Proto-Fundamentalism, Part 4


Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Missions and Education

Proto-fundamentalism, the parent movement out of which Fundamentalism emerged around 1920, was characterized by an interest in evangelism. This interest led to massive evangelistic campaigns that were spearheaded by celebrity evangelists. It led to pastors who emphasized evangelism in their congregations. It led to the establishment of rescue missions and other forms of social programs as mechanisms to gain a hearing for the gospel.

The interest in evangelism also resulted in a fresh outpouring of involvement in worldwide missions. Among the early proto-fundamentalists were many who had heard Adoniram Judson during the 1840s. Judson had communicated a burden for missions that had never entirely gone away. This enthusiasm had been suppressed during the years surrounding the Civil War. It had also become institutionalized under the denominational mission boards. During the 1870s, however, interest in missions began to grow again.

The renewed vision for world evangelism gained urgency from the new premillennialism. The version of premillennialism that dominated proto-fundamentalism was one that stressed an imminent rapture. Many American evangelicals developed a sense that the time of the Lord’s return could be near and that the opportunity to evangelize the world might be drawing to a close. The sense of urgency seems to have been infectious, and in the long run it was shared even by Christians who rejected the new eschatology.

An example of missionary enthusiasm is Oliver W. Van Osdel. Van Osdel was a veteran of the Union army who entered ministry during the 1870s. A postmillennialist, he did not adopt premillennial views until some time in the 1890s (he credited W. B. Riley with persuading him). By that time, however, he had already become widely known as an organizer of missionary work among the Baptists of Illinois and Kansas. In later life, he appealed to the imminence of Jesus’ return as a motivation for missions, but his own commitment to missions antedated his acceptance of premillennialism and pretribulationism.

Christian young people began turning to missions as never before. An important event occurred in 1886 when, at Moody’s Northfield Conference grounds, 100 young people dedicated their lives to missions. Out of this event emerged the Student Volunteer Movement. By the 1920s, the movement had become institutionalized and was plagued with liberal theology. Nevertheless, it was responsible for sending some 20,000 young people to the mission field.

Somehow the work of all these missionaries had to be coordinated. Denominational missions at the time were either poorly equipped or otherwise unable to handle the task. Therefore, new missions had to be formed. A model had already been provided by J. Hudson Taylor, who had started the China Inland Mission in 1865. In 1887, A. B. Simpson oversaw the establishment of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. C. I. Scofield organized the Central American Mission in 1890. Other similar organizations sprang up around the country.

These missions together developed into what became known as the Faith Missions Movement. Where the older denominational missions tended to rely upon budgeted support from their parent bodies, faith missions were structured to remain dependent upon deliberate giving from individual churches and Christians. Where some older denominational missions seemed more interested in transmitting civilization, education, and culture, the faith missions were most interested in communicating the gospel. They had no illusions about winning the world, but they longed to preach the gospel around the entire earth.

The faith missions also had a different set of criteria for missionary candidates. The older, denominational missions wanted candidates that were liberally educated and then seminary trained. For the faith missions, however, complete college and seminary training was unnecessary. A candidate only needed to have a pretty good grasp of the English Bible, a fairly sound knowledge of Bible doctrine, and some practical experience in Christian work.

What the faith missions required was really a different kind of training. Traditionally, preparation for ministers and missionaries had begun with a four-year liberal arts degree. By the time he graduated from college, a future minister would have mastered the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic). He would also have his Greek and his Latin. When he reached seminary, he would spend an additional three years learning Hebrew, exegesis, theology, and critical issues. Most seminaries offered little by way of practical training, so a graduate might apprentice himself to a senior minister for some years after commencement. In sum, it was not unusual for a minister to spend the better part of a decade in preparation.

This process was ill-matched to the temper of proto-fundamentalists. Their sense of urgency militated against seven years of formal preparation, and their populism militated against intellectual attainment. What they wanted was a course of preparation that would emphasize the English Bible, the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, and that would above all be short.

The result was the Bible institute. Students entered Bible institutes directly out of high school (if they went to high school). The curriculum emphasized personal piety, ministry skills, teaching the English Bible, and immersion in the system of dispensationalism. Best of all, it took only three years, after which the graduate was ready to serve under the auspices of a faith mission.

For many proto-fundamentalists, the Bible institutes became an alternative educational universe. These schools completely took over the place of colleges and seminaries in preparing Christian leaders. They also provided training for average Christian workers in churches. As time progressed, they became centers of pastoral placement. They also served a very practical purpose by offering propinquity for young, single Christians.

As denominational schools began to succumb to liberal theology, the Bible institutes became extremely important centers of proto-fundamentalism. Noteworthy institutions included the Missionary Training Institute, founded by A. B. Simpson in 1882 (Later Nyack College); Moody Bible Institute (1886); Practical Bible Training School (1900); Northwestern Bible Institute (1902); and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (1908). These were joined by a host of lesser-known institutes. These schools together constituted the foundation upon which Fundamentalists rebuilt their educational enterprise after losing the battle for their denominations.

The success of the Bible institute movement was that it put a large number of enthusiastic workers into ministry within a very short period of time. These workers were well prepared to preach the plan of salvation, to teach basic English Bible, and to lead souls to Christ. Secondarily, the movement provided an important option when the denominational colleges and seminaries were subverted. They also became important hubs around which much of the infrastructure of Fundamentalism revolved.

Their success, however, came at a price. Driven by a sense of urgency, the Bible institutes provided only a truncated version of ministerial training. When the rapture did not occur as expected, Fundamentalism ended up with a generation or more of leaders who were poorly prepared for reflection and critical thinking, whose exegetical skills were often marginal, and whose theological acumen was restricted to those areas (mainly dispensationalism) that were emphasized in Bible school training.

