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Reflections upon reading the Reflections

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Last week I read the news that Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota announced that it will "cease academic activities" at the end of this calendar year.

Pillsbury Baptist Bible College has served as a strong Fundamentalist institution over the years. In the early days, Pillsbury had such presidents as Dr. Monroe Parker, Dr. Richard Clearwaters and Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm. There have been some unfortunate times of difficulty over the years, including a disagreement between between Drs. Clearwaters and Cedarholm (which is discussed in a 1999 article in Frontline Magazine entitled, "The Cedarholm/Clearwaters Conflict.")

I was saddened to hear of the demise of Pillsbury. It has had a great heritage and I am concerned for the students, faculty, and staff members of the institution. I imagine it is especially difficult for some who have poured their hearts and lives into this ministry and have prayed for them during this time.

The day after I heard of this, I was able to pray with the president of a sister school and was told that the schools were likely going to make an exception for Pillsbury students that would allow them to transfer their credits to the schools even though Pillsbury was accredited as a Bible Institute rather than a College. CORRECTION: Pillsbury is accredited by AHBE as a four-year Bible college, but apparently this accreditation is different than the accreditation that the particular school usually accepted - thank you, Professor David McGuire for the correction. I appreciated the desire of this president and the other schools to try to help out these students in a very difficult time.

Dr. Kevin Bauder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota, who I have referred to in a number of articles here at A Thinking Man's Thoughts and of whose ministry I have appreciation, has written an article on the Pillsbury situation in his newsletter In the Nick of Time and that has been recently published at ShaperIron and generated some discussion - here.

While I appreciate some of the things Dr. Bauder has said, I do wonder, however, if the premise of this article by Dr. Bauder and the subsequent comments may be going a little too far and I wonder if we should ask those who are busy chiseling on the marble to think a little bit further before they finish making the tombstone.

Even though I would agree with Dr. Bauder that the "idea" is more important than the "movement", I think we may be jumping the gun on the movement - or at least the use of Pillsbury as indicative of the movement seems to be a bit of a stretch.

(For some of my further thought on the "Idea" and "Movement" of Fundamentalism, see my post, The Best and the Brightest - The Idea of Fundamentalism and the Movement of Fundamentalism.)

While I am not an expert on Pillsbury by any stretch, I question whether the case can accurately be made that the collapse of Pillsbury is merely a microcosm of a greater collapse of Fundamentalism. The reasons I question this include the following:

1. The decline of Pillsbury occurred at the same time when at least two of the neighboring Fundamental Colleges were experiencing a time of increase. While I do not have the figures, I am pretty sure that both Maranatha and Northland are significantly larger today than they were in 1990. (Faith may be as well, but I am less familiar with Faith.) I do not have the numbers, but I would guess the combined attendance at the three schools (Pillsbury, Maranatha, and Northland) is greater now than it was then - even with Pillsbury's decline.

2. The decline of Pillsbury did not occur without some issues being present at the school. As even Dr. Bauder has alluded, "Pillsbury nearly closed in the mid-1990s when it experienced multiple turnovers of administration and a purge of the faculty. This was not the first controversial period in the history of the college." The numerous changes in leadership and the changes in philosophy that some of those changes included would make most institutions unstable. (Although perhaps there is some question regarding cause and effect.)

3. Pillsbury experienced a change of leadership and focus at one point that seems to have resulted in the alienation of both alumni and other constituents due to a left-ward shift (or, so as not to get sidetracked, a perceived left-ward shift). I appreciated the efforts of some to try to "right the ship" in subsequent years, but damage like this is difficult to undo. It puts questions in the minds of folks who may be influential in helping to recruit students to a school or support the school in other ways. I know that while I was a youth pastor, we took college trips up to MBBC and NBBC from New Jersey and later added FBBC, but we were in a "wait and see" mode when it came to PBBC and never actually included it in our list of schools to visit when we took our "Northern College Trips". While we were not a huge church (at the time we probably had between 50-70 in our youth groups, I think), we did have students that attended each of the other schools we visited, and if other churches also were cautious about PBBC because of the earlier changes, this could have had a definite effect on their enrollment and ultimate survival.

Some have objected to this idea that the "left-ward leer" of a college President over a decade ago can have that much affect. I understand this objection, but I think it is misinformed. I also don't think it is necessarily a Fundamental/New Evangelical issue. In fact, I would imagine this were true even in the secular arena.

Imagine a similar scenario. A new president is selected at a well-known conservative educational institution, but the new presidents announces that he is supportive of Obama and Pelosi and the rest of the liberals in politics of the day. Even if subsequent presidents attempt a return to traditional conservative issues, unless a major mea culpa with sackcloth and ashes and comes from those involved in the hiring of the left-leaning president, many conservatives are going to be wary of recommending and supporting the institution - and wisely so. (BTW, the same would be true of a liberal institution that suddenly came out as conservative on some major issues - look what happened to Joe Liberman.)

