A Brief History of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary
In light of the recent discussion on what to look for in a seminary, it seemed timely to share some history about one of the fundamental seminaries we’re familiar with, a seminary now celebrating its 30th anniversary. I am not suggesting that this seminary is better than any others. In fact, I think the availability of choices for conservative, fundamental theological education is a good thing. I pray that the Lord would continue to use all of our seminaries to prepare men and women for lifelong service for Christ.
This article has been updated from its original version, which was published in recognition of Calvary’s 25th anniversary during 2001-02.
What do a former Navy chief petty officer, a 10-time interim pastor, a son of a Norwegian immigrant, and a former classmate of President Eisenhower’s grandson have in common? No, this is not a joke from late-night television. These four individuals share a common identity: they were the founding faculty of the Calvary Baptist School of Theology in 1976. How did God bring these men together and use them to touch lives for eternity?
E. Robert Jordan (right) had been serving as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, since the 1950s. For years, he had been burdened about “the need for a theological seminary on the east coast to serve separatist Baptists.” After praying and investigating the feasibility of launching a school of theology, Calvary Baptist Church voted on September 17, 1975, to begin legal proceedings for opening a graduate institution. Four days later, the board of trustees was elected. By the time the incorporation application was filed in February of 1976, the faculty and administration personnel had expressed informal agreements to serve. So who were the first faculty and administrators?
Jordan, the founder and president, never completed basic education beyond the sixth grade. Yet God had plans for him, and during his active duty in the United States Navy, Jordan accepted Christ. Realizing his need for formal Christian education, he attended and graduated from Philadelphia College of Bible and Reformed Episcopal Seminary. The man who served his country as a chief petty officer in World War II (thus the nickname “Chief”) gave his life to full-time ministry.
The dean and professor of Old Testament and Theology was Dr. Warren Vanhetloo (left), whose academic background was just the opposite of Jordan’s. Vanhetloo attended Calvin College and Seminary, Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, the University of Michigan, and Dallas Theological Seminary, completing the bachelor, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Even though his ministry had been primarily in the classroom, God used Van’s expertise to serve as an interim pastor in over 20 churches, which in turn helped him connect “book knowledge” to real life applications for his students.
The registrar and professor of New Testament and Greek was Dr. Gordon Lovik (right). Lovik earned his credentials at Bob Jones University, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and Grace Theological Seminary. He grew up in a preacher’s home where his father, an immigrant from Norway, oversaw the Illinois Baptist Association. This behind-the-scenes perspective on pastoral ministry offered invaluable insight for his teaching of future church leaders.
Jeffrey Tuttle (left) was the director of admissions and last of the founding faculty. During his high school education, he attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, the preparatory school where David Eisenhower attended. Tuttle’s college and seminary education at Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary prepared him to teach a variety of courses ranging from Preaching to Hermeneutics to Old Testament historical books.
The Early Years
Interest in the new Baptist institution grew rapidly. Only a few months after the announcement of Calvary’s new school of theology was made, applications poured in. By early July, there were 41 prospective students who had submitted their applications. By the time the School of Theology began its first semester, enrollment had reached 49 students, coming from seven states and one foreign country. Word continued to spread, and the enrollment patterns climbed steadily. At the beginning of its second academic year, there were 69 students, and the third year began with 75.
A seminary is more than a religious graduate school. It is a carefully planned combination of rigorous curriculum and real-life training. Literally, “seminary” means “seed bed.” The connotation implies an environment designed to promote growth practically (the hands), spiritually (the heart), and intellectually (the head). Christian education, from early childhood to adult education, seeks to help students develop in these primary areas. Clearly, a hands-on experience is the ultimate teacher, bringing together everything learned in the classroom.
Calvary’s founder recognized the necessity of both the academic and the practical. “The School emphasizes seriousness of scholarship such that a man is academically qualified for efficient service for the Lord. The School also provides practical experience such that a man becomes personally proficient in the variety of activities expected of a pastor.” All students must select a local church to serve in a variety of ministries and work under the supervision of a pastor to sharpen their practical skills. This high priority on not just studying but doing ministry is one of Calvary’s strengths.
A school in its early foundational years must make tremendous strides in order to meet legal and educational requirements. As reported in a 1978 newsletter, “Calvary Baptist School of Theology received favorable encouragement after the two day examination by Dr. Warren Evans of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. He advised school personnel to proceed with the details of preparing an application to submit to his office in anticipation of a full examination committee to meet toward the end of the school year. The school must satisfactorily meet all state requirements in order to obtain permission to grant a first professional degree.” The school quickly and aggressively worked on fulfilling the legal requirements during the second and third years. During the spring 1979 semester, an examination team spent three days interviewing personnel and students, evaluating the facilities, and studying institutional documents. They delivered a very encouraging assessment and shared specific observations with the administration and board of trustees.