These deficiencies became most marked at the very period when American civilization was passing through significant cultural change. Fundamentalist leaders were often unprepared to meet and evaluate this change or to articulate a thoughtful response. The damage has never been repaired.

Fundamentalists themselves evidently felt the need for something more than the Bible institutes could offer. By the middle of the Twentieth Century, many of the old Bible institutes had been transformed into colleges. Fundamentalists had also opened a number of baccalaureate institutions devoted to liberal arts. By 1960, Fundamentalists were operating seminaries, signaling a return to the more traditional pattern of training for pastors and missionaries.

The creation of these institutions was not entirely a return to the status quo ante, however. By opting for the Bible institute movement rather than traditional higher education, Fundamentalists cut themselves off from the academic world. As they began to create their own institutions, they attempted to maintain an entirely separate and distinct intellectual world. Since few of their leaders had been trained in bona fide institutions of higher learning, they tended to make up their own rules as they went. To this day, most (though not all) Fundamentalist institutions resist being held to the same academic standards by which other institutions are measured.

The Second Hymn for Advent; or Christs coming to Jerusalem in triumph.

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

Lord come away,
Why dost thou stay?
Thy rode is ready; and thy paths made strait
With longing expectation wait
The Consecration of thy beauteous feet.
Ride on triumphantly, behold we lay
Our lusts and proud wills in thy way.
Hosanna! welcome to our hearts.

This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
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Paul J. Scharf's picture

I appreciated Dr. Bauder's reasoned rehearsal and analysis of the history of theological education within fundamentalism.
In my own heritage, I guess you could say I had the best of both worlds.
In one sense, I am a direct byproduct of the history Bauder traces, as my maternal grandfather attended Moody Bible Institute for a time around 1920.
In another sense, all I knew of in the conservative Lutheran denomination where I grew up was the traditional model for ministerial education. (It actually took four years to get an M.Div. in their system, as the third year of seminary was devoted to serving a congregation as a vicar -- which we would call an intern.)
Knowing of Bauder as I do, I infer that he is advocating a return to the best elements of the historic model. I could not agree more. In my opinion, Bible college or institute should be viewed as good preparation for seminary -- not a substitute for it.
I would not trade the seminary education I received for anything. It was in no sense a mere repetition of my Bible college experience.
Also, while I am not opposed to creative educational methods, I am disheartened by the many trends which attempt to short-circuit the seminary track. I would urge anyone considering it to complete a traditional, Biblically-based seminary program. You will never regret that you did.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Aaron Blumer's picture


Another new word for my vocab, courtesy of KB... ("propinquity" is sort of a combination of nearness and kinship, per a few dictionaries).

Anyway, I appreciate the history and the balance here. We can see how reasonable the Institute movement was, given what we were thinking at the time... and the positive results.
But also the negative.
How do we achieve the proper balance of urgency and long-term viability, of evangelism and thorough preparation? I don't see any easy answers.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Charlie's picture

My answer to you, Aaron, is to scrap the Bible college, along with undergraduate level ministerial training. In general, Bible colleges (or institutes or ministry schools or whatever) operate on profoundly unbiblical premises. They are primarily populated by teenagers and young adults who made some sort of "dedication" decision and are pursuing ministerial training based on that decision. Most of them are not even close to the biblical requirements for ministry - husband of one wife, ruling house well, not a novice.

Basically, instead of focusing on proven spirituality, maturity, and the fruit of the Spirit, these undergraduate level programs (especially those not designed as a pre-seminary program) attract a certain type of personality - extroverted, assertive, well-spoken, stubborn - and work to reinforce these traits. Furthermore, if the ministry program is part of a larger liberal arts college, the result is an absurd sort of clergy/lay distinction among the student body. I can't quite put it into words, but my observation of the "preacher boys" interacting with the non-religion majors at BJU still has me scratching my head. The result is pastors with little sense of history, slight ability for independent study and intellectual growth, and an inordinate focus on observable goals as standards of ministry success.

Not only that, but a substantial number of students never do make it to the ministry, for a variety of reasons. These people will be disadvantaged in the job market.

OK, what's the alternative? Well, in Presbyland, an M.Div degree is all but required for the pastorate. Many of the people in the M. Div. program, however, are not fresh out of college. They don't have undergrad degrees in Bible or religion. Many of them have families. They're there because their elders recognized in them spiritual maturity and appropriate gifts. They've been serving in their church, usually either as deacons or without title. However, they already have the requisite character and willingness for the pastorate; they just need training. Seminary is, in one sense, the last stage of a life of preparation.

Now, I suppose it's possible that you could have a teenager or young adult who seems like a really good pastoral candidate. I think there are two good educational options for him. First, he could pursue a more intellectual track, with majors like classics, humanities, philosophy, or English. All of those are much better preparation for seminary than the .... less than challenging tracks at our Christian colleges. Second, he could pursue something that would give him good earning potential. It will serve him well if he doesn't go into ministry, and it could very well be of help even if he does move in a ministry direction. Either option seems much superior to me than a "Bible" degree.

My Blog:

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Charile, you are painting with some extremely broad brushes, aren't you?

Not all Bible college environments are as you describe, and I doubt that all Presby M.Div.-ers are that much more sophisticated than their Baptist counterparts.

I do like your idea about studying something in college that gives a broader educational base and/or prepares one for gainful employment outside of the ministry. Grad school (seminary) is where one should specialize. I would readily testify that by far the most important classes I had in Bible college were things like history and economics, not the Bible classes and especially not the "practical" ministry classes. However, I do not think all the Bible colleges are going to close, nor am I convinced that would be a good idea.

As a middle ground, what about majoring in Biblical languages at the undergrad level? That would seem to be beneficial.

Also, Charlie, your concerns seem to address the Bible program within the liberal arts college. Perhaps these things would be less true at a school which is devoted to excellence purely in the arena of Biblical (pre-seminary) training.

