The Problem with The Bible Seminary:
Sola Scriptura = Study only the Bible
A Paper Presented to the Faculty Forum The Gospel and Plow School of Theology
Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology, and Sciences (SHIATS)
Part 1 – INTEGRATING THE GOSPEL & THE PLOW
The pioneers of the modern missionary movement did not establish a Bible seminary/institute or school. In order to bless India, those Calvinist-Baptists founded Serampore College in 1818. Their leader, William Carey, was one of the greatest Bible translators/publishers of all times. Yet, along with teaching the Bible, that cobbler-turned-linguist taught botany, horticulture, astronomy, forestry, and agriculture. He founded India’s Agri-Horticultural Society, built up India’s second best botanical garden in Serampore College, published scientific books, and pioneered Indian journalism. The college rapidly grew to become Serampore University in 1827.
The Serampore University Senate handed over the departments of liberal arts and science to secular government and confined itself to teaching theology. The Senate must have had practical compulsions, but were there also deeper issues?
• Did their theology separate “sacred” subject of divinity from “secular” studies?
• Was holistic mission that cared for the poor already on the margins?
This paper is a big picture critique of the modern movement of theological seminaries/Bible institutes/Bible Schools. Yet, given Serampore’s prominence, a Ph.D. thesis is needed to examine
- If Serampore split theology from liberal arts and science because its worldview had already fragmented the Gospel that underlay Carey and Higginbottom’s integration of science, public life, and theology and consequently,
- If Serampore’s theological influence has robbed the Indian church of the power God promised to Christ’s body.
- William Carey’s generation triggered India’s renaissance. Has our fragmented worldview made theological education relevant for heaven, but irrelevant for earth?
- As of today one cannot find a single copy of Sam Higginbottom’s book, The Gospel and the Plow (1921) in the library of Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHIATS). Is it because our theological education has no genuine interest in integrating theology with the “plow.” That is, with the science, sociology, economics, law, politics, and technology needed to bless India?
- Why did 20th century theology cease making the church the light of the world? Did the corruption of Western theology inflict this disease upon India?
- More importantly: is this separation of theology from the rest of the academy responsible for marginalizing Christianity in the world’s premier Protestant nation – the United States of America?
Why Christianity Lost America
There are many reasons why Christianity has lost America. I consider the following to be the chief factors:
1) Rationalism Humanist Hubris: Reason above revelation
2) Anti-intellectualism Retreat from Protestant reason & universities
3) Bible Institute Putting Sun (Bible) in an academic silo
4) Evangelical Jesus About “Faith”, not “Truth”
5) Individualism Secular lens reading the Bible
6) Dispensationalism Leave law for the Devil, preach grace
7) Premillennialism Power: Second Coming, not Gospel, Church, & Spirit
8) “Nation” Save People-Groups: let the devil disciple nations
9) Story Not witness (Surrender to Nietzsche & Campbell)
9.5) Orality “It is written (no longer)”
“Liberal theology” has self-destructed. From the outset, the idea was foolish that the Bible is man’s word, not God’s, yet human reason can systematize the “science of God” (theology). Today, hardly anyone studies Liberal theology to try to know God. Therefore, in this paper, ‘Bible Institute/School/Seminary movement’ generally means the evangelical theological institutions that followed the ethos established by Moody Bible Institute (founded in 1886), Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) (1908) and seminaries such as Dallas Theological Seminary (1924) and Fuller Theological Seminary (1947). Although some of these institutions are improving, the theological ethos that established these institutions was radically different from the worldview of the Puritans who founded Harvard (1636), Yale (1701), and Princeton (1746). These universities were created to train men and women to serve the Church and the world that God loves.
According to its motto adopted in 1692, New England’s (i.e., America’s) first college, Harvard, was started by Puritans for “Christ and the Church” (Christo et Ecclesiae). Most university graduates among New England’s pioneers came from Cambridge (UK), and an overwhelming majority of them from the most Puritan of Cambridge colleges – Emmanuel. Harvard, which arguably wrote America’s DNA, is still the world’s number one university. It continues to shape America. Christianity lost America principally because it gave up its best Christian colleges and retreated into Bible Seminary movement.
