More Sex in Seminary: A Response to Tony Jones

More Sex in Seminary: A Response to Tony Jones November 2, 2011

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.

* * *

Tony Jones makes some interesting points, and interesting mistakes, in his response to my post on “Sex at Seminary.”

Tony says that in the post I am “complaining that his classmates at Princeton Theological Seminary were indiscriminately jumping the sack with one another.  He then goes on to make generalizations about Christians more liberal than he, based on his anecdotal experience at Princeton.”  Exaggeration may make for a saucier blog post, but it doesn’t do much for clarity.  I actually wrote that extra-marital sex was “distressingly common,” and I made clear that there were some circles at PTS where this was not the case.  I also made clear that I was speaking more broadly of permissiveness that included sexual matters but also extended to drunkenness and (some) drug use, and of a culture that viewed a more traditional perspective on such matters as backwards and judgmental.  I suggested that a culture of permissiveness at PTS might reflect a culture of permissiveness in Mainline circles more generally when it comes to these matters — and this was based not only on my “anecdotal” observations at PTS but by many years of interaction with Mainline denominations and many years of discussions on these matters with Mainline students at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral level.  In fact, it hardly seems controversial to suggest that Mainline circles view sex, drinking and at least recreational drug use more, well, liberally.  But let’s move on.  Quoth Tony:

But in my two years on campus, I never knew of an instance where a student had casual sex with another student.  Not to say it didn’t happen, just to say that it wasn’t flagrant in the sense that Tim writes.  So, my anecdotal experience negates and therefore nullifies Tim’s.

I’m amused by Tony’s competition of anecdotal experiences here (and I’m tempted to say “My schwartz is bigger than your schwartz!”), but let me offer a few thoughts:

  1. It’s entertaining (if it’s not depressing) to read this even while I’m getting note after note from people talking about the promiscuity they witnessed at seminary — not only PTS, but many Mainline seminaries or divinity schools, as well as some evangelical and Catholic ones.  But Tony’s argument from absence is deeply wanting.  I was at PTS as an M.Div. student, living amongst other single men in a dormitory.  I went elsewhere for my doctorate, where I participated much less in student life.  Tony came to PTS as a well known writer and public speaker on issues relating to youth ministry, as a doctoral student, and lived for two years with his family amongst married students a couple miles from campus at the CRW apartments (where I too lived after I married).  Those are very different worlds.  He says he talked with students in their dorm rooms, but it’s not the same.  Since I was not training to be a pastor, and since I at least participated in the drinking, it was easy for others to confide in me or at least not to feel as though they had to wear a mask.  Tony’s “I never knew of unmarried students having sex” is like Ahmadinejad’s “We don’t have gays in Iran.”  If you were living promiscuously, would you tell Tony Jones?
  2. Of course, Tony also came to PTS after I had left, so we’re not comparing the same years.
  3. Tony’s suggestion that dueling anecdotal experiences negate and nullify each other is a simple logical error.  If I were making a universal claim that every student or every circle of students at PTS engaged in extramarital sex, then evidence that some students did not would indeed constitute a disproof.  But my claim was clearly that these things were “distressingly common” in something less than all circles.  The claim that he didn’t see it in in the people he knew is fully consistent with this.  If I said, “Some dogs are white,” my statement would not be disproven by the observation that “this dog is black.”
  4. Finally, the point is not so much about the activity as it is about the culture.  Take an example: bringing vodka in a thermos to class to get through the long lectures.  (I’ve chosen an example in which I participated with gusto, so it’s clear I’m not just being judgmental.)  I’m not blaming anyone; I’m fully responsible for my actions.  But I would never have done such a thing, and joked and laughed about it, in my evangelical fellowships, undergraduate or graduate.  If I had, in the very same instant such behavior had been observed, my friends would have sought through moral persuasion to convince me that this was not right and God-honoring, and would be destructive to my spiritual life.  I also would not have encountered, as the prevailing ethos, the view that promoting abstinence outside of marriage is outmoded and intolerant.  These are very real contrasts, and very easily observed ones, and yet Tony does not seem to acknowledge them.  I take these contrasts to point toward a culture of skepticism amongst many (I make no judgment whether “most” is appropriate here) students at that time toward traditional moral teachings.  In fact, is this really so controversial?  How many classes do you have to attend that question traditional moral teachings before you can say that there is a culture here that, well, does not exactly encourage fidelity to traditional moral teachings?