P.S. -- One solution to some of what you address is very practical: I tell young people, if you don't know what you are going to college for or are not sure you are ready, you should probably stay home. Unless you are studying something very specialized, you should probably start by taking as many classes as possible from home at a community college.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Aaron Blumer's picture


Well, Charlie, I'll agree that there seems to be some confusion of purposes in some of these institutions. I'm personally not inclined to think a Bible degree makes sense for everyone, when--as you mentioned--a large percentage don't end up "in ministry" (in an exclusive vocational sense).
To me, a liberal arts univ. w/a good bit of Bible included and a thoroughly biblical worldview informing the academics is better for most at the undergrad level.
In any case, I can't see how scrapping anything solves the fundamental dilemma of how to balance evangelistic urgency with long term thoroughness in preparation. If all Bible colleges ceased to exist to tomorrow (or all anything else--fill in the blank), the tension would still remain and the right balance would still be elusive.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Joseph's picture

SI should go down in Fundamentalist history for, if nothing else, publishing Bauder's essays, which I can only hope will someday be collected into a book. This one is particularly excellent.

I hold many of the ideas that Charlie has articulated on this issue, but I am hesitant about some of them. It's a difficult issue; no one wants to hurt others' feelings; even Fundamentalists have internalized that aspect of our culture (not a bad thing, I hasten to add). But in articulating ideals and assessing institutions, one is naturally going to "hurt some feelings," as it were. People need to be comfortable with their limitations and gifts; but we are not, of course.

The "traditional" (still recent, hence the quotes) seminary model is emphatic about academic preparation; discussing innate intelligence is besides the point here: the bottom line is most people are simply not academically well trained, nor do they have the academic background that the traditional seminary assumed they would have. No one would have that background these days except for a select few. As a consequence, I'm sure most Fundamentalist seminary professors like Bauder, if they were candid, would acknowledge that many, perhaps most, of their students are really doing make-up work and gaining abilities they already should have had (e.g. you cannot expect students in seminary actually to have a serious knowledge of the liberal arts). The result is a gap we have never made up. The Fundamentalist seminary students who pursue PhDs are often behind the normal curve in their fields, and thus end up mainly qualified to teach at their degree-granting institution and its affliates (fine if that's one's intention, not fine if one is trying to overcome the academic ghettoization Bauder describes).

So there is an obvious problem in trying to restore the old ideal; if you try to restore it at the seminary level, you are bound for failure or self-deception because you can't give students the four-year preparation they should have had. The only option here that is consistent with the traditional ideal is something I've never seen a Fundamentalist seminary take up, which is that of having high admissions standards (see Calvin Theological Seminary's requirements for matriculation for an example of such requirements). Most people would not support this; they would be a populist outcry that has some justification. One can look at Presbyterians, for example, and wonder how successful their education requirements have been in preventing the inroads of theological liberalism (not very - in fact, there is a good case to be made for seminaries as major agents of liberalizing movements); on the other hand, one can look at how unsuccessful, generally speaking, Fundamentalists are in reaching certain groups (urban, educated types, for example) and point to a lack of good education as a cause of this (lot of other things could be mentioned on this point).

If I were a pastor or Fundamentalist strategist, a kind of Fundie Karl Rove, I would argue this is one of, if not the, crucial issue Fundamentalists need to figure out if they are going to survive and then flourish in our present context. We really do need people with a certain depth and breadth of education that our movement is not used to having or generally capable of producing. So, the questions should be on the table:

1. Is "outsourcing" such a bad option, at least on some level? That is, if you want a certain quality product, and you cannot make it yourself, or not efficientliy, what about encouraging students to go to top-notch undergraduate programs? Then the difficulty would be to get them into Fundamentalist seminaries. So, what about sending them to evangelical seminaries from which they have a much better shot at top-notch work and good connections for PhD study (if that's the goal)? Well, many people seem to dislike this idea. The problem with the PhD has already been noted; if there are Fundamentalist seminaries that regularly prepare students to enter the top PhD programs in theology, biblical studies, etc. I am not aware of them (top being the usual group ( e.g. U of C., Duke, Harvard, Yale, et al.).

2. If not outsourcing, what? Where are you going to get the faculty to raise the bar at the undergraduate and seminary institutions? Again, it's not comfortable, but most faculty at Fundamentalist schools in the areas of theology and biblical studies do not meet the standards of higher (never mind highest - few from anywhere meet these) quality scholarship. In Biblical Studies, for example, many people who come to schools like Yale already know 4 or 5 languages, and if they do OT they have to know about 8 by the time they finish their PhD. Minimally, though, to be part of the serious scholarly conversion in Biblical Studies one must know well the relevant biblical languages and at least German.

3. Confessional traditions have been more successful at having their people gain the highest quality education and remain faithful to their traditions. Non-confessional groups have not been as successful at this, and I think they probably lose more people to education than other groups (e.g. Dutch Reformed, conservative Presbies). Figuring out why this is and learning from it is important for Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.

Ed Vasicek's picture

I don't know what to make of this article. On the one hand, IMO, Dr. Bauder has underestimated the Bible Institute while, on the other hand, he has over-estimating the classical model.

I suppose the issue revolves around the assumptions one embraces about what makes a good pastor, missionary, or evangelist.

I think it might be important to distinguish the modern Bible Institute from the Bible Institute of 30 years ago. When I went to Moody, it took 3 years of Moody plus 2 years of liberal arts college (elsewhere) to earn a B.A. So the modern Bible Institute thus has 50% less theological education (precisely because of the movement toward pre-seminary training).

I have a friend who graduated from Moody in 1976 (3 years before me). He has pastored the same church since graduation. His brother had a BS degree and then felt a call to ministry. He enrolled at Grace Seminary and earned his M Div. When he realized his (Moody grad) brother knew more Bible than he did, he enrolled in Moody correspondence school!