I further question the wording of Dr. Bauder where he says the following:

The question is not whether fundamentalism is collapsing. The question is how we should respond to the collapse. More fundamentally, the question is how we should even be thinking about these events.
Is Fundamentalism collapsing? It seems that is a foregone conclusion to Dr. Bauder, even though he admits it is difficult to know the real state of Fundamentalism. I hear what seems to be almost a glee in some circles (certainly not Dr. Bauder) in that apparent collapse, but I question whether those who are celebrating should think through the bigger picture more clearly.

In 1925, Harvard liberal Kirsopp Lake wrote regarding Fundamentalism in The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow
“It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind: it is the…survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians….The Fundamentalist may be wrong: I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church is on the Fundamentalist side”

I recognize that the this applies to the idea more than the movement, but historically it has often been the movements who have been used of God to propagate, promote, defend and expand the idea. While I recognize that God does not need a particular institution, I believe it would be wise for those of us who hold to the idea of Fundamentalism to seek to do what we can to pray for, encourage, support and strengthen (including providing correction where necessary) those institutions that also hold to the idea.

Just my thoughts,

Frank Sansone


David McGuire said...

I appreciate your detailed and thoughtful comments on Pillsbury's closing. I have taught history and education courses at PBBC since 1984.

I would have one correction for you. Pillsbury has always been a four-year Bible College, and we have had accreditation with the Association of Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) since 2005. ABHE is not a regional accreditor, but it is recognized by a number of Bible colleges in the United States. The transfer of credits with schools such as Northland, Maranatha, and Faith will not be all that difficult for our seniors.

Don Johnson said...

Hey Frank,

It seems that some are all too ready and much too quick to dump on Fundamentalism.

It also seems that some are quite confused as to what Fundamentalism is, what it has been, and where it is going.


BTW, David McGuire, was that you I saw in a recent Voice article full of "ancient" pictures? There was one that I remember from our yearbook, a snapshot of a Bible Conference service letting out. I was sure you were one of the faces in the crowd.

May the Lord bless you as you seek out a new place of service. I know you have been faithful at your post for some time.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Frank Sansone said...

Professor McGuire,

Thank you for your comments and your correction of my inaccurate information. I must have misunderstood Dr. S on his comment regarding Pillsbury's accreditation, so I will correct that as soon as I am done with this comment.

One of my groomsmen was a math teacher at Pillsbury years ago when he was still a fairly new Christian. Perhaps you know him. His name is Ron Tagliapietra.

I actually went to Pillsbury History Guy today to look up something and saw that you had not posted in a while (seems like that is going around) and wondered how you were doing with all of this. I am praying for you guys in what I know must be a difficult time.

In Christ,
Frank Sansone

Do you have any idea of what you are going to do, yet?

Andy Rupert said...

From my quick read through Dr. Bauder's article, I think I agree with his assessment. For instance, when he writes about the idea being greater than what the movement created, I think he has it right. See the following quotation:

"If we are going to talk about saving fundamentalism, then let us be clear that the thing we need to save is the idea. All of our associations, colleges, seminaries, mission agencies, preachers’ fellowships, networks, alignments, and coalitions are of value only to the extent that they maintain and perpetuate the idea. If they are not propagating the idea, then let them perish."

Frank Sansone said...

Andy, (I am cross-posting this as a post since it is so long and the thread is getting old.)

I think a couple relevant quotes may help here.

From my post: Even though I would agree with Dr. Bauder that the "idea" is more important than the "movement", I think we may be jumping the gun on the movement.

To use the Pillsbury demise as a chance to claim even the "movement" is dead is a stretch that seems unsupportable in light of the three evidences I included in my post.

Also, from my post that I linked to in this post:

I am not arguing for the movement, so much as the idea, as properly understood. I would say, however, and this is important, that those who genuinely subscribe to the idea of Fundamentalism will not find themselves without some fellowship within the "movement" of Fundamentalism (as broadly understood). I would also say that often (not necessarily always) those guys who claim to be retaining the "idea" of Fundamentalism while shedding the "movement" tend to reveal that they have abandoned more than the "movement" when one examines their ministries and considers the associations that they do make.

While Bauder is not an example of this personally, my experience has been that the YFs are eating up the "anti-movement" comments from Bauder and others, while not holding to the idea - resulting in the worst of both worlds.

My initial reading of quotes like the one you gave by Bauder was also favorable, until I begin to think through them more.

It sounds great and elicits an initial "Amen" when Bauder writes, "If we are going to talk about saving fundamentalism, then let us be clear that the thing we need to save is the idea. All of our associations, colleges, seminaries, mission agencies, preachers’ fellowships, networks, alignments, and coalitions are of value only to the extent that they maintain and perpetuate the idea. If they are not propagating the idea, then let them perish."

However, upon further reflection, I think statements like this may actually be part of the problem, because of what it implies and what it leaves out.

