October 21, 2013

The United Miracle: A Mainline Seminary Turns from Liberalism to Orthodoxy

Not long ago, United Theological Seminary (UTS) in the Dayton, Ohio area was just another declining, has-been mainline seminary, facing ominous financial hardships, dominated by Scripture-demoting theological liberalism, and reflective of so much of what was wrong with its shrinking sponsoring denomination, the United Methodist Church. The former seminary of the Evangelical United Brethren (which merged with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church in 1968) was founded by Bishop Milton Wright, father of the famed Wright brothers.

Today, the school is a very different place than what many alumni experienced. It is now explicitly committed to a high view of biblical authority, “the historic Christian faith,” “the cultivation of holiness,” and “the renewal of the church.” Rev. Dr. Wendy Deichmann, UTS’s president since 2008, openly associates with the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church, an evangelical caucus group with which IRD’s UMAction program has worked closely over the years. Applicants for faculty positions must be explicitly committed “to the historic Christian faith.”

God has clearly been blessing this new direction under the leadership of President Deichmann. A recent headline from the Dayton Daily News summed up the seminary’s new situation: “Rebounding from Crisis, United is Among Fastest-Growing Theological Schools in U.S.” United’s tripling of its enrollment in the last four years, with now over 600 students, along with the rapid expansion of its faculty, is all the more remarkable in light of the decline at other official United Methodist seminaries. Earlier this year, United established a new, Spanish-language Hispanic Christian Academy (HCA) for training Hispanic church leaders. Also under Deichmann’s leadership, United has launched a pioneering new partnership with the UMC’s Sierra Leone Annual Conference and new programming in sports chaplaincy, distance-learning, and urban ministry. The seminary is now arguably the most strongly aligned with the United Methodist theological tradition of all of the thirteen U.S. United Methodist seminaries, and also has strong ties to the African-American church tradition and increasing ties to the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition.

Dr. Deichmann describes the turnaround as “a miracle.” But it is also important to note her own impressive administrative leadership of making tough financial decisions in the face of a budget crisis she inherited, guiding the school through a nearly complete turnover in faculty, and being a clear, articulate voice for the biblical, historic Christianity to which the seminary is now committed. In a recent newspaper interview, she declared that “it’s time for a cultural shift in the life of the mainline denominations,” highlighted the failure of vaguely affirming, low-commitment, offense-avoiding ways of doing church, and commended the example of thriving congregations characterized by “dynamic, relevant worship services that are attractive to young people,” “sound biblical and theological preaching and teaching,” and active, self-sacrificial commitment to ministry with the poor.

Anyone interested in a first-hand taste of what God has been up to at United can attend an exciting teaching event, “Catechesis: Why United Methodists Must Recover Their Doctrinal Heritage,” featuring David Watson, United’s Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and renown Wesley scholar William J. Abraham of Perkins School of Theology. More information about the Saturday, October 26 event, co-sponsored by the Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio, can be found here.


55 Responses to The United Miracle: A Mainline Seminary Turns from Liberalism to Orthodoxy

  1. Lamar Aiazzi says:

    Inspiring!

  2. Pat Hynds says:

    Thank God for this good news… one at a time is OK!

  3. Rebecca Rutter says:

    I am a student at United and will affirm that God is doing great things in and through the administration, faculty, staff, and students. I chose UTS because of both their hybrid program that allowed me to have both online and face-to-face experiences as well as the concentration they offer in Church Renewal. My husband attended 3 different seminaries (2 UM-related, 1 “Wesleyan”) and has noted that my education at UTS has been far superior than his was at any in his experience. While I’m looking forward to graduating with my M.Div. next May, I will miss the spiritual, pastoral, and theological growth I have experienced at United.

  4. Alan says:

    I was wondering if something was up… this summer they had a booth at the North American Christian Convention (Restoration Movement Churches), Asbury Seminary has been having a presence at NACC going on three years. Good to hear and may the Lord bless them as they remain faithful.

  5. Harold Gardner says:

    I find this need to define a theological notion in terms of denigrating some other position a bit sad. Biblical, Historical Christianity spoke with many voices.

    • Ken James says:

      Let me quess what you believe, nothing for sure and maybe everything.

    • George Porter says:

      Isn’t that what the Bible does? Denigrates the other positions as it reveals the truth. In doing so, doesn’t this give us the discernment between what is truth and what is chaff? Exactly what is problematic with “it’s time for a cultural shift in the life of the mainline denominations,” highlighted the failure of vaguely affirming, low-commitment, offense-avoiding ways of doing church, and commended the example of thriving congregations characterized by “dynamic, relevant worship services that are attractive to young people,” “sound biblical and theological preaching and teaching,” and active, self-sacrificial commitment to ministry with the poor.”?