And therein lies an important issue: our assumptions (yes, I'll call them assumptions, because that is exactly what they are) about what makes for good training.

We should be stretching the minds of our people, and we need to emphasize the mind. On that I agree. But we should be careful to distinguish (1) education from formal education, (2) education in the right areas vs. education based upon traditional heritage.

I have known many pastors who essentially stopped learning once they graduated. I have known other pastors with a lesser education who kept learning and (IMO) learned more relevant material.

If John Maxwell is right, then only 1 of 10 men who begin in the ministry retire in the ministry. If Barna is right, then most Christians have not read their Bible, cannot recite the 10 commandments, and embrace situation ethics.

Maybe I am missing something here, but it seems to me that it is foolish to expend all the money and energy we expend to train men, most of whom will not last, to teach people that are not even grasping the basics.

Maybe we should put more emphasis on things like pastoral survival and conflict management, how to get the people to read the Bible and the 10 commandments, and how to get them to embrace Biblical ethics by Biblical absorption. Before we can develop spiritual Shakespeares, we need to teach people the rudiments of reading and writing.

This was the strength of the Bible Institute movement in its day. The ideal is for seminary to enhance this practical, hands-on approach, not eliminate it; to add to it, not to replace it.

"The Midrash Detective"

Paul J. Scharf's picture


You have certainly given us a very thought-provoking post.

In response, I would say a couple of things.

First, several of my fundamentalist seminary professors and other men I have worked with would indeed qualify to be part of “the scholarly conversation” you have described, and at least one would probably blow the Ivy League curve with regard to Semitic languages.

Second (with regard to your strategy), please do not take this as a non-serious knee-jerk reaction which can be pigeon-holed as representing the kind of thinking you are arguing against, but where does Biblical ministry fit in the paradigm you describe? Yes, perhaps God would have one or two fundamentalists spend their lives preparing to defend fundamentalism in the highest halls of academia in accord with your strategy, and certainly that could be a wonderful thing.

By and large, however, is that what we are called to? Frankly, I do not even see that as the goal of most of the confessional scholars that I have ever heard of. (Perhaps you are arguing that all conservatives are misguided in their academic inclinations [? ].)

If a man with a Ph.D. can expound the Bible from its original languages with theological depth and precision in a way that is fascinating to listen to, he is a scholar in my book – with or without the type of credibility you are espousing.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Ed...very nice reflection, quite honest and validly pragmatic.

In my own reflection I do see some obsessed with academic elitism as if human institutions and achievement in such contexts is the overriding element for God's work to be done in a premium manner. Or..."how dare he attempt exegesis without a Ph.D.?" (and if any indeed dare, it must be agreed upon by us, the self-appointed peer-reviewed Gatekeepers, to smite such with contempt, ridicule and a self-aggrandizing posturing that announces to our recalcitrant subject and all who will hear that we refuse to engage with such unrefined boors).

But the reality of the necessity of attaining and sustaining proper qualifications and training (with the hope and aim such training will aid in their eventual mastery of the Scriptures) does not go away, even when we temper the tendency to worship at the idol academia. Fundamentalism appears to have yet to fully progress in its institutional academic development, consequently many of its congregations in the past have been marked by extremes as noted by Bauder along the way.

The likelihood of fundamentalist institutions moving to a significantly closer point to schools such as Harvard or Yale on the academic/theological map is not high. And it isn't necessary. At least because of three reasons I can see immediately:

1. There already exists a good number of so-called elite institutions and frankly, the cost of any current non-elite school trying to enter into any such circle is practically prohibitive unless they have benefactors who have hundreds of millions of dollars to invest. Most don't. And if someone thinks apart from a substantial financial investment a school is going to change its academic circles to such heights, they need to quit living life on paper and enter reality...real soon.

2. There also exists within Evangelical/fundamentalist circles graduate programs that are academically rigorous and theologically exhaustive that produce not just articulate and well researched Professors of the theological sciences but Pastors as well whose ministries are marked by sound doctrine and careful exegesis. Are they the top 5% of all such persons? Maybe not...but then maybe so. Often such men are by-passed for such evaluations merely because of the elitism of others and attendants to elitist posturing. And is this what we are to demand, that a man minister to us only if he meets such a criterion?

3. The "Al Gore" effect. Most of these so-called prestigious schools operate with the premise the Evangelicalism/fundamentalism is wrong, theologically, philosophically and politically. In other words, "the debate is over, our findings are right". Legitimate training exists elsewhere without the antagonism.

I have enjoyed these articles by Bauder quite a bit. And he is right, schools cannot make up their own rules and academic standards in the name of God. However, where schools do rightly and adequately provide proper academic settings we must resist the urge to apologize for less than Ivy League contexts, otherwise no school, even state colleges which many of our family physicians come from, would fail to qualify as sufficient.

Charlie's picture

Paul, I do not think I am painting with too broad a brush. If I'm wrong, I would appreciate someone correcting me. Let me define a term. By "Bible college" I mean an institution having as its primary purpose the vocational training of ministers and church workers, whose constituency is mostly made up of "ministry-bound" individuals and girls hoping to marry them while pursuing educational tracks named things like "church music," "church ministries," and "Elementary education." Every one of these institutions, of which I am aware, is populated almost entirely by single young extroverts who made some sort of dedication or commitment to "full time Christian service" as a teenager. So, I'm not talking about Christian liberal arts colleges. However, those colleges which have an undergraduate ministerial program tend (in my experience) to attract the same types of people. What percentage of a typical Bible college constituency do you think is married men with kids?

