The School of Hard Knox: Further Reflections on My Time at KTS (Part II)

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.


A Tale of Missed Opportunities 

I recently watched a series of YouTube videos on commercial air disasters.  The author of the videos used a flight simulator together with on screen text to describe the events leading up to the crashes.  One of the common threads running through  the accounts of the various disasters is that it wasn't just one problem that caused the crash.  Generally, it takes a series of mistakes to occur in a particular sequence for a disaster to take place.  If any one of the factors had been different in a particular scenario, the crash probably wouldn't have happened at all.

From my knowledge of the events at KTS, it seems to me that this same principle can be applied to crashing seminaries as well.  In the case of KTS, there were a number of opportunities - opportunities stretching from the time Gage was under consideration for a teaching position at the school right up until the time when he and his faction formally gained control of the school - for Biblically sound professors, board members and donors to have acted to put a stop to Gage's nonsense.   But, as far as I am aware, no serious attempt to do this was undertaken until the problem had grown so large as to be too little too late.  And even when a serious attempt to remove Gage was undertaken, those pushing for his removal flinched, all but ensuring their defeat.

For example, as part of my research into KTS while writing the book, I found that Dr. D. James Kennedy - Dr. Kennedy was the founder of KTS and was still the Chancellor of the school when I attended there in 2006 - did not want to hire Gage.  Some at school wanted to bring in Gage to develop what become known as the Christianity & Culture (C&C) program  at the school.  As it was described to me at the time I applied to KTS, the C&C program was a Christian great books program where influential books would be read in light of the teachings of Scripture.  For example, in the one class I had in this series we read Plato's Republic.        

Dr. Kennedy was skeptical of the whole idea behind C&C, fearing, rightly as it turned out, that the program would turn into a sort of Trojan Horse, where instead of the culture being judged by the Bible, the Bible would be judged by the culture.  But for all his objections, both to the C&C program in general and to the hiring of Dr. Gage in particular, those in favor of both prevailed upon Dr. Kennedy and the decision to move forward was made.  Had Dr. Kennedy stuck to his guns, perhaps KTS would still be a sound seminary. 

Dr. Gage began teaching at KTS in the fall of 2002 and had already been at the school for four years when I arrived in 2006.  I was astounded at how unbiblical his teaching was, but, at least on the surface, it seemed that everyone thought he was great.  It wasn't until I began my research on the book  that  I learned that Dr. Gage had had his hand slapped a few times over the years for his distinctively unreformed doctrine, but no serious effort had been made to remove him from his teaching position.  Had Gage's unorthodox ideas received the scrutiny they deserved, perhaps he could have been removed from the school before he caused serious, lasting damage.  But this was not done, and his leaven was allowed to go on leavening the whole KTS lump for years until it was too late. 

Even up until the fall of 2007, KTS still had the opportunity to right its listing ship.  Prompted by a student complaint, Dr. R. Fowler White conducted an investigation into Gage's classroom teaching, an investigation which concluded that Gage was guilty of 1) teaching contrary to the Westminster Confession that individual passages of Scripture had more than one meaning, and 2) disparaging logic and systematic theology.  These charges were spot on, and when the evidence for them were presented to the Executive Committee of the seminary's Board of Directors, the decision was made to terminate Gage's employment.  Had the Executive Committee's decision stuck, KTS may have survived intact.  As it turned out, the full Board of Directors of KTS shied away from taking this decisive step, instead electing to suspend Gage with full pay for the remainder of the fall 2007 semester. 

As it turned out, the Board's failure to take decisive action against Gage was the last chance KTS had to recover its reputation for doctrinal soundness.  Taking full advantage of his reprieve, Gage appealed his suspension to the Session of CRPC.  Not only did Gage succeed in having his suspension reversed, but he also was able to oust those on the Board and Faculty of the school who had opposed him.  Had the Board of KTS stood its ground and fired Gage when it had the chance, in this author's opinion the school's subsequent history very likely would have been much different.  This was a tragic missed opportunity.

The story of the decline and fall of KTS is a cautionary tale of what can happen when individuals fail to take advantage of the opportunities God provides to take a stand for the truth.  Scripture enjoins us to, "mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them," but this is easy to ignore.  In our sinfulness we fear men, we fear the loss of our jobs and reputations more than we fear God. This author is certainly aware of his own failings in this regard, so it is not my intention to point a finger at others while exempting myself.  That said, KTS's fall from being among the most doctrinally sound reformed seminaries is - as is the case with many airliner disasters - the tale of multiple missed opportunities  that, when taken together, ended up spelling disaster.


In a Dispute, the More Consistent Party Will Prevail, the Less Consistent Will Lose

"The logical and psychological principle that explains this whole tragic farce is this: When two parties accept the same premises, the more consistent party will prevail in the long run, and the less consistent party will not.  That is why the Bible is replete with warnings about the 'world,' 'the wisdom of the world,' and 'human tradition.' There can be no compromise of sola scriptura." 

The words quoted above are from a private email to me from John Robbins during the writing of my book on KTS.  The specific context of these remarks from John came in response to some disturbing discoveries I had made about the theological position of Gage's opponents.  As it turned out, the very people who rightfully criticized Gages for his fanciful typology and wanted to see him suspended from KTS actually agreed with Gage on an important point about typology.  This agreement prevented them from launching the vigorous attack on Gage's typology that the circumstances required.      

