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A Little Ocean Ambiance
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Doctrinal Writings
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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
Here is an article I wrote a while back about problems we are seeing at some of our fundamental Baptist seminaries. Please note that I am not condemning all the seminaries or attacking seminary education in general.

Recently a liberal divinity school published the results of a study that surprised them because it seemed to indicate that pastors without a seminary degree are more effective in their ministries than pastors who have one! Of course, several factors might have influenced the results of this study, but nevertheless the indications are interesting. However, it is not higher education itself that is bad for preachers. Certain things that creep into seminaries are what can be bad for preachers! Please read this article with prayerful attention. Make copies if you wish. Notice the responsibility I say that pastors have to keep schools on the right track. We don't need to be a school-led movement. Local churches should be determining what and how preachers are taught.

Before you read the article, let me tell you that the Indianapolis Conference on Revival was wonderfully blessed of the Lord! You can order an album of the recorded sermons from Burge Terrace Baptist Church, 9345 Brookville Road, Indianapolis, IN 46239. Send them a check for $25 and request the Conference tapes. This price includes the cost of shipping. Our speakers included David Jaspers, Bill Rice, Ron Comfort, Morris Gleiser, John Goetsch, Steve Pettit, and John R. Van Gelderen.


The schools where preachers are trained are very important institutions, but they can lose touch with the beliefs and interests of the churches that send them their students. When this happens, the situation must be addressed by pastors early, or else the unwelcome influences will prevail. Many future shepherds of our fundamentalist congregations will be men that are being trained in our seminaries now. There are problems at the main seminaries of the fundamentalist movement that concern many pastors. Not all the schools have all of these problems, but some do, and most of them are being influenced in at least one of these three wrong directions.

1. Overcriticism of our English Bible.
Everybody knows that the Bible was not originally written in English. However, the English Bible has held a uniquely important position in our society and churches, and it has been the most influential form of the Word of God the world has ever known. Of course, we are speaking of the King James Version. Certainly things have been said in defense of the old Bible that ought not to have been said, but the seminaries have sometimes gone too far in their efforts at reproving the extremists.

Much of the defense of the King James Version is based upon the belief that God has preserved the text of His written Word for succeeding generations. This conviction is based upon promises such as these:

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18)
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Matthew 24:35)
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (I Peter 1:23-25)
God has promised that His Word will endure through the ages. Belief in the divine preservation of scripture is also based upon the assumption throughout the Bible that accurate copies of divinely-inspired texts have always existed and could be authoritatively quoted. In contrast to this way of believing, critical editions of the Old and New Testaments in the original languages imply that the true readings of many passages were lost to the church for generations and had to be reconstructed by modern-day scholars.

Many fundamentalists, therefore, have come to look upon these critical texts with suspicion. The seminaries, however, have generally used the critical editions and accepted the textual criticism behind them. For this reason, they have defended them, and in this defense, they have said and written things that unjustifiably cast doubt and derision upon the long-trusted English translation. Some have gone so far as to deny that there is a Biblical doctrine of scriptural preservation. "There is no statement in Scripture from which we can establish the doctrine of the preservation of the text of Scripture," writes W. Edward Glenny of Central Baptist Seminary. People who believe that the Bible was verbally inspired by God are now left in doubt as to whether we know what the divinely-given words of scripture are! Extremism regarding the "authorized" English translation is being answered with skepticism concerning the old Bible's reliability.

As a result, some seminarians are losing confidence in their ability to speak with authority on the basis of what their Bibles say. However, the honest scholar must admit that the King James Version is a wonderfully accurate translation of the text of scripture that has defined Christianity for at least more than a millennium. Preachers who left the task of translation and textual analysis to the learned men of 1611, and preached directly from the King James Bible, have done very well in proclaiming the Word of God to the English-speaking world. Fundamentalist leader J. Frank Norris used to say, "What is needed is a school that teaches the whole English Bible." He was probably right! Albert Barnes in the introduction to his famous Notes on the New Testament wrote of the King James Version that "no translation of the Bible was ever made under more happy auspices; and it would now be impossible to furnish another translation in our language under circumstances so propitious. . .it is the concurrent testimony of all who are competent to express an opinion, that no translation of the Bible into any language has preserved so faithfully the sense of the original as the English." May the students and teachers at our fundamentalist theological institutions be reminded of the truth of this statement.

2. Overinfluence of Calvinism.
For some reason, the Calvinistic system of theology has had a special attraction for many professors at higher schools of religion. Of course, every teacher of the Bible has the right to interpret God's Word as he sees it, and those who see Calvinistic doctrines such as total inability, unconditional election, and irresistible grace in Scripture have the right to confess belief in them. However, a seminary owes to the churches it serves a transparent honesty about its views of doctrine. Some seminaries are considerably more Calvinistic than many of the churches in their circle of fellowship. Many pastors who support or recommend schools such as this would be reluctant to do so if they were fully informed about the seminary's theology. Everybody knows that Westminister Seminary is Calvinistic, and people who go there for training are usually aware of its Presbyterian Calvinist foundation and theology. But some fundamental Baptist seminaries are more Calvinistic than most fundamental Baptist churches, and yet they influence people and recruit students without being completely frank about their theology.