Aaron, I didn't mean "scrap the Bible colleges today." I am saying, though, that I think the idea of them is misguided and their resources could be better employed in other ways. As to urgency, I deny that there is any urgency in a certain sense. I deny that there is any pressing need which requires (justifies) taking zealous novices and pushing them from the altar to the pulpit as fast as possible. In business terms, you have P (production) and PC (production capacity). You should never enact a plan of action which will temporarily increase P at the prolonged expense of PC. In my judgment, this is what the Bible institutes have done. They take some people who may be good ministerial candidates and a whole lot of others who aren't, and give them all training shoddy enough that they will not be able to increase (and perhaps not even maintain) the level of instruction for the next generation. If I can point to the story of Gideon's army, the goal is not to get the most people into the field.

My root complaint is simple: I believe it is misguided and dangerous for institutions to accept as ministerial candidates people who are nowhere near the qualifications for eldership. I believe the source of this phenomenon is a crypto-Romanist spirituality (the clerical life is of a higher spiritual caliber than lay life, so if you really love God you'll be a pastor/missionary/etc.) and a defective theology of calling (after a rousing sermon on "the fields are white unto harvest," 15-year-old Johnny feels led to preach the gospel, so it must be God's will). In my view, then, the Bible college is the symptom of deeper theological and strategic woes.

Consider some history. A few hundred years ago, you would go to a university and secure a B.A. Not a B.A. in something, just a B.A. Then, if you wanted more education, you would get an M.A. After you had completed two general degrees, you could choose to specialize in a field such as theology or law. I am opposed to the level of specialization that I see in much of modern (19th century on) education. I think the church lost something important when it began allowing theology as a first degree.

Joseph, I echo your thoughts regarding Christian research scholars. However, I think most of the people on this thread are interested primarily in the education of pastors. What do you think about this situation?

My Blog:

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Red Phillips's picture

Joseph, I think what you are describing has more to do with prospective scholars. It is not necessary that every preacher be extremely intelligent or else you would limit the field to the far right of the bell shaped curve, although neither would you want a pastor to be too much to the left. Other factors such as personal piety, evangelism, people skills, empathy, etc. would also be important. I suspect a lot of well educated pastors in denominations that emphasize that are not very good shepherds.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Whoa!! We have full-contact theology in play now...!!

Dittoes to Alex -- number 9 is tremendous! The people in the Ivy League are not liberal because they are smart -- they are considered smart because they are liberals. I am not saying that they are not doing serious scholarly work -- maybe it is more scholarly than the best of the best of fundamentalists, and maybe it is not. I am just saying that they have an a priori commitment to, frankly, apostasy which would make their recognition of fundamentalism untenable even if one of our scholars had degrees listed all the way down his arm (which some of them already do and have for years).

Charlie -- thanks for the reply in number 10. I believe you actually make some very good points. I agree with a lot of them. However, you are still painting with too broad of a brush because you are speaking in broad generalities and much of what you say applies much more to certain types of Bible institutes than it does to all types of Bible colleges.

We need to find a balance here guys! Why are we worrying about the Ivy League when the people in our churches are still debating, in many cases, whether or not seminary is really a good thing, much less necessary??

That is the tension Dr. Bauder's column drove us to. It remains an unresolved tension within fundamentalism today.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Steve Newman's picture

Lots of good posts here!
As having gone for a B.S. degree at a state college, then going to Bible college and seminary, I don't have the sense that Bible colleges are less advanced academically than a secular college or a "mainline" Christian college/seminary. And I don't think Bible colleges are for the "extroverts" - quite the opposite has been my experience!
We do need to understand there is a need for both "Christian exceptionalism" as well as the "garden variety" training. If the concern of the article is that we have not had enough "exceptional" Christian minds, we stand guilty as charged. However, because the volume of students being trained is not supplying the need for "exceptional" pastors (and that's a very subjective judgment) does not mean we should throw up our hands and walk away.
We are going to be heading into a crisis in both lack of faithful trained lay people and ministry candidates. If one were to go by strictly biblical qualifications for the ministry, we can see that the wickedness of the world and its resultant decay is going to be the largest factor. In other words, the largest problem we will be facing will be a lack of moral and spiritual qualification, not academic qualification. How do we deal with this without "dumbing things down" morally and spiritually?
I would also say there is less tolerance for Christian young people to "grow into" ministry than there has been in times past. As Christians become more and more spiritual "consumers", they do not tolerate a Bible college/seminary grad learning at their "expense".
Keep the posts going, folks!

Ed Vasicek's picture

So do you guys think fellows like Titus and Timothy met the criteria for "what is expected?"

What I fail to see in this discussion is Scripture.

"The Midrash Detective"

Joseph's picture

I see I was unclear in my original post. Sorry about that.

I was talking about pastor's education; I was addressing specifically what you would need in terms of educational resources to restore something like the traditional seminary, so I was focusing on where you would get the people to teach in such seminaries and on the problem of most people being academically unprepared for the "traditional" training, which assumed a strong background in the liberal arts. That is, I was asking about the conditions of the possibility of the kind of seminary education Bauder was describing, and raising questions about how tenable that is in our current context, given, among other things, (1) Fundamentalist's educational situation, the (2) general lack of academic preparation among college graduates.

I see 1 and 2 wedding in an unholy matrimony that makes a restoration of the traditional model problematic from both ends: whence the students and the professors for such a school?

But I also wanted to raise the question of the need for a revamped "traditional" seminary, or something similar. Depending on how broad and deep one wants one's ministry, or even movement, to be, one must at least some people who can reach groups Fundamentalists (and conservatives in general, from what I can see), have not been successful in reaching. Moreover, our cultural situation is characterized by at least (there are many others) two factors that make a rigorous graduate-level education generally desirable:

  • 1. Lack of cultural consensus, or put positively, greater diversity in every sense (cultural, moral, intellectual, etc.) that makes unselfconsious churches/pastors more likely to reach only a few sets of people, viz. those who share their background assumptions, rather than representatives from all the groups in their area (especially in cities). For Fundamentalists, this will normally mean reaching lower to middle class and sometimes immigrant communities, but not highly educated or cultured classes, artists, university culture, and non-traditional groups as a whole (e.g. people who lack traditional moral concerns and sensibilities, progressives, etc. ).
  • 2. Growing secularization. Although people talk about crises in secularization theory (not untrue, btw), no one denies the facts on the ground, more so in Western Europe but increasingly in the US: there have been and is a steady decline in the A. social and cultural authority and credibility of religion and B. levels of individual religious adherence, and C. the conditions of beliefs, which have moved from a situation (e.g. 1500) in which it was practically impossible not to be a Christian to now, in which is is not only easy not to be a Christian but can be difficult to become and remain one (A, B, and C. correspond to Charles Taylor's three sense of secularization in A Secular Age).

