The Bible and Culture

The Bible and Culture


M.Div. Lite! Less Filling— Tastes Great!!

posted by Ben Witherington

inflatable-church-4_786434c.jpg

The full page ad said it all.  A Masters of Divinity degree offered now with
only ONE required course in Bible,
ONE in theology, and none in church history over a three year period!  And a more economical one as well— you can
have the degree with only 75 hours of course work!  Why labor in the vineyard for 90-96 hours (the length of most
M.Div. degrees), when you can get a more spiritually formed and forming degree
with as many as 21 few credit hours required than the traditional degree?   Doubtless the marketing department of this
particular school (which shall remain anonymous) had a say in this.  One
can over hear the conversation— “Let’s tap into the current post-modern interest
in spirituality, and attract more degree seekers that way!”  The problem with this is, we primarily need
more truth seekers, not just more degree seekers interested in spirituality in our
seminaries.

How should one react to the
trumpeted announcement of such a degree by an important Evangelical school?  Should we all rise up and call it
blessed?   I think not.  Frankly, I think we should be appalled, because this new degree is both a travesty and a tragedy. The
last thing in the whole world we need of an Evangelical educational institution
in an age of Biblical illiteracy is a curriculum that requires not only no
Biblical languages, but much less actual Biblical content, never mind
theological content or knowledge of Christian history.  This is not merely a dumbed- down curriculum,
it’s just plain dumb, and makes no sense. This is a recipe for further bad
preaching, teaching, and counseling, and will just further promote the current
amnesia we find in the church about our Biblical, theological and church
historical heritage.

But it’s not just that the
theological focus of the degree is changed in this advertised program, it also
seeks to offer more tools and practical skills for ministry, at the expense of
understanding the theological and Biblical character and basis of Christian
ministry.  I am all for practical skills
and tools for ministry, but not at the expense of actual understanding of God’s
word, of theology and of Christian history.  It’s no good having tools if you don’t
understand their theological purpose and Biblical function and historical
basis. 

Imagine going to a dentist who
said, “I have all the latest tools and gadgets to do oral surgery on you, but I’ve
never actually studied what the purpose of each tool is, and how it should be
carefully used…. But what the heck, look at my shiny tools! Let’s operate!”  The book of Hebrews tells us that the Word of
God is like a two edged sword, able to penetrate between bone and marrow, soul
and spirit…if properly used.  But what if
one doesn’t understand the Bible and is preaching it anyway?  What if one doesn’t grasp the meaning of this
or that profound theological concept but is throwing around theological words
here there and yonder in impressive fashion complete with video clips and slick
power point slides?   What happens is
distortion, and sometimes even the disabling of the congregation from its
ability to understand God’s Word. 

 

What is my advice to theological
schools heading in this direction, or already embracing it?  Well, let me tell you a good ole N.C. story.

There was a little white frame
church near the coast of N.C.
that was very appealing. It kept a peeling and peeling and peeling.  So the trustees thought they would surprise
their young preacher whilst he was taking his week of vacation and scrape and
paint the church.   The trustees, being
frugal sorts, went to a Mega-Store and bought all the white latex they could
get for $50.  They set Saturday morning
as the work day for the trustees and they got there early, because it was a hot
and humid July Saturday. Indeed, it was so humid near the coast on this weekend
that you could cut out a piece of humidity and eat it for breakfast.  But I digress. 

Anyway the trustees began scraping
the little white frame church at 6 a.m. and completed that job by 7:30.  Fifteen minutes later they began painting the
church, but in order to make the paint provide several coats they mixed in 30%
water into the paint.  They finished
painting the first coat at 10 in the morning, and the second coat by 1 p.m., at
which point they broke for gallons of sweet tea, eastern N.C. barbecue and hush
puppies.  By 2 p.m. they commenced putting
on the final coat, and by 3 p.m. they were admiring their work.  The church fairly gleamed in the sun.  But then in the distance over the Atlantic Ocean they heard thunder, and then they felt the
wind, and lo they saw a dark ominous cloud the size of a man’s fist on the horizon,
blowing their way, and a worried look came on the faces of the trustees.

The rain and hail and thunder and
lightning reached the church within twenty minutes, and so hard was the rain
blowing, it blew horizontal up against the sides of the newly painted church
and the paint began running off the walls down into the grass around the
church, down into the gravel parking lot, and as the Bible says, the
countenance of the trustees fell.  One
looked up into the sky and said….

 

“What did we do wrong O Lord?”

 

And a voice came forth from the
dark cloud and said “REPAINT, REPAINT AND THIN NO MORE!”

In short, if you choose to take this Master of Divinity
degree you may become the master of something, but it won’t be Divinity, and
dat’s all I got to say ’bout dat!    



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Comments read comments(94)
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Robert Morwell

posted July 6, 2009 at 11:15 pm


Wow, and to think I wasted three years getting my M.Div.
Where is this place?
Maybe I can still get my doctorate there!



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Cary Hughes

posted July 7, 2009 at 12:08 am


Dr. Witherington, I could not agree with you more! How can a theological/evangelical seminary remain accredited in the ATS with a degree like this? Your explanation could not be stated better or more accurate!



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David Rogers

posted July 7, 2009 at 9:21 am


Why should this school remain anonymous? If this is the direction it is going to go and willing to market, it has entered into the realm of public critique of its decisions.



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Wyman Richardson

posted July 7, 2009 at 9:48 am


That really is sad!



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Mason Booth

posted July 7, 2009 at 10:33 am


lets just say that the institute of higher learner is in Indiana….the advertisement is in this months Christianity Today



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James

posted July 7, 2009 at 2:43 pm


Is this school or this program accredited??
No doubt accreditation, devised and run as it is by human beings, has its faults. But, at the very least, isn’t it intended to stave off fraudulent offerings of this sort?



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Paul

posted July 7, 2009 at 2:50 pm


Kinda reminds me of David F. Wells, “The D-Min-ization of the Ministry,” in No God but God, eds. Os Guinness and John Seel. Theology is no longer relevant to ministry. “Lord have mercy!!”



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 7, 2009 at 2:59 pm


Well, I regard the phrase “evangelical scholar” as an oxymoron, but let that pass. Over the years, I have read Ben Witherington’s commentaries on various topics from time to time, and in each case found them to be facile, shallow, and dogmatic. His notions of what is sufficiently scholarly do not impress me.



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Nathan

posted July 7, 2009 at 3:19 pm


What then, O Heretic, is sufficient for you? Examples please. You act as if Mr. Witherington believes a simple M.Div. is all that is needed to qualify as a scholarl.



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Ben Witherington

posted July 7, 2009 at 3:47 pm


And Mr. Heretic I am sort of wondering what commentaries you are referring to? The popular ones in the blogosphere on my blog, or actually the technical and scholarly commentaries I have written on the books of the NT? If its the former, then I suggest dipping into the deeper end of the Witherington pool for a while.
Inquiring minds want to know,
BW3



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Wayne Abbott

posted July 7, 2009 at 4:26 pm


Dr. Witherington,
I’m unusually ambivalent about this post. I’ve had an extended career is software engineering and I have to admit to a bemused giggle when seeing the “Become a technology professional in six months” ads on television. But people can learn to develop software without knowing the history of software, discrete mathematics, or the seven network layers.
Similarly, some of the best ministers I have known never mentioned the history of the church, the manuscript evidence or debates about radical Paul, liberal Paul and reactionary Paul.
There are so many heated debates within the church about these things and so little agreement that I suspect that, other than scholarly gymnastics, they have little power to change people’s lives. Can delving into the various theories of substitutionary atonement really make a difference in practical ministry?
Now I understand the concern about having lightly educated people spouting off about things above their head. We have that problem in software as well. But even the non-professionals eventually can sort out the pros from the pretenders.



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Nathan

posted July 7, 2009 at 4:51 pm


@Wayne: Software is something of a science, and really isn’t analogous to theology. Something (slightly) more analogous would be church history and programming theory — being ignorant of closures, objects, virtual methods, etc. will lead to very poor software construction (even if it “works”). Constructing theology without an awareness of church history will likewise lead to poor theology. And church history isn’t textual criticism either.



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Ben Witherington

posted July 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm


Hi Wayne
Forget scholarly debates, I’m not even talking about that. I’m referring to basic theological and Biblical understanding and knowledge. The degree I am referring to will give a pastor exactly Baby Bible One, unless he has already taken Bible elsewhere. This is about enough to make one dangerous, and to allow one to innoculate the congregation with a slight case of Christianity preventing them from getting the real thing. Just shameful.
Blessings,
BW3



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toddh

posted July 7, 2009 at 5:28 pm


I think one of the worst thing about this curriculum is that there is no church history. Not only should it be in every M.Div. curriculum, but every Christian should read a little as well. If a person wants to be some sort of leader in Christian ministry, or even just a well-informed Christian, then church history is essential! Historical perspective is absolutely key to understanding how the different theological traditions came to be over time, as well as how Christians in times past have responded to various issues. If you don’t learn at least a little church history, you are forced to make the same mistakes and learn the same lessons that others have already made, just because you don’t know any better.



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Bill

posted July 7, 2009 at 6:32 pm


I didn’t know that the difference between an adequate education and an inadequate one was only 20 or so hours of course work. I know more than one fool with multiple degrees.



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Ben Witherington

posted July 7, 2009 at 7:12 pm


An adequate masters education in divinity requires that one become a professional in the things which you will most frequently do including preaching, teaching, counseling. Indeed ideally the pastor should be the resident expert in the Bible, theology and church history for his congregation. If not him, then who?
BW3



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Joe Rawls

posted July 7, 2009 at 7:23 pm


Are you sure this place isn’t an Episcopal seminary?



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Steve S

posted July 7, 2009 at 7:33 pm


…interesting!
I think I disagree with you on this point:
“ideally the pastor should be the resident expert”
It seems to me that it doesn’t line up with the description of a pastor given in scripture (more of an equipper/trainer than an educator); although I would love to hear your response!
And I think the larger problem is with theological training as a whole. I find the adoption of worldly methods of training leaders to be an issue… The institutionalization of raising leaders, and the divorcing of leadership training from the communal life of the body are much more problematic in my eyes than what does/doesn’t pass for an MDiv…
I do, however, agree that Bible and Church history are vitally important, much more so than the latest techniques. I simply don’t think seminary training is the best context for instilling these values, nor the best method of disseminating this throughout the Church as a whole…
Love your thoughts on that!