    • Jack Brooks says:

      Absolute truth exists, it has been revealed in the Bible, and it can be known. Consequently, lines have been drawn, and there is an antithesis between truth and falsity.

  6. Ngaire Bates says:

    Pray for the leaders of your local seminary.

  7. Bart Simmons says:

    An important pivot…in the UMC seminary world. The Rev. Dr. Wendy Deichmann…the game changer! Yes!

  8. Kenneth Sprinkle says:

    In 1975 I traveled with Dr. Kenneth Kinghorn from Asbury Seminary to United for 2 days of lectures. A handful of students were yearning for evangelical teaching, and were excited just to have Dr. Kinghorn on campus. (I was there because I didn’t have classes that month and could go!) Dr. Wade Paschal (now a seminary professor) & Greg McGarvey (Confessing Movement Board member) also traveled there that week. This is an answer to decades of prayer. And Aldersgate Renewal Ministries is presenting classes & teachings on Supernatural Ministry, another answer to many of our prayers for the UMC to be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Glory to the Lord Jesus!

    • John Lomperis says:

      Thanks for sharing, Kenneth!

    • Clayton D. Harriger says:

      I had Dr. Kinghorn for a course on Martin Luther the first year he taught at Asbury. One classmate posed this question: “Dr. Kinghorn, if God had not raised up Martin Luther at the time He did, would He have raised up another person to do the work?” Dr. Kinghorn’s instant response was, “Yes, but it would have taken at least 4 other persons to do what Luther did!” Dr. Kinghorn was a very gifted individual and God most certainly used him in a wide variety of settings 🙂

  9. Pam Sluss says:

    Forever hopefull.

  10. Mel Bobb says:

    This is very encouraging. I wonder if the nearby Ginghamsburg Church had anything to do with this.

  11. John Churchill Foster says:

    I joined the Methodist Church because the minister gave thoughtful, well-researched sermons, laced with works of philosophers, not TV preachers, and declared the rich were obligated to provide our poor. Note to Dr. Deichmann, the alleged game changer: the Baptist church — Fox watchers all — is already out there. Question: Will the new UTS also offer courses in snake handling?

    • Ken James says:

      Yes yes Jesus would never watch Fox News He would get all His sermon ideas from Plato. That is why Jesus never busted John out of Herod’s prison because John was a Baptist.

    • Pete Bellini says:

      We handle snakes all of the time. We are handling the snakes that have coiled and constricted the life of the church and the academy long enough.

    • LexCro says:

      Wow. You really show that you’ve learned so much from all the philosophy-laden preaching you’ve imbibed by comparing those who cherish about historic orthodoxy with snake-handlers. And for record, the orthodox camp historically done far more for the sake of the poor all around the world than the liberal/”progressive” camp.

    • Greg Paley says:

      Don’t quit your day job, stand-up comic is not your forte.

      Speaking as one of many thousands of EX-Methodists, I’m familiar with the type of sermon you find so appealing. Pretty much godless, that’s why I left. FYI, preachers in evangelical churches (most of which are growing, not shrinking) do not as a rule quote televangelists. Your remark about snake handlers does not even deserve comment. When you stand before God, do you expect Him to pat you on the head and say “Well, done, smart guy, you attended a church where the pastor quoted philosophers in his sermons. Enter now into your eternal reward.”

      Will the last UM exiting the church please turn the light off?

      • Geary says:

        Fortunately for the UMC, with seminaries like United and Asbury preparing many of our young clergy, the day when “the lights get turned off” is being pushed further into the future.

    • Robert says:

      It’s too bad that the works of philosophy you supposedly got from your “well-researched sermons” that you heard Sunday after Sunday did not include the illogical nature of ad hominem and caricature.

    • Robert Thomason says:

      Bill Clinton watches Fox News? Who knew? Was it cheaper to join the Methodist Church to hear those sermons laced with works of philosophers rather than take a philosophy course at your local college? Wouldn’t it been more appropriate for the sermons to be laced with Biblical scripture and less references to philosophers and Karl Marx?

