"Oh yes, I'm the great pretender, pretending that I'm doing well…"
Photo by Deb
Despite the firestorm that is engulfing Sovereign Grace Ministries, it appears the Board is pretending everything is just fine. In case you haven’t been reading SGM’s most recent blog posts (the last three to be specific), the Pastors College is back in session. SGM leadership appears to be dodging its serious problems by shining the spotlight on its future leadership and the brilliant theologians who are being hired to teach.
Since the SGM board wants everyone to focus on its Pastors College (PC), let’s take a closer look. Perhaps you will recall that last year the PC had only three students. That might explain why this year’s class is much larger with twenty-three students. SGM pretends everything is hunky-dory by making these kinds of pronouncements. (link)
“Today marks the beginning of a new Pastors College academic year. We’ll introduce the students in a moment, but first, here is the class by the numbers of 23 students:
• Ages range from 24 to 56 years old
• Twenty-two are married, with marriages ranging from 3 to 31 years
• Ten states are represented, as well as five countries besides the U.S.: the Philippines, Germany, Bolivia, England, and the Dominican Republic
• 15 of the students have prior pastoral experience and 1 is a senior pastor
• 8 students are in our church-planting track
As you can imagine, the ten-month Pastors College curriculum is an intense experience for these men and for their families, on top of settling into temporary homes and for some a new culture altogether.”
I was surprised that Tony Reinke listed the students’ names and other pertinent information in his post.
If you are not familiar with the SGM Pastors College, here is the description provided on the SGM website. (link)
“The Pastors College is a ten-month pastoral training program for men in Sovereign Grace churches. It combines academic instruction with an emphasis on pastoral care and spiritual growth. The Pastors College also provides ongoing training for current pastors in Sovereign Grace Ministries….
How it works
The Pastors College is based at Covenant Life Church and is led by Jeff Purswell, a member of our leadership team. Students (usually 15-25 per year) take a series of non-accredited, week-long classes on the Old and New Testaments, hermeneutics, systematic and biblical theology, pastoral ministry, homiletics, church history, counseling, and much more. They also take the equivalent of two semesters of biblical Greek….
Students live in Gaithersburg, Maryland, during the ten-month program so they can observe and participate in the life of Covenant Life Church. Frequent small groups, along with pastoral care from Covenant Life pastors, provide an environment that facilitates growth in humility and Christlike character.”
What greatly puzzles/troubles me is that a number of students who have attended the Pastors College in years past have already earned Masters of Divinity degrees from accredited seminaries. I guess they have to go through a ten-month indoctrination into the SGM way of doing things, which features Wayne Grudem’s abbreviated version of Systematic Theology. Grudem’s book used at the PC – Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith – was edited by none other than Jeff Purswell, who heads the Pastors College. The back cover states that Purswell is “dean of academic and student affairs at the Pastors College of PDI Ministries and is on the pastoral staff of Covenant Life Church, both in Gaithersburg, Maryland.” According to SGM’s website, Jeff is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from The Catholic University of America. Why not Southern Seminary?
Sorry, I just don’t understand what anyone who has earned a legitimate M.Div. could learn from the SGM Pastors College.
It’s important to point out that the PC is exclusively for members of Sovereign Grace churches who have been recommended by their pastors, “usually after a period of training and observation in their home church”, according to SGM’s website. The website further states: “After their graduation, students are sent to local churches (usually within Sovereign Grace Ministries) for internships or pastoral positions. Many go on to plant churches within a few years of their graduation.”
The SGM website also includes the following information related to the Pastors College:
"Although the Pastors College is usually limited to Sovereign Grace church members, all pastors are welcome to take advantage of these additional training opportunities and resources.
• our annual Pastors Conference
• the semiannual Together for the Gospel conference
• study books for your church
• free audio messages on pastoral leadership"
I sincerely hope the Together for the Gospel conference is bi-annual and not semi-annual…
Who teaches at the Pastors College?
According to the SGM website, instructors include “Mark Dever, Wayne Grudem, Ligon Duncan, David Powlison, Jeff Purswell, Bob Kauflin, C.J. Mahaney, and others from churches within and without the Sovereign Grace family.”
Incredibly, SGM leaders appear to be deflecting attention away from themselves and their defective organization by focusing on the PC instructors in their blog posts. The first instructor highlighted was Dr. Andreas Köstenberger, Senior Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of Ph.D. Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. (link)
Here is how Dr. Köstenberger is introduced on SGM's blog:
"This week classes began for the 2011–2012 class of the Pastors College class. And each year the PC curriculum includes classes by experienced seminary professors who are invited to teach on targeted subjects…. With the start of the new year we thought you may be interested to hear a few interviews we’ve done with visiting lecturers in previous years.
Today we’re posting a conversation we recorded with Dr. Andreas Köstenberger, Senior Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of Ph.D. Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2009 he traveled to the Pastors College to teach a course on the Gospel of John.”
To be sure, Dr. Andreas Köstenberger is a highly educated and well-respected theologian at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. (link)
Dr. Köstenberger has a ministry called Biblical Foundations. (link)
To demonstrate what a small world it is, you may be interested to know that Dr. Köstenberger's oldest child and my younger daughter were classmates almost a decade ago. I remember meeting his wife for the first time at the class Christmas party (this was a Christian school) held at the local ice skating rink. We had a nice conversation that day. Less than a year later my family joined a newly established Southern Baptist church, and the Köstenbergers also joined. Not only that, my husband and I attended the same Sunday School class as Andreas and his wife. It was a rather small class with less than 30 attendees each week. I remember Dr. Köstenberger chiming in the discussion from the back of the room on occasion. Sadly, we are no longer members of this congregation because there was a tremendous internal conflict that divided the church.
Carolyn Mahaney would likely feel threatened by Dr. Köstenberger's wife because she is highly educated. She, like her husband, holds a doctorate. In fact, she sometimes lectures at Evangelical Theological Society gatherings. One topic she discusses is Jesus and the feminists. According to the Biblical Foundations website, the Köstenbergers recently co-taught a graduate level class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
Although I no longer associate with the Köstenbergers, I am bothered by how Sovereign Grace Ministries appears to be "using" theologians like Andreas to justify their ministry to a watching world via their blog. From my perspective, it seems they need to do name-dropping in order to gain credibility. C.J. Mahaney used the same tactic on his View from the Cheap Seats blog by spotlighting various well-known Neo-Calvinists such as John Piper, Mark Dever, David Powlison, etc. Just check the archives to see what I mean.
In the last few years Dr. Köstenberger has likely spent less than two weeks teaching a course on the Gospel of John at the Pastors College. I wonder whether he approves of SGM publicizing his short-term role at the PC. From my vantage point, the theologians who teach at the Pastors College appear to be complicit. The world is finally becoming aware of the serious problems in Sovereign Grace Ministries. Will there be any repercussions for the theologians inside and outside of SGM who train future leaders in this "family of churches"?
The following video was suggested by our good friend, Sopy!
Lydia's Corner: 2 Kings 17:1-18:12 Acts 20:1-38 Psalm 148:1-14 Proverbs 18:6-7