The Heart of the Matter: University vs. Seminary
Harvard’s iconic crest was adopted in December 1643. It made pursuit of truth (VERITAS in Latin) the purpose of university’s existence, because God wants “all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
How do we discover truth? Harvard Crest inscribed VERITAS on three books:
These were books of
a) God’s words
b) God’s works, and
c) God’s reason, reflected in His image – Man.
In order to discover truth, a student had to study all three and connect dots discovered through them. The Bible Institute/Seminary movement departed from this holistic epistemology in an attempt to derive truth exclusively from the Scriptures – the book of God’s words.
The immediate intellectual force behind the Harvard crest was John Amos Comenius, (1592–1670) the last bishop of The Unity of the Brethren church. His ninety books on education made him the father of modern education. He also helped shape the modern, Protestant theology of “Nation” that forged the 1648 “Peace of Westphalia.” That theology created “nations” such as the United States of America and India.
Samuel Hartlib and John Milton invited Comenius to England in the early 1640s to launch what would have been the world’s first “modern” college in Chelsea, London. The Civil War prevented the establishment of that college but two significant things came out of his time in London:
- Comenius laid the intellectual foundations of the Royal Society of Science. A majority (62 percent) of its founders were Puritans. At that time Thomas Hobbes was the only atheist thinker in England and that disqualified him to be a member of the history’s most influential scientific society.
- New England’s Governor, John Winthrop, interacted with Comenius and brought his philosophy of Christian education to America.
Besides Comenius, Christian thinkers who shaped Harvard’s educational philosophy included Francis Bacon (1561–1626), Alexander Richardson (d. in or before 1629), William Ames (1576–1633), and John Alsted (1588–1638). They believed that truth is known through rational revelation.
God’s Three Books
Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk and a professor in the Augustinian university of Wittenberg. For a thousand years, his theological tradition had believed that in order to know truth, one had to study God’s two books: the book of God’s words and the book of God’s reason, reflected in His image – the human mind. The first book (Scriptures) is understood through the second (Reason).
Luther’s iconic declaration at the Diet of Worms in 1522 articulated this worldview: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
(i) The Book of God’s words – Scriptures
The Lord Jesus confirmed the Old Testament view that truth and falsehood are both communicated in words, and God’s word is a source of our knowledge of truth.
- The Sidonian widow of Zarephath said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17: 24).
- The Lord Jesus said, Thy word is truth (John 17:17); Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35); If you abide in my words . . . you will know the truth (John 8: 32) etc.
The apostles reinforced the Lord’s teaching:
- Paul affirmed: All Scriptures in breathed out by God . . . (2 Timothy 3:16).
- Peter taught: No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).
(ii) The book of God’s Reason
Luther taught Aristotle and considered parts of his writings to be a corrupting influence upon Europe’s intellectual life. Yet Luther – one of history’s most important champions of God’s word – agreed with Aristotle that learning truth requires studying and using reason, including logic and mathematics. This aspect of medieval education came via Augustine. He considered Reason to be God’s distinctive gift to man. Reason makes us different than animals, capable of knowing truth. That is why Augustinian tradition believed that the mind must be developed, just as we multiply other talents given to us:
Far be it from us [wrote St. Augustine] to suppose that God abhors in us that [the intellect] by virtue of which He has made us superior to other animals. Far be it, I say, that we should believe in such a way as to exclude the necessity either of accepting or requiring reason; since we could not even believe unless we possessed rational souls. (Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, Oxford University Press, 1940, p. 401)
Augustine’s theology of reason was grounded in the Apostle John, who presented God as a rational person. For very good reason, Reformed theologian Gordon Clark translated John 1:1 as “In the beginning was reason [logos, word], reason was with God, and reason was God.”
What makes word different than sound or mantra? A word is a sound with sense. The sense (logos) can be communicated with or without sound. A proposition makes sense only because it is a logical arrangement of words and sentences. Imagine a lawyer arguing before a court:
‘Kamla did not commit suicide. Her husband, Amar, murdered her. Airline records show that Amar’s flight took off from Delhi for Dubai at 8 pm. Telephone records show that Kamla called her mother at 8:30 pm. Amar threw her off the balcony at 8:35 pm.”
The lawyer’s case will be dismissed as ‘non-sense’ because a proposition unrelated to logic (logos) is, by definition, deemed untrue. Jesus is truth because he is God’s logos.
