Who Would’ve Thought Reading The Reformers Was Racist?

I wanted to take a few moments to respond to this post,

These Truths Dr. MacArthur’s Social Justice Series Won’t Change

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.

White Books

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.

Black&White Theology

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.

This is John Gill’s “Oh, Really?” face.

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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19 Comments
  1. Evan Spencer 3 months ago

    I believe that coming to the conclusion that it is easy to miss Christ and his work when we look out of sociological lenes to determine the value of a theology. If a theology does its job and tells us who Jesus is, based on that, there is always potential to ask sociological questions which broadens the scope of application that is not oblivious to the contributions of minorities in doing theology.
    Unfortunately, there is a tendency to be so theologically focused that theology becomes a thing in itself and inadvertently tramples on everything else. Better to do theology with the realization that when it goes beyond a single ethnicity that the point is not to dismiss the theolgical project but to add to it the realization that others have or will contribute to Christian Orthodoxy, and they ought to deserve a place at the table in keepibg with any focus that remains true to scripture.

  2. Gary Brooks 3 months ago

    How does the education at TMS differ from other seminaries? I am not a betting man but if I were i’d bet that there would not be that much difference.

  3. […] 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. (“Who Would’ve Thought Reading the Reformers Was Racist?“) […]

  4. Jamie Stallings 4 months ago

    As a graduate of Luther Rice Seminary I find it alarming that the very scriptures we follow are void of any African authorship or that as an ethnic group garner any more than a mere cursory mention; and even then it is in relation to a middle eastern male. (Sarcasm)

    Come on guys we are dealing with the Reformers which were nearly all European males…why not an outcry for women or Asians? Why…because from a foundational perspective they did not matter, but this should not be confused with nor inferred that they did not exist.

    • Michael 4 months ago

      And….errrrmmm who did these white, Western Reformers base much of their theology on?! The AFRICAN early church fathers!

      Whilst it appears that TMS did cover them, Fredman and some other respondents seem to want to limit “the most significant contributions” in theology to the Reformation – mimimising all that came before.

      When people state that African Americans have made no significant contribution to modern theology, are they taking into account the racist, oppressive context into which they were born? Why aren’t the lives of great, theologically solid and godly black preachers like Lemuel Haynes, Daniel A Payne and Francis Grimke considered worthy of study?

      Or how about Michael the Deacon, the Ethiopian cleric who met with and “endorsed” Martin Luther’s theology? Or the fact that Martin Luther had a great respect for the Ethiopian church due its orthodoxy and to its nation being the first one to convert to Christ?

      If nothing else, such broadness in study and focus would show ALL Christians the way in which God has majestically worked through people of all races and backgrounds (NOT just white Europeans)…..

      • Michael 4 months ago

        I would have thought that the fact that biblically sound, godly and robust black preachers who existed during the slavery and Jim Crow eras at a time when blacks were often refused membership to white churches and unwelcome in seminaries would make a FASCINATING subject of study. Trusting and serving God inspite of horrific racism. But hey…..what would I know? ;0)

        • Author
          Fredman 4 months ago

          -I would have thought that the fact that biblically sound, godly and robust black preachers who existed during the slavery and Jim Crow eras at a time when blacks were often refused membership to white churches and unwelcome in seminaries would make a FASCINATING subject of study. Trusting and serving God inspite of horrific racism. But hey…..what would I know? ;0)-

          And you would be correct. If a student asked to do a paper on those individuals for a class project in church history, I would gladly receive his research. I would relish reading it, to honest. However, no one is saying that wouldn’t be a fascinating topic. I’m certainly not saying that AND TMS certainly isn’t saying that. However, they are NOT the main Reformers whose life work shaped those robust black preachers AND pretty much every other evangelical preacher in the US since the Civil War.

      • Author
        Fredman 4 months ago

        – Whilst it appears that TMS did cover them, Fredman and some other respondents seem to want to limit “the most significant contributions” in theology to the Reformation – mimimising all that came before.-

        No one has done any such thing. I certainly haven’t. It seems you are more concerned about the ethnic demographics of those early church apologists, in other words, the color of their skin, not the content of their theology.

        – When people state that African Americans have made no significant contribution to modern theology, are they taking into account the racist, oppressive context into which they were born?-

        You’ll note that I never said in my article that AA have made no significant contributions in modern theology. You’re intentionally misrepresenting what I wrote. I will say that the most influential AA theologian in my generation that has influence countless WHITE Reformed churches has been Voddie Baucham with his family model of church practice (good or bad depending on what one thinks of it). Of course, he is dismissed, because he isn’t woke.And his model is studied and evaluated at TMS.

        – If nothing else, such broadness in study and focus would show ALL Christians the way in which God has majestically worked through people of all races and backgrounds (NOT just white Europeans)…..-

        Yep. And if there are students who want to do a special paper on those men, I would love to read it. However, the men you mention, while certainly fine, outstanding men in their generation, were not involved in laying the foundation for the Reformation that shaped Protestantism for the last 5 centuries. That doesn’t mean they are any less a Christian, or unworthy of study, or what not, and at any seminary that has just 3 or 4 years to train men to preach the text, it would be a disservice to the students to steer them away from the main body of theological work to focus on secondary players. Just like it would be to steer the classes to concentrate specifically on obscure, second tier Puritans in colonial America.

  5. Tyrone E Wilson 4 months ago

    Fred Butler … your “response” is a classic example of institutional racism at the very least. Even the title of your response is inaccurate and biased. It’s not that reading the reformers is racist, but rather intentionally excluding minority contributors is racist. Did you at least think of that? Was that a possibility? Probably not, considering what else you said.

