The School of Hard Knox: Further Reflections on My Time at KTS (Part I)
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 seen fit to fire 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.
God is faithful in ways that aren't always immediately clear
When in August 2006 I uprooted my life to move to Fort Lauderdale and attend KTS, I did so with the intention of studying for the ministry. It was a goal that I had thought seriously about for a number of years leading up to my decision to attend seminary. I confess that I was slightly terrified at the thought of making the move, but it seemed that God was calling me and now was the time to act.
When a little over four months later I found myself packing a U-Haul to return to Cincinnati, I was more than a bit disappointed. A goal, a dream that I had held for many years was coming to an end, and that before it had really ever begun.
But on my way from Fort Lauderdale to Cincinnati, I know that I would be passing through east Tennessee, where John Robbins of the Trinity Foundation lived and worked. I'd wanted to meet John - I call him John, not to give you the impression that I was part of some inner circle, but because that's how he preferred to be called - for a long time, and this was the best opportunity that I was likely to get.
Well, long story short, I was able to arrange with John to stop by his house on the way back. I parked my U-Haul in a gravel turnaround at the bottom of the street where he lived and a few minutes later, a blue car (at least that's how I remember it) pulled up with John in it dressed in (I think) jeans, work boots, a flannel shirt. His appearance was more that of a lumberjack than the brilliant scholar he was. I hopped in his car and road with him the short distance to his house, where we sat and talked in his study for about three hours about KTS. It was as if I'd known John for years and I'd just met him.
I remember him saying that he was familiar with Gage's work as the KTS website had for some time prominently featured The John-Revelation Project, Gage's magnum opus on typology based upon his University of Dallas doctoral dissertation. John told me that for some time he had considered writing about Gage's work, which he aptly described as, "Some of the most bizarre stuff I've ever seen." Coming from John who had founded The Trinity Foundation 30 years earlier and had spent the ensuing decades refuting all manner of strange and heretical teaching, this was saying quite a lot indeed.
Then came the kicker. "Would you like to do the job?" John asked me. "I knew he was going to ask me that!" I thought to myself. Excited, intrigued and a bit daunted, I replied, "Yes."
Here I was, some guy with hardly any formal training in theology or philosophy or, for that matter, even a graduate degree of any sort, being commissioned to critique the work of a Ph.D. seminary professor. "God help me," I thought to myself. And he did.
As a bit of an aside, it's worth noting that John Robbins, among many other admirable qualities, was possessed of a sense of humor. As I was leaving his basement study and having earlier noticed a New York Yankees pennant on the wall, I commented to him, "John, there's really only one thing I disagree with you on." "What's that?," he asked me. "You're a Yankees fan," I told him. "I've always thought of them as the evil empire." John got a good laugh out of that.
Well, by God's grace and with John's editing skill, I went on to write that critique of Gage's bizarre theology, which also ended up being a post mortem on KTS following the blow up in the late summer and fall of 2007. What had begun as a paper expanded to a book.
When the book came out in, if I recall correctly, late August or early September 2008, it was a bittersweet time for me. While I was thrilled to see the book in print, I was grieved that John, the man who had commissioned me for the job and who had been my mentor and friend throughout the writing process, had died of an illness just a few weeks earlier. What was going to happen to his work? Would it be forgotten? Would The Trinity Foundation even survive? These questions and others were very much on my mind.
After some time of reflection and prayer, it seemed to me that the best way to honor John's memory would be, as far as I was able, to continue his work. But how? It was then that I began to think of about the then relatively new medium of blogging. It was about six months after my book was published that I wrote my first blog post on Lux Luxet, a blog that has continued to this day.
Time would fail me if I recounted all the blessings that have accrued to me over the years since as a result of the blog. But the big takeaway that I'd like to leave you with is that God has been faithful to me in a remarkable way that I never could have imagined after my "failure" at seminary way back in 2006. Dropping out after the first semester, in part because I could see where the school was headed due to its tolerance of Gage and his false teaching, seemed like as disaster at the time. But - and take it from this natural pessimist - God is faithful to his people and works all things to their good, even if it doesn't seem that way in the midst of our disappointments and difficulties.