Many Bible schools no longer teach logic. Traditionally however, theology required study of logic. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to sort out disturbing theological controversies. Timothy’s pastoral role required him to study to show himself approved unto God, one who exegetes the word logically (2 Timothy 2:15).
Paul did not ask Timothy to memorize his words, for the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are not mantras to be memorized and enunciated correctly. God’s word is His wisdom. Therefore, Paul commands Timothy to “think” over his words (2 Tim 2:7). Doing theology, i.e., deciphering truth, is to think and interpret revealed data logically. It calls one to cultivate a logical mind.
(iii) The book of God’s works
William Carey taught astronomy and botany, Sam Higginbottom taught agriculture, science, and technology because by their time Protestant theology had improved upon Luther. Luther studied the books of God’s words and reason, but these could not teach him the truth about the solar system. In his usual bombastic style, Luther (1483–1546) wrote a pamphlet denouncing Copernicus’ (1473–1543) theory that the earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the earth. Soon afterwards, Galileo’s (1564–1642) careful observations of God’s works – the actual motions of the planets – confirmed Copernicus’ theoretical model.
Galileo took pains to exegete the Bible and argue that his sun-centered view of the solar-system was consistent with the Bible. Yet, his discovery challenged Luther’s epistemology as much as it challenged the Pope’s infallibility. Protestants and Catholics had to come to terms with the fact that it was not enough to study God’s word and reason. God asks us to study his works also. That study is necessary to rule over the earth (Psalm 8:6; 64:9; 72:12; 92:5 etc.). It was Francis Bacon (1561–1626) – often called the father of modern science – who forcefully championed the necessity of studying God’s works.
Bacon pointed out that when the Sadducees questioned Jesus about (marriage after) resurrection, the Lord told them, “You are in error because you know neither the Scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). What is the power of God? The Scriptures say that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). In Romans 1:19–20, Paul says that God’s works reveal the truth about God and His attributes, including His power, wisdom, and glory (See also John 9:3; 11:40). The Lord Jesus said to the Jews: ‘You search the scriptures and they point to me; you sent inquirers to John the Baptist and he testified about me; but I have greater witness than John: this is the works that I do. Believe in me because of my works’ (John 5:39).
Bacon’s exposition of the Bible was the reason why Cambridge University inscribed Psalm 111:2 at the entrance of Cavendish Laboratory – history’s first scientific lab: Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. The Psalm celebrates God’s work both in nature as well as in culture. The Old and New Testaments record God’s works so that we might study them in our quest for truth and then teach them to others. God’s works reveal His love as much as His words. That is why the church established research universities.
Christian scholars researched all three books of God: the book of God’s words; the book of God’s works; and the book of God’s reason (including logic and mathematics) because, as Bacon reminded Christian scholars, God reveals as well as conceals truth. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2). The rising and setting sun conceals the fact that, day and night are caused by the earth’s revolution, not the sun’s. Likewise, the Lord’s parables were intended to force audience to think, to find truth by connecting the dots revealed in the Old Testament, in Christ’s own words and in his works (Matthew 13:1–52, especially verses 10 and 34–35).
Evangelicalism was America’s dominant force during much of the 20th century. Yet, it did not build a single research university during its heyday. Why? One reason was its truncated epistemology that in order to know truth Christians should study only the Scriptures. Another factor was the belief that revelation means that God is in the business of revealing, not concealing matters. Research universities and labs were built on the knowledge that God’s words and works conceal matters; we are endowed with reason in order to discover hidden treasures.
Fragmentation of Knowledge: From Modernism to Postmodernism
Medieval as well as modern universities saw Theology as the queen of all sciences. When Isaac Newton (1642–1726/7) came to Cambridge, there was no department of science. What we call science was, for Newton, a study of the book of God’s works. It was called ‘Natural Philosophy’ meaning, wisdom and revelation concealed in God’s creation, but available to all.
Current fragmentation of knowledge began when Europe’s Protestant philosophers surrendered to a Roman Catholic heresy that gave to the book of reason the controlling authority over the books of God’s words and works. Reason is necessary to understand scriptures, nature, and culture. However, reason’s job is to understand, receive, interpret, synthesize, apply, and articulate revelation, not to judge it.
