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Covenant Theological Seminary and the decline of the PCA

Covenant Theological Seminary and the decline of the PCA

The bad fruit of the Presbyterian Church in America’s Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS) has long been evident to those willing to see and take warning. For twenty years we have been documenting betrayals of God’s truth by her administration, faculty, and alumni, yet those with oversight (including those on CTS’s General Assembly oversight committee) have refused to correct her errors. Thus they are now responsible for the decline of Biblical truth spreading across the PCA.

This corruption has been most obvious recently in Covenant’s backing of Revoice through speakers and organizers who are the school’s alumni and Vice President for Academics. There in St. Louis, it was the PCA’s Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) who hosted this celebration of all things sexual minority-ish.

This is all old news, though. Let’s rehearse the path of Covenant’s decline.

We start with longtime theology professor at Covenant, David Jones. In an interview published in the October 4, 1999 issue of “Christianity Today,” Professor Jones called for the repeal of sodomy laws. Shocked by his declaration during their interview of him, CT asked Jones if he was going on record as opposing sodomy statutes? Jones responded, “Yes. I don’t think they’re necessary.”

Jones here called for the repeal of laws against sodomy that then were on the books of most of the states of our country. It was astounding, particularly coming from a theology professor at the PCA’s seminary.

We wrote Jones asking him to reconsider his position. We carbon-copied CTS president Bryan Chapell, but the letter was dismissed by both Jones and Chapell (see archives).

Note carefully that Jones was not calling for the passage of sodomy laws, but their repeal. Prof. Jones was a prophet for the next twenty years of rebellion against God’s Moral Law that sped across our nation, culminating in the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling sixteen years later. As a CTS professor of theology paid by the Presbyterian Church in America, Prof. Jones softened the church up for the Supreme Court’s rebellion against God.

Next we turn to Covenant’s Old Testament Professor C. John “Jack” Collins. His book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? was praised by Dr. Peter Enns for “attempting to bring under one roof the truth of evolution as the proper paradigm for explaining human origins and the biblical story of Adam and Eve.”

This is the PCA’s in-house Old Testament professor who trains our pastors being commended by Enns for, again, showing that the truth of evolution is the proper paradigm for explaining the biblical “story” of Adam and Eve.

This same Peter Enns was forced out of Westminster Theological Seminary a few years ago, and since departing Westminster has given himself to subverting the authority and inspiration of Scripture.

Around the time he issued his book, Collins published an article countenancing the denial of the Biblical revelation of the first man Adam. Collins posited Adam as the descendant of an early tribe of hominids. Here’s what he wrote. Notice the “if,” the “someone,” the “shoulds” and “woulds.” So very coy:

If someone should decide that there were, in fact, more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of humankind, then, in order to maintain good sense, he or she should envision these humans as a single tribe. Adam would then be the chieftain of this tribe (preferably produced before the others), and Eve would be his wife. This tribe “fell” under the leadership of Adam and Eve.

Again, we have warned the PCA against Collins’s mincing denials of Scripture’s historicity. Read more about Collins here.

Next we turn to Covenant’s Professor of Theology Dan Doriani who was a contributor to Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood published by Crossway. (A previous version of this article mistakenly said that Doriani contributed to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.) It was back in the early 2000s that Doriani left Covenant to take the senior pastorate of St. Louis’s Central Presbyterian Church—the tallest Presbyterian steeple in the city. Central holds membership in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination whose reason to exist from its inception has always been permitting the ordination of women pastors and elders.

Prof. Doriani’s move from Covenant and the PCA into the environs of EPC’s feminist egalitarianism was seamless. There was no alarm. No talk of women pastors and elders being a confessional issue. It was the same years later when Sr. Pastor Doriani decided he wanted to return to Covenant and the PCA. No muss, no fuss. So that now Dr. Doriani has taken up duties as Covenant’s “Vice President of Strategic Academic Projects and Professor of Theology.” For more on VP Doriani, see here

Next we turn to Covenant’s Professor of Homiletics, Zack Eswine. Currently Director of Homiletics and Scholar-in-Residence at the Francis Schaeffer Institute, as Doriani had before him, Eswine moved seamlessly from serving as a professor at Covenant and a teaching elder of the PCA into a pastorate in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church—then back again to Covenant a few years later.

Eswine began as a PCA pastor in our Great Lakes Presbytery where Covenant’s president, Mark Dalbey, was also serving in the pastorate. After Dalbey moved over to Covenant, Bryan Chapell invited Eswine to come to Covenant to serve as the seminary’s homiletics professor. Later, Eswine left the seminary to serve as lead pastor of Riverside Church, another St. Louis congregation in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. More recently, Eswine has returned to Covenant while continuing his pastorate at Riverside. His legacy is evident on Riverside’s “serve” page:

REACH OUT TO OPPOSITE-SEX AND SAME-SEX ATTRACTED NEIGHBORS

At Riverside, neighbors from varying points of view attend. We imperfectly seek to cultivate the robust and rich life of companionship and friendship that Jesus teaches and offers. We also seek to dignify the attractions and desires that each human being must wrestle with and name. At Riverside, when we talk about the good gift of sexuality as a whole, we are often viewed as too traditional by some of our LGBTQ friends and too liberal by some of our Evangelical colleagues. The two sermons below given by Dr. Eswine are on the occasion of the Supreme Court Decision regarding same-sex marriage and in response to the Orlando Massacre of 2016. These messages will enable you to gain a sense of how we imperfectly but sincerely approach this tender topic together as a Riverside community.

