Kevin Bauder on the future of fundamentalist education

"By every indicator, historic, mainstream fundamentalism is a shrinking movement. Churches are shrinking. Fellowships are shrinking. Mission agencies are shrinking. Schools have closed and those that remain are scrambling for students. ...This situation confronts Bible colleges and seminaries with a difficult question: how can they continue to train students for ministry in mainstream fundamentalist churches and mission fields?" - P&D

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I appreciate this article. I have evolved over the past nearly eight years I've been on SI. I am now comfortably in the conservative evangelical phase of my metamorphesis. But, I qualify this by noting that, by "conservative evangelical," I really mean something like "historic fundamentalism." But, because that term is meaningless, I'll own the conservative evangelical label. 

I find this ironic, because I'm a graduate from Maranatha Seminary and a DMin student at Central Seminary. I chose to go to Central for a DMin shortly before I wrote the linked article, above. Why would I do that? Pretty simple; I know some of the folks at Central on a superficial level and felt comfortable learning more from them. I think we're on the same general page.

This brings me to another question = what does a balanced, fundamentalist institution offer that a conservative evangelical one does not?

  • I gave my son a short list of universities we could afford and assist him with payments for in pursuit of a BA in elementary education. On the list was Boyce and Faith Baptist Bible College. Both are regionally accredited. I'd prefer Boyce, but I'd be perfectly happy if he took Faith.
  • He plans to go to Seminary afterwards. For a variety of reasons, he's ruled out Maranatha. He'd be comfy at Faith. I'd prefer he went to Western Reformed Seminary, the local Bible Presbyterian institution for the Northwest that's 30 mins away from our home. Why? The short answer is that, if you're gonna have an "issue" that's important for you, I'd prefer my son get graduate theological training from an institution where "the thing" is the sovereignty of God in a Reformed context rather than a particular expression of dispensationalism. And, Western Reformed's president pastors the church across the street from mine and I've preached in their chapel.

Is there a compelling reason, beyond "separation," that I ought to encourage my son to choose Faith, Central or Detroit instead of SBTS or MBTS? What are fundamentalist institutions offering that conservative evangelical ones are not?

That's a very difficult question to answer. I think that's one reason why fundamentalist institutions are dying. If you attempt to broaden the base, you face cries of "compromise" from a constituency that was likely nurtured in an environment where conservative evangelicals were often "the enemy." So, you can't win.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

This brings me to another question = what does a balanced, fundamentalist institution offer that a conservative evangelical one does not?

A more conservative dress code and student handbook.

Brandon Crawford's picture

They offer many things: smaller class sizes, more personalized attention, lower tuition costs, etc. But most importantly, they offer in-depth teaching on the distinctive ecclesiology of independent (or Regular) Baptists and an introduction into the larger world of independent Baptist leaders, churches and institutions--connections that will become really valuable later on.

If you want to be a Bible Presbyterian pastor or missionary, then by all means, go to one of their schools. If you want to spend the rest of your life ministering in the SBC, then go to one of their schools. But if your desire is to become an independent or Regular Baptist pastor or missionary, you need to go to one of their schools.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Brandon wrote:

smaller class sizes, more personalized attention, lower tuition costs, etc.

Not necessarily. Boyce is substantially more affordable than Clarks Summitt or Cedarville. The small class size may be a creative euphamism for low enrollment. I'm certain they'd take higher enrollment if they could get it.

But most importantly, they offer in-depth teaching on the distinctive ecclesiology of independent (or Regular) Baptists

There is no distinctive ecclesiology about Regular Baptists. None. Can you think of something other than separation, which is really not a thing in the GARBC but is an emphasis in the FBGFI-esque schools?

and an introduction into the larger world of independent Baptist leaders, churches and institutions--connections that will become really valuable later on

You can get much of this by being active in the local Baptist association. This last selling point you mentioned may be the best that can be said. But, is brand loyalty enough? I doubt it. I suspect this is one reason for the decline of fundamentalist institutions. Young men see they don't have to stay in their own orbit in order to get a conservative biblical education.

