A number of months ago I posted on this web site a brief article discussing Christian education, doctoral studies, accreditation, and various other issues. That article is available through a link at the bottom of this page.
Since various folks opposed to our work, and specifically antagonistic toward me personally, are using the wonderful resource of the Internet to make charges against me, I wanted to add a very brief, very quick response in the form of this page, and then use this page to allow a person to jump off to other articles as their interest would indicate.
Let me first say I am tremendously thankful to Rick Walston and Columbia Evangelical Seminary. Without Rick’s vision to make Christian education available to those involved in ministry, I would not have had the opportunity of working toward a degree—at least not while honoring God’s call upon my life. I believe CES, and other schools like it (such as Bahnsen Theological Seminary), have the opportunity of spearheading the movement that we can already see taking place: distance learning through mentorship that is made far more personal and viable due to the advances in technology represented by e-mail, the web, CD-ROM data storage, etc. and etc. Many fully accredited schools are moving this direction, recognizing the needs of busy working individuals, and even entire denominations, such as the OPC, are considering creating “electronic seminaries” to provide meaningful, church and ministry-based education. While there is still great resistance to this inevitable trend, that resistance can only last so long.
After graduating with honors from Fuller Theological Seminary with a Master’s degree in 1989, I looked long and hard at where to go from there. Here in Phoenix, the only doctoral program I could pursue would have required doing a second Master’s degree (at ASU). Given that my ministry does not emphasize fund-raising, and that I already was looking at a substantial student loan from my undergraduate and graduate work, doing another degree before moving on to the doctoral level was not an option.
Beyond this, the over-riding factor in choosing further educational opportunities had to be the will of God in my life. In 1989 God brought my family to the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church. I am a churchman—I believe firmly that the local church is the means God has ordained for us to exercise our gifts and callings in His service. Hence, I was further limited, geographically speaking, by my commitment to this fellowship and to the ministry of the Word amongst the people. God’s will was also expressed in the fact that my parents likewise live in the Phoenix area. I have chosen to remain close to my parents as they age, as I have undertaken what I believe is my duty as a son, as the one having medical power of attorney. My parents and my children have a tremendous relationship, and there are few things I can give my children that is more precious than a close relationship with their godly grandparents.
Soon after graduating from Fuller I was asked to start teaching on the undergraduate level. This gave me the opportunity to “stay fresh” in the classroom. Further, I began writing in 1989, which likewise took a large portion of my time. I began writing for Bethany House in 1993, and with the release of The King James Only Controversy I began to see that the Lord was opening doors of ministry through writing and speaking that I had never envisioned. This further caused me to realize that my future in ministry did not lie in full time teaching in a seminary or university, but in the communication of solid Christian truth to the Church as a whole, primarily through my local church, secondarily by the ministry of writing to a much wider audience.
In light of these events, I was overjoyed to encounter the ministry of Columbia Evangelical Seminary, for it allowed me to do what was right: pursue further academic training while at the same time obeying God’s call upon my life, both in my ministry and my family.
Now, since Columbia is not a traditional school, and seeks to do education within the environment of the student’s ministry rather than on a centralized campus (thus allowing the cost to remain manageable as well), there are many who immediately dismiss it as irrelevant. Seemingly, some folks (even Christians, for that matter), have adopted that idea that unless you go somewhere to a large campus and spend massive amounts of money, you can’t learn anything or do meaningful scholarship that honors God. I guess I had bought into that idea as well, though, to be honest, I had never thought much about it. But, to remain brief, I would like to suggest something to folks:
Christian scholarship is not a function of where you go, but what you do.
Sound too simple? Well, it is simple. I believe scholars should be evaluated on the basis of what they write and teach, not on the basis of how much money they spent or the name on the sign out front of the school. I remind everyone that the scholars of the Jesus Seminar are truly scholars—accredited to the hilt, I’m sure. And they are scholars. But, what they do with that scholarship is the issue, and, I believe, they are not to be identified as Christian scholars simply because their entire world-view is opposed to Christ and His truth. Or, to use another example, our current President (at least at this writing), William Jefferson Clinton, is a graduate of Yale, as I understand it. Yale is one of the finest institutions in the world—but Yale cannot guarantee that its graduates will prove themselves to be real scholars by honestly using the data they have learned to gather in their studies.
I chose to pursue a Th.M./Th.D. program as part of my ministry. I worked closely with Rick Walston to make sure that the program aided and enhanced my ministry work. I felt that having the doctor of THEOLOGY would make sure there could be no confusion as to what kind of work I was doing, and what my ultimate goals were. Since I saw that I was not headed for the classroom full time, but instead my classroom teaching would always remain secondary to my ministry in apologetics and in writing, the lack of formal governmental accreditation was not overly relevant. I realized I would have to do what anyone should have to do: prove the value of my work through my books, debates, my classroom teaching, and my published articles. Of course, isn’t that how we evaluate anyone’s scholarship?
So, to summarize, before I have the first concern for what someone thinks of my schooling, degrees, or academic standing, I am concerned about what God thinks of my fidelity to what He has called me to do. He has called me to serve in the fellowship of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, first as a member, now as an elder in that local church. He has called me to direct Alpha and Omega Ministries, and to engage in Christian apologetics. And he has called me to love my wife Kelli, father my children and raise them in a godly home, and to be a proper and respectful son in my parent’s later years. If obeying God’s will means I need to express my scholarship in a way that some dislike, I have to weigh their opposition against God’s clear leading and will. And for a Christian man, there isn’t any question as to what the result of that evaluation will be.
I gladly encourage anyone who questions the value and worth of the work I’ve done with Columbia to do something rather simple: read the following works and ask yourself whether they demonstrate sufficient mastery of the subject matter—a mastery equivalent to that which is expected of a scholar on the doctoral level. Compare the doctoral dissertations (not in form, as my books are not written for scholars, but for laypeople, communicating scholarly topics to those without the background to utilize more technical sources of information) of many even of my critics to the breadth and length of my own (The Forgotten Trinity, published by Bethany House Publishers). Ask yourself, “Is Christian scholarship limited solely to the production of in-depth, yet obtuse research papers in subjects utterly disconnected from the every day life of the Church, or is there a place in Christian scholarship for works that take vitally important topics and present them accurately, thoroughly, and most importantly, understandably?” Read the following works—pile them up on a table, add in my published articles and a sprinkling of the many debates I have done, and then explain that despite all of that, the ability to get a Pell Grant from the US government really is the key element in what should define Christian education:
Letters to a Mormon Elder
The King James Only Controversy
Is the Mormon My Brother?
The Roman Catholic Controversy
The Forgotten Trinity
Grieving: Our Path Back to Peace
The Potter’s Freedom
Finally, if you had thought, up to this time, that because of the Lord’s call on your life, your geographical location, etc., that you were simply “left out” of getting a Christian education, learning more about the Bible, the Christian faith, Church History, apologetics, etc., please realize that this is not true. Do not allow the traditions of our society rob you of the opportunity to advance in your learning and enrich your life and ministry. Contact CES (http://www.columbiaseminary.org/) and inquire about how you can go about expanding your knowledge of the Word and improving your ability to teach and minister in the Church. If there are other such schools that would better meet your needs, contact them. But whatever you do, don’t let anyone convince you that you are better off skipping more education unless you can get government money to pay tuition costs. Christian education can be done with or without governmental money.
If you would like to read the original piece I posted related to this subject, click here.
If you would like to read my response to Gary Novak, an LDS critic who has presented criticism of my work, click here.