Aug 21, 2013

How to Spot a Liberal Seminary

Clint ArcherBy Clint Archer

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Airport security seems to have surrendered common sense as a weapon in the war against terror. In a desperate attempt to appear politically correct and unbiased toward Arab Muslims, the TSA eschews profiling techniques. Profiling is when a person is singled out based on certain traits that they have in common with previous terrorist attacks. For example, the 9/11 bombers were all young, single, Arab, Muslim, males.

The lack of profiling begets some silly scenarios, as when a soldier traveling with his platoon in full uniform had his nail clippers confiscated…but not his gun. Or, the case in February 2011, when Alaska State Representative, Sharon Cissna refused to allow the TSA to inspect the scars of her mastectomy surgery. She was barred from boarding the plane because common sense might look like bias, even though it is an undisputed fact that no lady’s prosthetic breast (or nail clippers for that matter) have ever been used in any assault on land, air, or sea.

On the other hand, if profiling had been allowed, perhaps they would have prevented what happened on Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas Eve 2010 when Umar Farouk Abdul-mutal-lab, a 23 year told, single, Muslim male, who paid cash for a one-way ticket, and checked no luggage, cruised through airport security without any hassles. But when the plane was in flight, he promptly activated the explosives stashed in his underwear. Fortunately, instead of exploding, his underwear just caught on fire. Three passengers incapacitated him (while, as I imagine, children nearby chanted “Liar, liar…”).

Sometimes just a smidgen of common sense is needed to know that if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck… it might just be a duck.

When evaluating a seminary on the spectrum of conservative to liberal, right to left, no one can know everything about all seminaries. So, here is a little toolkit of implements with which to diagnostically delve around in their doctrinal statement.

Unearthing the truth may take some CSI inspired sleuthing on your part. Some seminaries, who covet the sobriquet “conservative” without earning it, may surreptitiously conceal what they really teach for the sake of recruitment.

The clues to discover the species of poultry you are hunting for are to be found nesting in passages that have contentious interpretive conundrums with both a conservative and liberal solution. If a seminary’s faculty consistently falls on the side of the more liberal views, then that is a quacking sound which belies the presence of a duck. Let the hunt begin…


Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture

If the seminary does not hold to a belief that the whole Bible is plenary and verbally accurate (i.e. as a whole and in its parts), then it has no business claiming to be conservative.

To be clear, inerrant means there are no mistakes in the original text (“autographa”) at all. This includes accuracy in the details of history, geography, science, astronomy, and any other incidental details mentioned. God does not have a speech impediment. Yes, He used language, and humans within their culture, with their vocabulary, and their styles; but He used them to produce an end-product that He signs His name on as its Author. The Bible is as true as God’s character and power are able to make it—which is completely true, in the conservative view.

So how do you know if the seminary actually believes and teaches this? Here are four diagnostic questions to ask…

  1. Do they train women for pastoral, preaching ministry?

    Note that I did not simply ask “Do they admit women to the seminary?” A seminary has every right, according to Scripture, to equip women for a plethora of ministries, including preaching and teaching to women and children, writing theological books and articles, and many other careers that would require the highest level of theological training. But if a seminary trains women for the purpose of becoming pastors of churches, meaning they would “teach and hold authority over men” (contra 1 Tim 2:12 and 1 Cor 14:34-35), then that belies that the seminary holds a deficient view of the authority of Scripture. It shows that the hermeneutic they employ to interpret the Bible is not faithful to the intention of the original writers (or is at least inconsistent). They are more concerned about recruitment and/or cultural pressure, than they are about being faithful to the word, in season and out.

  2. What do they teach on creation?

    Another telltale symptom that a seminary is trying to blend in with secular academia is what they teach about creation. They want to avoid “embarrassingly literal” interpretations of the Bible. The earth, by the calculations of the genealogies in Scripture is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. A seminary that is disinterested in pleasing the world at the expense of displeasing God, has no problem affirming that view. If macro-evolution has even an iota of truth in it, then there must have been death before the Fall, (contra Rom 5:12). When a seminary wants to integrate the theory of evolution into their syllabus, it means they are loosening their grip on faithful interpretation and trying to woo unrequited secular acceptance.

  3. Did Matthew or Mark write first?

    This is another subtle, but critical signal of encroaching liberalism. All external evidence points to the Gospel According to Matthew was written before Mark or Luke wrote their accounts. This may not seem like a hill to get wounded on, but the only reason to assert that Mark wrote his gospel before Matthew is because “evolutionary theory” applied to the Bible allows that the more complex must necessarily come from the simpler, and assumes that the Evangelists cut-and-paste from each other instead of being guided by the Spirit to compose their accounts (2 Pet 1:21). Since Mark’s account is briefer, and most of his contents are also to be found in Matthew and Luke’s records, then the theory insists that Matthew and Luke were not led by the Spirit to write their accounts, but poached the bulk from Mark. This is illogical when you consider that Matthew was an intimate eye-witness as one of the twelve apostles.

    The fact that Mark and Matthew have similar content (in fact identical wording in places) is because it is the same Holy Spirit that inspired both accounts. Any seminary that is uncomfortable with that admission is not as committed to the doctrine of inspiration as they need to be.

  4. Who wrote the Pentateuch?

    The equivalent Old Testament litmus test for a belief in inerrancy is Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. The Bible avers explicitly that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Not only did Moses claim that, but Jesus and the New Testament writers reaffirmed that claim unequivocally. There is no external evidence to suggest otherwise; but a typical liberal approach sees four different styles of writing in the book as indicative of four separate authors (or “redactors” as they are sometimes known, meaning they may have simply edited and embellished the testimony of Moses). This is called, in liberal parlance, the JEPD theory. Each letter stands for the nickname given to the four theoretical redactors. This too is cow-towing liberalism and betrays a paltry view of inspiration.


This list isn't exhaustive, but I hope it’s a helpful start. You don’t want to find yourself studying at a seminary that will systematically un-equip you for the ministry.

Irrespective of what the school says it believes, a liberal seminary can be spotted a mile away if they question Scripture, train women to be pastors, entertain evolution, hold to Markan priority, and/or teach the JEPD redaction theory as opposed to Mosaic authorship.

Being called conservative has gone from a slight to a compliment. Seminaries covet that sobriquet.

But no matter how it dresses up, if it quacks like a duck, guess what it is.