Let me ask the same question another way = is there any reason for fundamentalist institutions to exist, today? If so, what is that reason(s)? I think that is the real question.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

Clarks Summit (aka Baptist Bible Seminary) has been bleeding seminary students for a while. They are choosing to go to SBTS and other conservative evangelical seminaries instead.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I must say that, despite the impression I may be giving in my posts above, I think it's important to support the institutions in your orbit. I will be very happy if my son chooses Faith, in Iowa. I want to support Regular Baptist institutions. I think we're stronger if we support one another. I want to support Regular Baptist institutions because I value the association and how it leverages the resources of local churches as we work together. I love Regular Baptists because they have a forward-looking ethos; they aren't about separation but about fostering fruitful local churches. That's outstanding.

Clarks Summit is somewhere I'd love to have my son go, but it's just too expensive. Much of this may have to do with geography and forces quite beyond Clarks Summit's control. I understand. I'm choosing to do four Hebrew courses through them beginning this Fall, because I value Regular Baptist institutions.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Maybe, maybe not.  The first thing that comes to mind is that if indeed the main reason (per Brandon) is to get connections in the IFB/GARBC world, then the argument for fundamental colleges and universities really boils down to "tribalism".   With Tyler, I really don't see that much difference in terms of ecclesiology between the two camps, as they're both broadly congregational associations with two ordinances, two offices, etc.. 

Separation?  Well, maybe, but we might note that conservative evangelicals separate as well--and on both sides of the spectrum.  They'll separate from KJVO advocates and theological liberals, which is how it should be, in my view.  We might quibble over precisely where the boundaries of fellowship ought to be, but those boundaries are there for conservative evangelicals.

Tom really nails the major differences that I see; differences in applications.  You'll get somewhat different views on music, attire, permissible enjoyments, and the like between the two (very broadly defined ) "camps", and there are two huge issues with this.

First, Colossians 2:23 makes it clear that rules like "do not touch" and "do not taste" do not bring about holiness.  Second, it often seems that dogmatism about these rules, especially in light of often contrary Biblical evidence, is the tip of an iceberg of teaching students what to think instead of how.  Either one can be tremendously harmful to faith.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

....is the thought that a "slow time" for those schools who have the prospect of surviving tough times gives them a bit of available time to figure out which things really are important, and which are not, and how to make important changes without totally alienating their support bases. 

Personally, I'm persuaded from my observations--admittedly only anecdotal evidence--that there are a fair number of young people interested in ministering to their friends and neighbors, but by and large, they're not terribly interested in following the fundamental models they've seen.  Perhaps it is a matter of persuasion, or perhaps it is a matter of admitting that Scripture doesn't really say what we've been saying for a while.  Either way, no time like the present to start thinking things through.  As Deming noted, survival is not mandatory.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew K's picture

What would attract outside students to such an institution? That question has many answers. Smaller classes. Personal attention and care. Professors who combine pastoral experience with rigorous academics. Course structures that are designed for the convenience of students and not administrators. Genuine devotion to God. Commitment to Scripture. Theological sobriety. Prioritizing the local church and its ministry. In short, excellence.

Bauder's specific question here, however, focuses on how fundamentalist institutions could attract students outside of fundamentalism.

Looking through his list, I see some excellent features... that aren't going to work.

If you want hands-on experience, you'll choose apprenticeship, maybe with supplemental community college study or distance learning. If you want the credential, you'll choose a school in your own orbit, or an institution with greater brand recognition. It's just the sensible thing to do in the current job climate. Much as I love my Northland experience, the subsequent credential has been more "knife in a gunfight" for me than "key to open all doors.“

Sorry, I think that ship has sailed. 