Moving on.  Tony quotes Scott Paeth: “Clearly the sexual mores that he [Tim, yours truly] took for granted coming from his background and outlook aren’t reflective of every Christian (even, I suspect, every evangelical Christian). They certainly aren’t reflective of the sexual mores that I grew up with, or experienced as being widespread in two mainline seminaries (including PTS).”

The first person to respond seriously to this picture loses the humor contest.

In other words, Scott agrees that there are different ethical cultures here, between the evangelical Christian culture I experienced growing up and the “sexual mores” that he grew up with and experience in Mainline settings.  Again, I think this should be transparently obvious.  To be clear, I’ve never lived in an evangelical bubble.  Growing up, I spent far more time in the gymnastics world than I did in the church world, where there were few evangelicals, and I went to a secular university that celebrated all sorts of alternative moralities.  I wasn’t expecting a bunch of Puritans when I came to PTS, but I was surprised at the casualness with which promiscuity and drunkenness were treated by my fellow Christians.

Scott then goes on to say:

I suspect that Tim would like to think that his position represents the normative base point for Christians in the early part of the 21st century, and [he] can’t figure out why folks in seminary have deviated from that base point. I think the truth is the opposite. Tim’s very sincerely held believe [sic] is, and has been for a very long time (I’d guess since at least the early 20th century), very far from the norm among Christians. However, it took until the 1960s before people were willing to be more open about the rarity of actual adherence to the principle of premarital chastity…Tim’s position is the outlier, and has been for a very long time.

Scott makes here, and Tony cites approvingly, a very common category mistake.  Let me explain:

  1. While I’m talking about moral ideals, Scott seeks to refute me by referring to moral actions.  I’m less concerned when seminarians have extramarital sex than I am when they no longer honor and strive for the moral ideal of reserving sex for marriage.  In other words, my “sincerely held belief” is that Christians should encourage fidelity to biblical standards of sexual integrity, which (in my interpretation of the scriptures — and yes I know about the concubines, for goodness sake) include abstinence from sex outside marriage.  The fact that many Christians (including many evangelicals) fail to live up to those ideals is not necessarily a good reason to abandon them.  Consider the moral ideals in the Sermon on the Mount.  I don’t believe I’ve been strictly obedient to a single one.  And yet I’ve been humbled and refined and instructed by the attempt.  The pursuit of those ideals teaches and shapes me in important ways.
  2. Part of the ambiguity here has to do with the word “norm.”  While I would assert that abstinence outside marriage is still “the norm” across most of global and American Christianity today in the sense that it is held forth as a moral principle we should honor (i.e., it is morally normative), Scott responds that it is not “the norm” in the sense that it is not “normally” practiced.  But that’s missing the point.  Moral ideals have great worth.  They teach us what matters to God, they turn us from selfishness to selflessness, and they show us our sinfulness and our need for grace.
  3. Someone will say, “So you’re saying it’s okay to engage in premarital sex as long as you feel guilty about it?”  No.  I do believe it’s spiritually harmful for a young Christian to engage in premarital sex; but I believe it’s more harmful by far when that young Christian ceases to believe that God cares about sexual integrity.  While acknowledging all the wonderful things Princeton had to offer, I’m suggesting that a stronger emphasis on sexual and personal integrity would have benefited the students.
  4. Finally, there’s an implicit trend toward accommodation here.  Even if the rest of the world gave itself over to premarital sex, does that mean Christians should?  And even if the great majority of Christians engaged in premarital sex, is that our standard for what’s right?  Does it really matter whose view is the “outlier”?  For all the usual objections (polygamy amongst the patriarchs, concubines for the kings, etc), I think the biblical teaching on these matters is pretty plain.  Yes, there are those in evangelical and Mainline circles alike who say that abstinence is no longer practical, given changes, for instance, in the average marrying age.  Those are conversations worth having, and we can have them in another series.  But the fact remains that most Christian bodies and denominations today still teach that sex is intended for marriage; most Christian leaders still make the biblical case for abstinence outside marriage; and I believe (though I don’t have data presently) and that most Christians around the world today still believe in the ideal of saving sex for marriage.  So, I’m not sure it matters, but my belief is hardly an outlier.  The ideal of abstinence outside marriage is, I believe, both normative and normal, even if the achievement of that ideal has grown rarer.

