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KTS_Night

As I wrap up this series on my brief time as a student at Knox Theological Seminary (KTS) and on some of the general lessons that can be drawn from the collapse of the school’s reformed witness, it seemed good to mention one last item before closing. In Part 2 of this series I mentioned that the collapse of KTS was in part a tale of missed opportunities. And so it was.

From the time KTS began to consider hiring Warren Gage right up through the events of the late summer and fall of 2007 when Gage and his posse seized control of the school, there were opportunities to expose Gage as the false teacher that he was and expel both him and his unbiblical leaven from the seminary. Regrettably, those in a position to do the job, for one reason or another, allowed these opportunities to pass them by.

Today, I’d like to suggest two reasons why these opportunities were allowed to pass by.

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KTS_Night

Cover up is the Name of the Game

In March 2014, over seven years after leaving KTS, I received an email with the subject line “Important Announcement from Knox Seminary.” Opening up the email, I read, “It is with a sense of sadness that I report to you that at the executive committee of the Knox Seminary Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Dr. Warren Gage last Monday night.”

Worth noting is that the executive committee of the Knox Seminary Board of Directors was the same committee that in the late summer of 2007 decided to fire Gage, but whose decision was altered by the full Seminary Board to a suspension with pay for the fall semester. It was that fateful decision which essentially drove the final nail in the coffin of old KTS. The tragic farce which played out over the next few months and ended up, not only with Gage being reinstated to his teaching position, but all his opponents driven out of the school, was inevitable once the Board let Gage off the hook. By their refusal to take decisive action against Gage, in this author’s opinion the Board snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Mind you, even if the Board had stood its ground and gone through with firing Gage, maybe the Session of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church would have vacated his termination the same way they vacated his suspension.  Maybe KTS would have imploded anyway. But a firm stand by the Board would have put them is a stronger position to fight.  More importantly, they would have honored God by appropriately dealing with a false teacher in the school’s midst.

The email continues with a quote from Gage himself,

It is with both sadness and joy that I write this letter. It is sad because Knox Seminary has been a place of tremendous blessing for me for the past twelve years. I have the joy of knowing I have helped to train hundreds of men and women for the gospel ministry by my appointment here by Dr. Kennedy.

About three years ago, however, I felt the Lord was prompting me with the thought that my time at Knox was drawing to a close. I had a growing desire to bring the literary approach to the Bible I had taught there to a wider church beyond the academy. To that end, two years ago I filed for a 501 c3 and last fall the Florida Institute of Humanities and Culture was approved by the IRS. I have a clear sense that the Lord is calling me to give my full attention to this new ministry.

Notice the verbs Gage uses to describe his supposed calling, “I felt, “I have a clear sense.” This sort of touchy-feely language was typical (pun intended) of nearly everything he taught, either in my hearing or in print. He was all about feelings, imagination, intuition, sensation. Logic and systematic thinking, these, on the other hand, he felt free to disparage.

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KTS_Night

Today’s post represents the third in a series of posts about my time as a student at Knox Theological Seminary (KTS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I originally wrote about KTS and the controversy concerning Warren Gage in a 2008 book published by the Trinity Foundation titled Imagining a Vain Thing: The Decline and Fall of Knox Seminary.

In the ten years that have elapsed since I wrote the book under the guidance of the late Dr. John W. Robbins, my conviction that what I wrote was correct remains unchanged. I stand by the book, all of it.

That said, ten years is time enough for further reflection, and it seemed good to me to write a series of posts to share with readers some of the big-picture lessons that can be taken from the disaster that overtook KTS in the fall of 2007.

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KTS_Night

As a continuation of last week’s post, I’d like to look a few more larger lessons that can be drawn from the events surrounding the decline and fall of Knox Theological Seminary (KTS). As a student at the school in the fall of 2006, my stay there, however brief, allowed me to witness part of the drama firsthand.

Last week, I outlined a couple lessons, the first of which was that God is faithful to his people, sometimes in unexpected ways. As a personal testimony to this, I related how my stay at KTS allowed me to meet John Robbins and, with his guidance, to write the manuscript for what would become the book Imagining a Vain Thing: The Decline and Fall of Knox Seminary. To that point in my life, it never once occurred to me that I would ever be an author. The fact that this actually happened is something that still to this day strikes me with amazement. I didn’t go to seminary planning to write a book. I had gone there to study for the ministry. But God had a different plan.