October 5, 1979, marked a milestone because it was this day that the school was formally granted permission by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to use the title seminary and to grant the Master of Divinity degree. May 16, 1980, was the date of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary’s (CBTS) first commencement ceremony. Of the 24 graduates, 19 had earned an M.Div.  Students came not only from the mid-Atlantic region but also from across America. During the early 1980s, the student population represented 11 states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington. On April 1, 1985, the seminary received legal authority to award the Master of Theology degree, and then on May 30, 1986, the Doctor of Ministry degree was officially recognized.
Books, Books, and More Books!
While the backbone to any institution is its faculty, there is no doubt that the advancement of scholarly research is dependent on the library. Graduate-level education in any field relies significantly on the immediate availability of scholarly resources, and this is especially vital in a seminary. During this era, the World Wide Web and digital technology were not available, so the seminary’s learning resources were solely in paper, microfilm (reels), and microfiche (sheets).
When the seminary incorporated in 1976, there were 400 theological and biblical studies books from Jordan’s personal collection. But in order to offer a legitimate graduate level library, Pennsylvania’s Department of Education required a minimum of 15,000 books. Jim Stitzinger was hired as the full-time librarian to lead this important initiative, and he worked tirelessly to acquire many volumes in a short time. The seminary reported in 1979 that “as of the first of May, the library collection of the Calvary Baptist School of Theology has grown to 21,000 books and periodicals.” The following statement was released three months later: “God has richly blessed the library of Calvary Baptist School of Theology in these past three years… . The recent examining committee complimented the School regarding the expertise shown by the librarian… . While the cost of constructing a theological library is enormous, God has provided many opportunities for the library to purchase volumes at a fraction of their original cost.” One year later, the holdings of the library expanded to 31,000 volumes and 230 active periodical subscriptions.
By 1984, the library contained “over 52,000 carefully chosen volumes of books and periodicals. The library also maintains subscriptions to over 350 periodicals. …The library at Calvary has been built for a fraction of this cost. This task was largely accomplished by the purchase of over one-half million books from many different libraries and personal collections across American and in Europe.” A large purchase was acquired from the University of Notre Dame, and many smaller collections were bought from hundreds of institutions including Princeton University, Harvard Divinity School, Boston University, Union Theological Seminary, and Catholic University of America. The librarian and his staff evaluated each acquisition and determined whether the volumes should be kept or sold. The money raised by the sale of unneeded books provided funding for special projects such as a computerized library catalog.
The library also built a rare book collection to serve both historical and research purposes. Included in this archive of manuscripts is an original 1611 King James Bible. Other ancient texts were purchased including a 1568 Bishop’s Bible and 1602 Geneva Bible.
On May 13, 2000, the seminary held a special dedication ceremony opening the newly constructed library and administration building. The new library is 10,400 square feet with over 1½ miles of shelving for its 72,000 volumes, 50,000 microforms, 10,000 bound periodicals, and 380 current periodical subscriptions. The library provides study areas with high-speed access to the Internet and 1,500 multimedia items.
For much of the second half of the 20th century, communism held a stranglehold over Eastern Europe. During Mikhail Gorbachev’s unprecedented perestroika policies of the late 1980s, a wave of political independence swept over the Soviet-bloc countries. Communist-controlled states revolted, declared their autonomy, and established independent governments. Missions efforts from all denominations and religions increased dramatically, and the need for formal Christian education was never so great.
In 1991, Calvary was contacted by Bill Park of High Point Baptist Chapel in Geigertown, Pennsylvania, to serve as an educational provider to Romanian pastors in the numerous villages throughout the rural communities. A campus in Oradea was established, and frequent teaching trips proved to be beneficial to the national students. Commenting on the motivation for establishing a teaching base in Romania, the seminary emphasized that “One of the greatest needs is for biblical and theological training for church planters and church leaders. Church leaders need training that has been denied them in previous years.”
Meanwhile, the seminary realized that a resident-only curriculum placed time and travel restrictions on pastors and lay people outside the local area desiring to take courses. It is difficult—at times impossible—for someone who desires to pursue further theological preparation to leave their current ministry and move to Lansdale to attend seminary. So, in 1992, Calvary began to offer distance education through video technology. The new educational opportunity was soon recognized by Pennsylvania’s Office of Postsecondary Education as a model for graduate curricula provided through video technology. Further, in 2004, CBTS was granted permission to offer the Master of Arts in Theological Studies and Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, both of which can be earned in large part through distance education.
The effectiveness of the international campus program spread across the world and more countries requested assistance from Calvary. The city of Dresden, a leading industrial and cultural metropolis on the Elbe River of former East Germany, became the second site for a pastoral training program in 1993. In 1995, the seminary was contacted to help train pastors and other church leaders in Cape Town, South Africa. Teaching trips, combined with resident instruction from local pastors, have provided educational opportunities. The newly created Video Studies Program also supplemented the learning experience. Calvary was approached in 1996 to assist provide educational guidance for institutes and Bible colleges in the training of indigenous Christian workers in Peru. A base location was established in Trujillo, where seminary faculty have led teaching trips since 1996. The seminary’s involvement has spiritually impacted dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of towns and villages across Peru.