There’s much more to be said here, but I’ll close by thanking my interlocutors, Tony and Scott.  For those who feel I’ve been insufficiently generous to Princeton Theological Seminary, please read this post on Finding Jesus (Again) at Seminary, and please do join in our series on the Future of Seminary Education.  We just posted another “doozy” of a post in Kyle Roberts’ “Open Letter to Women in Seminary.”  Check it out.

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  • I am rarely on Facebook nowadays and find myself a little late to this interesting discussion. I think we sat next to each other in one of my first classes my Middler year at PTS (your Junior year if I remember correctly.) My experiences at Princeton mirror yours in some ways and are quite different in others. Naively, I thought PTS would be a little more summer camp than graduate school when I first arrived. There are few things at the seminary that will enrich a student’s spiritual life. That is to say, they are not mandatory and one has to seek these things out (TSF, accountability groups, etc). I was shocked by some of the behavior I encountered in my first (and only) year in the dormitories. There was some obvious drug use on the 4th floor of Hodge Hall and I was taken aback when a friend informed me his girlfriend and he were giving up sex for Lent. This kind of thing did happen, but I did not see it as the norm or even particularly commonplace. I will say there was a lot of drinking in each of the residence halls. By that time, I had already graduated from the University of Missouri and did not want to relive wild and wooly college days (even if they were relatively calm compared to other friends.) It seemed like a lot of this behavior came from students who went to more conservative colleges and were only now getting their first taste of freedom (whatever that means.) The wildest person I knew at PTS was from Moody. Maybe I was lucky as God surrounded me with quality people who, more or less, held the same beliefs. This is not to say I didn’t have my own struggles in seminary, personal failings, etc because those are (and continue to be) legion.

    Had we been on the seminary athletic field that day (as we were many other times together) I would have echoed your thoughts about the heavy handed approach to celibacy I experienced in my youth. Enough of my ramblings…good to read your writings.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Nice to hear from you, Dave. That’s a very good observation about students coming from more conservative settings to a place like PTS (which is hardly wildly liberal on the larger scale of things, but is certainly much further to the Left than Moody!).

      God bless,


  • Derrick

    Poor Tony. . . How can he resist impeccable logic, solid moral reasoning, AND references to _Spaceballs_?

    • Yes, Derrick, I am clearly outclassed.

      Good response, Tim. Regarding experience vs. experience, I was simply saying that my experience neutralizes your argument insofar as you base your argument on your experience.

      And, if I knew you better, I could probably come up with all sorts of reasons why your classmates exaggerated their sexual exploits when talking with you. I mean, if you weren’t getting laid in seminary, would you tell Tim Dalrymple?!?


      • Timothy Dalrymple

        Nice 🙂

        • This is such an interesting discussion to reflect back upon! You guys are really funny too. Iranian dictators. Schwartzes – ha! I overlapped with both of you at Princeton. Unlike you, I was a single. And very social, female and I living in the dorms. Coming from Wheaton, and arriving at a ministry training school, I was surprised at how lax people’s attitudes were towards sex. It doesn’t mean they were engaging, but I sensed they would be ok with it if the opportunity presented itself. I was not having sex – though because I and others were curious about it, and probably thinking about it, sharing our views on it was common fodder. I went on lots of dates and I would say about half the guys would have been up for mashing had I been (I wasn’t). This is not to say they got anywhere with anyone, but I estimate that about half had no theological issue with it, especially in the context of a relationship. There seemed to be a somewhat obvious grouping of people on the topic: Former Young Life leaders? Nope. Aspiring mainline associate pastors? Sure. Did either of you go to the DBar? Or parties? I thought the drinking crowd was pretty small and tame. And young and single. None the less, the scene was there if you wanted it, and it reminded me of the college experience that I didn’t have at Wheaton, where the “pledge” against drinking, dancing and premarital sex were taken very seriously by nearly everyone.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            I remember Miss Riley O’Brien. Nice to hear from you! What are you up to these days? I seer your post.harvard address, and I know you went to Wheaton as an undergrad….Did we overlap at Harvard as well?