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
Clarks Summit is somewhere I'd love to have my son go, but it's just too expensive. Much of this may have to do with geography and forces quite beyond Clarks Summit's control. I understand. I'm choosing to do four Hebrew courses through them beginning this Fall, because I value Regular Baptist institutions.

I'm not familiar with Clarks Summit's undergrad programs, but I would no longer consider their seminary a good option. First, they lost their most respected scholar, Dr. Rodney Decker, to cancer in 2014. Thankfully, I had already completed all my Greek courses with Decker or his protege, Dr. Dan Fabricatore, before he passed. His replacement, Wayne Slusser, was not a good choice. Although, the seminary may not have had any better options given the seminary's declining residential enrollment. In fact, after I graduated with my M.Div. in 2016, the seminary went through a significant restructuring. Mike Stallard, who was the dean of the seminary, left BBS for Friends of Israel (he currently serves as an adjunct prof). The seminary sold their nice building and moved several full-time faculty to part-time / on-line instructors. Currently, the seminary only has four full-time faculty.

If I go on for my Th.M. or D.Min, I'll most likely attend SBTS or another conservative evangelical seminary that offers non-residential classes.

Brandon Crawford's picture

The first thing that comes to mind is that if indeed the main reason (per Brandon) is to get connections in the IFB/GARBC world, then the argument for fundamental colleges and universities really boils down to "tribalism".

Thanks for interacting with my comment, Bert, but you are really missing my point if you think I'm talking about tribalism! It's not about that at all. It's about answering the question, "what kind of church do I hope to pastor one day?", and then finding the training institution that is most likely to get you there.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I know a man who is wrapping up his MDiv at BBS, sings praises for the Hebrew prof, and loves the education he received. I don't think they're dead and gone. At least, I hope not.

To add more irony to the mix, I've committed to do a ThM at a fundamentalist institution once I finish my DMin. Why? Again, it comes down to connections. These are the people I know, so I'm comfortable with attending institutions from the same general ecclesiastical ecosystem.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dave White's picture

The Fundamentalist Pipeline:

  • Christian Day Schools. Declining
  • The Bible Colleges: Contracting & Closing

Limited Fundamentalist Prospects:

  • Small Churches
  • Bi-vocational 
  • Low, near poverty salaries

Reality Bites

TylerR's picture

Editor

Because I have a good, fulltime government job as a bi-vo pastor, I'm paying for the DMin and then the ThM in cash as I go. Most pastors couldn't do that.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

I know a man who is wrapping up his MDiv at BBS, sings praises for the Hebrew prof, and loves the education he received. I don't think they're dead and gone. At least, I hope not.

To add more irony to the mix, I've committed to do a ThM at a fundamentalist institution once I finish my DMin. Why? Again, it comes down to connections. These are the people I know, so I'm comfortable with attending institutions from the same general ecclesiastical ecosystem.

I loved the education I received at BBS as well. My Greek, Hebrew, and theology instruction was excellent. To your point, the Hebrew profs are the same as they were when I was there.

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

Because I have a good, fulltime government job as a bi-vo pastor, I'm paying for the DMin and then the ThM in cash as I go. Most pastors couldn't do that.

That was my route through seminary as well. I financed the entirety of my M.Div. with my biannual bonuses.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Limited Fundamentalist Prospects:

  • Small Churches
  • Bi-vocational 
  • Low, near poverty salaries

Reality Bites

Most non-fundamentalist churches are this way as well. 

Bert Perry's picture

Brandon Crawford wrote:

The first thing that comes to mind is that if indeed the main reason (per Brandon) is to get connections in the IFB/GARBC world, then the argument for fundamental colleges and universities really boils down to "tribalism".

Thanks for interacting with my comment, Bert, but you are really missing my point if you think I'm talking about tribalism! It's not about that at all. It's about answering the question, "what kind of church do I hope to pastor one day?", and then finding the training institution that is most likely to get you there.