In the early 2000s, one of us was a student in Eswine’s homiletics course and heard him preach many times in Covenant’s chapel. His preaching was marked by raw emotions and an uncanny ability to capitalize on his own victimhood.

Next we turn to Covenant Professor Jerram Barrs. Barr’s feminism has never been hidden, nor even nuanced. Complementarianism is his enemy. As one of us publicly reported from his student days at Covenant, “Covenant’s resident feminist professor Jerram Barrs …taught us that the complementarian tome, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, was ‘demeaning to women.'”

Those were Barrs’ words condemning a book that is most notable for its restraint in everything it says. In a meeting with Covenant’s then-president Bryan Chapell over a decade ago, one of us called Bryan to remove Barr from his faculty. Ironically, Chapell himself was the one to leave and Barrs’ feminism continues its very soft corruption of Covenant’s students.

Next we turn to Covenant’s Professor of NT and Archaeology David Chapman whose wife serves in various capacities within Covenant’s administration. Both are getting paychecks from the PCA, yet Chapman had no fear of any correction by Covenant’s administration or General Assembly’s oversight committee when he contradicted the PCA Assembly’s condemnation of gender-neutered translations.

Now let us turn to the recent unpleasantness that’s been going down in St. Louis.

We’ve spilled a lot of pixels documenting and critiquing Covenant’s involvement in Revoice. Note particularly our “Itching Ears” pieces published before the event last June. We spoke personally of our concerns in a meeting with Mark Dalbey at the 2018 PCA GA Committee of Commissioners meeting and were underwhelmed by his response. Then we responded to him.

The conclusions we came to in that piece only begin to express our concern over the corrupting influence of Covenant within the PCA. We wrote:

No faithful soul pursuing the call to pastoral ministry wants to be trained by men whose principal gift is moderating God’s truth towards cultural palatability.

Since last year when we and others exposed Revoice, what has gone down at Covenant, within Missouri Presbytery, and across the PCA?

Let us turn to Covenant’s Dean of Students, Professor Mike Higgins. In addition to his job leading the students at Covenant, Higgins is the pastor of a PCA congregation which employs his daughter, Michelle, as their director of worship.

Michelle Higgins has been making a name for herself for several years, now. Her coming out party was preaching to Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s Urbana missions conference. Ms. Higgins is angry—that’s the word listeners use. Note Ms. Higgins trash talking those who deny her any ordination:

What does that word mean? What does the word ordainable mean? It literally means possesses a penis. It does not mean is currently in seminary, has graduated with an M.Div and has gone before a licensure committee. Ordainable means that the person is able to be set to the practice of potentially becoming a church leader. And specifically in some denominations church leaders may only be male and therefore when you whittle it all down that word is how we live out a theology that we have proof-­texted to death, to twist and to turn, in order to re-­erect a wall that God, I believe, tore down in his flesh. Jesus, in his male body, tore down a dividing wall that now allows me to be just as complete as a woman, and yet in my own context no one will hear me unless maybe I develop and design a penis­-shaped microphone cause if all you need to have is a penis in order to be heard then maybe we should have a line of penis microphones. Because it is all that you need to have to pass out communion, to take up the offering, to shake hands with the visitors when they come in.

Excuse the graphic language. This is the way she speaks—this daughter of Covenant’s Dean of Students, worship director at his church, Inter-Varsity Urbana preacher, and M.Div. graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary.

Ms. Higgins is an advocate of Black Lives Matters. During her sermon at Urbana ’15, she bashed pro-lifers. Her contributions to the “Truth’s Table” podcast are infamous, including the above profane mockery.

Preaching to his South City Church (PCA) congregation1, Ms. Higgins’s father commends his daughter’s Truth’s Table for their demonstration of the Gospel. He says it “looks like Jesus”:

All I’m saying is that the church has got to actually demonstrate the Gospel. …it may mean that you actually are going to have to be seen doing something that looks like Jesus. I don’t know what it’s going to be. It may be Truth’s Table or supporting Truth’s Table.2

Despite her opposition to the doctrine of Scripture, Covenant Theological Seminary invited Ms. Higgins to speak at a ministry lunch for students as a representative of Leadership Development Resource (LDR)—an organization promoted by the PCA’s church planting arm, Mission to North America.