            The difference in culture between a Wheaton and a PTS is not imagined. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, to be sure. God bless,


  • Thanks Tim, for the link.

    Let me just note a couple of points. First, I do recognize the category distinction you’re making. But I think you’re missing a central component of my argument, namely that your normative “ought” is largely irrevant to many protestant Christians’ (including many evangelicals’) normative “is.” That being the case, it’s going to become necessary for Christians of whatever inclination to find a way to grapple constructively with the normative “is” that is actually experienced by the people whom we are attempting to reach in the world. My own experience is that more traditionalist language on this subject is simply not taken seriously outside of a particularly committed enclave of conservative Christianity.

    As I tried to convey in my post, there are a number of reasons why this may be, but your post did seem to attempt to lay it all at the feet of liberal protestant theological degeneracy. I’d suggest that, whatever the problems of theological liberalism, the actually important question of how we as Christians need to talk about the topic within the church requires us to understand the failures and limitations of all of the currently going perspectives. I’m no more in favor of a totally lassiez faire approach to morality among Christians than you are, but I’d suspect that between that perspective and one that recognizes only heterosexual married celibacy as the options there are a number of possible stopping points for faithful Christians.

    Returning to your point about the “ideal.” I think there is value in recognizing a married relationship as in some sense “ideal.” The question for me is, in a world where this is not the operative moral presumption, what practices can the church tolerate and embrace short of that ideal, which would allow Christians who don’t achieve it to be able to faithfully participate in the life of the church?

    • Funny story, I had to remove all references to the “S” word in my comment before WP would let me post it. It thought it was Spam. Strange.

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        I have an over-eager spam filter here! I’ll follow up as soon as I’m able. Thanks, guys!


      • John Haas



    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Scott, thanks for these points. I appreciated the careful post. I had to limit myself in this post to the points Tony quoted, but I’ll look forward to responding to your thoughtful post at greater length at some point. God bless,


  • That post that Tony linked to was one of the worst expositions of an understanding of Biblical sexuality that I have ever seen. Crazy.

    • Well, since I wrote it, I’d be happy to have you explain what was wrong with it. I’m sure that it doesn’t come down to “My evangelical interpretation is superior to any other possible interpretation, and therefore your non-evangelical interpretation is wrong.” It couldn’t possibly be that.

  • Gabe Ruth

    I have to say this exchange was thoroughly depressing. This is coming from spiritual leaders? Do you not see that the normative must be set to affect the actual in a positive way to have any meaning whatsoever? If you conform the normative to the ever-shifting actual, it is irrelevant and superfluous, and you are a parasite. One would be better advised to flip a coin than seek counsel from such as these.

    • John Haas

      “… and you are a parasite.”

      Best thing I’ve read all day. My hat’s off to you, sir!

      “Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the lives of the people!”

  • Timothy–

    Again, your experience mirrors mine in many ways in seminary. I too drank alcohol to get through a long theology class. And to push boundaries. And I did most of my drinking in seminary.

    I don’t necessarily feel bad about my drinking habits in seminary. Unlike you, I drank mostly with commuter students who looked at seminary as a way to get away and have fun for a day or two a week as well as study.

    As for sexual moral standards, people were blatant about violating those at my seminary, but also equally accepting toward people who embraced traditional values. Then again, the average age of seminarians at my seminary was 35-45, and those of us that were younger were fairly close knit.

    I think the permissive values take place for two reasons. One is a more permissive theology in mainline seminaries.

    The other is that more and more seminaries that take theological studies to figure themselves out. In some ways, several of my students saw their theological studies as more therapeutic than academic or vocational. And, they were more unstable with their lifestyles anyway…

    My two cents..

