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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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– 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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