Calvary has also provided theological education at international sites in Belgium, Canada, France, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, and the Ukraine.
There are several additional projects led by Calvary that have been used to make a nationwide impact for Christ. The first is church planting. The founder, Dr. Jordan, had long desired not only to train future pastors but also to serve an active role in starting churches along the East Coast. Before the first seminary students had completed their M.Div. degrees in 1979, Calvary was already assisting in church-planting projects. Mid-Atlantic area churches had submitted at least half a dozen requests each week inquiring about the availability of Calvary graduates to serve in empty pulpits. Over the past 25 years, the seminary has been directly involved in the establishment or restructuring of over 80 churches across America.
A second impact has been the Holy Land Studies program. In the early 1980s, the seminary began sponsoring teaching trips—not simply tour visits, but organized, hands-on learning experiences—in Israel. Believers from churches in Pennsylvania and throughout the country joined seminary students in this study-abroad adventure. Visits were led on-site at many significant archaeological locations, including Megiddo, Jericho, Bethlehem, Old City Jerusalem, Tel-Dan, and Beersheba. Hundreds of pastors, lay people, and students have studied in Israel, and their understanding of God’s Word has completely changed. They have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt the land of the Bible.
A third impact has been Calvary’s conference series. One of the widely observed characteristics of fundamental Baptists is a passionate desire to hold on to what is believed to be right, even to the point of clinging to non-biblically based traditions. In the academic realm, there are few activities more valuable than open, objective dialog. Noticing the potential danger of not confronting contemporary issues that face fundamental Baptists, the seminary began a series of national-level conferences to initiate discussion on such issues. In February 1995, the first annual National Leadership Conference was held. The purpose of this yearly event was, and continues to be, to address contemporary issues with courage and compassion. Consider some of the issues presented at the first three conferences: accreditation in Christian higher education, AIDS and ministry, ethnicity and culture, ethical implications of reproductive technology, and modern Bible translations. Hundreds of pastors, educators, students, and lay people attend the conference each year for mutual encouragement, support, and learning. Calvary recently launched the Summit Christian Leadership Center, a specialized learning experience, which provides simulation training for students and strategic leadership consultation for churches.
What has become of Chief and his crew? After Dr. Jordan turned the presidency over to his son Tim in 1987, he continued to teach practical courses part-time until he retired from the seminary. He has served as chancellor since 2002 and in 2004 published a biography/ministry book through BJU Press. The book contains details about Jordan’s remarkable salvation testimony and is followed by chapters of practical advice for pastors and lay people. Dr. Warren Vanhetloo served as the dean until 1987, after which he continued to teach (and serve as interim dean during 1990-95) until his retirement in 1997. He now lives in his home state of Michigan. Dr. Gordon Lovik, semi-retired in South Carolina, is no longer teaching full-time, but he continues his involvement by leading study trips to Israel and teaching modular courses in Lansdale. Dr. Jeff Tuttle relocated to Dresden, Germany, in 1996, then returned in 2003 to serve as the seminary dean.
Although 30 years of education and service have passed, the seminary’s spiritual impact on countless people around the world will last for eternity.
1. Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. (May 13, 2000). Dedication of Library and Administrative Office Building. [Program Bulletin]. Lansdale, PA.
2. Enrollment data as reported in the October issues of Calvary Update in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
3. Burggraff, David. (February 1996). “The Role of Higher Education in Fundamentalism” presented at the National Leadership Conference, Lansdale, PA.
4. Calvary Baptist School of Theology. (1978, April) “Special Benefits.” Calvary Update.
5. Calvary Baptist School of Theology. (1978, October) “One More Step.” Calvary Update.
6. Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. (1980, June). Calvary Update.
7. Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. (1984, Fall) “Ninth Year.” Calvary Update.
8. Calvary Baptist School of Theology. (1979, May) “Library Growth.” Calvary Update.
9. Calvary Baptist School of Theology. (1979, August). Calvary Update.
10. Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. (1984, Fall) “Library Growth.” Calvary Update.
11. Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. (1984, Fall) “Library Growth.” Calvary Update.
12. Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. (May 13, 2000) Dedication of Library and Administrative Office Building. [Program Bulletin]. Lansdale, PA.
13. Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. (1997). A Global Ministry. [Brochure]. Lansdale, PA.
14. Calvary Baptist School of Theology. (1979, May) “Six Finish.” Calvary Update.
|Eric Lovik is director of institutional research at Clearwater Christian College (Clearwater, FL) and a doctoral candidate in higher education at Penn State University. He and his wife, Glory, enjoy traveling and playing with their two daughters at the beach.|