets and setting records for student numbers. Members of the EBOT sat sleepily and nodded and said: “That’s nice!” How is it that I and many others were aware that Dr. Gaston’s attitude was (and, indeed, he said it to me): “I don’t give a damn what the auditors think!”, and no one on the EBOT seemed to be aware of his attitude? How is it that I and many others were aware that his attitude towards the ARP Church was the same, and no one on the EBOT seemed to be aware of his attitude? Where were these members of the EBOT who so proudly boast of their “fiduciary responsibility,” “engagement” and “loyalty to Erskine”?

It is reported that President Norman has appointed a committee on downsizing ETS. How will that look? May I suggest that in order to come close to a balanced budget it will have to look something like this:

  1. With the exception of the MEDCOM program at Fort Jackson, retrench to the Due West campus by closing all extension campuses;
  2. Reduce faculty to 7 members (one professor for New Testament; one professor for Old Testament; one professor for Theology; one professor for Church History; one professor for Christian Education; one professor for Counseling, and one professor for Practical Ministry);
  3. One of these faculty members will also have to be the Executive Vice President of the Seminary because the funding is not available to bring in an outside VP;
  4. The secretarial and administrative staff will need to be reduced to no more than four; and
  5. The space in Bowie Seminary Building will have to be minimized in order to conserve operating expenses.

Even with reductions this severe, it will be difficult to balance the budget. President Norman has announced that the Columbia site is going to be continued. One can only wonder as to its funding.

Oddly, one of the most maligned professors at ETS during the tyranny of Dr. Harvey N. Gaston, Dr. R. J. Gore, is the man who saved the Army Chaplains’ DMin program this Fall when it was at jeopardy over the non-Christians that Dr. Gaston had allowed in the program. Being an Army Chaplain (Reserve) who wears the rank of Colonel, he knew how to deal with the Army “brass.” Now, if ETS is saved from serious sanctions by ATS, it will also be because of Dr. Gore’s negotiating and writing skills in compiling the self-study and composing a great deal of it. One can only wonder why Dr. Robby Bell, who is presently the Academic Dean, was not asked to do the work of an Academic Dean and attend to the task of the self-study.

ETS is such a strange and odd place theologically and ecclesiastically. Dr. Steve Lowe is presently serving as the acting Executive Vice President of the Seminary. Whether Dr. Lowe counts me a friend or not, I count him a friend; however, Dr. Lowe is a former fundamentalist Baptist who is now a United Methodist who is a Calvinist and who affirms inerrancy, and who is the acting head of a Presbyterian seminary. With no offense to Dr. Lowe (and I do not think he will take offense because during lunch at Fatz we discussed this), he makes the perfect poster boy for the oddness that ETS has become. No wonder those who actually believe in confessional and evangelical Presbyterianism opt for theological education and training at RTS-Charlotte and GPTS and Westminster and Covenant and RTS-Jackson.

Well, the EBOT met on February 16 and 17 to respond to the request that came from the 2011 meeting of General Synod regarding the “removal with cause” of board members of ALL the boards of the General Synod. The motion passed by the General Synod was framed with the knowledge and consent of President Norman and other Erskine people present and with the assurance that the motion would not be offensive to the EBOT and would be championed by those present.

Interestingly, at the meeting of the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine, Chairman of the EBOT, Mr. Joe Patrick, spoke effusively of his and the EBOT’s desire to rebuild bridges to the ARP Church and of reestablishing the confidence of the church in the integrity of the EBOT and Erskine College and Seminary. If my memory is correct, Mr. Patrick also spoke similar words to the General Synod.

The motion made by Rev. Clint Davis and, if I am not mistaken, passed without dissent, was a compromise motion. The motion was put together after the Wednesday evening session of General Synod. Present at the meeting were Rev. Clint Davis, Rev. Matt Miller, Dr. Kyle Sims, Rev. Andy Putnam, Rev. Paul Mulner, Dr. R. J. Gore, Rev. Morrie Lawing, and President David Norman. All were consenting to the motion that was framed. When the question arose as to whether this motion would pass muster with SACS and ATS’s protocols for accreditation, those present with intimate knowledge of the protocols assured the group that the language in the motion did not threaten accreditation.

Well, I guess Rev. Andy Putnam, Chairman Joe Patrick, and President David Norman have had a change of heart! But I have a question: Does this look like disingenuousness to you?

The document, written by Mr. David Conner, “Response of the Erskine College and Theological Seminary Board of Trustees
to the 2011 General Synod’s Requests,” is an attempt at Macchalliavellian double-speak. However, it does not work! In spite of a preponderance of high sounding piousness, the paper comes across as sleazy and crude rather than forthright. The following is an analysis of the paper.