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Good points, Clint. Thanks!


  • Derek W. White

    I find it interesting that there is no longer the comment you made concerning those “lower class evangelicals.” You know, those “nominal evangelicals” who come primarily from the lower classes.

    I think that’s the most offensive thing I’ve seen in a long time. The implication that because someone is of a lower class they tend to not be a “real” evangelical and will probably have “looser” lifestyle.

    Having been a part of a very conservative evangelical denomination, I can say that some of the activities I saw among single students at a Christian university was fairly inappropriate but I’ve also seen the same thing at a fairly moderate seminary I am attending. I also pastor mainline churches at this time in my life and I would say that many of them probably have a more fundamentalist/evangelical view of sexuality than you are attributing to mainline protestants.

    I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. Fundamentalist/conservative evangelical and, now, mainstream protestant. The answer to what you’re addressing is fairly simple and it occurs on both sides of the spectrum. There are sinful people who try and justify sin in a variety of ways and it doesn’t matter what their religious tradition.

    Unless, of course, as you’ve said before they are of a “lower class” and then they just must be nominal in their faith, right?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I haven’t deleted any comments. Sorry you found it offensive. I was just speaking of the data for self-described evangelicals, who do not often attend church, in the South with lower levels of income. I’m not implying they are second class. I was just speaking of those with lower income.


  • Richard

    Perhaps getting back to the root point of your original post, does this stem from the liberal vs. conservative theological constitution of these institutions or something else? I doubt its the theological divide since the percentages tend to reflect the prevalence of moral lapses in both types, one more open about it than the other; perhaps to a fault even of ‘bragging.’

    I think the answer probably lies in the shift in Western education models from formational to informational and a corresponding shift in seminaries that reflect those educational models. That seems to be the heart of the matter for seminarians and thus for the larger church. If the pastor is trained that disciple-making happens through information transfer, then its no wonder that the Christian education of many churches reflects that assumption.

    • Christy Lang Hearlson

      Thanks for this comment. Underlying this conversation is an unanswered question of what we think seminary is actually for. Information? Formation? Transformation? Vocational training? A stopping place to figure yourself and your beliefs out? A temporary vacation from the rest of life’s decisions? And is it different for different people on distinct paths?

      I hope with all my heart that we can find a way to do seminary so that people come to experience informing, forming, and transforming as mutually cooperative processes.

      Certainly, knowledge doesn’t solve every problem, and “information transfer” models of education are sorely lacking and in the educational world, outdated. But let’s not forget that all these seminaries and div schools people keep mentioning– and a great many colleges and universities in the US– were founded by Christians who believed that information and formation go together. It seems to me that we need to be careful about saying “We used to be about formation and now we’re about information, so now we need to go back to formation.” I’d like to see the two joined together, or at least hear that information is an aspect of formation…all for the sake of transformation.

  • Jamey W

    The problem with your anecdotal evidence, as Tony was pointing out, is that you certainly were making universal claims about the current state of moral (sexual) ethics in Mainline Christianity. It would be equally naive to point to the high-profile moral failings of prominent evangelical leaders and make the universal claim that the repressive teachings of Evangelicalism are responsible for the actions of these individuals.

    And my larger issue with this post: what exactly does this have to do with seminary? PTS has rules in the student handbook about sexual ethics…what exactly do you suggest that they do? Enforce them like a police state? It seems to me like the future of seminary platform was exploited for a smear campaign against Mainline churches and the PTS student body.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      No, James, I was making a *general* claim about *the culture* in, as I said, *many* Mainline denominations and bodies.

      The point is to begin a conversation about how seminaries — Mainline in this case, since that’s my experience, but evangelical and Catholic as well — can tend to the moral formation of their students. I wouldn’t want a police state, either. I would adopt a more positive approach. But, for example, I cannot recall a single sermon or lecture that strongly encouraged abstinence until marriage. And while there were some faculty, particularly toward the end of my time there, who took students on monastic retreats and the like, I think there could have been much more, and spiritual disciplines could have been more integrated into the life of the institution.