The point of agreement among Gage and his critics was this:  it is possible to discern type / anti-type relationships in Scripture by means other than explicit statement. 

In his 2006 book Lamb of God, Dr. Robert L. Reymond discussed typology and approvingly quoted Geerhardus Vos' comments in his Biblical Theology where he wrote, "the mere fact that no writer in the N.T. refers to a trait as typical, affords no proof of its lacking typical significance" (22).  In a footnote on the same page, Reymond wrote, "Bishop Herbert Marsh's dictum in his Lectures on the Criticism and Interpretation of the Bible (London, 1838), 373, that the interpreter should regard as Old Testament types only what the New Testament expressly declares to be so seems to me to be extreme and without scriptural warrant."

Herbert Marsh was a 19th Church of England Bishop for whom Marsh's dictum is named.  In his book Lectures on the Criticism and Interpretation of the Bible, Marsh wrote,

Whatever persons or things, therefore, recorded in the Old Testament, were expressly declared by Christ, or by his Apostles, to have been designed as pre-figurations of person or things relating to the New Testament, such persons or things, so recorded in the former, are types of the persons or things, with which they are compared in the latter. But if we assert, that a person, or thing, was designed to pre-figure another person or thing, where no such pre-figuration has been declared by divine authority, we make an assertion, for which we neither have, nor can have, the slightest foundation. And even when comparisons are instituted in the New Testament between antecedent and subsequent persons or things, we must be careful to distinguish the examples, where a comparison is instituted merely for the sake of illustration, from the examples, where such a connexion is declared, as exists in the relation of a type to its antitype (372-373).

This is Marsh's dictum:  The Bible must explicitly state types and anti-types.  Dr. Reymond tells us this is without scriptural warrant.  And yet, Marsh's dictum, does not leave us in uncertainty as to whether a type / anti-type relationship exists, which, as we shall see below, is a major advantage over Vos' approach. 

Reymond continues his quotation from Vos, adding, "Of course it is inevitable that into this kind of interpretation of O.T. figures an element of uncertainty must enter.  But after all this is an element that enters into all [extra-biblical] exegesis" (brackets in Reymond's text).  By quoting Vos as he does, Reymond admits that engaging in typology apart from the explicit statements of Scripture leads to uncertainty, yet he advocates Vos' typology anyway, while at the same time rejecting Herbert Marsh.  Such a position does not seem consistent with a Reformed approach to the interpretation of Scripture. What is worse, this approach to typology made it very difficult for Gage's critics to take him on, seeing that both sides agreed that typology was some mysterious thing that could be understood only by rejecting logic and embracing uncertainty.     

Although Dr. Reymond - while I was a student at KTS and throughout the time of the 2007 controversy over Warren Gage, Dr. Reymond held the title Professor of Systematic Theology, Emeritus at KTS - was not, as far as I am aware, himself directly involved in the Gage controversy on either side, his rejection of Marsh and support of Vos' speculative typology was echoed by Gage's leading critics.  As Dr. E. Calvin Beisner wrote in a blog post, "Anyone who thinks the former Knox board's decision to suspend Dr. Gage was because he was teaching Redemptive-Historical hermeneutics or Typology clearly does not know the facts.  His chief theological critics at Knox - (now former) board members R. C. Sproul, Rick Phillips, and Cortez Cooper, and faculty members Robert Reymond, Fowleer White, and I - all affirm and use RH and T and admire it in Vos and many others."

Perhaps no other statement from the Gage controversy better sums up the reason for the failure of Gage's opponents.  Gage believed that type / anti-type relationships could be discerned by use of literary patterns, intuition and imagination.  Gage's opponents believed that types and ant-types could be determined by some form of uncertain speculation.  Both sides agreed that Marsh was wrong.      

In the end, Gage's critics agreed with him that types could be determined in some touchy-feely, irrational fashion.  Their main complaint seemed to be, not that Gage used his "poetic imagination," his intuition and literary patterns to find types and anti-types in the Scriptures - Gage's method was in direct contradiction of the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 which posits only the explicit statements and necessary inferences of Scripture are binding on Christians; Gage also violated the single meaning clause in Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9 -   but that he simply went too far for their taste.  Doing so make Gage's critics appear weak and uncertain.  As a result, not only did they lose the argument, but they deserved to lose it. 

On the flip side of things, I must grudgingly admit that, as obviously heretical as Gage's teaching was, he had the courage of his convictions and never wavered from them.  Gages was a heretic, but he was a consistent and bold heretic.  His critics were inconsistent and weak.    

The more consistent side will prevail in the long run and the less consistent will lose.  That is one of the big lessons of controversy at KTS.  So what does this mean for us?  Let us make sure that we fight the Lord's battles in the Lord's way.  There's no reason to give an inch to false teachers.  In any theological controversy, we must pray to God that he would grant us the knowledge and the wisdom not merely to oppose false teaching, but to do so thoroughly, boldly and with logical consistency.   Doing so doesn't mean we will win every battle.  But we will win the war.   

(To be continued...)