Addendum – Erskine Theological Seminary Vision Statement

Addendum From: Joe, That Ain’t Rain!

Below is a copy of the vision statement that Dr. R. J. Gore posted for ETS when he became Dean and Vice President in 1998. There is also a communiqué from Dr. Gore that brings his “vision” into the present situation. In a conversation with President David Norman some weeks ago, he asked me to republish Dr. Gore’s statement.

Dr. Gore’s communiqué

Chuck, in response to your question about my vision statement from over a decade ago, I would make the following remarks.

First, in general, I still stand by this statement as representing the best of Erskine Seminary’s history and institutional character.

Second, I would phrase the section on inerrancy a bit differently if I wrote it today. You must remember that I wrote this before the controversies over Scripture broke out in 2008. An affirmation of inerrancy is now part of the ARP Church’s ordination vows (and a requirement for employment in our synod’s Manual of Authority and Procedures), so I would be greatly concerned about a potential professor’s unwillingness to use the term. We are on the other side of our own inerrancy debate, so if I were writing this today, I would not be flexible on this matter.

R J Gore Jr, DMin, PhD

“Between the paws of the True Aslan”

Dr. R.J. Gore’s Vision for Erskine Theological Seminary

Dr. R.J. Gore named ETS Dean

The Scriptures remind us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” What is true in the Church is also true in the political realm, the economic world, the academy, and so forth. Erskine Theological Seminary stands firmly planted both in the world of the Church and of the Academy. It is our heritage as an educational institution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church that gives meaning and shape to our mission statement, “to educate persons for ministry in the Christian Church.” Pedagogy and Theology intersect and remind us that this seminary cannot be all that it should be apart from its relationship with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. With this as my starting point, I will seek to expand on the implications of that relationship. In order to provide some structure for my thoughts, I will address the following areas: the Focus, the Faculty, and the Future of Erskine Theological Seminary.

As I have reflected on what this institution should be, I have been drawn back irresistibly to what Erskine Theological Seminary has been. At its best and at its worst, Erskine Seminary has been a reflection of the dynamics that exist in its sponsoring denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. In the worst of times, doctrinal confusion in the Church has been paralleled by theological vacillation in the seminary. In the best of times, the Church’s commitment to Scripture, the evangelical faith, and the doctrines of grace have been a source of strength for faculty and students in the seminary. Today the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church stands strong in its commitment to the Scriptures and calls the Seminary to be faithful to its history, its confessional standards, and most importantly, its Lord. We at the Seminary have heard that call. And, by the grace of God, we will continue to represent what is best in our Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I believe the Focus of both Church and Seminary, at its best, has involved at least three essential elements. First, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and Erskine Theological Seminary are Evangelical. Now, there is much disagreement today over what evangelical means. David Wells, in his No Place for Truth, laments that “the word evangelical has . . . been allowed to degenerate into little more than a slogan.” It is, then, a difficult task to achieve a broad consensus on all the doctrinal truths that characterize evangelicalism. However, I think it is fair to argue that evangelicals have historically affirmed at least two significant truths: (1), the belief that God has revealed himself to us in his Holy Word, a Word that is to be trusted and believed in all that it affirms; (2), the belief that salvation is by God’s grace alone, based entirely upon the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Herein lies the heart of the gospel and the central truths to which all Christians should give allegiance. I would suggest that, in days past, when the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and Erskine Theological Seminary were most confident that God has spoken truly in His Word, with no admixture of error, then both institutions also were most consistent in proclaiming the good news, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” Today, the Church has renewed, unequivocally, its commitment to the authority of God’s Word. Similarly, Erskine Seminary, as an evangelical institution and agency of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, must honor that commitment. We must proclaim that the Word of God is true in all that it affirms, and that our Lord Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven by which we must be saved. Our focus must be such that no one will doubt our commitment to the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Second, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and Erskine Theological Seminary are Reformed. The history of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church cannot be understood without understanding two foundational principles of Reformed and Presbyterian thought. First, Jesus Christ alone is head of the Church. The issue of patronage in the Scottish Church, a root cause of the Secession in 1733 (the beginning of the Associate Presbytery), boiled down to just this point. Second, the doctrines of grace do not undermine evangelistic fervor, but instead form the basis for the confident proclamation of sovereign grace. This issue, so important for the “Marrow Men” of the 18th century, is just as important for us today. All too often we see Presbyterian brethren at odds with one another, not over some essential of the reformed faith, but over some insignificant, obscure issue that defines and determines whether one is “truly reformed.” Allegiance to party lines and sloganeering undermine the Lordship of Jesus Christ and obscure the truly evangelistic thrust of Biblical Calvinism. As a Reformed institution, we will magnify our Calvinistic and Presbyterian heritage, giving special attention to teaching, faithfully, the system of doctrine expressed in the Westminster Standards. We will be Calvinists, but true Calvinists with an attitude of humility before God, bowing before the Lordship of Jesus Christ and presenting the doctrines of Grace along with the free offer of the gospel to all. Benjamin B. Warfield, the great theologian of Old Princeton, once said, “The Calvinist is the man who is determined to preserve the attitude he takes in prayer in all his thinking, in all his feeling, in all his doing. . . . Other men are Calvinists on their knees; the Calvinist is the man who is determined that his intellect, and heart, and will shall remain on their knees continually, and only from this attitude think, and feel, and act.” We will endeavor to distinguish major issues from minor ones and so develop candidates for the ministry that are balanced, informed, and fruitful.