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Ben Witherington

posted July 7, 2009 at 7:42 pm


Hi Steve:
I of course believe in preaching and teaching within the communal life of the church, but what I don’t believe is that education in the Bible or church history or theology can be adequately accomplished apart from drawing on those who are experts in those fields, just the same as in any other educational category. Otherwise you have people pooling their ignorance rather than actually learning the Bible and what it actually says and means in the original languages and contexts. Secondly, I would strongly disagree with the notion that pastors are merely equippers or facilitators. That’s a result of bad exegesis of a particular Ephesians passage. The Pastoral Epistles are perfectly clear that teaching and preaching is a part of the task of any minister, and the book of Acts makes this equally clear, as do Paul’s letters. Having schools has nothing to do with secularization. Apparently you’ve been reading too much Frank Viola. Early Jews had schools in the context of the synagogue, and all the earliest Christians were Jews, and continued such practices.
Blessings,
BW3



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Cary Hughes

posted July 7, 2009 at 8:53 pm


“Apparently you’ve been reading too much Frank Viola.” Now, I have to be careful not to read your blogs in public so I don’t laugh to hard in the eerie silence of Books a Million.



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Rick Stevens

posted July 7, 2009 at 9:38 pm


Dr. Witherington,
Your post prompts me to ask a different and I think deeper question.
Why does the academic professional attempt to drive the agenda for preparing the professional pastor?
The academy and the parish are very different pastures to tend. Professional requirements would of necessity be quite different. And, at least from my perspective, the work is very different! Excelling as an academic does not ensure pastoral effectiveness any more than pastoral effectiveness would make one a skilled academic.
I keep wondering why we don’t have pastors teaching in our seminaries. To me this is a glaring weakness of most seminaries including the one I think you are critiquing. Too many professors have minimal pastoral experience yet, and if I may say this kindly, they think they have a thorough grasp of parish ministry. Maybe all seminary professors should also be working pastors.
I welcome your perspective.
Rick



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Steve S

posted July 7, 2009 at 11:30 pm


Sorry, don’t know who Viola is! I just see removing people from ministry, in order to train them to do ministry, to be a silly proposition… add to that what was said above: we are training people to do ministry, with the training being done by people who have never done ministry. I have too many friends whose time in seminary wired them to avoid any real contact with people. (This seems decidedly different from the early church/synagogue context, and much more like the medieval/university context, wouldn’t you agree?)
And I certainly wouldn’t use Ephesians as a proof-text for pastors being ‘merely’ equippers, although that is obviously where the word ‘equip’ comes from…
Scripture seems to shout at this point: I would be hard pressed to describe someone like Paul, or Peter, or Barnabas, etc. as anything remotely approaching ‘Bible-answer-men.’ They seem much more along the lines of people who were engaged in preparing people for something, rather than making sure people knew who to ask when they had a question…
Again, love to hear more thoughts…



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Schalk van Wyk

posted July 8, 2009 at 5:31 am


The moment you open your mouth to make a statement about God, you become a sort of theologian. The question then is, are you a good or a bad one. A good theologian is a person who at least has studied the answers that other theologians, most of them wiser and more intelligent than himself has given to the big questions about God. If you do that you will find that God is bigger, more wonderful, more complex to understand than you first thought. Why would you ignore the wonderful gifts the Spirit has given theologians through the ages. So we have to learn to ask the right questions, to give answers which are not glib or simplistic, to praise God with new deeper thoughts. For that you need Hebrew, Greek, history, dogmatics. We are not called to laziness. I’ve been in the ministry for 35 years now. And I still study – not for degrees; I don’t need them – but for the glory of God!



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Wayne Abbott

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:43 am


Thanks, Brother Ben. If you haven’t already done one, I’d love to see a column on your thoughts on the difference between “a slight case of Christianity” and the “real thing.”
Nathan and Todd,
I’m glad for the church history I know, but honestly I think that people can grasp the main lessons that I’ve learned in less than three years:
1. Burning theological opponents to death never solves anything and might be perceived as un-Christian.
2. Heretical is in the eye of the beholder.
3. Politics and religion are joined at the hip.
4. If the Father and Son aren’t of one substance, we should just pack our bags and go home.
5. It’s hard to compete with feel good prophesy combined with singing and dancing women (see Montanists)
Yet the church history I’ve studied fails to give insight into some of the more common and pressing problems for us today.
1. Should we construct new 10,000 seat mega-churches or buy and renovate aging sports arenas?
2. Should we embrace evolution or point to our religious history as proof positive that man does not evolve?
3. How do we, once and for all, prevent the choir directors from running off with the piano players?
If someone can show how the lessons of church history can be used to solve these present day issues, I would be much obliged.
Peace to you all.



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 9:39 am


First of all Steve MOST seminary professors are also pastors, or have been successful pastors, and that includes me, who has pastored six different churches to good ends. Second, the Christian school is just an extension of the church. We have worship and community in seminary every week as part of church life. There is no separation between church and school since as Jesus says, whereever two or more are gathered he is present. Honestly, I often find the communal life and worship much better in seminary than in a local church or house church. I am afraid some of you have a very antiquated notion of seminary as some sort of sterile academic hot house like going to a secular university. It’s not at all like that at any good seminary. And it is precisely in seminary that one does acquire many of the practical tools and experiences through CPE and other things that are necessary for being a good ministry.
Blessings,
BW3



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Nathan

posted July 8, 2009 at 10:43 am


@Wayne,
Burning opponents comes pretty late in church history, but I do agree that not doing it is an important lesson to learn. I think there are many more lessons to learn from church history, one in particular being this: what you believe matters, and has significant long-term consequences.
I don’t know that I can answer your third “pressing problem” other than to go the Orthodox route and not use instruments in services. The second problem is by no means easy, but the church has had to deal with a variety of scientific questions in its history, and has never been served well when burying its collective head in the sand. The first problem I will answer in this way: do the mega-churches really think they can remain as they are for the next several hundred years?



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 8, 2009 at 10:54 am


In answser to Ben Witherington’s question to me about which of his commentaries I have found shallow and dogmatic:
The one I recall most vividly was an apparently serious inquiry concerning the victims of a tsunami in Asia a fews ago: could they be saved, given that many or most were not Christians?
It is difficult to express how loathesome this question is, and how blasphemous it is to portray God as a genocidal mass murderer — but then, that is why I no longer go to churches, for soteriological Christianity is, by its very nature, blasphemous.
Now what has this to do with scholarship? Let’s compare an astrophysicist and an astrologer. Both look at the heavens, but one is a true scientist who asks tough questions while the other is a dabbler in unprovable notions. But suppose the astrologer is more than a casual dabbler. Suppose he/she has attended astrology school, has studied the history of astrology, knows every legend about the zodiac signs, has written biographies of the lives of famous past astrologers, and makes extremely precise measurements of the positions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars before offering any astrological advise–is this person a scholar? Well, he/she is certainly knowledgeable about astrology, but the essence of being a true scholar is asking tough questions about one’s own knowledge and beliefs to see if they stand up to objective scrutiny. There is no evidence to support astrology (no, I will NOT get into a debate on that point–those who think that astrology is science are first-cousins to the Flat Earth people, and they are welcome to bask in their fantasies), and therefore no opportunity to ask critical questions.
What about religion? One can be very well versed in the content of sacred scripture, but the factual truth or falsity of religious doctrine based on scripture cannot be demonstrated by any objective means. (Pssst! That’s why they call it faith.) There are legions of Christians who insist that the Bible is the unchallengeable word of God, and that kind of dogmatism is contrary to the essential nature of scholarship as I understand the word. I have no doubt that Ben Witherington is highly educated in the Greek scriptures; but if he will not question the most basic concepts in his field, then I will withhold the title “scholar.” I work with scientists–true scholars in their fields. They never cease to ask questions that challenge their own knowledge and understanding. I will recognize Ben Witherington as a scholar when he starts asking such questions as “Is the Bible really the word of God? How do we know? What if it were not? Is faith in God dependent on faith in scripture? If so, does that not make us bibliolators whose primary faith is in the notion that scripture is infallible, which makes faith in God dependent on and therefore secondary to faith in scripture?”–and looking for answers outside of scripture. Otherwise, it is a pointless display in circular reasoning: determining the validity of a book by seeing whether the book calls itself valid. To me, that is not scholarly, no matter how many years one may have spent studying that book.
Based on the blasphemous assumptions underlying his tsunami essay, I very much doubt that Witherington has asked the tough questions that mark the true scholar.



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Rob Kashow

posted July 8, 2009 at 11:15 am


I just vomited. I cannot stand the laziness of my generation. With all the instant access to tools and primary resources by clicking a mouse, we should be ashamed.
The reformers were model examples of not only biblical study, but study of the language in its original. They would learn these languages at a very young age. Problem? They didn’t have all the material and instant access we have. We on the other hand have all the material and instant access, but NO work ethic. How can this MDiv be accredited? It must not be.



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John

posted July 8, 2009 at 11:52 am


Why do we require an M-Div at all for ordination? Couldn’t as much and possible more (especially in light of a 75 hour M-Div) education be done at the undergrad level? I am one who went to seminary following an undergrad degree in engineering from a public university and unfortunately much of my M-Div degree felt like work that could have been carried out at the undergrad level – even if my professors didn’t intended it that way. My conference Board of Ordained ministry had no problems with allowing me to be ordained with no divinity education than a 90 hour M-Div. Maybe they should have, but it just seems to me that there is more room in an undergrad degree to do more of the biblical/theological/historical work that seminarys seem to be trimming down on.



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Nathan

posted July 8, 2009 at 12:06 pm


@Heretic, the foundation of Christianity is the Incarnation (thus the Trinity, thus the Resurrection) — not the Bible. That is the fundamental thing to be questioned, and how we answer will tell us whether or not we are wasting our time. I can understand your frustration, and I hope you don’t stop asking questions.



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David Rogers

posted July 8, 2009 at 12:50 pm


Heretic for Christ,
All I can think to say after reading your comments here and at BW3’s Tsunami essay is from Job 12:2
“Truly you are the last of the wise. With you wisdom will die.”