A second lesson Christians can take from the problems at KTS is the danger Roman Catholic trained faculty pose to Protestant institutions of learning. Dr. Warren Gage, the central figure in the decline and fall of KTS, nominally was a Presbyterian, but his cast of mind was distinctly Roman Catholic. In part this can be attributed to the fact that he took his Ph.D from the University of Dallas, a Roman Catholic school. But Dr. Gage is certainly not the only professor at a Protestant school to have received his professional training at a Roman Catholic or Jesuit university. These Romanist trained teachers pose a genuine threat to the doctrinal soundness of the Protestant colleges and seminaries where they are employed.

But as important as these lesson are, they are not the only ones that can be taken from the unfortunate events at KTS. So let us move on to continue some additional points.

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KTS_Night

Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

This past week I had the privilege of recording a podcast interview with two new friends and brothers in Christ, Tim Shaughnessy and Carlos Montijo, the hosts of the Semper Reformanda Radio
podcast.

The subject of our interview was a book I wrote – unbelievably for me to think this, ten years ago – titled Imagining a Vain Thing: The Decline and Fall of Knox Seminary. As the title states, the subject of the book is about the events that transformed Knox Theological Seminary (KTS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a school founded by D. James Kennedy and subject to the session of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC), from a school noted for its fidelity to Scripture to an institution that speaks forth quite a different message.

In the book, I recounted the events in some detail. Here, I’ll give you the short version, which runs something like this: Contrary to Dr. Kennedy’s best judgment, in 2002 the school hired Dr. Warren Gage to teach Old Testament and head the schools new Culture and Christianity program. Dr. Gage, who had recently taken his Ph.D from the Roman Catholic University of Dallas, had a distinctly unreformed view of hermeneutics and typology, ideas which he had expressed very clearly in his doctoral dissertation. Further, Dr. Gage carried these ideas over into this teaching at KTS. Although the school officially backed Gage’s distinctive, and Roman Catholic influenced, teaching, there was an undercurrent of resistance.

In May 2007, a graduate of the school approached Dr. R. Fowler White with her concerns about Gage, prompting an investigation by Dr. White into Gage’s teaching. The report resulting from White’s investigation concluded, correctly I must emphasize, that 1) Gage taught, contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith, that individual passages of Scripture have more than on meaning, and 2) he regularly disparaged logic and systematic theology in the classroom.

As a result of the report’s findings, the Executive Committee of the KTS Board of Directors wanted to terminate Gage’s employment at the school.  This was the correct decision, which it had stuck, likely would have saved KTS.  Unfortunately, the full board voted to suspend Gage with full pay rather than to fire him.  During his time away from the school, Gage was supposed to “contemplate his willingness to subordinate himself fully to the doctrinal standards of the Seminary and the P.C.A.,” according to a letter written by R.C. Sproul, Interim Chairman of the Board of Knox Seminary, to the Session of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.

But instead of taking time to think about, and repent of, his many glaring theological errors, Gage, a trained lawyer with many years of practice to his credit,  used this opportunity to overturn his suspension by making appeal to the Session of CRPC.  Gage’s five years at the school had allowed him to insinuate himself into the KTS community, and, with the help of his supporters, not only was he able to have his suspension reversed, but, quite remarkably, was able to oust all those who had opposed him, both on the Board of Directors and among the faculty 

After the remarkable events in the fall of 2007, Dr. Gage went on to teach at KTS through the 2013-2014 academic year, retiring from the school in the spring of 2014. One ironic twist to the story is that during this nearly seven year period, Gage went on to serve as Dean of Faculty at the school that had once very nearly fired him.  

In addition to the book and the 2014 Trinity Review I wrote at the time Gage retired, I have on occasion published blog posts on KTS (see here, here and here). But until last week’s interview, admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve publically commented on, or privately thought much about, KTS. Yet after talking to Carlos and Tim, I realized that there are some aspects of my time at KTS that are worth reviewing. Specifically, I believe there are important general lessons that Christians can take from my experience at seminary and the larger events that upended KTS back in 2007. I’d like to take this occasion to set them forth.

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A glance at the website of Knoxt Theological Seminary (hereafter, Knox) reveals that the Fort Lauderdale based school, founded in 1989, is celebrating its first 25 years by “Honoring the Legacy.” The school certainly seems to be doing well. The website is attractive and up to date. According to one of the banner headlines on the website, Knox was named as one of the “Top 20 Theological Seminaries in the U.S.” by Sharefaith Magazine. This, or course, may very well be true. But it leaves open the question whether Knox actually teaches the truth in its classrooms, which is the only real test of whether the seminary is, in fact, actually honoring its legacy.