If there has ever been a document that demonstrates the ineptitude and failure of the EBOT, this is the document. In its 18 pages there is no ownership by the EBOT or by the writer of the paper of the monumental failure that Erskine College and Seminary have been. The only thing that comes across is the self-righteousness of the EBOT as the mantra of “fiduciary responsibility” (a fig leaf for declaring independence from the ARP Church) is intoned. There is no humble recognition by the members of the EBOT that in the past they have not been “engaged,” that they have not exercised “fiduciary responsibility, “ and that they have proven to be disloyal to both the ARP Church and Erskine by their incompetence. This board system has been a colossal failure for the past 40 years.

The author of the Erskine paper, Mr. David Conner, speaks of Erskine as an adult child that is now independent of its parent. Well, does an independent child continue to live off his parents’ largess? Why does this independent child come to the General Synod of the ARP Church, year-after-year, and ask us to provide a full one-third of the non-designated operating funds? And those are the true numbers as given by President Norman.

Mr. David Conner states that the reason that the EBOT cannot comply with the request of the General Synod is because of SACS regulations. That was not what President Norman, Rev. Andy Putnam, and Rev. Matt Miller said in the backroom meeting at the meeting of General Synod last June. That is not what Chairman Joe Patrick said when he stood before the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine, nor is that the impression he and other Erskinites gave as they spoke before the 2011 Synod. By the way, that is not what President Norman said in his recent interview with InHigherEducation: “Even though SACS was a factor, Norman said it would be unfair to imply that the trustees voted the way they did because of pressure from the accreditor. He said that the primary reason was broader than SACS rules. ‘I think that at this point in our history we need to make a very clear statement that the Erskine Board of Trustees has fiduciary duties for the institution,’ he said” ( Well, what do those “fiduciary duties” look like? According to my sources, ETS has lost about $300,000 this school year and the year is not yet over. As of 12/31/11, the Endowment stood at $39,567,452. When I went on the EBOT in 1998 the Endowment stood at over $42,000,000. In the last six months, with a good market, the Endowment has lost money at an astounding rate. Well, I have confused issues at this point. To return to the point: How is it that Mr. Conner speaks of SACS and ATS protocols when they are not at the heart of the matter? What kind of political spin is this?

Incredibly, Mr. Conner speaks of “liability” issues for the ARP Church if the EBOT were to do what General Synod asked. Well, who does the ARP Church have to fear in “liability” matters? Honestly, I do not think that the ACLU or an atheist organization is going to sue the ARP Church. The only people that have recently sued the ARP Church are EBOT members and professors at ETS. Is this statement by Mr. Conner fearmongering? Is this statement by Mr. Conner a threat? When Mr. Billy Patrick spoke of legal action at “The Snow Synod,” it was a threat, was it not?

The words for this mess are sleazy and tawdry. The actions by the Erskinites last year were nothing more than a ploy to obtain the funding of the ARP Church for another year.

Let me tell you what the strategy is. I am framing the following on the basis of many conversations. Indeed, there are many who want to see Erskine changed. The people who are the power brokers today do not want to see Erskine return to what Erskine was. Here is the strategy. It is a strategy of deception of both the ARP Church and the various alumni groups. On the one hand, tell the ARP Church what the church wants to hear, maintain the funding by the church, and change the EBOT through the nomination process (to who knows what!). On the other hand, tell the alumni what they want to hear so that they do not withdraw their funding. It is no accident that the EC Foundation has recently been given official status by President Norman (and the EBOT ?). I am sure that the ARP readers of ARPTalk will be gladdened to know that the ARP Church is one of the equally important funding constituencies of INDEPENDENT Erskine College and Seminary. The ARP Church is as important as the Alumni Association, and the EC Foundation.

Somehow in this sleazy and tawdry mess we have elevated deception and disingenuousness and insincerity to be virtues. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Somehow in our relationship with Erskine College and Seminary these words have been lost. Instead, we have elevated the Washington wisdom of politics and compromise as our guiding lights. How did we get to such a sin?

For too long we have pointed to Erskine College and Seminary as the reason for the existence of the ARP Church. How is it that we have forgotten that faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ and His will as clearly expressed in the pages of the Bible is the only reason for the existence of the church of Jesus Christ. Anything else is idolatry and disobedience, and these wait on the judgment of God.

Erskine has declared independence from the ARP Church. Okay, let them have their independence. Give the nominating process for the EBOT to them also. Let them pay their own bills too. Let the ARP Church cease to fund that which is not of the ARP Church.