      I see that you’re a PTS student, and I understand the inclination to defend. This is really a friendly critique, and I acknowledge the perspective from which I’m writing. If you don’t share that perspective, then you shouldn’t be particularly bothered. But if you do agree that these are the moral ideals, and that obedience or striving for them is important even for the Christian, then perhaps we can think together about improvements that can be made.

      Just a thought.


      • Jamey W

        Thanks for the response and clarification. It just seemed like, if the point was to contribute to a conversation about moral formation at seminaries, far too much time was spent decrying what happened when you were here as opposed to a constructive argument about what seminaries can/should do. I would be happy to read a post about the latter.

        • Jamey W

          Also, full disclosure: I’m a PhD student living out at CRW who did an M.Div. elsewhere. Also, I’m not from or currently part of the mainline tradition, so I feel very little need to be defensive. I’m sorry if it came across that way; I was perhaps more snarky in the response than I should have been. I just genuinely wanted to know how the musings on the sexual ethics of mainline Christianity contributed to the conversation about the future of seminaries.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            Thanks for the clarifications, James.

            Sometimes people have to agree that there’s a problem before they’ll agree that there’s a need for a solution. If you read through the comments on this post, or especially the original post, you’ll see a lot of people whose experiences were similar to mine, a lot of people who are glad that someone’s bringing this to light and forward for conversation. These kinds of things sometimes fester, or survive much longer than they should, because people aren’t willing to speak up. Sunlight’s the best disinfectant. Now, please note: I didn’t mention any names, and I didn’t really tell any stories, either. The one story I told, in this post (not the original one), was one in which I was a participant, and it has nothing to do with sex. I have many stories I could tell on that score, but the point is not to make anyone look bad. These folks are my friends. The point is to say that there is — or at least there was, during my time there — an under-emphasis on sexual integrity and personal ethics.

            I considered not mentioning the seminary I attended, but that would have been futile. People know the seminary I attended, or they can find out very easily. And if the shoe fits, then it’s probably something that PTS should deal with. If they’ve already dealt with it, then great. But we can have a general conversation on how mainline seminaries and evangelical seminaries can tend to the moral formation of their students.

            In any case, thanks for engaging reasonably. It’s a fair point, but the above was my reasoning.


  • Dan

    Unfortunately your experience in seminary is not as uncommon as we would like it to be. Too many of us have first-hand knowledge about all sorts of things Christians ought not to engage in.

    Those from PTS who feel so wounded by such revelations can rest assured (FWIW) that similar stories exist elsewhere. Whether it’s Moody, Wheaton, Trinity, Dallas or wherever, Christians succumb to the old nature. Who in seminary came from a spotless background? Who does not fight with the old nature with successes and failures?

    IMHO your initial post on this points to the big issue – namely obedience. Discipleship is more than studying the Scriptures “to show oneself approved” it is growing in holiness and commitment to the Lord.

    As one who has studied and taught in evangelical institutes of higher education over the last 22 years I can safely say that the spiritual development and formation of the student body is a high priority at most of these institutions. The big question is how to do it effectively. Richard is on the right track here. Spiritual growth comes from the Lord and the student. You can make a student go to chapel to hear exhorting messages and sing songs of worship and praise but that will not automatically generate spiritual growth to maturity – even in those preparing to be pastors. We see this with our children who are raised in the Faith. Not all continue to follow the Lord when they leave home. At seminary we’re just seeing someone else’s kids.

  • Tim,

    Shame on you. Honestly, shame on you.

    This comment is shameful:

    Tony’s “I never knew of unmarried students having sex” is like Ahmadinejad’s “We don’t have gays in Iran.”

    Did they teach that tactic at Princeton, Harvard or Oxford ? Exactly what moral ideal does that exemplify in your august opinion ?

    Given your clear sense of being able to be present with people, no mater their background or station in life – you are clearly right:

    If you were living promiscuously, would you tell Tony Jones?

    People – those wretched people – clearly are more likely to open themselves up to you.

    Finally, as someone who lives in both evangelical & mainline worlds, let me assure you that what you intuit in your wisdom as a “culture of permissiveness in Mainline circles” is on pat with the “culture of hypocrisy among evangelicals”.