    But, just forget about everybody else since “white, European, Western Society Christians are truly the ones who not only preserved Christian orthodoxy for everyone”, as you so thoughtfully worded it. They clearly don’t matter … at least to you. After all, they’re just minorities who only contributed a “small portion”. Nothing noteworthy … especially compared to your “white, European, Western Society Christians”.

    But relax. Such arrogance, unfortunately, is not limited to you. You’ve got plenty of company; especially here in the United States.

    • Author
      Fredman 4 months ago

      Tyrone writes,
      – your “response” is a classic example of institutional racism at the very least. –

      I don’t believe there is such a thing as “institutional” racism. Certainly not in my post that clearly pointed out that the major players God providentially put into place to preserve biblical Christianity was Europeans from Germany, France, Switzerland, and England. I didn’t exclude any minority contributors, because the minority contributors were not involved in those historical moments. Moreover, I specifically pointed out the contribution that such men as the North African church fathers, made to the church. I never denied as much or tried to dismiss it with so-called “institutional” racisim.

      – They clearly don’t matter … at least to you. After all, they’re just minorities who only contributed a “small portion”. Nothing noteworthy … especially compared to your “white, European, Western Society Christians”.-

      You’re putting your own confirmation bias onto my post. I merely put those contributions into historical perspective. Western Society is where the Reformation thrived, where the OT and NT were reclaimed in the original languages, where Reformed theology was birth and developed, where the preaching of the Word of God was honed. I truly do not get why it is racist of me to point out that historical fact. Seriously?

    • Jamie Stallings 4 months ago

      “It’s not that reading the reformers is racist, but rather intentionally excluding minority contributors is racist.” Your logic is flawed as there are a number of reasons to not include “minority contributors” from being repetitive, or lacking in knowledge, to being heretical. Not saying that any were but your line of reasoning excludes the possibility of anything than other than racism.

      • Michael 4 months ago

        ….and yet Jamie, there are numerous godly, theologically solid black men in Christian history whose works and lives could have been studied. Some of whom I’ve mentioned in an earlier post…..so maybe its simply plain ol’ ignorance or a lack of willingness. Just because many people are ignorant of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist…..

    • Jamie Stallings 4 months ago

      In reading your reply it is apparent that you may not fully understand what racism actually is. It appears a good dictionary is needed.

  6. Michael Ajose 4 months ago

    This is the second article I’ve read today which simply dismisses the contributions of AFRICAN theologians to the Christian faith (aside from a cursory mention near the start).

    You seem to downplay the fact that without the hard work, translations, apologetics and exegesis of the AFRICAN early church fathers, the Westen white, European theologians you so highly laud would have NOTHING to work with.

    Ignorant, poorly researched articles like this are exactly the reason that Jones wrote his response. Whilst I may not agree with everything he wrote, responses like this which gloss over the contributions of God’s church outside of the West only highlight the need for broader cirriculums and reading from non-Western perspectives and theologians (all of whom are as theologically and biblically sound as their white counterparts).

    • Author
      Fredman 4 months ago

      Michael writes,
      – This is the second article I’ve read today which simply dismisses the contributions of AFRICAN theologians to the Christian faith –

      I wasn’t dismissive of any one. I merely placed the players in their historical contexts as contributors to the development and growth of the Christian church. The claim was made that TMS never studies any Christian theologians of African descent. I pointed out that is false, seeing that we cover Augustine, Clement, Origen, to name a few.

      – You seem to downplay the fact that without the hard work, translations, apologetics and exegesis of the AFRICAN early church fathers, the Westen white, European theologians you so highly laud would have NOTHING to work with.-

      I never did such a thing. Go back and read my article carefully please.

      – Ignorant, poorly researched articles like this are exactly the reason that Jones wrote his response. –

      Please provide me examples of how I am ignorant and poorly researched. We studied the church fathers who were in North Africa in church history. I wrote as much in my article. What am I missing? Are you conflating Christian theologians that flourished in North Africa before Islam wiped it out with African American theologians?

      • Michael Ajose 4 months ago

        Yes Fredman, you’ve mentioned the North African church fathers were studied at TMS. But when waxing lyrical about how by God’s grace, He chose to use Western, white theologians, your response fails to mention how these white men build upon the FOUNDATION laid by the African early church fathers. In doing so, you downplay or diminish their hugely significant contribution to the development and growth of the Christian church.

        BTW I’m not conflating the African early church fathers with African American theologians.

        P.S. Not sure if you’re aware but Martin Luther met with an Ethiopian cleric called Michael the Deacon. They chatted theology and he affirmed that Luther’s doctrine was “a good creed, that is faith”. Luther had a huge amount of respect for the Ethiopian church – since he considered the nation to be the first country to convert to Christ.

  7. […] The second is from Fred Butler at Bible Thumping Wingnut, who also happens to be a TMS graduate. Fred writes… […]

  8. James Russell 4 months ago

    Excellent: I graduated from GRAND RAPIDS THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY i n 1974 after 4 years at BJU. It was an excellent education, but Impossible to include all writers in 100 hours. Likewise, the purpose was to repair man for the exegesis and exposition of Gods Word in the local church

    i’m glad that one of my sons graduated from TMS And his senior pastor at a local church

  9. Mike McCune 4 months ago

    Thank you for writing this. I whole heartedly agree! I graduated ’07 and ’10 at TMS. I am so thankful for the training that we received. I can dig deep into Scripture and read widely in my preparation. I also remember that we were allowed to read almost whatever we wanted for the Historical Theology classes, which enabled us to read on subjects we were particularly interested in. Thank you for bringing clarity to the other side of Jone’s blog article.

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