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Posts Tagged ‘Knox Seminary’

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

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

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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– 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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Last week Stephen Welch blogged a post titled Knox Theological Seminary:  A New Haven for Federal Visionists.  If you haven’t already done so, check it out.  It’s a good post.  The article, which also appeared here on The Aquila Report site, breaks the news that Knox Theological Seminary (KTS) has hired Federal Visionists John Armstrong and Peter Leithart.  This is certainly big news.  But to some pre-2007 KTS students , it’s not especially surprising.

At the height of the fall 2007 controversy centering on OT professor Warren Gage and his –  uh, how shall I say it – unique brand of typology, my friend Jason Grabulis started a blog focused on providing accurate news and commentary to KTS students, who had largely been kept in the dark by the administration about the details of the Gage firing/suspension/rehiring circus. Jason, writing on his now defunct Stuff That Matters blog – the administration at Knox out of their concern to keep students up to date and preserve the free flow of information forced Jason to take down the blog on pain of losing his scholarship, the truth may set you free, but at KTS it also gets you the left foot of fellowship, not to worry, though, you can find the full contents of Jason’s blog here – made the following statement on November 10, 2007,

Since some Federal Vision (and some NPP) advocates appear to endorse Dr. Gage and his hermeneutic (for instance, Peter Leithart) – since Dr. Gage’s hermeneutic does provide an exegetical basis for their theology – then will the Federal Visionists see this as an opportunity to move into Knox Seminary and establish a Federal Visionist and New Perspective on Paul institution and ministry?

Good call, Jason.  That’s insight.  Now what do you think about the odds of NT Wright being the next Knox guest of honor?  For my part, I imagine they’re pretty good.  If nothing else, the weather in Ft. Lauderdale’s got to be better than in St. Andrews.

At about the same time another former KTS student, one of Jason’s classmates, made a similar comment,  writing,

Now that Gage and his Federal-Vision-friendly teaching are firmly ensconced at Knox Theological Seminary, and his opponents Beisner, White, and Reymond, who also were opponents of the Federal Vision, are now gone from the school, Knox Seminary is in danger of becoming a bastion of Federal Vision/New Perspective on Paul teaching.  And this danger extends to the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church as well.  – Imagining a Vain Thing, p.104, n.10

The predicted chickens have finally come home to roost.  And while there’s some satisfaction in being ahead of the curve regarding the doctrinal direction of KTS, that satisfaction is more than offset by the knowledge that the transformation of Knox into a Federal Vision school is no longer a future event, but a present reality.

All this raises an interesting question, now that KTS has gone FV, whither Coral Ridge?  It’s separated from Knox by no more than the breadth of N. Federal (Vision) Highway and wide open to an FV takover…if that hasn’t happened already.

May the Lord defend the truth of his Gospel.

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