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mason booth

posted July 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm


In an effort to be transparent, I will share that I am a graduate of Asbury Seminary and that Dr. Witherington is and was one of my favorite professors and pastors. I say pastor because seminary was much more than a load of head knowledge. There was equal amount of heart formation as well. I cannot speak for all seminaries, but Asbury does a good job of balancing the head and the heart. Dr. Witherington’s lectures were both designed for the academic audience, but always with the congregation in mind. The problem that I see is that we have dumbed down the Gospel so much because we believe that the people in the congregations cannot handle the truth. I remember Dr. Joel Green lecturing on the 3 different descriptions of Paul’s vision and subsequent “conversion” in the book of Acts. As we were moving through the 3 narratives we developed a list of similarities and differences then began to understand the reason for what appeared to be “contradictions.” After class I asked Dr. Green how much of this was really beneficial to the average person sitting in the pew. Dr. Green asked me if I believed that thoughtful people could read through the book of Acts and notice the differences. Dr. Green challenged me to educate my people and not hold back things because I “think” they are not interested or would not care. People want to know about these things, even people in rural churches. Seminary helped prepare me to wrestle and explain some of these kinds of issues.
A prime example of this is the controversy around the Da Vinci Code. I had a friend call me a few months after the book became a bestseller wanting to know if I had read it and if that stuff was true. This friend is a smart, intelligent Christian, raised in the church and currently attending a church that prides itself on a very strict expository style of preaching, but was simply dismissing the Da Vinci Code as irrelevant. The popular phrase around the church was “you should not be reading such stuff” and “it is not true just believe what the preacher says.” Being trained in a little church history (5 classes), historical and textual criticism (3 classes), exegesis (7 classes) and basic theology (3) allowed me to address my friends concerns. One class on inductive bible study methods and one class on Christian theology would not have prepared me to answer his questions appropriately or introduced to the controversies before hand. I am by know means an expert, but I was able to point him to resources that would do a better job of explaining the issues and I was able to walk him through those books so that he would understand any background information that was assumed knowledge. I credit that not to my intelligence, but to the fact I was exposed to and taught by men and women who have dedicated their life to the study of Scripture.
My wife is also an Asbury Seminary graduate, we have often joked that regardless of the professions that our children choose we are going to encourage them to go to seminary to spend time soaking in God’s word and to be exposed not only to the head knowledge, but a formative community. Being from rural Alabama, we are sheltered and pastoring rural churches my children will not be exposed to the wealth of diversity in Christian communities around the world. I really believe that there is a great upside to seminary education.
One last point…Dr. Ben Witherington shallow??…he may be a lot of things, but shallow is not one of them!!  I think with the exceptionon of his book on baptism and his non-fiction books I have read just about all of his books. Some of course are better than others, but his commentaries are great. His commentary on John is fantastic. His essay on the “beloved disciple” should make everyone stand up and take note…His Acts Commentary is fantastic. Commentary on Revelation, very practical and deep.
For what it is worth…



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 8, 2009 at 1:22 pm


Nathan,
Thank you for your response.
Yes, the basic doctrine of Christianity is the incarnation and resurrection–essentially, the tenets summarized in the standard creedal statements of the church. I did not meant to imply that the Bible itself is the basic doctrine of Christianity but that the doctrines concerning Jesus are based on the Greek scriptures and Christian churches’ insistence that those scriptures are the word of God and therefore unchallengeable. Doctrine is WHAT the church teaches; scripture is the SOURCE of doctrine.
But if my belief in God is based on what the Bible says about God, then my primary faith is in the Bible rather than in God; for then my faith in God is dependent on and therefore secondary to that primary faith. To place primary faith in anything other than God is idolatry (in this case, the form of idolatry called bibliolatry). I have met very few people whose faith in God is primary–that is, not dependent on sacred scripture and the a priori assumption that scripture is reliable.
I went to churches for years and finally stopped because it was always about the Bible, the Bible, and the Bible. My experience of God is not derived from the Bible or any other set of sacred scriptures, and I find the depiction of God in the Bible to be woefully human, sometimes vile, and generally at odds with my own experience. So I am a heretic–because I refuse to be a blasphemer.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 8, 2009 at 1:37 pm


Dear Mr. Rogers,
Thank you for the kind words. If I have gained some wisdom–painfully and slowly over the course of a relatively long life–I am certainly not its best or last representative.



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Nathan

posted July 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm


Heretic,
Have you considered Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism? I don’t see the “Bible, Bible, more Bible!” tendencies in those traditions. Both recognize (not just in word, but also in deed) that the church existed long before the Reformation and also before a collection of books called the Bible had all been completed and later canonized.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 8, 2009 at 2:38 pm


Dear Nathan,
In fact, I have looked at both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, and I found more substance and less blather there than in the fundamentalist and mainstream Protestant churches I had attended. I suppose that if I felt a need to be part of a church group, I might be there. But when I stopped going to churches altogether, I immediately felt a distinct relief and a strong sense that I did not really belong in any church. For some, church membership and participation is a great joy; for me, my experience of God was instantly clearer and more vivid outside the environment of a church. It was not unlike the difference between looking at something under an electric light versus looking at it in full sunlight.



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Wayne Abbott

posted July 8, 2009 at 3:10 pm


Heretic, Nathan:
I don’t think one has to venture to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism to find congregations who take a softer view of the Bible.
Many mainline Protestant churches, e.g. Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopals, see the Bible as the word of men about their experiences of God which must be understood in the cultural context of the communities who produced it. Taking this view allows them to affirm the Bible as foundational part of the Christian heritage without affirming its infallibility.
Marcus Borg wrote a good primer called “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” that explains this point of view.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 8, 2009 at 3:41 pm


Wayne,
I like Marcus Borg’s work. As for the mainline Protestant churches, the ones I attended included Lutheran and Methodist; and while I agree that they were a far cry from Southern Baptist or Assembly of God, the congregations I was in would not have accepted the view that the Bible is the word of men. But that was many years ago, and I really don’t know what views they endorse now.



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Your Name

posted July 8, 2009 at 4:37 pm


Heretic, you said: “My experience of God is not derived from the Bible or any other set of sacred scriptures, and I find the depiction of God in the Bible to be woefully human, sometimes vile, and generally at odds with my own experience.”
I’m curious: Do you have a direct and specific revelation from God? Do you have substantial reason to believe (even better, anything to show) that the bible is not from God? That seems to be a lynch-pin-and-yet-assumed item in your argument.
As a seminary student, and ex-athiest, I can assure you that many people have asked, and continue to ask and answer with great satisfaction the questions you pose in your July 8 @ 10:54a. Which actually brings us right to the meat of the post… someone with an MDiv should feel very comfortable fielding this type of response, because it is neither new nor novel. Church history is full of answering such questions.
Which is why the MDiv presented here just cheapens the whole thing. I’m not of the mind that an MDiv is needed for full time pastoral ministry (any large number of pastors I respect deeply do not have an MDiv). But to call something that is Not-MDiv an MDiv just doesn’t make sense. A congregation or search team that sees an MDiv from an accredited evangelical university should be able to expect that the holder of that degree has a consistent training and exposure as holders of the same degree from other evangelical universities.



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toddh

posted July 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm


Wayne – good questions. I think a little history might help us to understand that:
1. Evangelicals have loved big rallies for hundreds of years. Gigantic sports arena megachurches are its latest expression and something like that will probably be around as long as evangelicals are.
2. Faith/sciences debates have gone on for hundreds of years as well and there’s plenty of misconceptions that can be avoided in the debates by being aware of the history.
3. Some version of choir director/piano player love has also been going on forever. Good luck getting rid of that!



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Patricia

posted July 8, 2009 at 5:57 pm


Dear Heretic, I’m also “recovering” from a lifetime groomed in a thumper denomination. I found much encouragement in Lewis’s recommendation to George MacDonald, who also escaped the dominent theological oppression of his time. His “Unspoken Sermons” is one I frequently recheck from my library.
In defense of Dr. Witherington’s point, however, I found that my former denomination taught nothing of church history, merely doctrine derived through the lens of a never mentioned reformer, and enforced through a sort of “group-think” hostility using selective Scriptures for support. But then, they’d fire a perfectly qualified Ph.D for teaching Hebrew to males and call it “Biblical.” History and context do much to free up perspective.
Blessings, Patricia



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 9:40 pm


I’m afraid it is all too true today that there are various seminaries offering courses which really should not be labeled graduate courses in anything, but rather undergraduate courses. The problem of course is there are few universities left where one can get good quality undergraduate courses in things like Bible, Church History, or Theology, and of the ones that exist, almost none of them are church related colleges supported by mainline denominations such as my own. I wish this were not so, but it is a sad truth. This is why so many seminaries start from ground zero these days. The same complaint can be made about most D. Min. degrees. At most they should be called M. Min. degrees, but then hardly any would undertake such a degree in addition to an M.Div. as the motivation is often further credentialing.
BW3



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 9:47 pm


Well Mr. Heretic I see that the answer is no. You’ve not read any of my scholarly works, and indeed you seem to have totally misconstrued what I said about the Tsunami and lost persons which was—that we could not tell whether such a disaster should be seen as a judgment of God, though its possible, but more to the point God is not merely fair but merciful, and so each will be judged not by what they do not know about Christ, but by what they have done with the light they have received. In other words, you misread the blog post.
Blessings,
BW3



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 8, 2009 at 10:09 pm


BW3,
No, I didn’t misread the tsunami post. I never accused you of saying that non-Christians can’t be saved. I accused you of accepting the entire blasphemous notion of salvation-or-damnation without questioning it. The Bible hints at it, the church teaches it, and you accept it. And it is that lack of critical questioning that is the issue for me when it comes to playing More Scholarly Than Thou.



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Brian Small

posted July 8, 2009 at 11:10 pm


Hi Ben:
Isn’t the reason why seminaries offer “undergraduate” courses in Bible, theology etc. is because they get a lot of second career people or people who did not major in Bible in college and so there is a need to make sure that students are grounded in the fundamentals of biblical knowledge, rather than going into deeper subjects?



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Brian Small

posted July 8, 2009 at 11:11 pm


Heretic:
I am curious: where do you get your conceptions of God, if you don’t get it from the Bible?