Brandon, you've re-affirmed my point.  If one must go to a fundamental school to serve in a fundamental church or mission, that's tribalism.   Period, full stop, end of story.  If you went to sound conservative evangelical churches with a degree from TEDS instead of Master's or an SBC seminary, nobody would bat an eye.   You could even get in with a degree from the more academically sound fundamental colleges.  They might ask if you affirmed cultural stands A or B, but you could get a look.  Talk about approved and disapproved schools in the private sector, and HR will ask you if you want to get the company sued.

What fundamentalism has done, really, is to confuse their rightful separation from theologically liberal seminaries a century ago with the need to keep separating from schools that, theologically speaking, really don't differ from "their own".  And again, that's tribalism, and it causes a LOT of strife.  Ron Bean here describes it in terms of the movie "The Village", and Dr. Bauder himself has compared the petty principalities of fundamentalism to rotting castles filled with dead mens' bones.

Don't get me wrong; if someone comes up with a genuine, theological differentiation that suggests that something really is different about fundamental ecclesiology vs. conservative evangelicals, or that what I would ordinarily view as cultural distinctives are indeed theological, I'm game to hear it.   But again, unless a genuine theological difference is demonstrated, it's really about "my tribe."

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

AndyE's picture

This is a topic of great concern to me. I have two kids in college now, both at BJU, and a third one on the way in a year.  I am spending a LOT of money for this education.  It would be way cheaper for me to have them go to school locally at a secular school.  Why am I spending all this money?  I’m looking for several things:

A school with high academic standards that will enable my kids to grow into independent adults, while guided spiritually to make wise choices. I’m looking at how administration, faculty, and classmates function in this area.  I want my kids to develop their own convictions but influenced in that by godly people. 

Part of what I’m looking for in the above is a place that affirms similar values that I do as a Baptist Fundamentalist, including conservative music, affirmation of the fundamentals of the faith, ecclesiastical separation, young earth creationism, and a carefulness regrading personal holiness.

On top of that, I’m looking for a place than enables my kids to continue in their training within the fine arts.  My son, for example, while a computer science major, has really been helped musically by taking private voice lessons at school from someone who shares our basic philosophy of music. It is also a big plus to have opportunities to participate in concerts and various productions, and not having to worry about the type of music they will be performing. 

This was the general experience that my parents had at BJU, that my wife and I had, and that my kids have, for the most part.  The sad truth is that BJU has changed in some areas that are of great concern to me.  Modesty standards are not what they used to be; nor are their basic dress standards. I see things in the dorms now that I can’t believer are allowed.  BJU is not as conservative musically as they used to be.  Even their fine arts concerts occasionally include numbers that I find questionable.  It’s all very disappointing to me. Nevertheless, my kids have all grown spiritually while they have been there. They have surrounded themselves with good godly friends. They go to good solid churches, that I trust, while they are there.

From what I can tell, though, it appears that Maranatha is more conservative now that BJU is. If it wasn’t for the fact that I really enjoy being able to drive up to watch my kids perform in concerts, and it being much easier to get to, we’d probably think strongly about sending our kids there.

One other thing. I’m not sure what BJU’s position is now regarding conservative evangelicalism. Things have definitely changed in that area and it would be helpful for Dr. Pettit and Bob III to speak to why things are changing. I think I understand some of it – there has probably been movement in both camps to positions closer to each other, but it would be very helpful, and reassuring to hear something like – we still believe in principle in what we have historically taught regarding ecclesiastical separation, but here is how the ecclesiastical landscape has changed in the past 30 years and here is why we are taking a position that looks a bit different in practice than what it used to.

The bottom line is – if a school no longer operates as a fundamentalist school, why should fundamentalists send their kids there?  Maybe there are not enough fundamentalists to support fundamentalist schools anymore.  I hope that is not the case.

