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This Doesn’t Bode Well

It looks like the über-Reformed emerging mega-churches have decided to create their own personal seminaries to train clones of their head pastors. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and others are all working towards creating degree-granting institutions that are part of their massive churches through which they will train pastors to go out and replicate the founding mega-churches and their pastors. What’s interesting to me about this whole thing is how open they’re all being about their attempts to create clones of themselves and their churches:

Many aspiring pastors are willing to forgo the prestige of attending an established seminary to obtain “the specific theological focus that most church-based seminaries offer,” said Tim Tomlinson, president of Bethlehem College and Seminary.

“The church-based theological seminaries like ours are more intent on offering a theological and philosophical worldview that is consistent with the teachings and writings of the well-known pastor-theologian with whom the seminary is affiliated,” Tomlinson said. “This seems to have a growing appeal to a growing number of students.”

The plan is explicitly one of direct indoctrination into the thought of a specific leader. This isn’t theological education. It’s theologically fascist and will only have a negative effect on the church’s mission. The blatantly arrogant self-promoting (and now self-duplicating) demagoguery that is coming from these Driscoll-Piper types is really quite extraordinary.


  1. Cortney wrote:

    I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  2. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    Well, look at it this way — if the students do actually get the skills necessary to start a mega-church, they’ll definitely be able to pay off their student loans without much trouble.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  3. Brad A. wrote:

    This brings new meaning to the term, “cult following.”

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  4. james wrote:

    You have to admit anything that dismantles the seminary system we have now would be somewhat good. The current system isn’t exactly working for church congregations too well. Pastors are often ill-trained and ineffective (look at high turnover), and seminaries are filled with students who are merely academically curious about theology and the Bible.

    From the article: “At the heart of the shift, Yeats acknowledged, is a desire to see seminaries more connected to local congregations. “The more connected a seminary,” he said, “the better the seminary can train pastors—even through traditional curriculums.”

    Don’t you think these will be successful at least by their own metrics? Don’t you think this is the future of theological education as we are slowly disestablishing Christendom and its institutions (i.e. the universities no longer need us, we can’t afford them, nor do we need to pretend to act like one).

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink
  5. Evan wrote:

    It seems to me that a set-up like this is only as bad as the leaders that are behind it. But seminaries oriented toward the church(es) for which they are raising up leaders sounds like a wise idea. I can understand if you’re objecting to Driscoll and Piper being at the helm of these things, but other than that, what’s wrong with the idea that they’re pushing here for education of pastors? I think you overstate the extent of indoctrination or self-replication. Or rather, you understate the fact that this is just how affiliated educational institutions of any sort work. If the indoctrination is any more present in this case, it’s because of the leaders doing the indoctrination rather than the fact that they’re setting up seminaries to feed their churches.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    I agree with this, Evan. The problem is these specific people and churches, which I think are just dead wrong and parasitic on the body of Christ. And I think the idea of establishing schools dedicated to reduplicating the beliefs and ideology of one charismatic leader are just generally a bad idea. To be sure similar indoctrination happens at all schools of all sorts, but developing a school dedicated to reproducing the beliefs and methods of one individual seems to me to be a very deep mistake pedagogically.

    I definitely agree that the seminary system is deeply flawed and needs to be displaced by other forms of theological education, though. Just not these ones.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  7. Robert wrote:

    Halden, I’m curious: do you think Piper is dead wrong and parasitic for the same reasons as Driscoll? I’m just curious because, while I’ve read your extensive and convincing exposes of Driscoll, I haven’t heard *that* much from you about Piper, giving me the general impression that he is a somewhat older and softer-spoken animal with merely a similarly shaped fork in his tongue. Is this true, do you think? Or does he have his own unique varieties of objectionableness?

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    You’re right, he’s not the sort of rapacious frat boy that Driscoll is. However, his theological positions are almost identical and it is to those that I have real objections, particularly regarding the doctrine of God, the church, politics, and issues of gender.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  9. Tom wrote:

    I agree Halden, theological education needs to shift the emphasis of its model, perhaps even away from a concept of ‘education’ to one of ‘formation’. Such language is present in the rhetoric of many seminaries/theological colleges (I only have experience of the UK scene) but has not yet seemed to actually pervade to the extent that approaches and structures change.

    I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the way theological education needs to go. What direction do you think would be more conducive to a well-rounded preparation for ministry? I am preparing a PhD research proposal in precisely this area: I see the cenobitic monastic tradition (both in it’s ancient and more recently renewed — ie. new monastic/intentional communities — incarnations) as being a potential goldmine for the task of forming the church’s ministers. I’d welcome your thoughts on this! Do you know of anyone doing research in this area, juxtaposing monastic community/practices with ministerial/theological formation?

    Loving your blog, as ever.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  10. adhunt wrote:

    This is happening in my backyard. As a Twin Cities resident I can only say how disappointed I am someone allowed this zoning accident to happen.