I think the saddest episode in this cheesy tale of woe is Chairman Joe Patrick’s actions. Before the General Synod and in his communications to the ARP Church he has shown his pious and compliant face. In June at General Synod he stated that he was a servant of the ARP Church who only wanted to know the will of the church so that he could attempt to implement it. However, on Friday, February 17, Chairman Patrick stood before the EBOT in its open session and read from Psalm 103. When he came to verse 6 that states, “The LORD performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed,” Chairman Patrick said, “It is very clear that Erskine has been oppressed by the ARP Synod for the last two years, and if you cannot see that, then you are blind.” He continued until Rev. Andy Putnam informed him that his comments were “out of order.” Indeed, Mr. Patrick has another face, does he not? Well, I suppose I cannot see! In the past two years the General Synod has given Erskine College and Seminary over $1,000,000. Gosh, what oppression!

Joe, what you and your buds have done to the ARP Church ain’t rain!

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson


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  1. Seth Stark says:

    Dear Dr. Wilson, Can you answer a question for me, please? Who appoints members to the Erskine Board of Trustees?

    Thank you, sir. (Also, nice to see ARPTalk updated!)

  2. Don K. Clements says:

    I’ve been sitting on Joe’s slanderous comments for 13 days praying someone would go public.

    Do you know where I can get a copy of the ATS stuff?


    • Dear Don Clements,

      Thanks for your commendation.

      I was waiting for you to tell the story about Mr. Joe Patrick. I had rather be second. It is a disgusting story, isn’t it?

      I’m sure that Dr. Steve Lowe, active Executive VP of ETS, would be willing to send you a copy of the self-study. I’m told that EBOT members also have copies.


      Chuck Wilson

      • Don Clements says:

        Thanks – I’ll try. But for some reason I have a hard time obtaining material from Due West!

  3. R J Gore says:

    Chuck- you give me way too much credit for “saving” the Army MEDCOM program. It was a team effort and I simply served as one of the team members during our visit to San Antonio.

    As for the ATS Self-Study, it is normal for a faculty member to edit the report. The last time we did this, I was VP and Dean. At that time, Dr. Lowe led the Self-Study process while Dr. Fairbairn edited the report. This time Mr. Kennerly led the Self-Study process and I edited the ATS report.

    One further point, I cannot address the politics of the board’s decision (I was not involved and so could only guess, anyway) and I certaintly will not address motives of the heart (I have enough trouble knowing my own heart) but I do know a good deal about accreditation. As far as I can tell, the SACS standards are unbending on what they refer to as “external influence.” SACS 3.2.4. says, “The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies, and protects the institution from such influence. (External Influence.)” Unless there is some example that I do not know about, I do not think the board had any option re the synod motion. No one at last synod’s Wednesday evening meeting had a copy of the accreditation standards at hand, though in retrospect, it might have proved helpful if someone had a copy. If there is a way around this standard, someone smarter than I am will have to show the way. -RJ

    • Daniel Stephens says:

      I do not remember which document it was, but I seem to remember that it was the proposed revision to the bylaws that stated that the board had due influences, two of them being the ARP Synod and the alumni association.

      I don’t remember if this became part of the by-laws or not, but (assuming it did) wouldn’t that circumvent SACS 3.2.4?

    • Dear Dr. R. J. Gore,

      Thank you for your very measured response. Indeed, you are good!

      With regard to your comments on accreditation, with your permission, I will address that in the next issue of ARP Talk.

      However, with regard to the Self-Study, I still don’t understand why Dr. Robby Bell, who is presently drawing the salary of Academic Dean, is not out front in this work. Dr. Bell was certainly in the forefront with the goings on of former Executive VP Dr. Harvey Neely Gaston. Dr. Bell was instrumental in making this mess. Why is he not forefront in the cleanup?

      Yes, I understand why you can’t answer this. No, I’m not trying to draw you into conflict with Dr. Bell. I simply made a statement.


      Chuck Wilson

  4. Tim Phillips says:

    Chuck, I have been a supporter of Mr. Patrick over the past couple of years. I sympathized with his difficult situation when he spoke on behalf of the BoT at the Snow Synod. I admired his humble statements made at last year’s Synod as well. It is difficult for me to believe that he made such an outlandish statement directed at the Synod. It is particularly distressing since I preached a funeral just last week for a gentleman — WWII veteran (Marine), ARP elder, family man — and also used Psalm 103 as the text for my message. Somehow the memory of that is now tainted.