Strict Calvinism is not good for our churches, because it is not truly Biblical. Churches ought to support theological schools that have a balanced, Biblical understanding of Christian doctrine, and seminaries serving fundamental churches should restrain their faculties from going to extremes offensive to the churches they serve. Dr. McCune of Detroit Baptist Seminary has written that "On the issues of personal salvation from sin, there is no middle ground [between Arminianism and Calvinism]. . .although many today try to carve out some kind of synthesis in the interests usually of ecclesiastical politics. . . " His theology is so thoroughly Calvinistic that he impugns the motives of those who think the Biblical approach is more balanced. In this the seminary president indicts most of the pastors who support his school! Most fundamental Baptist preachers consider themselves to be Biblicists who avoid both Calvinist and Arminian extremes. They ought to support seminaries with the same viewpoint!

3. Overemphasis on Worldly Wisdom.
It is a fact of history that the improved academic training of ministers has been a mixed blessing. Preachers make fewer foolish mistakes in the pulpit when they have had more "book-learning," but also good movements have cooled and died as a result of the demand that ministers be well educated. Nineteenth-century Methodist circuit-rider Elisha Caster said of a new requirement that pastors have higher education, "When God's called ones are rejected because someone is at the door who has been to college and that is all he has to recommend him, then it is time for an ecclesiastical funeral!" We all know what happened to the Methodist church over time. It died of the liberalism that infected it through its educated clergy.

A good man who leads a fundamentalist seminary has said of sermonizing that we preachers "have to discern [a passage's] place in the canon, its place in the specific book of which it is a part and its place in the chapter where it is found. Then we shall have to probe further in order to discover its historical, cultural and linguistic bearings. In particular we shall have to lift out its key words-verbs, participles, prepositions, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs and we shall have to parse and probe them so that we understand the images and nuances of meaning which they would have conveyed to their original recipients. It is only then," says this man, "that we will be able to speak with authority." While it is certainly true that the preacher must discern the true meaning of a Bible passage in order to preach it with authority, it is also true that thousands of faithful proclaimers of God's Word have preached accurately and authoritatively without much training in ancient languages, Biblical introduction, and Middle-Eastern history. Of course, the Spirit of God does not speak to us contrary to the grammatical and contextual meaning of scripture, but it is also true that there is a subjective element in the interpretation of the Bible that calls for the illumination of the Spirit.

"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man." (I Corinthians 2:12-15)
Preachers must pray with the Psalmist,
"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." (Psalm 119:28)
Sometimes men in seminary get the impression that skill in the mechanics of exegesis is the most important basis of proper biblical interpretation and exposition. If this were true, a highly-trained unbeliever could do this work as well as a Spirit-filled man called to preach! This is a false impression. We wish that men in seminary were trained in the practice of prayer, the work of witnessing, and the habits of holiness as diligently as they are taught linguistic parsing and probing!

An overemphasis upon intellectual accomplishment in school can also give the student too much of an appreciation for the opinions of men opposed to our fundamentalist stand. Sadly, good separatists have written too few books in our generation; nevertheless student-preachers should not be encouraged to bow at the altar of non-separatist scholarship. It is evident that many "young" fundamentalists are either worried about what the compromisers are saying or unnecessarily swerving in their direction. Some of this has been caused by the academic respect non-fundamentalists are given at fundamentalist seminaries. The emphasis at school ought to be kept on preaching, praying, pastoring, personal evangelism, proper doctrine, and practical service, rather than on rethinking policy, changing society, broadening minds, and criticizing fundamentalists.

Pastors see how these three problems in theological education can adversely affect a young preacher's approach to the ministry and eventually ruin good aspects of the fundamentalist movement. A man can go to school trusting his Bible, zealous to win souls, and fervent in the Spirit, and come out not sure what God has said, not sure whom God is willing to save, and deader than a doornail! We don't send preachers to seminary for this kind of result.

Let us all do what we can to bring the churches and the seminaries closer together.

A. Fundamentalist seminaries can take a greater interest in the concerns of fundamentalist pastors about the education they are offering young preachers.

B. Fundamentalist pastors can take a greater interest in what is happening at the seminaries they have been inclined to recommend.

C. Fundamentalist pastors and seminaries can become more open and honest about their theological views, and more willing to consider theology in their decisions about asking or giving support.

D. Fundamentalist pastors and seminaries can join in seeking the face of the Lord for spiritual revival, both on campus and in churches across the whole arena of our movement.

Monthly Article
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

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