Brandon Crawford's picture

I don't know what I was thinking when I decided to engage online with a man who says he is "aspiring to be a stick in the mud." But for others who may be interested, there are some notable ecclesiological differences between GARBC schools and their evangelical counterparts (TEDS, SBTS, etc.). For example, (1) They have a distinctive understanding of the relationship between the Church and Israel; (2) They have a distinctive understanding of the relationship between the Church and the eschatological Kingdom; (3) They have a distinctive understanding of the way in which local churches should work with one another--not just on the issue of separation, but on the practical mechanics of cooperation. The GARBC does not follow the convention model of the SBC or the centralized model of the EFCA. Taken together, these distinctives result in a way of doing church ministry that differs quite dramatically from the typical EFCA or SBC church--even if other aspects of their doctrinal statements are the same.

Also, no one is saying that you can only get into a GARBC church if you attend a GARBC seminary. Here in Michigan, I know GARBC pastors who got their MDiv's from Moody, SBTS, GRTS, and other places. But I am saying that if you want to hear an extended defense of the distinctives listed above from men who actually hold those views, you should choose a GARBC school. If you come out of TEDS, SBTS, etc., holding GARBC distinctives it will be in spite of your education, not because of it. I am speaking from experience. My ThM and PhD (in progress) are from non-GARBC schools.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Appreciate your input. When I mentioned there was no difference in ecclesiology, I was thinking strictly of "being a Baptist." Regarding the theological points you mentioned, you obviously have to weight how important those are for you.

It also matters why you're going to school.

  • Vocational? Then, it probably doesn't matter very much if you go to Boyce or Faith.
  • Ministry training? Then, it probably matters a lot more. For me, having a Reformed view of Theology Proper is more important than dispensationalism, which encapsulates two of the three points you mentioned. This is why I'll be happy if my son goes to Western Reformed here locally for seminary, but I'll also be fine with Faith. Not ecstatic, but fine.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:

One other thing. I’m not sure what BJU’s position is now regarding conservative evangelicalism. Things have definitely changed in that area and it would be helpful for Dr. Pettit and Bob III to speak to why things are changing. I think I understand some of it – there has probably been movement in both camps to positions closer to each other, but it would be very helpful, and reassuring to hear something like – we still believe in principle in what we have historically taught regarding ecclesiastical separation, but here is how the ecclesiastical landscape has changed in the past 30 years and here is why we are taking a position that looks a bit different in practice than what it used to.

Andy, as you know, both my kids went to BJU as well (of their own choice).  I'm probably a little less concerned than you about some of the changes, but when my kids were there, I was at least wanting to know the reasons for some of the changes.  I'm not particularly concerned about the changes in music or dress standards except in the area of modesty, where I would agree that the students get by with a lot that wouldn't have been permitted in previous years, though from what I saw when my kids were there, this was due more to less enforcement than what the rules actually stated.  Changes like allowing facial hair on men were actually overdue and welcome.

I went to a session for the parents with a bunch of the leaders of BJU, including Dr. Pettit, where some of the reasons for the changes were laid out, with a following question and answer session.  It probably wouldn't be inaccurate to describe that session as lively, with some of the attendees borderline hostile to any change at all.  I wish they had videoed/recorded that session for later playback, if not the questions and answers, then at least the presentations from the leaders at BJU.  In short, they did in fact mention that both camps were closer to one another, with conservative evangelicalism not being the same as greater evangelicalism.  They also noted that a lot of the rules that were in force when you and I were there were not really necessary, a lot of which had to do with dress (ties off campus, sneakers only back campus, coats and ties to dinner, etc., etc.).

The main change that I was actually excited about was the move to more of a discipleship model than having students anonymously "turn others in" for rule infractions, which certainly has served to make the whole campus atmosphere less adversarial.  The other big change I really liked was the deprecation of the campus "church" in favor of having the students join and be a part of local churches.  Finally, they noted that BJU was, and is, a non-denominational school, not a baptist school, so there would still be different positions held by the faculty (presbyterian, methodist, etc.).  That's not a change from when I was there, but I expect that many thought BJU was and still should be a fundamental baptist school.