    Shame on you, Timothy. As if you’ll care.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Oh boy. There is hypocrisy and permissiveness in all cultures, including evangelical cultures. I’m actually quite critical of many things within the evangelical world, but you seem to think I’m on an “us versus them” tear here.

      What’s so offensive about the comparison I drew? My point was that an argument from “what Person X has not seen” has to take into account the likeliness that Person X would see Activity Y if Activity Y existed. It’s an argument by analogy. I’m not *likening* Tony to Mahmoud. He seemed to understand that.

      Who said “those people” are wretched? Certainly I didn’t. I said that I love and respect them. But I don’t know why I bother responding to things like this…


      • Timothy,

        An argument by analogy – that has worked so well on FOX NEWS that it is encouraging to see you bring it with you to the Christian world online.

        Ahmadinejad: corruption, nuclear programs, killing opponents
        Jones: author, theologian, speaker.

        Um, Timothy, next time you try to persuasively demagogue on your blog – Hitler is a better choice for argument by analogy. Better yet, Tony is a socialist.

        Timothy, you also right: don;t bother to respond to “thing like this”.

        Given that you won’t read or respond to this – a sad commentary. i sent your post to 4 people who run online non-xian online communities as a stunning example of how to big foot online communities. 3 people CALLED me on the phone – people who do not use the phone. they said:

        what do you expect, his a Christian guy bully

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Bob, you consistently say that I won’t read or respond to things, and seem undeterred in the slightest by the fact that I clearly do read and respond to them. I’m very, very accustomed to interacting with views that differ from mine. It doesn’t upset me in the slightest. I just wonder sometimes, when someone is clearly determined to twist everything I say, whether it’s really constructive. It should have been clear to any reasonable and fair-minded reader that I was not equating or even likening Tony Jones to Mahmoud Ahmadeinejad. The very notion is absurd.

          Anyone who thinks I’m a “Christian guy bully” clearly does not follow what I write.


          • Timothy,

            Thanks for thanks for being constructive and engaged.

            Best of luck in whatever you pursue.

  • In case it is not in your vernacular:

    Shame on you
    a phrase scolding someone for being naughty. (*Typically said to a child or to an adult for a childish infraction.)
    giving offense to moral sensibilities and injurious to reputation

    Your post is not just NOT how Christians treat other Christians, it not how people treat other people. If I ran across someone doing this offline, I’d take my kids to the other side of the road.

    • Mark

      Bob, your comments above make it plain that you will have explained to yourself Tim’s lack of response here on the basis of how you have judged his character. However, as is plain to the rest of us, res ipsa loquitur.

      Your conduct as part of this discussion is just NOT how Christians treat other Christians, is not how people treat other people. When I run across someone behaving like this offline, my children and I pray for that person and talk together about the way Jesus and his followers should handle problems and disagreements in a positive, edifying way.

      • Mark,

        Ahmadinejad – yep, Timothy speaks for himself.

        Positive, edifying way ? Generally, when you post something with dripping sarcasm like that – it is best to warn people.

        Thanks for the prayers – I can use all I can get. You ?

  • Blair Bertrand


    Having just moved from Princeton for the second time (once from the building right across from yours and this last time from the very building you lived in at CRW) and having gone across the continent, I wonder if there are other causes for the moral lapses you note. What does it do to an individual to uproot them from their community and transport them across the continent with the certain knowledge that they are not staying in the new location for longer than 3 years? My experience, twice now, is that it is disorienting and difficult.

    Knowing both you and Tony (admittedly Tony more than you because we did some PhD seminars together), it seems to me that while theological culture and debates on the relative value of deontological (the ideal) vs pragmatism (the is) have some value, they might not strike at a simpler sociological reason for the behaviour that both you and I witnessed and experienced. I don’t want to assume too much about you or Tony but it does seem to me that you have at least one similar PTS experience – you both moved a good distance (California and Minnesota) and, by your last year, ended up in the same building at CRW. My hunch is that this move plays a bigger part in why moral lapses occur and, more broadly, why support for obedience is difficult during seminary years.