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 8, 2009 at 11:19 pm


To the unidentified person who posted some thoughtful questions to me at 4:37 p.m.:
You asked if I have a direct and specific revelation from God:
I have an experience OF God, not FROM God. It is not something outside of myself who sends a message TO me; rather, it is the instant-by-instant awareness that God is within me, within all of us, at all times, though we often ignore or reject that presence. Obviously, I am not talking about any kind of “possession,” but about God as indwelling source of our capacity for rationality, compassion, courage, creativity, and love. The notion of God as external superbeing who controls or at least watches human affairs (usually “wrathfully”) is a puerile notion, completely alien to my experience.
You asked if I have substantial reason to believe that the Bible is not from God:
The innumerable self-contradictions alone would be sufficient evidence, but that is a futile argument to those who accept as axiomatic that there are no contradictions, that what seem to be contradictions are really perfect harmony. (But consider: When I buy a gadget or an appliance, it comes with a user guide written by fallible human beings–yet the instructions contain no contradictions or even seeming contradictions. It requires no army of apologists to explain away the seeming contradictions because there are none. Surely God can write as well as the people who write user guides for toaster-ovens.) But the real issue for me is blasphemy. The Bible portrays God as a vanity-driven mass murderer (explicitly in the Hebrew scriptures) and even worse, a tyrant who consigns whole populations not merely to death but to eternal damnation for the crime of non-belief or wrong belief (at least hinted at in the Greek scriptures). If a human monarch committed the deeds attributed to God in the Bible, we would rightly regard that person as a monster; it is rank hypocrisy to praise God’s “holiness” in doing the same things we would condemn in a human monarch. Interestingly, the maltheists start with the same false premise–that God is as described in the Bible–and they accept the same blasphemous notions, but at least they are honest in concluding that God, as described, is evil. Atheists just shrug and say there is no God. I am not a maltheist or an atheist, and the answer is simple: the description of God in the Bible is wrong, which demonstrates that God is not the author of the Bible. In short, the Bible fails my 3-part sniff test: if it is factually wrong, or logically self-contradictory, or blasphemous, it cannot be the word of God. Now you might ask where I get the audacity to reject as mere human words the scriptures that over a billion people–including Doctors of Divinity–accept as the word of God. It’s like this: I know what rainbows look like, because I have seen them as beautiful arcs of color. Now someone shows me a book in which rainbows are described as jagged black blotches in the sky. The author is universally regarded as the world’s greatest expert on rainbows. Scholars have studied and analyzed his descriptions of rainbows, and they assure me that whatever it is I think I see is a delusion, because real rainbows are jagged black blotches, and it must be so because the book says it is so. No, my conclusion is that the author of the book never saw a rainbow, and all those people who reverently studied the book never considered the possibility that the book is simply wrong. I trust my experience of rainbows as arcs of gentle color, and I would be a hypocrite if I rejected my own experience and announced that I believe in jagged black blotches because that is what the book says.
I have spoken of these matters with people in many churches. They all buy into the Bible version of God, and I sincerely feel that it doesn’t much matter how well educated and knowledgeable they may be in that version, for it is still wrong–as wrong as the depiction of rainbows as jagged black blotches.
Ben Witherington is an expert in the Greek scriptures–their history, their content, maybe even their self-contradictions. But unlike someone who is, say, an expert in fairy tales but would never claim that fairy tales have anything to do with reality, he tries to present those scriptures not as human speculations ABOUT God but as the unimpeachable word OF God. That cannot be so, because the scriptural depictions of God are blasphemous.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 9, 2009 at 12:23 am


Brian,
As I wrote in the long response above, my sense of God does not come FROM anywhere. It is a direct experience. To ask where it comes FROM suggests that there is no direct experience, and therefore one must rely on some outside source of information–some book, for example. No, my experience is not dependent on any book or any other person’s notions.



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James

posted July 9, 2009 at 10:05 am


Sorry for the “Your Name” post above. It must have been lost when I had to refresh the security text.
Further clarification please, if you will, Heretic, because I want to make sure I understand what you’re saying well: You have this insight from experience that is available to all and universally applicable, right? I mean, you don’t seem to be taking a “this is true for me, and that may be true for you,” sort of stance, but rather a “I’m right, and you are not seeing what is plain as the nose on your face,” sort of stance. Do I get you?



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sgreene

posted July 9, 2009 at 10:57 am


I would like to ask heretic to define the difference between himself, an apparet direct link to God, ” it is the instant-by-instant awareness that God is within me, within all of us, at all times,” and those who God revealed himself in scripture to. After all couldn’t they “techically” be revealing what the, “god within them” is revealing? If they are wrong, then how do you know? Better yet who are you to say?!? :-)How do we define what God is or is not? Why is he the loving God you define, when so much natural and humanel evils occur? Why doesn’he stop. And if you could explain your unique and personal encounter with Godit would much be appreciated.
I don’t think your a heretic, because you offer no real resemblance to Orthdox Christianity. Really I think you know just enough to be dangerous. In this case spiritually dangerous to yourself. All these questions you pose are put. in a sense if they are uncharted waters and then go on to blast Dr. Witherington as a heretic and offer no support for your positions of why.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 9, 2009 at 11:06 am


James,
I don’t know what other people experience. I believe my own experience–the spiritual presence of God within me–and I have absolutely no reason to suppose that there is something special about me, so I have to assume that others can experience the same thing. But to say that others CAN experience something does not mean that they WILL experience it. I can only say this: for me, the presence of God within is like a light that shines forth UNLESS I keep it cloaked under thick layers of guilt and fear and rage and resentment and remorse and all the other baggage that customarily preoccupies our thoughts. In those moments when I am able to let go of those things, the light can shine forth, manifest in whatever capacity I have to let my life be an expression of what I believe and sense are the spiritual attributes of God (rationality, creativity, compassion, courage, love, etc). In fact, to me, prayer is not about supplication and praise but about allowing God’s presence to shine forth, moment by moment. Spiritual growth, to me, is a process of allowing those moments to come more frequently and last longer, with fewer and shorter times in which I let myself wallow in whatever garbage may be bothering me.
You ask, reasonably, whether I am saying that my experience is right for me or right for everyone. I can only speak for myself. I am not the Faith Police, dictating what other people SHOULD believe or experience. But I sincerely believe that other people COULD share something akin to my sense of God if they allowed themselves to be open to such experience. I believe that, again, simply because it makes no sense to suppose that there is anything unique or special about me. However, even if I am “right” about God in a way that is more universal than personal, I would never describe it as obvious or “plain as the nose on your face.” I am 64 years old, have been thinking on these topics for the greater part of my life; my experience of God evolved in a very gradual and sometimes meandering way, and it is possible that it will continue to evolve if I live long enough. (Many Christians have told me that if I had simply trusted the Bible, I would have had a sure pathway to follow rather than wandering around without a guide, and a sure and unchanging sense of who God is. Well, I did the Bible thing in the years I went to churches, and the reason I finally stopped going was exactly because I never found God in churches or in the Bible; all I found was a load of human-authored doctrine that seemed blasphemous to me.)
Perhaps it will help to know that I was not brought up with any kind of religious indoctrination–not for or against any specific religion or religion in general. I never did and still don’t believe in the god that most people claim to worship–a chronically dyspeptic superbeing in the sky. Later, I started thinking that maybe there was something beyond the physical and temporal world about me, but my faith took shape without “benefit” of prior indoctrination, so it is hardly surprising that it conforms to no organized doctrinal religion.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 9, 2009 at 1:27 pm


sgreene,
The difference between myself and Ben Witherington, as a respected example of someone whose sense of God comes from what is written in the Bible, is not merely about differences in how we see God but in the willingness to pass judgment on others for having a different view. BW, like me and like anyone else, is free to believe whatever he wishes; but he then goes on to speak for God, telling us what God likes and dislikes, how God sees this and that, what God will do in one time-and-place or another. I don’t make any such statements because that has nothing to do with God within me. Nor do I proselytize. I offered my experience, but I don’t insist that anyone else accept it. Indeed, my sense is that what, if anything, we believe about God is far less important than how we live in the world today. (If you insist on a scriptural excerpt to “prove” the point, Jesus said that we are known by our fruits–how we live, not what doctrine we proclaim.)
You ask if I think people whose sense of God comes straight from the Bible could be “right.” Rightness and wrongness can be documented objectively when the topic is amenable to factual verification. No such verification is possible when it comes to our sense of God. (To argue that the Bible provides exactly that verification begs the question and illustrates the point I made earlier about people whose primary faith is in the Bible rather than in God.) In the absence of objectively verifiable information, all we can do is respond to what rings spiritually true for ourselves. If the portrayal of God as depicted in the Bible rings spiritually true for you, go with that. It rings absolutely false for me, and so I reject it, and I would be a hypocrite if I did not reject it.
You finally ask what seems to be the real question: How do I know? Where do I get the nerve to proclaim what is so and doubt the teachings of the erudite BW? But this is not about objective knowledge at all. If we think of the Bible as proof about God, are we not confessing that we actually have no direct faith in God at all, that we need some tangible object to provide proof? What is the role of faith if we have proof? There is no proof of God; there is no objective, independently verifiable knowledge about God. God is not a phenomenon that we can study and measure in a laboratory. Our sense of God is whatever resonates as true within us.
Then you ask how I can believe in a loving God when so much evil and needless suffering exists. This is the most ancient of all questions in religion, and it has been explored eloquently in books as diverse as Job and The Brothers Karamazov. The seeming paradox is that evil exists yet it should not exist in a world where an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who exemplies perfect goodness reigns. But it is a paradox ONLY if you envision God as an external superbeing who intervenes in miraculous ways in the world. If that is what you believe, then you will inevitably have to ask, “Well, where is he? Why doesn’t he do something?” The usual religious answers are: he will act in his own good time; he is testing us; he is punishing us; he will demonstrate justice in the next world. Blah blah blah. There is no paradox for me, because that is not how I see God at all. However, there is certainly great irony, for much of the evil that exists in the world is brought about by very devout people who are convinced that they are doing “God’s work.”
For some reason, you disagree with my self-appellation as a heretic. No, a heretic is exactly what I am. I attended churches for years, studied the Bible, and finally ended up rejecting all doctrine–because it rang spiritually false for me. I am a heretic because I reject conventional church doctrine. As for what is “spiritually dangerous,” let’s see. My beliefs do not impel me to “convert” anyone or to regard anyone as “God’s enemy” or to wage “war for God”; rather, they encourage me to live in the most rational, creative, and compassionate way I can. In what sense is that dangerous? And contrary to your assertion, I absolutely do NOT call Ben Witherington a heretic; he seems to be as conventional a believer in standard Christian doctrine as anyone. That doctrine seems blasphemous to me; but blasphemy and heresy are different things. I am a heretic because I refuse to be a blasphemer. Since BW clearly does not regard standard doctrine as blasphemy, there is no problem for him. Again, this isn’t about objectively verifiable information but what rings spiritually true or false for each of us.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 9, 2009 at 1:30 pm