Third, because we are truly evangelical and Reformed, we will also be truly “catholic.” It is because we recognize a common working of grace that we embrace Christians who are not of “our flock.” Because we acknowledge that the experience of God’s saving grace- and a clear, systematic understanding of that experience- are two separate things, we are able to extend the right hand of fellowship to those who do not wear our label. We acknowledge ourselves to be but one candlestick among the many. Although confined to the southeast for much of its history, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, historically, has given freely of itself to the larger church. Likewise, Erskine Seminary has opened its doors, willingly sharing the gifts God has given it, not only with the sons of good Scottish Presbyterians, but with many sons- and daughters- from Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, and other churches. As a “catholic” or ecumenical institution, we will continue to welcome students from other Christian denominations, embracing them, and striving to prepare them for ministry in the churches to which God has called them.

Turning now to the Faculty, I am in danger of abusing superlatives. Erskine Seminary has a wonderful faculty- dedicated, capable, and willing to invest themselves in the lives of the students. This is the secret of Erskine Seminary’s continued growth. Some institutions point to their expertise in teaching theology; others glory in their emphasis on biblical exegesis; a few boast about the number of evangelical superstars on their faculty rosters. Our Seminary, quite frankly, has not focused on any one point of excellence. Rather, Erskine Seminary exists to “educate persons for ministry in the Christian Church.” Indeed, Erskine has sought to provide excellence in the total package. It is our success at accomplishing this mission that has made Erskine such an attractive option for students from our own denomination as well as many others. Our faculty does not merely impart information and facilitate learning. Indeed, we do those things and do them well; but more importantly, we seek to integrate theory and practice, concept and application. We teach theology- our second year theology students will read Calvin’s Institutes. We teach the Bible- and require every student to become an accomplished exegete and pass a Senior Bible Exam. The mark of an Erskine Seminary graduate, however, is not only thorough preparation in the various theological disciplines, but the ability to apply the knowledge gained in service to the Lord and to his Church.

This we will continue to do. We do, however, face challenges. First, many of our veteran professors are nearing retirement age and will need to be replaced. Second, our continued growth places pressures on us to add new faculty members. As we adjust to these challenges, I will endeavor to see that we hire faculty members who share our concern for the Evangelical, Reformed, and catholic heritage that is Erskine. Specifically, we will seek to hire faculty members that are either ARPs, or Presbyterians of a similar stripe. When we hire visiting professors to fill denominational needs, we will seek out those who are committed to Erskine and embrace the seminary’s stated purpose. We will identify our own ARP graduates, our best and brightest, and encourage them to pursue terminal degrees. The day will never come when I make a recommendation to Dr. Carson that we hire a faculty member who has anything less than a firm conviction that God’s Word is absolutely true. I am not hung up over words- I won’t quibble over a candidate’s preference for the word “infallibility” or “inerrancy,” so long as there is an unwavering conviction that the Word of God is authoritative and true in all that it teaches.

Finally, the Future of Erskine Theological Seminary is bright with possibilities. We enter the next school year with twice as many degree offerings as the year before. We are in the middle of a summer school that has shattered all previous enrollment records. And, Lord willing, we face a fall enrollment that will equal or better last year’s highest-ever enrollment. Where do we go from here? Well, first, we stop and give thanks to Almighty God for these tremendous blessings. Erskine does little advertising, so we may boldly proclaim that the growth we have experienced is inexplicable apart from the blessings of God. Second, we need to develop a strategic plan for the future. Faculty and staff must sit down and develop a common vision of where we need to go. Our current rate of growth will give us a student body of over 500 students within the next five years. We will need to identify added faculty requirements, new degree programs, and additional course offerings to satisfy increased student demands. We will need to make investments in hardware and software to provide distance learning capabilities for an increasingly sophisticated student body.

But, when it is all said and done, our Future must look a great deal like our Past. Erskine Seminary must walk hand in hand with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, embracing the same goals and affirming the same truths. By embracing our common Evangelical, Reformed, and catholic heritage, we will ensure faithfulness to our heritage. By seeking to identify this Seminary more closely with the Church, we will accomplish our stated mission and the day will not be far off when once again, Erskine Theological Seminary will be THE Seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.