    By being so residential and forcing individuals to disconnect from their previously established communities partnered with a curriculum that does not allow for long term congregational connection, PTS removes supports to obedience and impairs the individual’s ability to find alternative community. Everyone comes from somewhere else. Everyone does multiple field eds. This results in PTS itself being the site of formation and support because it is what everyone holds in common and is constant throughout their student years. This, as you experienced in the dorms, is a recipe for disaster in part because PTS boasts one of the lowest entrance ages of any seminary in North America. At the same time, as others have noted, including yourself, there are faculty and students who do offer support for positive formation, but as an institution PTS will resist this. Among the reasons why it will resist is its Presbyterian understanding of the ordination process. Congregations and presbyteries are those that are responsible for the oversight of ministerial candidates and not the seminary. The seminary will not overstep the bounds established by presbytery and this will mean that even non Presbyterian students are left to find their own spiritual support outside of the seminary. This understanding of the locus of formation runs headlong into the reality that PTS forces its students to relocate thereby making it difficult for congregations and presbyteries to actually exercise any real spiritual oversight or provide any sense of spiritual formation. Is it any surprise, if this is the reality of the PTS experience, that evangelicals and MLP would find it hard to behave?

    When looking at the pietist movement of Spener and Franke, there were elaborate supports for the obedience that a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ called for. Methodists had the same thing. Holiness in general relies on a structured, intentional community. Remove the supports and it becomes difficult, as an individual, to live out faith. The same is true for an evangelical or a more liberal view of ‘holiness’. Tony relies on Solomon’s Porch for support in living out what they have communally discerned as their understanding of holiness. He’s been pretty public about how Solomon’s Porch has shaped his view of marriage in relation to the state for instance. The PTS experience removes those supports. Some of that is theological but some of it is geographical and sociological.

    This analysis is by far not sufficient but I’m wary of attributing behaviour to one factor. Many factors go into creating the PTS experience one of which you both hold in common – you removed yourselves from a community that had supported you to go to a place where that kind of support was institutionally discouraged and difficult to find.



    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Excellent contribution to the conversation, Blair. I share your wariness at attributing behavior to any one factor. Behavior and environment are extraordinarily complex things. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    • Christy Lang Hearlson

      Great response, Blair. PTS misses you. I especially appreciate your insight that we have some structural obstacles to deal with if the seminary itself is to be a helpfully formative community.

      Also, my cat just brought a dead mouse to the door. As she did twice yesterday. This must mean something.

      • Blair Bertrand

        C. Lang, you set the bar very high. Not competing, just trying to live up to the communal standards of my colleagues.

        On the dead mice – it means that there is plenty of work to do out there. Good on her for doing her bit.

  • Jeff

    Tim, Your descriptions of seminary life at Princeton do not surprise me. Thirty years ago, a professor of religion, a Princeton Seminary graduate, commented on a paper of mine titled “The Types and Shadows of the Crucifixion in ‘Leviticus'” thus: “I do not agree with your argument of a violent God. Rather, I believe that the life of Christ was given to serve as an example.” His antinomianism seemed representative of that institution. In the paper, I concentrated on the redemptive and covenant nature of the crucifixion. When a life in Christ becomes a product of discipline (and that discipline irregularly applied) and not transformation, the behaviors you observed are inevitable. Without transformation; the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life cannot be held in check.

    • I’m not sure how you read your professor’s criticisms of your theology of the cross as implying “anti-nomianism” on his part, and certainly not as part of a general Princetonian attitude of antinomianism. That certainly doesn’t reflect my experience of the teaching or the student body at PTS.

  • Roz

    As quoted in the post, Scott Paeth says: I suspect that Tim would like to think that his position represents the normative base point for Christians in the early part of the 21st century, and [he] can’t figure out why folks in seminary have deviated from that base point. I think the truth is the opposite. Tim’s very sincerely held believe [sic] is, and has been for a very long time (I’d guess since at least the early 20th century), very far from the norm among Christians.

    With all due respect, Mr. Paeth, it appears that you travel in limited circles. You may want to get out more.