    So I would like to ask if Mr. Patrick could possibly respond to the statement posted. Did you really say, “It is very clear that Erskine has been oppressed by the ARP Synod for the last two years, and if you cannot see that, then you are blind”? What was the context of that statement? Can you defend that statement and somehow harmonize it with the statements made to General Synod last summer?

    • Dear. Mr. Tim Phillips,

      I have just sent the following e-mail to Mr. Joe Patrick.

      “Mr. Patrick,

      In case you have not seen ARPTalk – Comments, the comment below is directed to you. Do you wish to respond?


      Chuck Wilson

      Tim Phillips says:
      March 1, 2012 at 8:38 pm
      Chuck, I have been a supporter of Mr. Patrick over the past couple of years. I was sympathized with his difficult situation when he spoke on behalf of the BoT at the Snow Synod. I admired his humble statements made at last year’s Synod as well. It is difficult for me to believe that he made such an outlandish statement directed at the Synod. It is particular distressing since I preached a funeral just last week for a gentleman — WWII veteran (Marine), ARP elder, family man — and also used Psalm 103 as the text for my message. Somehow the memory of that is now tainted.
      So I would like to ask if Mr. Patrick could possibly respond to the statement posted. Did you really say, “It is very clear that Erskine has been oppressed by the ARP Synod for the last two years, and if you cannot see that, then you are blind”? What was the context of that statement? Can you defend that statement and somehow harmonize it with the statements made to General Synod last summer?

      Perhaps Mr. Patrick will respond to your question.


      Chuck Wilson

      • Tim Phillips says:

        Chuck, perhaps my comments were a bit too over-the-top (and too hastily written, since after hitting the reply button I immediately spotted two grammatical errors). The Scripture tells us that love “believeth all things.” Though I find the quote from Mr. Patrick to be extremely disrespectful, he is also a brother in Christ and deserves the benefit of the doubt. I do not necessarily expect him to come to a blog and post a response to my question, and it is probably a bit foolish of me to suggest that. But he were to explain the context/meaning of the statement, I am willing to believe him, and if he were to apologize, I would be willing to forgive him.

  5. Brian Smith says:

    Rev. Wilson,

    Can you post the report?

    Also, since the denomination does not seem to take a stand on an institution that has little interest for the ARP, quality christian education (i.e., Geneva, Wheaton, Covenant) is it fair to say that the ARP is in the same camp as the PCUSA with regard to its many disconnected institutions. It is amazing to me that evangelical denominations take great pride in their schools and make sure it is serving the church. Liberal denominations seem to turn things over to independency.
    ‘These are my thoughts’

    • Dear Mr.Brain Smith,

      I can’t disagree with your thoughts.

      The “report” is posted. See the bottom of the article. There are three addendums. Click on the second addendum. That’s the report.

      Chuck Wilson

      • Brian Smith says:

        Rev. Wilson
        Thank you for your reply. I had a chance to read the report. I now get your point of the dog ‘doodlin’ on the ARP Synod.

        My interpretation of the report is that it is unbelievably hostile toward the ARP. The BOT could be summarized as saying to the ARP: ‘Back off, but you owe us money but have no say in Erskine. You need Erskine for the Church to flourish but we don’t need you because you can/will harm us. Thanks for leaving us alone and giving us credibility.’
        Wow…just wow!

        Will ARP ministers have a chance to respond to this?

  6. Scott Robar says:

    Dear Chuck,

    Some readers might miss your good heart and good sense in these matters; so I’ll post your words, which immediately followed last year’s Synod. You wrote, “The attitude of the Erskine representatives was conciliatory. In the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine, Mr. Patrick asked, “What do you want of us?” Then he said: “We will do what the Synod wants.” Was Mr. Patrick showing true humility or was he just being another obsequious Chairman of the EBOT? Time will tell!”

    Chuck, you have included, above, as a clickable link, an addendum, which is Rev. Cliff Davis’ motion. I’m posting, below, that motion and your comments, as I found them in ARPTalk right after Synod last year. My recollection is that it was approved by a large majority. Was it? Of course we had overwhelming majority votes at the Snow Synod; yet the Synod folded like cheap lawn furniture when subsequently faced a lawsuit, which was brought and approved of by those losing the votes. I wonder if that will happen again.