Princeton Theological Seminary was, until taken over by the liberals in the first few decasdes of the 20th centry, long the foremost bastion of reformed teaciing in the United States. When he founded Knox in 1989, Dr. D. James Kennedy envisioned that the school would serve as a New Princeton. A school that combined both the Biblical faith and rigorous scholarship that were the hallmarks of the Old Princeton. This was the original vision and true legacy of Knox.

Coming back to that “Top 20” ranking by Sharefaith, a qucik glance at the complete Top 20 list raises the question whether the Knox of 2014 is truly honoring its legacy or simply living off its reputation . For listed right along side Knox on the Top 20 list are such bastions of Biblical truth as Fuller Theological Seminary, The University of Chicago Divinity School and the University of Notre Dame. Does anyone familiar with original vision for Knox really think that the school’s legacy is honored by comparing it to Fuller, the University of Chicago or Notre Dame? If not, why does the Knox administration think so? The answer is simple, the current vision for Knox is not the original vision, but those who run the school hope you won’t notice the difference.

I’ve written at some lenght about Knox in the past (see, here, here, here, here, here, and here). For those unfamiliar with Knox, the history of the school falls into two distinct periods: 1989 through September 2007, post-September 2007. I use this framework, for it was in September 2007 that the original vision for Knox as a New Princeton was supplanted by a new, decidedly different vision. Those intersted in the details may follow the links at the top of this paragraph. But for an apples to apples comparison that makes manifiest the radical difference between the true legacy of Knox and the current school, one could hardly do better than comparing the Academic catalogs of the old and new Knox.

Having attended Knox in the Fall of 2006, I will let my copy of the 2006 Academic catalog stand for the Old Knox. For the new Knox, please reference the electronic version available on the Knox website.

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Puritans!

I’m always amazed at how the terms “Puritan” and “puritanical” have become universal pejoratives applied to anyone or anything the speaker or writer deems a killjoy. Those who so easily hurl these terms about, have they ever read a puritan writer? Do they know anything about the puritans? I mean anything apart from pop culture references or their memories of reading The Scarlet Letter in 10th grade English class?

I was happened upon a financial commentary today by Art Cashin, a well know Wall Street figure. I don’t claim to know Mr. Cashin, but he seems like a decent sort of fellow. Today, however, he wrote something in his market commentary that irked me a bit, Cashin wrote, “To celebrate stop by the Boston Grog Inn and explain to the Puritan on the next stool that sugar can be dangerous before it’s distilled,” as though the Puritans were a bunch of teetotalers. Cashin seems to be confusing the Puritans, who were by no means teetotalers, with 19th century prohibitionists, who were by no means Puritans.

Of course, I can’t be too hard on Mr. Cashin. Even in supposedly Evangelical circles, the Puritans are often slandered. When I was at Knox Seminary, which advertised itself as a Presbyterian and Reformed school, I had a professor who took shots at the Puritans, whining about how they shut down theaters in England and lacked poetic imagination. Of course, since we all know how morally upstanding the theater is, I can’t imagine why any group of Christians might be concerned about it. As for poetic imagination, this technique was the basis for the professor’s method of biblical interpretation. Which went something like this: Develop a slick sounding narrative that’s to your liking and then impose it on the text of Scripture regardless whether the actual Biblical text supports it. So yes, my Knox professor was entirely correct. The Puritans did indeed lack poetic imagination. They actually attempted to interpret the Bible faithfully, horrible people that they were. It would seems as with Balaam and the Israelites, in seeking to curse the Puritans, my Knox professor blessed them instead.

As an object of ridicule, the Puritans have few rivals. That the world would hate and disrespect them should come as no surprise. Such has always been the reaction of carnal minds to those who seek to honor God and live by his word. As Christians, let us take care that we not adopt the prejudices and vocabulary of the world. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “puritanical” as “having the character of a Puritan.” Though usually meant as an insult, among Christians the word ought to be held in high esteem.