There are many other factors, of course, but just 1 and 2 mean that the more intellectually and culturally self-conscious church leaders and churches are (Keller is a great example here, because his is the paradigm of the modern, urban context), the better prepared they will be to minister effectively and avoid erecting unnecessary barriers to the Gospel.

Seminaries seem to be one (not the only) institution that can, and should, play a significant role in addressing and helping church leaders address these situations.

Of course we must all work within our giftedness, but again I was and am addressing the ideal for ministry in general. Much of what the church needs requries no formal education, of course (e.g. visible work done for one's local community); but, and this is important, the people who will actually teach, organize, and implement these things, that require no formal education (these make up most of church life), often have and are helped by a relatively high-level education. Ed, of course, is right about formal education being potentially overemphasized, but the fact is that in planning and thinking at a high level of abstraction one cannot deal with exceptions and particularities. People doing what they will with their formal training; but having better formal training gives people more to use. Only a fool could suggest that one could be truly educated and not continually learning, but we're (or I'm) talking about formal education.

Anyway, I hope that makes more clear what I am trying to put on the table.

Aaron Blumer's picture


To me, it comes down to vocation. I believe I agree w/the spirit of what Charlie's saying: that there is a often a false sense of urgency mixed with a false sense that whether you are a pastor/teacher/missionary/etc. or not just depends on your spiritual maturity. Real devotion = vocation? But I think that idea has mostly died now. It's definitely declined a good bit from fifty years or so ago.

And I think I see a point of agree w/Joseph as well that if one's calling is into scholarship--which I certainly believe some are called into--you have a different route to take from the "ministry emphasis" one (though I would say that ultimately, it's all got to be "ministry" if it's Christian at all, but be use "ministry" as shorthand for particular vocations.. probably we should stop doing that).

Alex... I'm not sure where this elitism is you refer to. I'm not denying it exists, but I don't recall seeing or hearing anyone ever communicate 'how dare you attempt exegesis if you don't have a PhD.' From where I sit, I much more often see populism along the lines of "All of our opinions are equally valid and we are all just as likely to know what we're talking about as anyone else." Which is a pretty absurd idea we'd never apply to hobbies, workplace skills, or anything else. So... on that point, I think we get into trouble when we start lumping: either saying that "credentials automatically equals superior skill in handling Scripture" or "lack of credentials automatically means inferiority in skill," when in reality we're talking about correlations. People are more likely to be good at what they've spent more time working on. But "more likely" leaves a certain openness for exceptions and slowness to write folks off.

Anyway, getting back to the vocation idea, it speaks to the urgency as well. I think we cannot rule out that God calls some to get out there and get to work very quickly and they need a short track to their ministry. But in general, Scripture calls us to take the long view of things, surely, doesn't it? So absent of a special "call" to hurry up, thorough preparation should be the norm. But even then, how thorough? It has to be individual. I can't tell anyone in particular that God wants him/her to earn a PhD/ThD or two... nor can anyone tell me that my MDiv isn't good enough because "good enough" depends on vocation.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Mike Durning's picture

Charlie wrote:
My root complaint is simple: I believe it is misguided and dangerous for institutions to accept as ministerial candidates people who are nowhere near the qualifications for eldership. I believe the source of this phenomenon is a crypto-Romanist spirituality (the clerical life is of a higher spiritual caliber than lay life, so if you really love God you'll be a pastor/missionary/etc.) and a defective theology of calling (after a rousing sermon on "the fields are white unto harvest," 15-year-old Johnny feels led to preach the gospel, so it must be God's will). In my view, then, the Bible college is the symptom of deeper theological and strategic woes.

Amen! Today, anyone with a High School diploma and some money can go to a Christian College or university. Anyone with the grades can get a degree. Anyone with the degree can get ordained. And anyone with the ordination certificate can get a pastorate. But where are Scriptural qualifications in this?

There is a two-fold defect in our pastoral training. The one under discussion here, academic rigor, is important. But the other defect is the involvement of the church itself. Future elders and pastors should be nurtured from within the church, discipled there, and evaluated based on a longer track record than preaching to a church while candidating. We have to find some way to meld a thoroughly scholarly education for ministry with something like pastors educating future pastors by a "socratic method".

Paul J. Scharf's picture


In posts numbers 6 and 15, you speak about requirements for entrance to college and seminary. (Mike also alludes to this in post number 17.) This is a very critical point.

Making college entrance requirements stricter is basically an untouchable subject. It is now perceived as our birthright as Americans that we can go to any college we want, and then graduate and own a home. It is exactly the thinking that led to the current economic crisis, but it is deeply engrainged in our psyche.

I think it is fair to say that our colleges (including Bible colleges) are filled with people who probably would not have been able to go to college 60-plus years ago -- for reasons BOTH economic and academic. A high percentage of them would not have been eligible to study for the ministry in any denominational setting, on academic grounds alone.

The reasons for the change are highly complex both inside and outside of fundamentalism, I am sure. One thing that has poisoned the well, however, is easy money from the federal government -- including loans which keep people in bondage for many years to come.