Roman Catholic trained professors pose a real danger to Protestant colleges and seminaries
As I mentioned above, Warren Gage received his Ph.D from the University of Dallas, a Roman Catholic institution. This was no accident on the part of Gage. For throughout my semester at Knox, he made it very clear, sometimes in obvious ways, at other times more subtly, that he had a clear case of what could be called papal envy. As I recall, Gage had on his office door a medieval image of a pope on his throne that was doctored with a picture of Gage's own face. As I said, the man had papal envy, but this was a small thing compared to what he taught in the classrooms of KTS.
The class that I had with Gage was Old Testament Survey. Now one would suppose that a class titled Old Testament Survey would be focused on the Old Testament. But this was not a safe assumption in Dr. Gage's OT class, for in it he aggressively pushed his major work titled The John Revelation Project (JRP) which, as you probably have gathered from the name, was all about the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. I have archived the full text of the John-Revelation Project here for your reference.
In the JRP, Gage made very clear his dislike of the Puritans and love of Rome. For example, Gage chided the Puritans, whining, "For it was our Puritan forebears who closed down the Elizabethan theater, fearing the nature of the theatre to explore the comedic imagination, which was suspected (especially in Shakespeare!) of undermining good morals." Given the gross immorality of Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general, maybe the Puritans concerns about the theatre were well founded, but Gage takes them to task.
On the other hand, while he felt free to chastise the Puritans, Gage was generous with his praise of the Roman Church-State and sought in his work to rescue the well-deserved bad reputation of this spiritual harlot. Gage wrote, "On the other hand, this vindication of reformed soteriology against Rome is at the price of falsifying the unilateral and most common historical identification of the whore of Revelation within Protestant circles, which, consequently, becomes five full centuries of slander." Gage had this odd idea that the Babylonian Harlot of Revelation, not only did not represent the Church of Rome, but actually was a figure for God's people who were called from their spiritual harlotry and transformed into the chaste Bride of Christ. In light of what Revelation says about the end of the Woman Who Rides the Beast - Revelation 17:17 says the woman will be made desolate and naked, have her flesh eaten and be burned with fire - this seems to be an extraordinary leap of logic.
So you see, not only were the Puritans a bunch of Puritanical wet blankets for shutting down the theatre, but also they were slanderers for identifying the murderous Roman Church-State, an organization that had anathematized the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all who believed it, with Mystery Babylon of Revelation 17.
That Gage would push this point of view in print and in the classroom should come as no surprise. What else would you expect a Roman Catholic trained professor to do? As John Robbins wrote, "Rome realizes what the central theological issue is, and Rome is moving deliberately and effectively to heal the wound inflicted on her in the sixteenth century by the preaching of the Gospel. Rome apparently is finding plenty of eager dupes - useful idiots, Lenin called them - among the ersatz-evangelicals to accomplish its goal." And one of those useful idiots was Warren Gage.
Writing in the most recent Trinity Review, Tom Juodaitis commented, "It's no wonder the church is in the shape it is in this country, including the Reformed churches, because many of the professors at the seminaries which train the pastors have been trained at Roman Catholic and even Jesuit institutions. I graduated from Covenant College, the college of the Presbyterian Church in America, and their current president earned his PhD in history from Loyola University in Chicago, and his Jesuit priest dissertation supervisor attended his inauguration service."
After citing my experience with Roman Catholic trained Warren Gage, Juodaitis continues, "A search of the web sites of Reformed and Presbyterian and Conservative Baptist seminaries resulted in finding 16 professors who had Master or Doctorate degrees of extra doctoral work from the following Romanist or Jesuit institutions: Catholic University of America Washington, D.C.), Loyola University (Chicago), St. Louis University (St. Louis), University of Dallas (Dallas), and University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana)."
He concludes, "Is it any wonder why the Reformed churches are having problems with the Gospel and moral issues?" The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is, "No, it's no wonder at all. In fact, it's to be expected."
Why, oh why, have the churches of the Reformation gone begging intellectual bread from the Romanists!? Is there no balm in Gilead? Have we not over 500 years of solid Protestant scholarship - from John Wycliffe all the way up to Gordon Clark and John Robbins - on which to draw that we need to seek help from the Whore of Babylon, the Roman Catholic Church-State, to answer the great questions of our day?
Good grief! When Israel and Judah turned to Assyria and Egypt for military help against their foes, was God well pleased with them? Quite obviously he was not. Why then do we expect God to honor our efforts when we go cap in hand to the Tiber seeking the aid of the Antichrist popes and their minions to advance the Gospel or to win the culture war or to stop abortion? Ecumenism, what is it if not vanity and chasing after the wind?
(To be continued...)