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“At the same moment that Jesus is being proclaimed king of Israel by the multitudes on Earth, the seventh trumpet is sounding in Heaven by an angel and a multitude of voices cry out, ‘the kingdoms of this world…’ And while there is all this noisy praise that is going on to Jesus Christ in Heaven there is all this noisy praise with the loud hosannas that is occurring at the triumphal entry on Earth. The proclamation in Heaven is accompanied with loud voices and peals of thunder. And it’s here that the heavenly and earthly scenes begin to merge…” – Steve Carpenter comparing the events of John 12 with the events of Revelation 12 during Session 4 of the January 2006 Unlocking Revelation II Conference.

When I was researching my book about Knox Seminary, one of the stranger teachings I discovered in the John-Revelation Project (JRP) – a series of “study papers” apparently co-authored by Knox Adjunct Lecturer Steve Carpenter – was its assertion that both the Gospel of John and Revelation tell the same story but from different perspectives. In other words, the authors of the JRP would have us believe that the events that take place in John are the very same events that take place in Revelation, but that John gives the earthly perspective, and Revelation the heavenly perspective on these events.

The Steve Carpenter citation at the top of this post is from a seminar that was held at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in January 2006 and was used as a forum to present material from the JRP to the general public. This, however, is not the only time that the authors of the JRP – whose leader, Warren Gage, is Dean of Faculty at Knox Seminary – have made this assertion. In JRP Study Paper Number One they wrote,

Taken together, the Fourth Gospel and Revelation constitute a literary diptych…the two books of John offer a spatial horizon depicting the creative struggle of Jesus both from the perspective of Earth (John) and of Heaven (Revelation)

The Fourth Gospel’s Joshua typology largely tracks the account of the conquest of Canaan, beginning with the crossing of the Jordan and depicting two campaigns, one in the south (Judea) and one in the north (Galilee). The climactic battle involves the struggle of Jesus as the True Joshua against the confederated enemies of God, led by Jerusalem. This epic struggle occurs, from one perspective, on Earth, depicted in the Gospel of John. Revelation portrays the same struggle from the perspective of Heaven.The Knox Seminary Faculty, JRP Study Paper No. 1, (2006); quoted in Steven T. Matthews, Imagining a Vain Thing, (Trinity Foundation, 2008), 42. Italics added.

This statement suggests that the JRP authors, Steve Carpenter among them, are Full Preterists, those who assert that all eschatological events in Revelation have already been fulfilled. I say this, because, if the authors believe that all the events in the book of John have already taken place, and John and Revelation tell the same story, by good and necessary inference the JRPers must believe that all the events in Revelation already have taken place. But the JRP authors inconsistently reject Full Preterism, claiming that there are certain passages in Revelation that pertain only to the future.

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A few months back, Stephen Welch broke the story that Knox Seminary had hired John Armstrong and Peter Leithart as adjunct faculty members.  Apparently the public outcry got the better of the fine folks in Fort Lauderdale and the school dropped the names of Armstrong and Leithart from its website.  To this day I still don’t know either one is teaching there, and, in a way, it really doesn’t matter.  The school has tipped its hand as to its theological direction, and even if the dynamic duo of Leithart and Armstrong never set foot in the school, there’s every reason to believe that KTS will manage to dredge up someone else just as offensive in the near future, all the better to advance the cause of the school’s unique brand of “reformed” theology. 

But then, I do KTS too little honor.  For in fact, this very thing has already happened.    

While surfing the Knox website this evening I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before.  A new name on the Adjunct Faculty page:  Steve Carpenter.  “Steve Carpenter, Steve Carpenter,” I thought to myself, “why does that name sound familiar?”  Then, as if in a mystic vision, it dawned on me.  That guy!  He’s one of the fellows who helped Warren Gage develop his ideas on typology, the same ideas which Gage used in his doctoral dissertation, the same ideas which he repackaged as the John-Revelation Project, the same ideas which in 2007 blew Knox Seminary apart. 

Here are few things worth noting about Carpenter and his past involvement with Gage,

  • Gage publically thanked Carpenter on the Acknowledgments page of his dissertation, writing, “Randy Beck and Steve Carpenter joined with me in this labor from the inception. Their encouragement and prayers were given to me at every step. Their insight and contributions are found on every page. What an adventure we have shared!”
  • Several of the Study Papers that comprise the John-Revelation Project list Steve Carpenter as a copyright holder, see here, here and here for examples of this.
  • Carpenter spoke at the both Unlocking Revelation conferences held by KTS. It was at these conferences, one in January 2004 and one in January 2006, that Gage – with a little help from his friends – presented his heretical typology to the general public.