First, the implication of the statement:

It implies that Fundamentalists are interested in saving Fundamentalist institutions no matter whether they support the idea of Fundamentalism or not. This seems to be creating an animal that doesn't exist - or at least exists so rarely as to be listed on the endangered species list. Are people in the OBF clamoring for Cedarville to be preserved? Of course not? Fundamentalist are not interested in saving the historically Fundamentalists institutions that are no longer Fundamentalist - either the ones like Cedarville that have headed in the direction of repudiating Biblical separation or the ones like Hyles-Anderson that have taken off on a KJVO/easy believism tangent. There may be interest in RESCUING them by some, but not just in preserving them in their current wrong direction. I would hope that there is interest amongst those in the OBF of strengthening the OBF and of preserving the Visitor, etc., not because the OBF wants to be "king of the hill of Fundamentalism", but because it recognizes that it has an important role in presenting a united and outspoken voice for Biblical Fundamentalism. No one fits the description that Bauder is arguing against - no one in "mainstream Fundamentalism" is clamoring to save the bad institutions just for the sake of saving them.

Second, the omission of the statement:

While Bauder supports the idea of letting the institutions that don't hold to the idea of Fundamentalism perish, he makes little argument for supporting those institutions that do continue to hold strongly to true Fundamentalism. This omission leaves us with a vacuum. While the internet is starting to change some of this by giving the little guys a voice, the reality is that it has been historically the institutions of Fundamentalism that have had the "bully pulpit" to expound, promote, and encourage others in their understanding of the idea of Fundamentalism. It is the united voice of the OBF - a Fundamentalist institution - allows for this idea to be sounded out with a louder sound than the solo pastor of a small church would be able to sound it out. Historically, it has been those who have had a voice - either because they were representative of something larger than themselves (such as an institution like the OBF, the FFBC, the ACCC, or the mission boards or the various colleges or seminaries) or because their voice was somehow promoted and spread (e.g. Luther and the press - or even Ashbrook and Here I Stand) that have been able to promote the idea of Fundamentalism - or at least to have had effectiveness in doing so. Surely there have been plenty of small church pastors who have preached messages and taught their people the Biblical doctrine of separation, but which of those influenced you or the other young men out there? In general, no one even hears of these warriors and instead it is the ones who are somehow involved with an institution that have been used to articulate the position to a greater audience. I was influenced by Pastor Ashbrook through his writing long before I ever met him in person. I was influenced by Dr. Pickering even though I never met him personally. These men were able to make an influence on me, in part, because they had a voice - and it was, in part, their involvement with the institutions of Fundamentalism that gave them that voice - or at least allowed that voice to be able to be spread where I could hear it. When we make an argument that the institutions are not that important, we should think a little about the implication of such a point. Even Kevin Bauder, who writes much that I generally like and appreciate is being heard because of his role in a Fundamentalist institution.

Now that I have rambled, let me get back to my specifics in regards to the Pillsbury article.

I believe that Bauder's whole premise in the article is fatally flawed. Dr. Bauder wrote, "Pillsbury Baptist Bible College is a microcasm of what is happening within institutional fundamentalism everywhere." Really? He does not support this idea at all in his article, he just lays it out there as though it is self-evident. The problem with that is that ignores the facts right in Pillsbury's "back yard" - Maranatha and Northland have grown incredibly during the same time that Pillsbury has dwindled. Rather than use the Pillsbury situation to address the real issues with Pillsbury, it was used as an evidence that "the mainstream of historic fundamentalism is dwindling."

I don't have a problem with him not going after the issues that seem to have led to Pillsbury's demise - I probably would not have touched on them if I had been in his situation and would not have commented here or at SI if it were not for Dr. Bauder's article. I do have a problem with using that demise as an evidence for something that it is not.

If we were to see a similar pattern at the other schools, he may be able to make the case he tried to make. But as it stands, I think his premise is way off.

BTW, I seriously meant what I wrote about praying for the folks at Pillsbury. One of my groomsmen was a former teacher there and I believe the later presidents really tried to do a good job of turning the ship back around. Clearly there were multiple reasons for the demise of Pillsbury. I think Dr. McCune (or was it his son) is correct that part of the problem was probably the vacuum of leadership created by Clearwaters' departure. I think a large part of it was the alienation of its support base due to the (at least perceived) leftward lurch under Potter (which is not all on Potter, btw, it also raises questions about the board in general in selecting him). I am sure part of it was the fact that there was healthy competition nearby. I imagine some of it may have been due to various financial pressures - especially with the upkeep of a campus that was as old as Pillsbury.

For those who have tried to deny the effect of the leftward lurch, I think they need to recognize that this did play a key role. If we as a church gave out copies of The Visitor and then all of the sudden Chris started using it to espouse Open Theism, I would not put out copies of The Visitor anymore and I would be very wary of ordering it again unless I had complete confidence that Chris had gotten the axe and someone I really knew I could trust (e.g. Pastor Ashbrook himself) was back at the helm.

The same principle works the other way, btw. Notice the Democrats response to Joe Liberman. Eight years ago, he was their Vice Presidential nominee. Two years ago he was defeated in his own party's primary because he did not agree with the Dems radical anti-war sentiment. Now that he spoke at the Republican Convention and has campaigned for McCain, they are talking about putting him out of the caucus (unless they need his vote to prevent a filibuster). What do you think the chances would be of him speaking at the Democratic Convention in four years? Let alone being their Presidential or Vice Presidential Nominee.

Anyway, I have probably said too much. I hope this clarifies. Feel free to ask me if I did not answer part of what you were asking.

In Christ,

Frank Sansone