I wanted to take a few moments to respond to this post,
It is written by Terrence Jones, a Master’s Seminary graduate who also spent a few years working on the campus of Grace Church and the seminary. The article is his response to John MacArthur’s series on social justice posted at the Grace to You blog, and it quickly made the rounds across the “woker than thou” social media. SBC Voices cross posted it to their site, because they see an insider’s whistle-blowing testimony about his experience immersed in the ever so subtle racist culture of a well known, conservative seminary led by a high profile evangelical pastor. It is that dishonest, lopsided slant that is spreading far and wide with impunity that bothered me so much I felt the need to offer a response.
The narrative Jones presents is that a racial undercurrent flows through TMS. While it is not overtly hostile to any minorities, particularly African-Americans, the stream quietly directs the attitudes of the faculty and overall student body. I personally believe he has created a dishonest perspective of the institution and the people who serve there as I will outline.
He begins by expressing his gratitude for John and TMS. He is thankful for the blessing of the school and church environment. However, in spite of that blessing, Jones insists John MacArthur, and by extension, the college and seminary, has shown little concern for minority students, especially African-Americans.
What proof does he offers demonstrating his charge of secret racism?
The curriculum offered at the seminary.
Yep, that’s right. The books and authors the students read are written by a bunch of white guys. Mostly dead Reformed white guys.
Out of all the credit hours necessary to complete a degree at TMS, Jones explains, never once did students explore any Christians of African heritage. All he remembers hearing discussed regarding the African church was Athanasius. He conveniently skips the historical overview of Augustine, Cyprian, Cyril and Clement, both from Alexandria, Origen, and Tertillian to name a few, but I digress.
I want to focus in upon his charge that TMS is so crippled by subtle systemic racism that they are unwittingly ignoring great swaths of church history in their curriculum and thus doing a profound disservice to the students. And that is in spite of the fact my main church history text was two volumes authored by Justo L. Gonzalez.
A Hillbilly at TMS
I’m a graduate from TMS. I attended the school in the mid to late 90s, graduating in 99. When I arrived at Master’s, I was a young, naive red-neck hillbilly from a rural, lower-middle class Arkansas family. I was absolutely thrilled to be there because I was excited about the learnin’ I was gonna git! I’ll say the first thing that struck me about Grace and TMS was the ethnic diversity. Believe me, being from rural Arkansas, I noticed I was a minority almost immediately when I stepped off the plane in LA, let alone onto the campus of the church.
The promoted purpose statement of TMS is, “We Train Men Because Lives Depend Upon It.” In other words, the seminary’s singular devotion is training pastors in the exegesis of the Word. That is their purpose. Nothing more, nothing less. It is to train preachers. While men are exposed to various facets of church history, history is just one part of the collective whole of what TMS aims to accomplish in the life of the students, which is again, to train preachers. Hence, many specialized areas of study may be available only as electives, or briefly passed over in the main course work, because that is not the focus.
My basic schedule for my time at seminary consisted of two semesters of learning basic Hebrew and one semester of Hebrew exegesis. Two semesters of learning basic Greek (unless you could take the accelerated class during the summer) and two semesters of Greek exegesis. I had a semester during my third year on New Testament Introduction that dealt with textual critical issues. Those course are irrelevant to the ethnicity of the student. Hebrew and Greek exegesis is universally the same everywhere in the world regardless of race.
Along with those classes, each year had two semesters of Old and New Testament overview, two semesters of church history, and systematic theology, that covered the basics like God, the Person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, Man, Sin, the Atonement, church polity, and eschatology. We also had a class in hermeneutics, prayer, leading worship, apologetic methodology, pastoral ministry, and even one covering the pastor’s home.
My third year was two major classes on expositional preaching that trained students to take the material they had learned and craft a sermon and preach it well. Sprinkled in those years among the required courses was electives like charismatic theology, dispensationalism, covenant theology, rapture theories, biblical creation, and classes covering individual books of the Bible like Deuteronomy, or Romans, or Revelation.
Again, the main focus of the required class work was training in the exegesis of the Bible. To train men to teach and preach the text. Those classes present course work that crisscrosses all people groups.
I remember one time during my seminary career there was talk among some faculty and students about making more of an effort to include Anabaptist theology and history in the required portion of theology. In their minds, the topic of the Anabaptists was handled inadequately and in many cases, dismissively. No one was reading the Reformed era Anabaptist theologians. Students were missing out on the richness of the Anabaptists.
Uh. Along with the fact that there was a dearth of books written by Reformation era Anabaptist writers because, well, most of them were killed, the vast majority of them were kooky. The baptism of believers was really the only doctrinal point most modern baptistic evangelicals like those at TMS have in common with them. Saying that our seminary education is greatly lacking exposure to the Anabaptists and we need to read their works is like saying our seminary education is greatly lacking exposure to charismatic scholars and we need to read more Bill Johnson.
Now folks are going to respond by saying that learning from Christians of an African heritage is far different than learning from the participants in the radical Reformation. Moreover, learning specifically from African-American theologians is certainly not the same.
Okay. Sure, I’d agree, but lets face the hard truth: the white, European, Western Society Christians are truly the ones who not only preserved Christian orthodoxy for everyone, including recapturing the Bible in the original languages, they are the ones who shaped the course of Protestant Christianity throughout the world and specifically here in the United States.
I don’t mean to be dismissive of their contribution, but African-American Christians are a small portion built upon the main foundation, that just so happens to be, according to God’s providence, a white, Western European/English one. A seminary with a three to four year tract designed to train men as expositional preachers must stay focused on the foundational matters, and that regrettably edits subjects others may believe are important. There is nothing racist about that.
I once had a fellow student smugly opine to me that TMS was theologically deficient because they didn’t assign any reading from Berkouwer. Really? I thought, why? I personally wished the seminary assigned more reading from B.B. Warfield or John Gill or John Owen, but that’s just me.
I will say, though, that what the seminary provided me both with the exegetical tools, as well as the intellectual curiosity, to explore Berkouwer on my own if I so desired. I was happy to be at a school that recognized the importance of such individuals in church history. That didn’t make my school prejudiced against Dutch theologians. Likewise with African-American authors.
Now, could TMS, or any seminary, expand their student reading lists to include African-American scholars? Of course, especially if they are theologically solid. I’d even like to see an elective that deals specifically with that area of church history. Likewise, I would enjoy seeing such a course for the history of Christianity in China, Russia, or discussing the topic of Eastern Orthodoxy. It must be kept in mind, however, those topics are one section built upon the overall foundation that the Protestant Reformation laid for evangelicalism here in the United States.
There really is no such thing as white theology or even black theology. There is Christian theology shaped by the exegesis of the biblical text. The exegesis of relevant passages pertaining to the doctrine of election, or the atonement, or sanctification, or the omni attributes of God are the same for those in the African-American communities as it is for those in Anglo-American communities, or Korean communities, or even Eskimo communities. TMS strives to train men in that exegetically derived theology. May we put away such ridiculous, narrow-minded criticisms.
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