sgreene,
The difference between myself and Ben Witherington, as a respected example of someone whose sense of God comes from what is written in the Bible, is not merely about differences in how we see God but in the willingness to pass judgment on others for having a different view. BW, like me and like anyone else, is free to believe whatever he wishes; but he then goes on to speak for God, telling us what God likes and dislikes, how God sees this and that, what God will do in one time-and-place or another. I don’t make any such statements because that has nothing to do with God within me. Nor do I proselytize. I offered my experience, but I don’t insist that anyone else accept it. Indeed, my sense is that what, if anything, we believe about God is far less important than how we live in the world today. (If you insist on a scriptural excerpt to “prove” the point, Jesus said that we are known by our fruits–how we live, not what doctrine we proclaim.)
You ask if I think people whose sense of God comes straight from the Bible could be “right.” Rightness and wrongness can be documented objectively when the topic is amenable to factual verification. No such verification is possible when it comes to our sense of God. (To argue that the Bible provides exactly that verification begs the question and illustrates the point I made earlier about people whose primary faith is in the Bible rather than in God.) In the absence of objectively verifiable information, all we can do is respond to what rings spiritually true for ourselves. If the portrayal of God as depicted in the Bible rings spiritually true for you, go with that. It rings absolutely false for me, and so I reject it, and I would be a hypocrite if I did not reject it.
You finally ask what seems to be the real question: How do I know? Where do I get the nerve to proclaim what is so and doubt the teachings of the erudite BW? But this is not about objective knowledge at all. If we think of the Bible as proof about God, are we not confessing that we actually have no direct faith in God at all, that we need some tangible object to provide proof? What is the role of faith if we have proof? There is no proof of God; there is no objective, independently verifiable knowledge about God. God is not a phenomenon that we can study and measure in a laboratory. Our sense of God is whatever resonates as true within us.
Continued



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 9, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Continued from previous:
Then you ask how I can believe in a loving God when so much evil and needless suffering exists. This is the most ancient of all questions in religion, and it has been explored eloquently in books as diverse as Job and The Brothers Karamazov. The seeming paradox is that evil exists yet it should not exist in a world where an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who exemplies perfect goodness reigns. But it is a paradox ONLY if you envision God as an external superbeing who intervenes in miraculous ways in the world. If that is what you believe, then you will inevitably have to ask, “Well, where is he? Why doesn’t he do something?” The usual religious answers are: he will act in his own good time; he is testing us; he is punishing us; he will demonstrate justice in the next world. Blah blah blah. There is no paradox for me, because that is not how I see God at all. However, there is certainly great irony, for much of the evil that exists in the world is brought about by very devout people who are convinced that they are doing “God’s work.”
For some reason, you disagree with my self-appellation as a heretic. No, a heretic is exactly what I am. I attended churches for years, studied the Bible, and finally ended up rejecting all doctrine–because it rang spiritually false for me. I am a heretic because I reject conventional church doctrine. As for what is “spiritually dangerous,” let’s see. My beliefs do not impel me to “convert” anyone or to regard anyone as “God’s enemy” or to wage “war for God”; rather, they encourage me to live in the most rational, creative, and compassionate way I can. In what sense is that dangerous? And contrary to your assertion, I absolutely do NOT call Ben Witherington a heretic; he seems to be as conventional a believer in standard Christian doctrine as anyone. That doctrine seems blasphemous to me; but blasphemy and heresy are different things. I am a heretic because I refuse to be a blasphemer. Since BW clearly does not regard standard doctrine as blasphemy, there is no problem for him. Again, this isn’t about objectively verifiable information but what rings spiritually true or false for each of us.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 9, 2009 at 1:34 pm


Sorry for the repeat posting–I received a message that it did not go through (too big), so I split it and tried again.



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James

posted July 10, 2009 at 10:36 am


Perhaps it would be useful if you could offer more specifics. You are repeatedly making truth claims, and are quite willing to say, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” even though this seems to be one of the things that you’re most upset about Ben doing.
As near as I can tell, any such claim from Ben, is made from the authority of God (if the bible is the inerrent word of God).
As near as I can tell, any such claim from you, is made from the authority of God (if indeed your experiential assesment of God and God’s character is the correct one).
I’m someone who has radically reshaped his life in the pursuit of truth. I wasn’t raised in the church. I have a very systematic build up of why I believe what I believe, and have been pretty ruthless with myself to get that way. This is to say, I should be an easy target for your preaching. So preach on, but give me something.
You talked about all the contradictions of the bible. What are they? Oh, I’ve heard any great number of supposed ones, but they’re false contradictions by definition or a result of bad exegesis (2 creations, angels at the tomb are perhaps the two most popular). What ones do you find convincing and how do their supposed dismissals fall flat?
Also, perhaps you can make some more connections: What are the black jagged rainbows of the bible? Unless I’m missing your metaphor, you are claiming that the bible makes truth claims which are obviously and experientially untrue. What are they? Possibly most importantly: you claim repeatedly that the bible is blasphemous based on your experience. What do you mean by that? Are you using a particular Oxford English Dictionary definition of that?
Have you written elsewhere, published, or maintain a blog? It’s obvious that you’re passionate and thoughtful. That said, I’m not finding a lot of connecting points. Why should I believe as you do? What is the character of God that you understand but the bible misses? How do you address certain problems presented by your Hereticianism? Such as… God seems to have clearly presented Himself (itself?) to you, but not to others. Why is that? Is it fair? Does that create a contradiction in the character of God or blasphemous presentation? If not, why not? What if I find that the bible is experientially true? How can I lift the veil that’s blinding me?
I think you’re very well meaning here, and trying to be helpful to all of us, and that’s why I’m hoping that you have a larger body of work that we could examine and become illumined by. As it is, some unspecified attacks on the bible and your appeal to a more accurate assesment of God and God’s character than is presented in the bible just doesn’t give me much to go on.
Hopefully something in there will help you better articulate your position to aid in understanding of your intended audience.



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Ben Witherington

posted July 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm


My only question for Heretic is— how in the world do you know it is God you are experiencing, if you have no objective anything to compare it to? It might well be something or someone else you are experiencing. The genuineness of an experience doesn’t in any measure indicate the character of the experience or its source.
BW3



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 10, 2009 at 5:18 pm


James and Ben,
As this dialog is getting very far afield from the topic of this essay, I have taken the liberty of staring a Discussion thread. From the alphabetical list of Discussion forums, it is under Interfaith Dialog, and I entitled it “God–within us or outside?” My answers to James’ latest posting are in a set of 4 postings that form the beginning of this thread. If reading through all that does not leave you utterly exhausted, I invite your replies.
Ben W,
How do I know? I am repeatedly asked that question by Bible-based Christians, and all I can do is offer the same answer. It is not about knowledge but faith. The notion that my concept of God is uncertain and may be wrong whereas the Bible offers certainty and truth is valid only if we accept as axiomatic that the Bible is accurate and infallible on these topics. And to take that position simply means shifting faith from God to the Bible; then, having placed faith n the Bible, you point to it as proof about God.To me, that is placing faith in a tangible object rather than in God, and it makes faith in God dependent on and therefore secondary to that primary faith in scripture. To me, that seems like a form of idolatry (bibliolatry). And it makes me wonder why there is any need for faith at all if the Bible provides proof.



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Alan Muntz

posted July 12, 2009 at 5:54 pm


Very well stated Dr. Witherington. I recently completed a thirty four week Disciple I Bible Study offered through the local United Methodist Church, encompassing Genesis to Revelation, and by encountering an in depth study, it has further encouraged me to delve deeper into Biblical Scripture. In the experiences I have encountered; the Churches of today are biblically thirsty. I also appreciated the reference to dentistry; my father (whom has since passed to eternity beyond); served honourably in the dental profession as a D.D.S. for approximately forty five years …



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Adam

posted July 12, 2009 at 11:29 pm


Heretic,
Indigestion is also a feeling. And, by the way, you sound awfully upset and proudly convinced that you know Dr. Witherington even better than he knows himself. Just a suggestion: calm down, swallow your pride, and go find a “good” church. After all, there are certainly plenty that are more concerned with your feelings than truth.
All the best!



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:02 am


Hi, Adam,
Yes, indeed, indigestion most certainly is a feeling, and I trust it–it tells me that something is physically wrong. My sense of God is a feeling I trust, too, and it tells me that something is spiritually right… for me. As I said, I am not the Faith Police. I don’t tell people what they must or should believe–which is to say that I don’t proselytize. I was asked questions, and I offered my beliefs.
Obviously, I don’t know Ben Witherington at all, other than through a sampling of his writings. I don’t need to know someone personally to disagree with the ideas they have promoted in writing. As for whether it is fair to judge his ideas based on writings that are not his scholarly works, I think it IS fair, for I am not questioning his expertise in the Greek scriptures; I am questioning the assumption that those scriptures are the word of God. I don’t have to believe that Norse mythology represents accurate historical fact just because someone has written scholarly analyses of the themes in these tales.
At age 64, I don’t often get or stay upset; very few things merit prolonged anger, especially since anger is one of the things that can cloud rationality, which is one of the cardinal manifestations of God’s presence within me.
Finally, I don’t have to swallow any pride and go find a good church–Years ago, I went to quite an assortment of churches, representing a wide range of styles and doctrines. In most cases, I did not stay long; in a few, I stayed for extended periods ranging up to a couple of years. Eventually, I recognized that I do not belong in any church. For me, communion with God is not a social event, and prayer is not about spoken words or sung hymns. In all the churches I attended and all the Bible studies I participated in, I never once experienced God’s presence; as soon as I stopped going to churches, I realized that I had been looking in the wrong place–I had been looking outside of myself, and found that God had been not outside but within me all along. (By the way, the concept of Holy Spirit as the manifestation of God within us never rang true for me; by that doctrine, God must come into one’s life at a certain point, whereas I sense that God is and always has been present within me; and that doctrine also teaches that this presence applies only to Christians, a concept I reject not only as false but vile.)
Thanks again for your note. Peace.