    You said, again, right after the last Synod, “Rev. Davis’ outstanding motion asked for a charter change in which there is language that acknowledges that Erskine College and Seminary is (1) organically connected to the ARP Church as an “agency”, (2) is owned by the ARP Church, (3) is under the authority of the ARP Church in defining the mission of Erskine College and Seminary, and (4) is dependent on the ARP Church to approve and appoint trustees and, if necessary, to remove trustees “for cause.” Rev. Davis’ motion passed overwhelmingly. Now – and forgive the Editor’s pessimism – we have heard such sentiments before. Will the EBOT follow the lead of the incoming Chairman and incoming Vice Chairman? That is to been seen. The Editor is of the opinion that the EBOT people would have done almost anything to get the $575,000 allocation of General Synod. The financial plight of Erskine College and Seminary presently is desperate. Please forgive the Editor’s cynicism. The Editor’s prayer is that he will have to eat these words. If he does, he will do it with zest.”

    Your good heart and good sense in this matter are obvious.

    Thank you for your efforts,


  7. Jay West says:


    Let’s suppose you are right in stating that the college and seminary no longer represent the denomination’s positions, who changed?

    When I became an ARP (1989), I remember the votes at synod being extremely close, especially in the moderator’s election between Jim Barker and Jim Corbitt. Over the years, those who would align with the faction of the denomination that supported Corbitt grew to gain majority control.

    If I remember correctly, Corbitt, Carson and you were intent on changing the face of every agency of synod. To your credit, you succeeded, but at what cost? The denomination is now declining, once thriving churches are wilting. If we are to be known by our fruits, what are we to surmise?

    Please stop adding Gaston, Ruble and Bell into your equation of decline. These men were/are there to serve Christ and their fruit was evident.

    As for your readers that continually malign the PCUSA, they are sadly misinformed. Since my family and I have rejoined my home denomination and church, we could not be happier. Our church is vibrant, mission oriented, and community minded. Just because you disagree with some movements within the PCUSA doesn’t mean that all PCUSA churches are the same. It has been my experience to grow in my faith, while being nurtured by my church and denomination. While an ARP, I grew to question the authenticity and motives of several ministers and students within the ARP. As the target of false accusations and allegations, I experienced a crisis of faith. But, I credit my home church and the people of Belton for providing me with an amazing example of the love of Christ.

    I pray that the ARP church will again find the joy it was enjoyed. You and I know there were some great times back then, times when “father’s in the faith” came forward to find Christlike solutions to difficult problems. They made every effort to preserve the integrity of others and not rush to judgement. Find that again!

    • Dear Mr. Jay West,

      It is good to hear from you, but I am surprised to see your comments on ARPTalk. The last time you posted on ARPTalk you wrote that you were permanently banning yourself from commenting on ARPTalk. What’s changed?

      You ask, “What’s changed?” Well, nothing. EC and ETS didn’t represent the ARP Church in 1989, and EC and ETS still don’t represent the ARP Church. In the words of St. W. C. Fields, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, and then give up! There’s no use beating your head against a stone wall!” In my opinion, the relationship between the ARP Church and EC and ETS has been and continues to be detrimental to the health of the ARP Church. In a word: cancer.

      Your impressions about Corbitt, Carson, and Wilson are overly flattering. Perhaps a better way to say it is that God occasionally used us in spite of our many flaws.

      Actually, the ARP Church has grown some since 1989. During Dr. Jim Corbitt’s watch at ONA, the ARP Church grew. The number of new churched planted and churches received were rather remarkable for the “little” ARP Church.

      I can honestly say that I am happy that you are now in the PC(USA). But since you brought up the topic of church decline, have you noticed that last year the PC(US) lost more congregations and people than the ARP Church and PCA have?! As a matter of fact, since the union of the UPCUSA and the PCUS in 1983, the united church that is the PC(USA) has lost more congregations and people that the PCUS was large in 1983 (about 1,000,000). I thought you might like to know!

      You speak of Ruble, Gaston, and Bell. Why don’t you ask one of your friends in Due West to send you a copy of ETS’ “Self-Study” that was compiled for the upcoming ATS audit? That train wreck of 465 pages is owned by Ruble, Gaston, and Bell!

      One last thing: let me congratulate you on winning a City Council Seat in Belton. What’s the next step?


      Chuck Wilson

  8. Van Watts says:

    Dear Rev. Wilson,

    Reading this account saddens me greatly. I continue to pray for the Synod, the BoT, and ETS, that God would grant grace and repentance and renewal.

    I just help but continue to wonder: Where has been the diligence and resolve of the ARP Synod with regard to important task of BoT nominations over the years??

    Warm Regards,

    • Dear Mr. Van Watts,

      Second Helvetic Confession, XVII. 5 – “…while the pious snore the wicked gain ground and do harm to the Church.”

      Indeed, sleeping!


      Chuck Wilson


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