Have you ever seen an old black-and-white movie where the stodgy old professor has to tell the student that he is just not "college material"? That would never happen today. As long as the gravy is pouring in from the government, the school can use the money, and the gravy train rolls on.

I would be all for MUCH stricter entrance requirements, especially for Christian colleges. (Seminary is somewhat self-discriminating. No one is going to be there unless they really want to be.) But where is the money going to come from?

(BTW -- It was once explained to me that Bible colleges were not intended to operate that way -- their purpose is not to train the best of the best for ministry, but to teach the Bible to anyone who wants to learn. Perhaps we should re-examine whether that is [a ] Biblical and effective.)

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Mike Durning's picture

Paul J. Scharf wrote:
Making college entrance requirements stricter is basically an untouchable subject. It is now perceived as our birthright as Americans that we can go to any college we want, and then graduate and own a home. It is exactly the thinking that led to the current economic crisis, but it is deeply engrainged in our psyche.

I think it is fair to say that our colleges (including Bible colleges) are filled with people who probably would not have been able to go to college 60-plus years ago -- for reasons BOTH economic and academic. A high percentage of them would not have been eligible to study for the ministry in any denominational setting, on academic grounds alone.


The GI Bill after WWII changed the face of American college education. On the whole, that was a positive change, but today's students are not at all like yesterday's.

The book to read on the feeling of entitlement for all to attend college is "Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back To Reality" by Charles Murray. Great read.

Mike Durning

Paul J. Scharf's picture

You are correct, to be sure.

There are still exceptions, however, and I believe the key to the whole operation is found in exempting oneself from the federal funding process.

Of course, the giant example of the alternative model is Hillsdale College,

I would be very excited to see our schools move that direction somehow. Of course, the transition would take a bazillion dollars.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Red Phillips's picture

My root complaint is simple: I believe it is misguided and dangerous for institutions to accept as ministerial candidates people who are nowhere near the qualifications for eldership. I believe the source of this phenomenon is a crypto-Romanist spirituality (the clerical life is of a higher spiritual caliber than lay life, so if you really love God you'll be a pastor/missionary/etc.) and a defective theology of calling (after a rousing sermon on "the fields are white unto harvest," 15-year-old Johnny feels led to preach the gospel, so it must be God's will).

I very much agree with Charlie. In general, ministers should be called up (from within a particular congregation), instead of called out. For example, the idea of a kid from the Northeast going to Bible College in the South and then fresh out of Bible College taking a pastorate in the Mountain West or whatever has always struck me as purely artificial and an accident of modernity. And people scratch their heads and wonder why he doesn't "get it" and has a hard time being accepted. Vs. Billy Bob who grew up in the community and eventually takes over the local church. Vocational ministry (among most Protestants) is an artifact (a luxury really) of modern mass mobility and economic specialization, but it is not necessarily the Biblical model. It is not necessarily bad in every respect. It is good that we live in a society with enough abundance to allow vocational ministry, but we must be very careful not to theologize what is really a social phenomenon. I think we have done this with our theology of "calling."

Paul and Mike, the idea that everyone can and should go to college is the product of our modern commitment to ideological egalitarianism. According to which everyone is "college material" if given sufficient opportunity. The low entry barrier does have a way of weeding people out, but not before a lot of people have wasted significant time and money. Few really buy this egalitarian myth, but they are unwilling to say so. So they pretend. All our educational reforms are based on this myth. (No Child Left Behind). And if you acknowledge inequality you should also have an economy that accommodates that. Meaning a living wage for the leftward portion of the bell curve (that aren't just sorry and victims of their own vices) and not platitudinous foolishness that everyone can grow up and become a computer programmer if they just put their minds to it.

BrownRSA's picture

Spinning off of Aaron’s idea (#16), I would suggest that vocation, location, and motivation matter greatly when considering different models of education. I have seen a seminary graduate in Botswana reduced to trembling tears when, after several years learning an African language and tribal dialect and absorbing the culture, he realised that he had forgotten much of his Greek and Hebrew from seminary and would likely never discuss toledoths, chiastic structure, or Wellhausen’s theories with his new converts. But if he was a missionary in Luxembourg, he would need all of that fine training, and then some.

Much depends on the man. “Degrees are keys” allowing you to enter certain doors otherwise closed to you. Whether they truly prepare a person as intended is debatable. A person with a heart for life-long learning will catch up and not let education interfere with his learning.

I would have to argue that going from Bible college straight into pastoral ministry in your early 20s seems to violate the nature and requirements of eldership. The man hasn’t stood out from under authority for long enough to try his character, and his marriage (if any) is also untested. It would be even worse if he showed up here in South Africa intending to train pastors.

This brings me to my other misgiving – that seminary professors are the best creators of pastors or missionaries. In law school, we said that “those who make A’s make good professors, those who make B’s make good judges, and those who make C’s make good money.” There is a core difference between the theoretical and practical. My observation in recent years is that seminary grads want to be expository preachers, profs in the pulpit. They love to be alone with their computers and books, and teach their seminary notes to befuddled believers. I had one new seminary graduate tell me that he believed God had prepared him to pastor a church of at least 600. I suggested that this was likely because he didn’t know how to do anything but expository preaching. A few minutes later, he agreed.

We need real pastors to train and mentor new pastors. Does it not seem strange that to teach someone church ministry you would send them away from the local church into a somewhat sterile environment to learn from academics, only a few of whom are involved in ministry? Oh, colleges try to get their students involved with extensions on weekends, but many of those experiences are obligatory, are not supervised to give the student feedback, and are not integrated with what students are learning on campus.