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Adam

posted July 13, 2009 at 11:17 am


Heretic,
I appreciate your response. Thank you.
The point I think should be made about feelings is that they come and go and are often – if not always – determined by factors that are transient. Feelings are not fixed, neither are they even relational.
Your name summons the name of Christ. I am wondering if this is merely in jest or if you claim to be a believer in Him. If it is meant in jest, forgive my belaboring. If not, what Christ? What is or was He like? How do you know? What has He done for you? What leads you to believe such other than butterflies in your stomach or tingles that might have crawled up your leg?
Your having made mention of both Christ and the Spirit leads me to wonder if you in some way would claim to be trinitarian. If so, I have gross problems with your failure to see the importance of the Church (i.e., the Body of Christ constituted in the Spirit) or community in general.
I deeply appreciate your note about prolonged anger. It reminds me of the wisdom expressed in the closing words of American History X.
Blessings!



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Adam

posted July 13, 2009 at 11:34 am


Heretic,
I forgot a few points…
Regarding your perceived claim to intimate knowledge of the Doc, you have plainly claimed to know not merely his motives but even the time and effort he has personally spent evaluating evidence, weighing ideas, and wrestling with consequences. You have frankly accused him of ignorantly accepting the assumptions of others, which at the very least is a poor attempt at caricature.
Further, you seem awfully quick to accuse the good doctor of assumptions while you yourself seem to have your own approved assumptions. You do indeed assume that your can trust your gut, right?
On an other note, according to your view, the Spirit [or, "God"] would equally be in and therefore ministering through people with whom you firmly disagree, right? Dr. Witherington?
Peace!



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 13, 2009 at 1:13 pm


Adam,
I agree, feelings can be transient. One of the reasons that I happen to trust my particular feeling about God is that it has been constantly present and unvarying in character for many years.
My self-appellation as a heretic for Christ is by no means in jest or ironic. Whenever I read the Bible, I see two distinct portrayals of Jesus. There is Jesus, the Jew teaching other Jews, bringing a vibrantly alive interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures, revealing unwritten spiritual truths underlying the written letter of the law; I revere this teacher. And then there is the apocalyptic Jesus claiming to be the sole means to salvation; I have no opinion at all about this characterization, although it seems out of character with the first. (The numerous essays I have read, purporting to show that everything is harmonious in scripture, never altered my original perception that there are lots of self-contradictions.) In other words, I absolutely am not a trinitarian Christian or any other kind of Christian if we define Christianity as a soteriological religion centered around the doctrine of salvation from sin and death through faith in Jesus as the uniquely begotten son of God. Thus, I am a heretic. But I cherish the spiritual teachings of Jesus, which ring absolutely true for me. Thus, I am a heretic for Christ.
As for the comments I directed toward Ben Witherington, I do not doubt his sincerity (or his expertise in the Greek scriptures); what I said is that a dogmatic insistence that an unprovable idea — that the Bible is the word of God — must be true seems inconsistent with serious academic scholarship. Let’s be clear here: A serious academician can be a believer, an atheist, or an agnostic. Belief, disbelief, and uncertainty are all possible reactions to religious concepts, for these issues are not amenable to objective evidence. But to promote religious beliefs as if they were evidence-based facts is not, in my opinion, academically or intellectually honest. Most Christians take the Bible as their proof (which again prompts me to ask, If there is proof, then what need is there for faith?), but that itself is a statement of faith — faith not in God but in the idea that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Well, if I declare that the Cthulhu myths of H. P. Lovecraft are inerrant descriptions of the beings known as “The Great Old Ones,” am I being scholarly if I preach that Cthulhu et al are real beings whose existence is proven because “It is written”? In short, scholarly treatises on the contents of the Greek scriptures do not lead inexorably to the conclusion that those scriptures are the word of God. Thus, I can respect a scholar who writes that the scriptures say this or that; I do not respect that same scholar who then declares that the scriptures are the word of God, and people should believe this because it is a scholarly view. No, sir. Scholarly knowledge of what the scriptures say does not imply the ability or authority to declare that what they say is literally correct to the last detail. Otherwise, everyone who reads the scriptures in a scholarly way would be a Christian. (And I would have to wonder what God was thinking if the scriptures can only be read and interpreted by scholars.)
Yes, I think my spiritual sense is right; it feels right, it is constant, and it has never led me astray. But it is just a sense; I trust it, but I do not try to tell anyone else what they should or should not believe. Obviously, Christian proselytizers do tell others what they should and should not believe. Now you raise an interesting question: is it not possible that God within Ben Witherington leads him to practice his faith in his way just as God within me leads me in a different direction? I am not sure how to answer that. It is difficult for me to reconcile the idea that faith in God must be based on what the Bible says (which, to me, is the definition of bibliolatry) and my own direct sense of God within. The Bible portrays God in many different ways, including some that seem blasphemous (portraying God as doing things that we would rightly abhor if done by a human ruler). If someone can read such passages and sincerely say, “Yes, this demonstrates the holiness of God,” well, okay. But it doesn’t work for me.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm


Adam,
I agree, feelings can be transient. One of the reasons that I happen to trust this particular feeling is that it has been constant present and unvarying in character for many years.
My self-appellation as a heretic for Christ is by no means in jest or ironic. Whenever I read the Bible, I see two distinct portrayals of Jesus. There is Jesus, the Jew teaching other Jews, bringing a vibrantly alive interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures, revealing unwritten spiritual truths underlying the written letter of the law; I revere this teacher. And then there is the apocalyptic Jesus claiming to be the sole means to salvation; I have no opinion at all about this characterization, although it seems out of character with the first. (The numerous essays I have read, purporting to show that everything is harmonious in scripture, never altered my original perception that there are lots of self-contradictions.) In other words, I absolutely am not a trinitarian Christian or any other kind of Christian if we define Christianity as a soteriological religion centered around the doctrine of salvation from sin and death through faith in Jesus as the uniquely begotten son of God. Thus, I am a heretic. But I cherish the spiritual teachings of Jesus, which ring absolutely true for me. Thus, I am a heretic for Christ.
As for the comments I directed toward Ben Witherington, I do not doubt his sincerity (or his expertise in the Greek scriptures); what I said is that a dogmatic insistence that an unprovable idea — that the Bible is the word of God — must be true seems inconsistent with serious academic scholarship. Let’s be clear here: A serious academician can be a believer, an atheist, or an agnostic. Belief, disbelief, and uncertainty are all possible reactions to religious concepts, for these issues are not amenable to objective evidence. But to promote religious beliefs as if they were evidence-based facts is not, in my opinion, academically or intellectually honest.
Continued



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm


Adam,
This site does not seem to want to let me respond (uh oh! the hand of God???)
Please see the Discussion board entitled “Interfaith Dialogue” and the thread entitled “God–within us or outside?” I started that thread to continue discussions that were going far afield from the BW3 blog. I will post my response to you there.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted July 13, 2009 at 1:21 pm


Ignore last 2 messages — obviously it did go through after all, despite the automated message I received that it could not be posted.



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Ken Schenck

posted July 14, 2009 at 10:23 am


I’m quite late to this game, but since the post is about the new seminary at Indiana Wesleyan, I thought I might post a response on the new seminary blog.
Your concerns are important ones, and I want to make sure you and everyone have an accurate understanding of what we are doing before drawing a final conclusion!



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Caleb Landis

posted July 14, 2009 at 11:39 am


I happen to be an undergrad at this school you are referring too! (Indiana Wesleyan University) From what I have seen in the curriculum and from having had classes with a few of the Professors even if the curriculum looks like it only has one course in bible and one in theology, all of the course will be deeply enriched with both! Just looking at the curriculum will not give you a good idea of what is being taught unless you are part of the school or you know someone who is.



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Your Name

posted July 14, 2009 at 1:52 pm


I actually share a lot of concern about this program. There are too few pastors holding an M.Div (or any ministerial graduate degree) in this denomination in particular and within holiness/pentecostal circles in general. It would be great if our pastors held rigirous degrees from academic seminaries (DDS,YDS,PTS,GCTS) or real Methodist seminaries (Perkins, Candler, BU, Garrett, etc)
However, I’m not sure that the curriculum of the unnamed school (your coyness is actually pretty insulting, everyone knows who you’re talking about) is in its absolute final stage. This is year one, so I suppose it’s alright to bash, but why don’t we see what transpires over the next few decades? We could instead turn and look at such a cornerstone establishment such as Asbury. It used to be relevant, Methodist, and full of leading scholars. Now it’s famous for holding on to dead notions of frontier revival (practices and theology), is not truly embraced by the real Methodist schools, and finds its cutting edge scholars fleeing to the left coast or jumping the border. Plus, I hear ATS students get a whopping 3 electives? Gotta drill that Asbury approved curriculum down the footsoldiers throats huh?



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Steve

posted July 14, 2009 at 2:20 pm


sorry, “Your Name” = Steve



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Ken Schenck

posted July 14, 2009 at 2:24 pm


I’m an Asbury grad and benefited greatly from the seminary. I continue to pass on to my students anecdotes about my days with highly influential faculty I took there. Schools like Asbury, NTS, and Wesley Biblical have greatly enriched the pastors of the Wesleyan Church which, as the last commenter mentions, is not known for how highly educated its pastors are. I believe a good number of Wesleyan students will continue to go to these schools for various reasons like variety of electives, depth courses in Bible and theology, etc.
But I also sympathize with the visionaries at places like Asbury because my impression is that the turf is so well established that they can hardly move the curriculum in a new direction. One of the great things about the new seminary at IWU is that it has been designed without that pre-existing turf. Certainly people can disagree with the philosophy it embodies and time will tell what it produces, but it has been able to design from the ground up a curriculum based on what seems to be the leading thinking of the day.