Enlightenment Rationalism began as a Roman Catholic heresy. The Catholic theology affirmed the ultimate authority of the Scriptures and the Church. The Church’s interpretation of the Scriptures was infallible. It did not grant final authority to individual reason because it believed in Original Sin. Therefore, it was not traditional Catholicism but a heresy to think that Adam and Eve’s “Fall” affected the heart but not the mind. Therefore, the mind (reason, logic) could discover truth without grace, without revelation or inspiration.
Rene Descartes’s rationalism ignored Total Depravity and exalted the book of reason above the books of God’s words and works: this was beginning of humanist hubris. For revelation is the only reason a section of the Roman Catholic Church had trusted reason. Orthodox Church failed to develop universities because it did not fully embrace Augustine’s biblical perspective on human reason as God’s image.
Protestant reformers were theologians. Through thinkers such as Luther and Calvin Protestantism inherited the best of Catholic thought. European thinkers built upon that foundation. Tragically, however, some their European followers, mainstream Protestant philosophers, theologians, and apologists, surrendered to rationalist arrogance. They too put reason above revelation and undermined the authority of Scriptures, Logos (become-flesh), and quickly of reason itself.
Today, the postmodern philosopher knows what the Buddha and the Shankaracharya knew: there is no metaphysical reason to trust reason. The only reason the Jews, Catholics, and Protestants trusted human reason was the Scriptures’ revelation that the human mind is made in God’s image. God gave us the mind, including the gift of language, precisely to receive, understand, and communicate His truth and love.
Modernism failed to give us the knowledge of truth because it destroyed revelation – the only available ground of our confidence in reason. Its overconfidence in reason quickly degenerated into skepticism, ignorance, unbelief, immorality and defiance of God’s authority. Western rationalism (including theological “modernism” or liberalism) undermined confidence in Scriptures because it was oblivious to the fact that it was sawing off the very branch upon which it sat. That, however, was a lesser tragedy.
More disastrous was Christian “Fundamentalist” (i.e., evangelical) reaction to “liberal” modernism. During the 20th century it abandoned university in favor of Bible institutes/seminaries. That means: evangelicalism threw the baby out with the bathwater. In reacting against rationalism, Fundamentalism abandoned studying the books of God’s works and reason. The reformer’s slogan Sola Scriptura (Scriptures alone) began to be misunderstood to mean “Study only the Scriptures.” A theologian may learn Greek, but he does so to study the Bible, not Plato.
Why Seminaries Plunged Universities into Intellectual-Moral Darkness
In 1944, the Socratic Club in Oxford invited C. S. Lewis to speak on the theme, “Is Theology Poetry?” No one writes theology in verse. So the question was not whether theology should be classified as poetry. The issue was whether Christians believe the creeds because those propositions are true or because they satisfy poetic imagination.
Lewis concluded his magnificent speech with a statement that has become classic: “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the rising sun. Not simply because I see the sun, but because through it I see everything else.” Lewis’ argument was that theology was the university’s queen of sciences because the Bible was the sun that gave light to every branch of inquiry. God’s word gave confidence in (humble) reason. Together, Scriptures and reason made sense of everything else. That epistemology of rational revelation enabled the university to develop a coherent life-and-world-view. Without the Bible, the university is without a central or common source of light (a sun) through which each department can comprehend its subject and connect it with other branches of knowledge and with life outside the academy.
Postmodernism completed the fragmentation or silofication of knowledge. Without the sun, without revelation, it had to discard the very notion of truth – VERITAS. Education ceased being the pursuit of truth. It became merely the acquisition of information, skills, and degrees in the quest for employment and power (sometimes, mainly an opportunity for sports, fun and networking). This turned every university faculty into a silo. Deprived of the sun every silo had to invent its own light, which took the form of a distinct vocabulary; creeds and initiation rituals that could not be questioned by novices or non-initiates. The Bible seminary started the problem. Two illustrations may help bring clarity:
- Can God turn water into wine in an instant? Can He make Eve a fully grown woman at the moment of her creation? If so, He can also create in an instant, a fully developed universe. But did He? How is that question to be investigated? A Young-Earth Creationist may maintain that about 4000 years before Christ, God created the universe in six days, each of 24-hours. Did he arrive at that conclusion because he carefully synthesized all the information gleaned from the books of God’s word, works, and reason? Or, does he hold his belief as a dogma, because he believes that we know truth by reading only the Scriptures? Is it biblical to not study God’s works (science) objectively?
