Central Seminary's 50th Anniversary

Central Faculty, past and present
This year’s Foundations Conference marks Central Baptist Theological Seminary’s (Plymouth, MN) 50th anniversary and 39 years since I graduated from the school. I was in the Fourth Baptist Church (Plymouth, MN) youth group during those first years of Central’s existence and was only aware that the church was housing something in the basement with strange people. Little did I know that I would be joining this group six years later.

This was my first visit to Central since I graduated in 1967. The seminary plant with state-of-the-art classrooms and an extensive library is well-situated to serve the needs of its students and staff. I was pleasantly surprised to see degree programs with specialization in Biblical Counseling, Urban Church Planting, as well as Biblical Studies.

Many of the seminary’s former faculty members were at the conference. It was a good to hear presentations by Warren Vanhetloo, Gordon Lovik, and Bob Delnay that brought back memories from my Central years. For some, it is probably the last time I will see them on this side of the river.
Rolland McCune’s Monday night opening plenary session, “The Gospel and Modern Man,” was an exposition of 1 Corinthians. 2:1-5 that drew parallels between Paul’s preaching to the Corinthians and today. The session quote was, “We live in an ‘Oprahized’ world, a touchy-feely world where dogmatism is out and toleration is in, where the biggest crackpot with the most harebrained idea is on the same level as someone with sanity and truth.”

Tuesday’s plenary sessions included “Guarding the Gospel” by Kevin Bauder, “Separation from the Northern Baptist Convention” by Raymount Buck, “Christo-Centricity of the Gospel” by Douglas McLachlan, “If Our Gospel Be Hid” by Gordon Lovik, and “The Significance of the Tower of Babel” by John Whitcomb.

Bob Delnay’s Tuesday workshop, “The Rise of the Conservative Baptist Movement,” was his reflections on the movement that he watched over his 80-year lifetime. From its inception, the predominant issue was separation in the form of
dual-affiliation with both the Northern Baptist Convention and the Conservative Baptist organizations. At the heart of the dual-affiliation was the M&M Board (Ministers and Missionaries) pensions and the church gift-mortgages held by the Convention that were at risk when the churches pulled out of the Convention. By 1953, six years after its formation, the movement was deeply divided between the “hard core” and “soft core” with much of the Conservative Baptist constituency in the middle as moderates. The hard core lost the moderates in 1954 at the annual meeting in Detroit that largely determined the outcome of the controversy. By the 1963 annual meeting in Atlanta, the hard core began departing with the formation of the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches.

John Whitcomb’s Tuesday evening presentation, “The Significance of the Tower of Babel,” attracted a full house and was a rare treat with the Whitcomb style and scholarship. While he had to occupy a chair, his mind and presentation are as sharp as ever.
The attendance dropped off Wednesday with the threat of an approaching snowstorm from the North (“Nort Country”). The plenary sessions began with Roy Beacham’s “Central Seminary Then and Now” and was followed by Gordon Lovik’s “Another Look at the Book of Revelation” and Warren Vanhetloo’s “Central Seminary’s First Five Years.”

Dr. Van (Warren Vanhetloo) was the first dean of Central Seminary. His presentation on the first five years of Central’s history was more than a stroll down memory lane. The session quote was, “America is not the same because of Central” as he took into account the number of graduates who have gone on to become college and seminary presidents and staff over the past 50 years. His firsthand account of how Central started in 1956 with 31 students in the basement of Fourth Baptist Church along with the initial teaching staff was fascinating.
Dan Brown’s Wednesday workshop, “The Gospel and the Church-Growth Movement,” made some very good points but focused on several strawman arguments from Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Movement quotes and the use of his terminology. I agreed with Dan about easy-believism and several other issues but found myself wondering what our answer is to church growth other than populating churches with our own kind. Church growth is not Warren, and his statements are not necessarily a reason to oppose the concept of church growth in today’s world.

The closing plenary session, “What Happened to the New Generation and Why?” (Judg. 1-2), was presented by Rolland McCune and was a little difficult for many to follow. The contemporary application of these chapters to cover the doctrinal shifts to liberalism and the loss of educational institutions was somewhat forced and problematic. If there is a “new generation” today, it has to be the struggle with the new Fundamentalism. Like some of the other sessions, we got caught up in a time warp and didn’t cover contemporary problems facing today’s young fundamentalists. But then, that crowd was notably absent from the conference, and it wasn’t the focus of the conference.
The conference was well worth the time and expense. The warm and cooperative statements made by the speakers about the Central, Calvary, and Detroit seminaries were impressive. I found myself rehashing Dr. Van’s statement, “America is not the same because of Central.” And that has to be the direct result of its professors and leadership. Happy 50th anniversary, Central! Thanks for excellent education and the memories. What else can I say?

A CD of the conference is available from the Central Seminary website.

Dave Becklund is retired and lives in Littleton, Colorado, with his wife, Cindy, and 50 goldfish. He has been a youth pastor, a Greek and Psychology instructor, the founder of the American Wilderness Institute, and a member of the initial welfare delegations to China and Vietnam. For the past 25 years, he has been president of Benefit Management Systems that manages large corporate health and welfare benefit plans.

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