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Mark Schnell

posted July 14, 2009 at 4:38 pm


“In short, if you choose to take this Master of Divinity degree you may become the master of something, but it won’t be Divinity, and dat’s all I got to say ’bout dat!”
Ben,
It seems to me you wrote this whole post about a magazine ad. I challenge you to actually to look into the curriculum at this program at Indiana Wesleyan University. BTW, I agree with Steve, it is insulting that you call it the unnamed school.
Dr. Ken Schenck is the dean of this new seminary and has posted on your site, and linked to his response to this post. I challenge you to interact with him, learn about the program a bit more. I only hope this isn’t really all you have to say ’bout ‘dat, because it deserves an deeper look.
P.S. I just used, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, for an exegesis paper at Gordon Conwell. Great book!



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Michael Cline

posted July 14, 2009 at 8:43 pm


The school will “remain unnamed?” Come on Dr. Witherington. As someone who went to Indiana Wesleyan for undergrad, I find your tone in this post to be sarcastic and uncharitable.
Particularly, your saying that “this is not merely a dumbed-down curriculum, it’s just plain dumb.” Just what the church needs, Christians tearing each other down.
It seems like you have already written off the seminary’s pedagogy by few poorly chosen words in a magazine ad. But it’s an advertisement — it is supposed to be provocative. I am going to head over to Dr. Schenck’s blog (the dean of the seminary) to see if this conversation has become more charitable.



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Jon D

posted July 15, 2009 at 9:54 am


Dr. Witherington,
I agree with Steve and Mike that your tone is overtly offensive. Obviously this is your site and you can do/say what you want, and you’ve built up enough cred to give such opinions.
However, another way to look at this is to look at the faculty involved with the new seminary. While Ken Schenck probably won’t post his accomplishments on his or any other blog, I will gladly point them out. The same goes for professors such as Chris Bounds, Keith Drury and Steve Lennox. These guys (along with others) have taught at IWU (undergraduate level) for years. This undergraduate program is HEAVILY practical much like the proposed seminary curriculum (which is/was written by many of these same professors). If you’re worried about the pastors these professors will produce, why not have a look at the students coming out of IWU undergraduate? I’m afraid to say that few of the best and brightest at IWU continue the pipeline to Asbury. Rather, we’re heading off to Princeton and Duke (and a host of other top tier graduate programs) – and graduating top of our class.
So, before you go dismissing this seminary’s curriculum, professors, and students perhaps you should dive in a little deeper into what it is all about. And by the way, not everyone thinks tapping into “postmodernist spirituality” is a negative thing – why is it a bad thing to be relevant in the world we live in? And more than ‘degree seekers’ or even ‘truth seekers’ perhaps this seminary will attract folks who are seeking new ways to think about church and christianity pragmatically and integratively. Let’s face it, the old standard seminary curriculum hoovers (that’s the Holiness way of saying ‘sucks’). That’s why, coast to coast, you see massive curriculum reviews at top seminaries (yes, including Princeton).



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Dan B

posted July 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm


Dr Witherington,
I understand that this is your blog and you have the right to say what you wish on it, but the language used here is less than appropriate for an ordained elder of any denomination to use when discussing another organization. This post is not a critique Indiana Wesleyan’s M.Div it is degrading it and tearing it down.
I gradutated from ATS this spring, and began attending there directly after graduating from IWU, so I am still deeply connected with both schools. Saying that, I understand the concern of an ATS professor that comes across IWU planning a seminary which appears to be “Gospel-lite” (which is an interesting, if not slightly inappropriate analogy to be used); I too had concerns when I first heard of the new seminary. The problem is that if this ATS professor were to investigate, like I did, the conversation that has been going on about the IWU M.Div, for nearly a year, they might find their concerns diminished.
Dr. Witherington, I think if you were to check out the conversation on Ken Schenck’s blog about the degree or – better yet – talk with the IWU professors (many who attended ATS while you were a professor there) you might come off with a different position than when you wrote this blog post.
Dan Bellinger



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Jeremy Blosser

posted July 16, 2009 at 3:30 pm


My wife and I were National Merit Scholars who graduated from IWU in the last 90s. The standard line around our house for years has been that IWU “has some great faculty, despite the best efforts of the administration.” For years the latter has seemed much more concerned with building new buildings and increasing the size of the student body than with actually hiring the professors to teach some of the great courses they offer, and the great professors already there struggled to be heard off-campus through the bread and circuses of the campus advertising and calls for money to fund the shiny-building-project-of-the-year.
So when I first heard they were setting up a seminary program, I was very cynical this was more of the same attempt to puff themselves up and look like a Big School. That is, until I heard Ken Schenck is involved. Dr. Schenck is absolutely among that group of great faculty, and though he started teaching at IWU not long before we graduated, the short time I had to spend in his classes still influences my thinking more than dozens that had gone before. I am not the least bit surprised to see the program he’s helping put together is unconventional, but would caution against dismissing it out of hand. Dr. Schenck is well-versed in the material that needs to be taught but more than that has a real passion for and understanding of what it takes to communicate it to students living in today’s postmodern world.
And for what it’s worth, speaking as someone who didn’t pursue a career in the ministry but stayed “academic enough” to continue to publish in my chosen field (mission-critical information technology architecture and design), I have found that even my undergrad classes in Church History and Theology at IWU have left me with more real practical knowledge in those fields than many seminary graduates I have encountered. I don’t know who all is involved in this program, but Drs. Schenck, Bence, Lennox, and others there definitely know how to teach.



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Dux Lucis

posted July 28, 2009 at 1:19 am


BW3’s tone and words are quite appropriate in regards to a “seminary” (or dare I say “church growth training school” because this specialty discipline seems to have had the lion’s share in forming the curriculum; it is no surprise that Elmer Towns is the kick-off speaker) that will not be able to give a quality education to her students because the professors involved will not be able to hold these grandiose and unmanageable concepts together. The new director/dean? of the seminary may be stellar in the minds of his past students … but make no mistake about it, he cannot deliver the kind of education needed for today’s seminarians. He seems to have caught the messiah complex as I noted his blog comments in response to BW3 (e.g. his comments on course sequencing: “they’ll crown us king just for this alone.” I’m sorry, this is a bunch of poppycock.)
For many long years, the norm for IWU in the religion department (as it will be in the upstart seminary) has been trendy and mega. Oh, the masses will come to be “trained” but the training will continue to be shallow and focused more on trendy pop issues rather than biblical studies and theology. While many fine seminaries need to tweak their curriculum, the curriculum envisioned at IWU is as BW3 said just plain dumb.



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Dux Lucis

posted July 28, 2009 at 1:42 am


BTW, two other things to note in this dialogue. 1) Schenck loved Witherington’s blog until he gave an honest critique of this new ministerial training school project. I noticed he had taken Witherington’s link down where it once stood under “friendly links.” I guess it will be difficult to sell Schenck’s books when his has someone as sharp and prophetic and with as much mental and spiritual acumen as BW3 critiquing his new endeavor.
2) The advertisement in CT was also dumb. Come on.



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Phil S

posted August 3, 2009 at 10:38 am


And I thought forums and blogs about sports teams and colleges were negative and divisive.
This seems to be a bunch of people scared of anything new that actually helps pastors be pastors instead of wasting thousands of dollars and years of their lives (not to mention taking no time to actually understand the proposed concept at IWU).
As a pastor looking into seminary (and realizing the vast differences in all of them) this post troubles me.
I’ve visited several seminaries and sat in on classes, only to realize they were teaching what I had already learned in undergrad (many say about 1/3 of seminary is repetitive to those who studied ministry in their undergrad).
I think IWU’s seminary can help a lot for those who have already taken many ministry related classes.
As for people commenting on IWU being about big and shiny buildings and being trendy….most of IWU’s money comes from their adult education program, which is affordable and is educating about every adult in Indiana and the neighboring states. People get jealous of success and try to knock it because they aren’t finding the same level of fulfillment or success.
We’ll see how IWU’s seminary develops…at least they’re not afraid of trying something new.



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Dux Lucis

posted August 10, 2009 at 10:57 am


Dear Phil-
I apologize that my tone came across as devisive. My objective is to say that the concept is dumb; my comments are not directed at the intelligence of any person at IWU.
Many seminarians are not coming with undergrad religion degrees as you are. But, suffice it to say that if you do not get at least 1/3 repetition in your seminary education, then either a) your undergrad education was not up to par, or b) your seminary education will not be up to par. You should expect overlap, because, as BW3 has alluded to there are many foundation elements in seminary that should build upon your prior training (if you have it) and build upon. A functional building cannot stand without a good foundation. Also, most seminaries should have an option for you to take upper level courses if you have had undergraduate courses in a specific area.
Your comments about IWU only prove my point-IWU almost always does what is trendy and mega! The reason that the adult education program is so affordable is partly because of the pittance that adjunct instructors are paid to teach those courses which is a travesty to educational professionals. The modular approach that instructors are required to use is downright insulting allowing little to no academic freedom in building his/her own course.
I have no jealousy for IWU’s new church growth training school, only disappointment that IWU continues to choose the novel and faddish over quality and lasting education. In ten years, what one learns in the IWU school will be close to obsolete. I just wish the institution would use their money that many hard-working adults have paid to that school in a better fashion!