- Why does an evolutionist believe that a professor of law, logic, or mathematics cannot understand or question the evidence for macro-evolution? It is because Evolution – a great theory – has become a dogma. Evolutionists do not allow non-specialists to scrutinize their dogma because postmodern biology, geology, and paleontology are silos – dogmatic, occult sciences accessible only to the initiated, not accessible to outsiders.
Why is postmodern university sinking into intellectual and moral darkness?
The sad answer is: because of Bible institute/school/seminary movement. This movement put university’s sun – the Bible – into an academic silo. Instead of seeking truth by synthesizing knowledge revealed in the books of God’s words, works, and reason, the Bible seminary isolated God’s words from his works and reason. Silofication of the sun pushed other departments into darkness.
The Future: GPST’s Unique Potential
The Gospel and Plough School of Theology (GPST) at SHIATS is uniquely placed to begin reversing the destructive epistemology of previous centuries. This is because SHIATS is led not by a conventional theologian but by a scientist, Prof. (Dr.) R. B. Lal, who has three PhDs in soil sciences. Dr. Lal may not be North India’s greatest theologian, but, arguably, he is the most influential theologian. For that reason alone his theology needs critical evaluation. One of his greatest strength is his unashamed, childlike commitment to study God’s words and works with scientific objectivity and humility. His interpretations may be incomplete or wrong, but his intellectual humility is exhibited frequently: he puts his intellect under God’s word in opposition to the world’s “wisdom.”
SHIATS is yet to get over Christian anti-intellectualism. It is yet to articulate a rigorous logo-centric view of logic, mathematics, and language as tools necessary for discovering truth. Nevertheless, because SHIATS is led by an unashamed believer in God’s words and works, GPST has the potential to break out of the theological ghetto in which virtually every single Bible seminary finds itself – be it liberal or evangelical.
GPST can chart a new path for global theology if it takes seriously the Vice Chancellor’s call to equip and enable theology students to go to other departments to study books of God’s works and reason. Likewise the theology faculty must equip itself to welcome students of agriculture, science, technology, and humanities to take courses in the book of God’s words. The day must come when Professors of Physics, anthropology, and medicine will pursue post-doctoral research in theology: not to become pastors, but in order to synthesize information gleaned from God’s three books.
Without such innovations SHIATS and GPST will be like most other educational factories producing workers for the market and the church. Integrating the Gospel and the Plow will turn SHIATS into a university engaged with truth and compassion. It will relate truth to the continuing, yet unacceptable, context of ignorance, hunger, poverty, corruption, and oppression. Relating theology simultaneously to other disciplines and poverty will make the Gospel and Plow School of Theology (GPST) an intellectual center from where the sun (the Bible) enlightens every department.
Sam Higginbottom knew that the truth that liberates is wholesome and compassionate. SHIATS must exist in order to love our neighbors, especially the less-fortunate, even as it caters also to the self-interest of our students and faculty.
*** To be continued ***
PART II . . . Carey and Higginbottom:
Models of Integrating the Gospel and the Plough
Honorary Professor, Applied Theology at The Gospel and Plow School of Theology
Reach him by email at: email@example.com
On Sam Higginbottom
- The Gospel and the Plough: Or, The Old Gospel and Modern Farming in Ancient India (Sam Higginbottom, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1921)
- Sam Higginbottom, Farmer: An Autobiography (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1949)
- Sam Higginbottom of Allahabad: Pioneer of Point Four to India (Gary R. Hess, The University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1967)
On William Carey
- The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture
(Vishal & Ruth Mangalwadi, (Good Books, Mussoorie, UA, 1993 & 1999)
On Why Christianity Lost America
- Fundamentalism and American Culture (George M. Marseden, Oxford University Press, 2006)
- The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Mark A. Noll, Eardmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994)
On the Place of Reason in Christian Education
- God and Reason in the Middle Ages (Edward Grant, Cambridge University Press, 2001)
- Christianity and Classical Culture (Charles Norris Cochrane, Oxford University Press, 1940)
- Dr. David Scott’s paper “A Vision of Veritas: What Christian Scholarship Can Learn from the Puritans’ ‘Technology’ of Integrating Truth” at: http://www.leaderu.com/aip/docs/scott.html
On Biblical Theology and the Making of the Modern World
- The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization
(Vishal Mangalwadi, Thomas Nelson, 2011)