Nobody should be surprised at the sectarian and schismatic fruit of Faith for Justice which she co-founded in 2015. Recently, Faith for Justice announced their Martin Luther King conference would be hosted at her father’s church. When tweets went out across the country documenting that one of the speakers was a self-affirming lesbian and her topic was gay advocacy, South City’s session responded to the outrage issuing a statement saying:

In the past few days, the session and pastoral staff of South City Church became aware of details concerning an event that was to be hosted on its property on January 20th, 2019 sponsored and organized by Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy and social justice organization. Upon being informed of the details of the event, the session and pastoral staff met and determined that some of the planned elements within this particular event appeared to be inconsistent with South City Church’s theological convictions. …At no point was the event a South City Church event or part of a South City Church worship service.

Duly noted.

Note their mincing “upon being informed” and their precious “appeared to be.” Then note that, in spite of their work to distance the church leadership from this event, Pastor Michael Higgins is one of three board members of Faith for Justice.

Why was the public outraged? What had been announced as part of Faith for Justice’s Reclaim MLK 2019 conference at this PCA congregation served by Covenant’s Dean of Students?

Ms. Higgin’s organization publicized the upcoming contribution of their conference speaker Jay-Marie Hill on Faith for Justice’s FB page:

On Sunday, January 20th at 4 pm at South City Church, we welcome Jay-Marie Hill of Music Freedom Dreams as they teach us how to not only mourn the tragic deaths of trans folx, but learn to celebrate their lives and humanity.

Hill serves the Missouri chapter of the ACLU as a “Transgender Education and Advocacy Program Coordinator.” Their website explains: “Jay-Marie Hill (they/them) is an activist, musician, and educator who lives a life designed to help our world ascend beyond gendered and racialized norms.” She is also open about her lesbian relationship.

South City Church (PCA) pastored by Covenant’s Dean of Students Michael Higgins has had Ms. Hill serving on the music leadership team alongside Higgins’s daughter, Michelle, as part of LDR’s worship (far right saxophone player) September 3, 2017, as well as during Faith for Justice’s worship night May 27, 2018.

This documentation has become tiresome to us, and we’re sure to our readers, also.

Covenant Theological Seminary has grown so odious to members of the PCA that one Southern presbytery has now called for Covenant to be cut off from the denomination. The overture will come to General Assembly this year.

Rightfully so. Covenant is doing damage to the churches and souls of the PCA, as well as the broader Reformed church of our nation and Reformed fellowships around the world.

Yet Covenant remains unperturbed.

Covenant’s president and trustees have even had the audacity to suggest to presbyteries the nominees they would prefer be sent up to the General Assembly’s Nominations Committee. (One of us has firsthand knowledge of this through his work on his own presbytery’s Nominations Committee).

What is required for the reform of Covenant Theological Seminary?

Disband the board of trustees and other administrative boards of the seminary. Then build a new board and agencies from the ground up.

President Mark Dalbey has been on watch over Covenant’s faculty and students’ abandonment of Scripture and the Confessions. He must be removed.

What is happening in the PCA is tragic, but there’s a silver lining to the cloud. The conflict and division will prove who God approves (1 Cor. 11:19).

New works, new denominations, new pastoral training schools, and new life will spring up like infant vegetation after a wildfire.

It is our prayer that, accompanying this new life, celebrity Christianity, ministries that heal the wounds of the people superficially (particularly those purporting to serve homosexuals and racial minorities), and good-old-boy networks bragging about their behind-the-scenes negotiations will come to be despised.

The PCA is on life support and Covenant’s GA oversight committees, trustees, presidents, and faculty bear the blame. May our Lord, the Head of His Church, be pleased to bless the new works. May we not be presumptuous. May He prosper the work of our hands.

May no one despise the day of small things.

Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:8-10a).

Churches and associations of churches (denominations) are communities of faith, which is to say communities united in their confession of Biblical doctrine. When churches turn away from defending the doctrines of Scripture to evading and abandoning those doctrines, focussing rather on making their trademark more palatable to their culture, they have lost their reason to exist.

*****

(To engage in conversation about this post with authors and readers, please click through the link below, “Start the Discussion at Sanityville.”)

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1. A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to “South Central Church”, instead of “South City Church” a couple of times.
2. See https://bit.ly/2Rzlqru at 1:21.

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About The Authors

38

Andrew Dionne is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Spartanburg, SC. He serves on the boards of Clearnote Pastors College and Personhood South Carolina. He has six children and a lovely wife.

7

Tim Bayly has been senior pastor of Clearnote Church, Bloomington since 1996. Married to Mary Lee, the Baylys have five children and twenty-something grandchildren. Tim's book on fatherhood is titled "Daddy Tried" and he is co-author of a book on homosexuality titled "The Grace of Shame.’

14

Michael is the Associate Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Spartanburg, SC. He also hosts the podcast Practical Ecclesiolgy. God has blessed him with a beautiful wife and seven children.

24

David is married to Cheryl, and together they have five children and ten grandchildren. David and Cheryl have served in Toledo since 1988, where David is Senior Pastor at Christ the Word Church PCA.

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