“This is amazing stuff,” I thought. But then, after a little reflection, it occurred to me, “what if the Steve Carpenter on the Adjunct Faculty page is a different Steve Carpenter from the one who worked with Gage?” A little digging on the internet put that question to rest, for Steve Carpenter’s LinkedIn page identifies him as Executive Director of Word and Spirit Ministries and Adjunct Professor at Knox Seminary. From my research on Imaging a Vain Thing I know that the Steve Carpenter who helped Warren Gage write his dissertation is the same Steve Carpenter who’s with Word and Spirit Ministries, so this is for certain the same individual. Carpenter’s LinkedIn page also helped answer another question, How long has Carpenter been at Knox? According to the information posted there, Carpenter joined the faculty in 2010, so he’s a definite newbie at KTS.

None of this is really surprising. Warren Gage is nothing if not resourceful, energetic and focused. For several years now he’s had free rein to remake KTS in his own image, and the project is well on the way to completion. That being the case, there’s really nothing shocking about him bringing his posse on board. I can hardly wait to see his next move. Who knows, maybe a new and improved version of the John-Revelation Project is in the works. I can only imagine.

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– NB Last week when I began writing this post, the names of Peter Leithart and John Armstrong appeared on the Adjunct Faculty page of Knox Theological Seminary.  Since that time, perhaps in response to public outcry, these names have been scrubbed from the Knox website.  It seems that erratic administrative behavior is one of the few constants at Knox. For during the 2007 controversy involving Warren Gage, the school was treated to the absurd spectacle of the firing/suspending/and rehiring of Dr. Gage in a whirlwind of activity that was nearly impossible to follow.  In another context the Keystone Kops routine might have been funny.  But there was nothing funny about what happened at Knox.  For a seminary died, and the institution doing business under the same name is a grotesque parody of Dr. Kennedy’s dream of a new Princeton Seminary in south Florida.  Given Knox’s spastic history, I have decided to publish this post under the assumption that Leithart and Armstrong will be teaching at the school.  I could be wrong, but even if I am, Knox has tipped it hand regarding its vision for the future.  And that vision is Federal.  

Stephen Welch did us all a favor with his article Knox Theological Seminary:  A New Haven for Federal Visionists.  As a former KTS student, I’m thankful that there are discerning graduates of the school who care about the truth and are willing to state their objections to the ongoing disaster that is Knox Seminary.  But the article wasn’t the end of it.  Wes White posted it on his Johannes Weslianus blog, and this resulted in a number of interesting comments.  One in particular stood out.  Lauren wrote.

I think the FV got their foot in the door of Knox when they held the colloquium in 2004. Remember, Jesus tells us to beware of the “yeast” of the Pharisees. Paul in Galatians gives a strong warning against those who would preach another gospel. Inviting false teachers to the table and giving them a venue to spew their poison is a recipe for disaster.

The colloquium to which she refered was The Knox Theological Seminary Colloquium on the Federal Vision held in Ft. Lauderdale in August 2003.  And although Lauren made a factual error by stating that the event was held in 2004, the rest of her statement is excellent and shows a genuine insight regarding what the Bible says about the dangers of associating with false teachers and false teaching.  But not everyone sees it that way.  Dr. Calvin Beisner, who organized the colloquium and edited the book produced from the colloquium sessions titled The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros & Cons Debating the Federal Vision, replied to Lauren,

I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the colloquium was the FV’s first step into Knox–other than that it was there that Gage and Leithart met [this is a reference to Warren Gage, current Dean of Faculty at KTS and Peter Leithart, noted Federal Visionist and new KTS employee]. Rather, the colloquium was where FV proponents really got called out, had to let their true colors fly, and the resulting book has provided many scholars with some of the most important primary data as to what the FVers say, as well as what some of their toughest critics were saying at that early stage.

Now this is a remarkable thing for Dr. Beisner to say, for it amounts to an admission of Lauren’s point couched in the form of a denial, “it was there that Gage and Leithart met.” But there’s more to it than that. It wasn’t as though Gage, who’s now Dean of Faculty at Knox, just happened to show up at the colloquium and run into Peter Leithart.  No, Gage himself was an active participant in the program, presumably with the blessing of Dr. Beisner.  Not as a one of the session contributors as was Leithart, who was there explicitly to promote the Federal Vision, but as worship leader – court jester would be more accurate – preaching at services held between colloquium sessions.  Dr. Beisner described Gage’s activities in these words,

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