    The funniest thing is that is shows now that Piper thinks himself above his own denomination. Bethel Seminary, also in the Twin Cities, is a BGC Seminary at which he used to teach before he kept losing his cool at Greg Boyd. Apparently it’s not good enough to send people to anymore. It’s a wonderful middle finger to the BGC from it’s own.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  11. Evan wrote:

    I think that’s a good point as well… that any single charismatic head of an institution (and I’d venture to say even a single charismatic leader who is a good one)… is problematic. A balance needs to be struck, I think, between having no boundaries of orthodoxy whatsoever and having an institution with boundaries determined by… sometimes the reason, sometimes the whim… of a single person.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 5:22 am | Permalink
  12. Tim F wrote:

    I saw Piper at work at the ETS once and it wasn’t pretty or edifying. I never went back and dropped out after one conference. I was quite disappointed in him and many other putative evangelicals.

    Tim F.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  13. Caleb Jones wrote:

    I think the writer of this blog should be more worried about reaching out to unbelievers, instead of bashing other pastors in the world. Can he honestly say he is modeling Jesus? What about the rest of u who are encouraging him? What’s the next blog, which denomination is the best?

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 7:30 am | Permalink
  14. roger flyer wrote:


    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink
  15. roger flyer wrote:

    What is is different about this exactly? Rome, Geneva, Methodism, Nazarene, Oral Roberts,…blah blah.

    I think it is your revulsion to this peculiar orthodoxy: misogynistic, frat boyish, Calvinistically condescending, PSA driven, Jonathan Edwards homeboy stuff.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    Roger, as I think I mention above, it is precisely my objection to these specific churches and people that is operative here. I’m fine with churches forming their own forms education—I just think things would be far better with the world and the church as a whole if these specific churches and pastors did not exist, or at least fundamentally changed.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  17. Hill wrote:

    We already settled that question: Roman Catholicism with Anabaptism coming in a very close second. It was a photo finish.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    The results are still in dispute.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  19. David Brush wrote:

    Umm actually Methodism and Nazarene flow out of the work of Arminius, not Calvin. I can say as a Nazarene at least that we publicly accept and ordain women in any role. That being said each local congregation is different, usually the more rural you go the more they end up being fundamentalist/legalistic in their way if being, Methodism and it’s offshoots actually have quite a good history of academically astute institutions…


    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  20. erin wrote:

    wow. that is disturbing, esp the cult-of-personality-to-save-the-church aspect.
    I’m a little surprised Piper hitched his wagon with Driscoll
    It would make a great reality tv show, though.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  21. roger flyer wrote:

    My point is that every denomination has its ‘fawning’ over its vaulted heroes of the faith.

    by the way, back in the70′s they called John Piper’s students Piper Cubs.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  22. roger flyer wrote:

    Piper needs a son to carry on.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  23. roger flyer wrote:

    Halden, as I’ve alluded to in past posts, your loathing of these demagogues may be blinded by your own unresolved issues with the cult.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  24. roger flyer wrote:

    I said vaulted, which I sort of like at second galnce, but I meant vaunted.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  25. Nathan Smith wrote:

    You watched that gymnastics video Halden posted, didn’t you?

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  26. Baus wrote:

    It testifies to the inescapability of being “confessional” (creedal). If a denomination does not teach its doctrine&practice with authority, individual “bishops” will fill the void.
    It’s an ultimately schismatic form of “independent confessionalism”.
    See Episcopi vagantes:

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
  27. David wrote:

    I agree with the idea of giving ministers the opportunity to go beyond what is taught them in the seminaries by training with/ being mentored by, those with whom they find theological and philosophical agreement. I graduated from both college and seminary but was unprepared for the very practical issues with which every minister faces. So I took our Minister of Music and Church Administrator to a couple of Robert Schuller’s Leadership Institute. We were inspired and encouraged by the various speakers and church leaders who shared their experiences, and failures, with us. Today as a retired minister, I am dismayed when I worship in most churches to discover a plethora of issues which create a negative atmosphere. Issues which should have been addressed during the ministers educational experiences but which obviously were not adequately, if at all, dealt with. Everything from developing a philosophy of ministry, to sermon preparation and delivery, to an attitude which attracts rather than one which tends to “put one off!” People who are hurting need to hear healing, life changing Good News. Isn’t that what the angels promised and which Jesus preached?

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  28. David wrote:

    My last reply mistakenly left off part of my youtube video address. Sorry. But just to add to my earlier comment – it seems difficult to find a church which celebrates the positive, good news of the Gospel. I continue to look for a pastor who can share an intelligent, “rounded” view of the Bible, one who is able to clothe even the disciplinary passages of Scripture with the positive love of Christ . I’ve not stated this well but perhaps you can read between the lines. I want to be lifted by the content and spirit of the message, inspired to love more, to become a better person, to leave the service celebrating Christ in my heart. You know?

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  29. R.O. Flyer wrote:


    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  30. Matthew 28.19-20

    Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you John Piper wrote down. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

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