A Tale of Three Seminaries

Twin Cities seminaries

The Twin Cities boasts three Protestant seminaries (forgive me if I don’t consider John Piper’s unaccredited school a seminary in full standing). They are Luther Seminary, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and Bethel Seminary. And I think that the rising and falling fortunes of these three can tell us something interesting about the landscape of the church in America today. [Disclosure: I teach at United, I am part of a Templeton grant at Luther, and I once made out with a girl in the trees behind Bethel. I have friends who teach at all three.]

Luther Seminary was initially founded in 1917 as the merger of three Norwegian Lutheran seminaries. Another merger with Augsburg Seminary (also Norwegian) happened in 1963, and yet another merger in 1976 with Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary (English) led to Luther Northwestern Seminary. In 1994, they simplified the name to Luther Seminary. Luther is the largest of the eight seminaries of the ELCA denomination — with incoming classes of well over 100 — but it has recently fallen on hard times. Due to falling enrollment and financial mismanagement, the president and CFO were let go and many faculty and staff were laid off.

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities was also formed by a merger. In 1957, the United Church of Christ denomination was formed out of the merger of a couple denoms, and in 1962, UTS was founded as the merger of Yankton School of Theology (German Congregational) and Mission House (German Reformed). In the 1970s and 80s, UTS was at the forefront of liberalism, particularly feminist theology, and was among the first seminaries to enroll openly gay students. But their star faded, and in the last few years, incoming classes were in the low 30s. Today it serves primarily UCC, UMC, and UUA students.

Bethel Seminary was initially founded in Chicago in 1871. In 1914, it was acquired by the Baptist General Conference denomination and moved to Minnesota. Always evangelical in its outlook, Bethel made news in the 1990s when professors John Piper and Greg Boyd squared off, resulting in Boyd’s resignation and Piper’s withdrawal from Bethel and the BGC. In its heyday, Bethel was welcoming over 200 new students every year, but recently they’ve laid off all of their church historians as well as several other faculty members.

Here’s the interesting part:

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Some Thoughts About Mark Driscoll

KOMO News

There were a couple things that I couldn’t avoid, even with my self-imposed internet sabbatical. One was the ice-bucket challenge. The other was the ongoing saga of Mark Driscoll.

I’ve written about Mark plenty here, and I’ve detailed his early involvement with the emergent movement in one of my books. Mark and I never knew each other all that well. I got the impression that he looked down on me because in our “Group of 20,” I was the lone youth pastor. Just about everyone else had planted a church of their own.

Those were heady days. Cover articles on Christianity Today and Christian Century within a year of each other — that’s rare. Television coverage on ABC and PBS. Articles in the New York Times. Speaking gigs, book contracts, conferences. That shit can go to your head.

Let’s be honest. It did.

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The Evangelical Unicorn: A Third Way on Gay Marriage

I reviewed two books by evangelicals on gay marriage for The Christian Century — God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines and A Letter to my Congregation by Ken Wilson — and the review is now available online. Here’s the core of what differentiates their books:

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Ordaining Trans*

For years, Phyllis Tickle has told of her small Anglican outpost in Memphis, a congregation populated by many queers, bi, gay, lesbian, and trans* folks. In that last category, when a congregant transitioned from primarily identifying as one gender to the other, the church would have a celebration liturgy at the bathroom — that’s because the person they were celebrating was switching from one bathroom to the other.

This week, Amy Butler, pastor-elect at Riverside Church in New York City, posted a “Liturgy for a New World,” which records an ordination service from her current church, Calvary Baptist in Washington, D.C. In fact, it was something of a re-ordination, since the pastor had been ordained some years ago and had served as a Baptist pastor around the world. But that was with a different name. Now, as Amy writes, the congregation was re-ordaining her, with her new name:

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