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Kerry Kind

posted August 12, 2009 at 4:20 pm


Ben, I don’t know you, except by reputation and through your writings. I especially enjoyed ***The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism***. You are the real deal.
I found your post on the new M.Div. at Indiana Wesleyan to be unnecessarily condescending and presumptuous coming from a person of your character. Talk about exegetical foundations?! Prior to your scorching indictment, how did you exegete the curriculum beyond the one-page CT ad? Your readers, many of whom trust you, now think they are in possession of scandalous truth about IWU. This is no way to treat a sister Wesleyan institution.
I attended and love Asbury and earned two degrees there, and The Wesleyan Church will continue to recommend Asbury and send students there. In The Wesleyan Church, I have often answered critics of Asbury (even when criticism was justified), especially restraining colleagues from making unnecessary public slams.
The Wesleyan Church is not interested in a sub-standard seminary. But the IWU religion faculty (30 strong) is deep and well-qualified. Many of them could serve at Asbury. And the very best of them visioned a seminary curriculum that had all the necessary components of Bible, history, theology, and practical studies placed in integrated 6-hour block courses (team taught) rather than in silos of pure disciplines where they are more distantly integrated and applied to ministry. It wasn’t influenced by the marketing department or the administration. But, indeed, I will acknowledge that the “course list” gives inadequate information on that point. There is a great deal of “foundation” stuff in all of the 6-hour block courses and you would not know that without digging deeper.
I don’t see the new seminary as competing very much with Asbury’s residential programs, but it does go head-to-head with ExL, perhaps, in principle. As for the number of hours in the M.Div. (75), I believe the ATS requirement now is 72. Princeton, I think, is around 75. This will be the new industry standard, perhaps. The reason that traditional M.Div.’s ballooned to as many as 96 hours could be another discussion.
The CT ad and your interpretation of it launched you into comments that too easily fit the template of an Asbury prof that is politically and economically protecting where he is. Why would you want to look deeper if you hoped to find that a “competitor” was hopelessly shallow? But I truly believe you are better than that, and that we are truly on the same team. Most Wesleyan Church ordained pastors in NA don’t have a seminary degree. So the IWU seminary is not really about Asbury at all. It’s about better preparing our pastors for being pastors.



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Kerry Kind

posted August 12, 2009 at 4:32 pm


Ben, I don’t know you, except by reputation and through your writings. I especially enjoyed ***The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism***. You are the real deal.
I found your post on the new M.Div. at Indiana Wesleyan to be unnecessarily condescending and presumptuous coming from a person of your character. Talk about exegetical foundations?! Prior to your scorching indictment, how did you exegete the curriculum beyond the one-page CT ad? Your readers, many of whom trust you, now think they are in possession of scandalous truth about IWU. This is no way to treat a sister Wesleyan institution.
I attended and love Asbury and earned two degrees there, and The Wesleyan Church will continue to recommend Asbury and send students there. In The Wesleyan Church, I have often answered critics of Asbury (even when criticism was justified), especially restraining colleagues from making unnecessary public slams.
The Wesleyan Church is not interested in a sub-standard seminary. But the IWU religion faculty (30 strong) is deep and well-qualified. Many of them could serve at Asbury. And the very best of them visioned a seminary curriculum that had all the necessary components of Bible, history, theology, and practical studies placed in integrated 6-hour block courses (team taught) rather than in silos of pure disciplines where they are more distantly integrated and applied to ministry. It wasn’t influenced by the marketing department or the administration. But, indeed, I will acknowledge that the “course list” gives inadequate information on that point. There is a great deal of “foundation” stuff in all of the 6-hour block courses and you would not know that without digging deeper.
I don’t see the new seminary as competing very much with Asbury’s residential programs, but it does go head-to-head with ExL, perhaps, in principle. As for the number of hours in the M.Div. (75), I believe the ATS requirement now is 72. Princeton, I think, is around 75. This will be the new industry standard, perhaps. The reason that traditional M.Div.’s ballooned to as many as 96 hours could be another discussion.
The CT ad and your interpretation of it launched you into comments that too easily fit the template of an Asbury prof that is politically and economically protecting where he is. Why would you want to look deeper if you hoped to find that a “competitor” was hopelessly shallow? But I truly believe you are better than that, and that we are truly on the same team. Most Wesleyan Church ordained pastors in NA don’t have a seminary degree. So the IWU seminary is not really about Asbury at all. It’s about better preparing our pastors for being pastors.



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Kerry Kind

posted August 12, 2009 at 4:35 pm


Sorry for the double posting.



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Ken Schenck

posted August 12, 2009 at 5:06 pm


Dux Lucis, oh “leader of light,” your comment above was fun. The main thing that made me chuckle was the idea that I had taken Ben’s friendly link down. As far as I know it’s still there. I had never linked him prior to finding out about this post, although I had checked in on him from time to time.
What’s funny is that I was irritated with myself for not knowing he had even posted on our seminary. Chris Bounds is the one who pointed it out to me! So I added Ben so I would notice if he posted things like this again! Very funny and ironic indeed! Frankly, if you miss his posts there, it’s probably because the blasted Jim West is so prolific he quickly buries anything else :-)
Your caricature of IWU is about as accurate as saying that Asbury is an ivory tower institution that is stuck in the past and destined to die because its professors aren’t up with the times. I don’t believe that is an accurate description, just as I don’t believe your extreme characterization is.
For the record, I have said some very nice things about Asbury recently on my personal blog.



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Keith Mosely

posted August 12, 2009 at 11:16 pm


Dear Dux,
Besides being mistaken on a number of points, I am amused by your criticism of IWU as always being “mega and trendy.” If you have problems with adult education models then you really have a bone to pick with most universities in America. Ironically many of the state schools that used to pooh pooh similar models to that of IWU are now offering the same programs. And in the case of IWU versus other state universities in Indiana, the state school requirements are less rigorous than IWU’s.
I also find it unfortunate when educators are inordinately concerned with the economic status and independence of the professor versus the learning experienced by the student.
Your comment “because of the pittance that adjunct instructors are paid to teach those courses which is a travesty to educational professionals. The modular approach that instructors are required to use is downright insulting allowing little to no academic freedom in building his/her own course.” implies that you are more concerned with the fragile ego and independence of the professor than student learning outcomes. Alas, it is common for some educators to give more attention to professorial inputs than to student learning outcomes. Almost always to the detriment of the student.
It may be hard for you to imagine but it is actually possible for committed, excellent scholars to actually collaborate and carefully craft a curriculum that will perfectly match the appropriate content with the best educational practices to achieve the desired learning outcomes. And then one can expertly and flexibly apply the skill and art of teaching to help a group of students engage that curriculum and learn what they need to learn.
But, you are right. That much careful attention to student learning does cost. So it might pinch the professorial pocket book a wee bit and impinge on their “freedom” a smidge.



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Keith Mosely

posted August 12, 2009 at 11:31 pm


As for Ben’s actual blog–apart from his ignorance of the the actual facts and caustic tone, does anyone find it ironic that a blog subtitled “one-stop shop for all things Biblical and Christian” is casting aspersions about being simplistic. :-)



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Marc Kelley

posted August 13, 2009 at 9:15 pm


As a student of this new program I am quite thrilled with the opportunity to pursue my MDiv from very trusted and knowledgeable professors. The Indiana Wesleyan MDiv program looks to be not so much ‘weaker’ as it is pragmatic.
I studied Greek for two years under Dr. Arlan Birkey. He did a fabulous job, but it’s value to my ministry is tertiary. To me, Greed has little value beyond being ‘puffed up’ by the knowledge of it, and I can remember how to say “hoopomonae.” I desire to serve in a ministry that builds on love – and love is pragmatic. I want to know how church history can contribute to my ministering the Gospel. I want Biblical study not to leave me with trivia – but to direct my steps as I serve. I want integration – hey, I want 30-45 page integration papers every semester! Not because I’m a cop-out – but because I’m excited to study divinity subjects in the manner in which I will use them.
What are we afraid of? That a 75 credit hour MDiv program based on integration rather than repetition will cheapen the immobile standards of other universities? I know fabulous Asbury MDiv grads and I know Asbury MDiv recipients that can barely teach Sunday School.
I agree with the previous statements – lets see what happens in the future. Let’s pray for the students of traditional and new seminaries; that we can all be effective laborers in the missio dei (oops, did I just pull out another language?).



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Brother Chad

posted August 15, 2009 at 2:52 pm


“In short, if you choose to take this Master of Divinity degree you may become the master of something, but it won’t be Divinity, and dat’s all I got to say ’bout dat!”
Could it really be that a “Master of the Divine,” is this slanderous toward something not fully understood? What is he master of? I now know one place I would NOT pursue my Master’s of Divinity… maybe I should check out this new program.
Witherington – in this post you sound more concerned about knowledge that puffs than the love that builds.



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Jeremy Crenshaw

posted August 22, 2009 at 1:34 pm


I love this post Dr. Witherington. I agree with you that dumming down the M.Div. will only create ministers who cannot properly use the tools that they are given. However, I also think that many schools are producing ministers that could not preach their way out of a paper bag. In addition, many of the “elite” schools are only teaching their students to be skeptical of the word through all of their education. I love the balance that you bring between biblical scholarship and vibrant spirituality. I do think that schools should not solely focus on this post-modern ideology while losing site of the great need for biblical education. There has to be a way that a balance can be struck between practical and theological.



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cd

posted September 28, 2009 at 11:07 pm


Pretty cool post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts.I guess we learned Andy wasn’t immune just really really drunk and showed up late w/o Mary Anne knowing



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ER

posted November 19, 2009 at 10:17 am


I’m not surprised by such “innovation” in seminary education these days. The worst forms of Church Growth have always been a mile wide and an inch thick. And I’m not surprised that many people will find this methodology a great replacement for rigorous training, and a residential, community formation for theology. Since the Fall, humans have always looked for a loophole and an easy way out. This program offered by IWU is just one step removed from buying your degree from the back page of a fundamentalist magazine. What is embarrassing is that a school that seeks to appear to be a legitimate academic community is behind this mercenary cash cow.
What bothers me more about this movement is that ATS (the accrediting body of American seminaries, not Asbury!) seems to be complacent in these matters. I will wait to see if they actually care that this incremental movement toward diploma mills in seminary education will drag other legitimate schools into their vortex. Also, small denominations, who have always had inferiority complexes over a poorly trained ministry, are rushing to get an MDiv for any one who wants one in order to make their pastorates appear to be more educated. These two important watchdogs used to be very concerned about integrity in seminary programs, but now seem to have fallen prey to expediency and pragmatism. If statistical numbers are all we are concerned about then get your copy machines out and give everyone one.
It’s pretty obvious why this curriculum is weak on church history and classical studies. These students might actually find out that the great Christian leaders and spiritualists of the past 2,000 years actually took their theological preparation very seriously. And they could see where movements like this end up: contributing to the moral and spiritual collapse of ecclesial leadership.



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Brandon

posted May 24, 2013 at 1:39 pm


Have you researched this program in detail? If you do you’ll find that your conclusion(s) is false. I encourage you to take the time, read the syllabi, and published assignments on Amazon.

It’s called integration not ‘ignoration’.



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