Here in Johannesburg, we have tried something different, and we have a long way to go. We train first-world and third-world men for ministry in a church-based leadership development program that is run in several local churches around our province. Our students receive 1) academic training that is tailored for the demands of where they and their teachers see them heading (lay leadership, pastor, missionary, or professor) using text-based Socratic discussion, 2) ongoing personal mentoring by someone in ministry to challenge their hearts and deal with personal issues in their lives, and 3) continual hands-on experiences in ministry every week in the life of the church with feedback. We call it a balance of “head, heart, and hands.” Jesus mentored the twelve in much the same fashion. Most Bible colleges and seminaries simply can’t reproduce model this due to the teacher-student ratio. Amazingly, our program was recognized a decade ago by a local European-style university for full credit toward a Bachelor of Theology in Biblical Studies, and we praise the Lord for this unexpected blessing.

In a dusty African village, a Bible institute graduate could work for years just giving out from his current knowledge base. Third-world missions in the era of proto-fundamentalism required so much repetition of the basics (gospel, moral teaching, and basic doctrine) that only a Bible institute education was necessary. It is still that way in rural areas. Such a young man would not make it pastoring in the theologically savvy churches of America, but he could serve the Lord in the two-thirds of the world that is the third world.

This debate hits home with me. I have a son who is a Northland graduate, and has an invitation from the national pastors here to come help teach. He thinks he should go to seminary first. Smile

Aaron Blumer's picture


Red Phillips wrote:
I very much agree with Charlie. In general, ministers should be called up (from within a particular congregation), instead of called out. For example, the idea of a kid from the Northeast going to Bible College in the South and then fresh out of Bible College taking a pastorate in the Mountain West or whatever has always struck me as purely artificial and an accident of modernity.

I'll back that scenario as the ideal, but there are lots of small churches where you may have a couple of generations with no one called or gifted for pastoral ministry. This problem has worsened because of society's mobility. So now we not only are looking at a small pool to begin with (in a small rural church for example), but that pool shrinks even more over time when you factor in folks coming in and out of the for employment, etc. If you have a long stretch where more are going than coming... well, you get the picture.
But I'm all for home grown pastors whenever possible.
I'm not so keen on the idea some of have educating them entirely under the unbrella of one local church, though. Tends to result in overly narrow exposure to things a guy needs to think through. Too easy to be isolated from the community of students of the word, though this is less a problem than it used to be due to technology (and of course, if the "one church" is huge and diverse that evens things out a good bit as well)
[br ]
Edit: I do think mentoring is important and that there is no substitute for the real world and real church life for training pastors (as 'BrownRSA' and others have indicated). There is really no reason why seminaries and churches working together can't do this. See Stephen Davey's series on that. Part two posts tomorrow. Part three probably next week.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

DaviddB's picture


I agree with CMI's focus and methodology (I ought to, since we run it in our church, too!). However, I think that the complexities of ministering today are growing. The level of sophistication required to navigate cultural issues today is probably far greater than when the Bible Institute movement took off. I'd agree with your examples of seminary grads here in SA, and can add some of my own. However, the other side of the coin is pastors here who've been trained with the truncated American Bible Institute model and tend to minister in the same fashion: giving abbreviated answers to complex problems, proof texting, and feeding people stock answers. Witness the popularity of Hovind science, the typical answers given on the music issue, and even the way KJV-Onlyism spread here in the 90s. There are some very smart men here, but one wishes for some middle ground between the CMI model, and interaction with men like Bauder, Carson, and the like. Perhaps the model that [URL= The Expositor's Seminary [/URL ]is using may eventually be a way of connecting leaders in the thick of ministry with those who give themselves full-time to parsing cultural and theological issues.


David King's picture

Bible colleges would be able to do better work if they had students who weren't acting as though they were still junior highers, and the problem of immature college students may be directly traced to Christian families. Our culture expects young adults to act like children long into their twenties. Christian families have bought into that perception. Churches are expected to have youth groups and youth activities led by a not-much-older-than-the-teens who is pressured to be certain that the kids have 'clean fun' (whatever that means) with a 'challenge' thrown in. Churches have embraced all this and have wandered far from the equipping model explained in Eph 4. So we have pastors who don't equip parents well; parents who don't grow in wisdom (often willfully); and children who grow up physically but not spiritually or in maturity.

Parents, churches, and schools must work together, but parents have the final responsibility for their children. Parents must expect more and better of and for their children. Funny thing is that many young people embrace high expectations; look at the response to the Harris twins. Pastors need to return to equipping and building Christians focusing on the adults who may then train their children. The church needs to match wise older men and women with younger parents to mentor them through the stages of child training. Schools must be a partner for parents, with colleges perhaps being at the finishing/polishing stage.

Paul J. Scharf's picture


I think you are hitting on something key here. This is getting a little afield from Dr. Bauder's original piece, but it is important stuff for us to think about.

In accord with previous discussion about the need for stiffer entrance requirements for college and seminary and a young person's expectation of being able to go to college, you provide another significant piece of the puzzle: the lenghthening of adolescence and the postponement of adulthood. I do believe that society has changed significantly in this regard in the last 20 years.

There is more than a little truth, in more than one way, to the idea that "college is the new high school."

You offer some starter solutions to this. I do think, again, that one of the main keys is economic. Young people are growing accustomed to living this way -- primarily because they can.

Think of two 35-year-olds: one is living like a teenager in his parents' basement; another has an established family of his own and has to care for aged parents. Two very different scenarios...

Short of another Great Depression or World War, I am not sure what will change that societally. For any given individual who is in need of maturity, I would prescribe lots of Bible intake and a healthy dose of Dave Ramsey Smile

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Bob Hayton's picture

Serious discussions aside, I thought this line from Bauder's post was especially good:

They also served a very practical purpose by offering propinquity for young, single Christians.

I got to learn a new word, but it also sums up much of my college experience. Our college was largely a glorified version of a Bible Institute and there wasn't much education to be had, unfortunately. There was some, but mostly it was about propinquity -- being near those of the same kin and kind. We were molded and shaped into what we already were, but just a little bit more strongly molded.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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