Dave Barnhart

dgszweda's picture

One of my children is going there this fall.  The attendance is actually increasing YoY, which is good, but the leadership has expressed that they do not want to grow much larger.  I do share some of the concerns Andy has, but probably fall more inline with Dave.  Fortunately I know a lot of the leaders there because many of them are close friends with our family.  So while there are changes seen, I understand where the heart is.  I had not visited the school for quite some time and decided to visit with my middle child a few months ago.  While I am thankful for some of the relaxed dress standards, I was concerned with some situations that I saw there.  The rules appear to be a bit tighter than the enforcement.  But I do share some of Andy's concerns with what I saw.  I privately talked to one senior person and they said that the relaxing of the dress standards has been the biggest reason for the increase in attendance.

I do like the change to discipleship.  I decided to take a tour around a few buildings late at night one night and I was very encouraged to see a number of fairly large prayer groups taking place in places like the Alumni building.  This was something I did not see very much of when I was attending.  I also talked to a number of individuals and was pleased with their verbal testimony.

While my kids were free to choose where they wanted to go (with some exceptions :)), I did steer them to BJU, for much of the same reason that Andy stated.  I do not go to a fundamentalist church right now, because, frankly, most in my area are on the fringe areas.  I go to a reformed baptist church that is conservative, and while there are many things I like about it, I still lean fundamentalist.  The problem is that there are so few fundamentalist churches and the ones that do exist tend to be out there (i.e. KJVO...).  So I am thankful for the higher education that is available in this sphere.  I am not sure where BJU will eventually end up.  While I do have a few concerns, in general I find it a better alternative than what is out there.

TylerR's picture

Editor

dgszweda wrote:

I privately talked to one senior person and they said that the relaxing of the dress standards has been the biggest reason for the increase in attendance

My son doesn't want to go to MBU because of (1) dress code, and (2) the requirement to use the KJV. It makes me sad, because I got an excellent seminary education at MBU.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

When I was preparing for the ministry I was in a place where the fundamentals of the faith were non-negotiable. On the other hand I was exposed to various views of eschatology, both covenant and dispensational views, Calvinism and Arminianism and "Biblicism", and the varied views of church polity. I was encouraged to search the Scriptures and make up my own mind. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

T Howard's picture

T Howard wrote:

 

TylerR wrote:

 

This brings me to another question = what does a balanced, fundamentalist institution offer that a conservative evangelical one does not?

 

 

A more conservative dress code and student handbook.

Based on the last several posts, it appears I was right!  Smile

Dave White's picture

Brandon Crawford wrote:
... there are some notable ecclesiological differences between GARBC schools  ... Also, no one is saying that you can only get into a GARBC church if you attend a GARBC seminary. ...  you should choose a GARBC school. If you come out of TEDS, SBTS, etc., holding GARBC distinctives it will be in spite of your education, not because of it. I am speaking from experience. My ThM and PhD (in progress) are from non-GARBC schools.

Tip: There are NO GARBC schools!

TylerR's picture

Editor

Well, maybe not "officially" ... But, everybody knows who they are, even if the old approval system is dead and gone!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Brandon Crawford's picture

The old approval system is gone, but there is still an approval system! There is a strict vetting process for who may advertise in the Baptist Bulletin, display at the national conference, and participate in the GARBC college scholarship program. The group of schools that make the cut are the ones I am calling "GARBC schools"

TOvermiller's picture

T Howard wrote:

Clarks Summit (aka Baptist Bible Seminary) has been bleeding seminary students for a while. They are choosing to go to SBTS and other conservative evangelical seminaries instead.

What do you mean here? That Clarks Summit undergrad students are going elsewhere for seminary or that seminary students are leaving their program midway through to go elsewhere instead? (Or that their Masters graduates are going elsewhere for Doctoral degrees afterwards?) And on what basis do you say this? I - for one - am a very satisfied and grateful BBS student who's wrapping up an M.Div. there this year.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog | ShepherdThoughts.com

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