    • became_a_baptist_when_the_umc_rejected_salvation says:

      Philosophers? Seriously? God gave us the Bible and your preacher reads from The Dialogues?
      The rich are obligated to provide to the poor? We conservatives kinda had that figured out already, it being a Christian tradition for 2000 years and all. It’s not something we discovered 50 years ago by reading Howard Zinn books.
      JCF: You are too funny! Hope you are enjoying your new Obamessiah! 🙂

  12. Respectful Egalitarian says:

    I wonder how this could have happened with a woman at the helm of the seminary. Surely the rebirth of a seminary could only happen by God’s work, and God’s work could only really happen with a male in an authoritative position, right? (Sorry, but I find it ironic that this is being hailed by folks who would never allow a woman to lead a local congregation)

    • Nick Schoeneberger says:

      I think that if you understand biblical complimentarianism to be about equality of worth with different roles (in the same manner as Christ is equally God with the Father yet is lovingly subordinate to the will of the Father), then you know that the role of Teaching Elder is quite different than that of administrating a University. (The Respectful Complimentarian)

  13. Nick Schoeneberger says:

    May God continue to bless the efforts to reform the seminary and the denomination. This is most encouraging news. The church is reformed and always reforming according to the word of God until Christ returns in glory. That was the reformation rallying cry. As a conservative Presbyterian, this sign of renewal and rediscovery of confessional roots of the UMC is an exciting development. I think we can all support our brothers and sisters in the UMC with prayer!

  14. Captain DG says:

    It you want “a clear, articulate voice for the biblical, historic Christianity” I welcome you to the Catholic church.

  15. Greg Paley says:

    One of my college classmates graduated from the OTHER UM seminary in Ohio, Methesco, and it shows no signs of becoming Christian anytime soon, not while the PC faculty are finding new left-wing causes to promote.

    The conservative members of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) who merged with the Methodists in 1968 must be happy to see United’s change for the better.

  16. Pip Brandy says:

    Forgive my bluntness; however, I’m not sure what all the excitement is about. I actually have a relative (via marriage) who is a resident faculty at UTS. (I also have a best friend who’s mother-in-law is a UMC minister and would consider herself “confessing”, although I’m not sure how openly she identifies or works with those groups inside the UMC).

    When my relative’s spouse became a faculty member there, I perused their course offerings, wondering what was taught and how. I found that I would not be able, in good conscience, even to take classes at UTS, given the imposed “progressive” policies (e.g., the ungrammatical “inclusive” language requirement, etc.). I mean, even if I thought I could endure the unchristian bent of the school, I could not willing submit to their unscholarly and anit-confessional requirements. The Student Handbook’s discussion of “language inclusiveness” alone casts doubt on UTS’s entire approach to Scripture and the Christian life.

    I come from an SBC-affiliated church. We consider ourselves Reformed in the narrower, 16th-century sense (with, of course, 17th cent. Baptist overlays), inerrantists, etc. (but not Fundamentalist, either in the stereotypical sense, or the genuinely historical sense). I look to places such as SBTS’s 20-year turn-around as the paradigm for a “return to orthodoxy.” (Compare STBS’s and UTS’s student handbooks for just a taste of the gulf between these institutions.)

    After perusing UTS’s site today (after reading this article), all I can see there, honestly, is the same liberal direction as any other mainline seminary; the “gospel” of Social Justice seems to dominate; but not the Gospel of free Grace, from God’s just wrath against our sinfulness (real personal sinfulness, not the “societal” sins of our community or background), bought through the voluntary substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, God’s own eternally begotten and co-equal Son.

    Perhaps I just don’t understand the UMC “Confessing” (or this blog’s) mindset enough to see exactly what they think of as “orthodoxy”. From my perspective, some pieces have been moved about on the board a bit, but UTS is still playing the same game of dead-end liberalism.

    • John Lomperis says:

      Thanks for your comment, Pip. Obviously, evangelical UMs are not going to agree with our SBC brethren on issues like predestination, sacramentology, and the autonomy of the local church, as well as probably some other important but secondary issues. But with all due respect, I think anyone with much experience in other mainline seminaries would find the accusation that United offers nothing more than “the same liberal direction as any other mainline seminary” to be laughable, not to mention your strong, head-scratching claims about the school having an “unchristian bent” and “anti-confessional requirements.”

      • Riley says:

        Is UTS, and the UMC in general open to those of a historic Calvinistic Methodist persuasion? Some of history’s greatest Methodists were Calvinistic: Whitefield, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland.

        • John Lomperis says:

          I’m not a UTS spokesman, but I imagine given its strong grounding in the Wesleyan-Pietist tradition and its openness to other believers within the bounds of historic Christian orthodoxy that it would indeed be a good place for remaining Calvinistic Methodists, as well.

  17. Riley says:

    Glad to hear that some good things are happening. Though, for the life of me I can’t wrap my puny mind around what is meant by biblical inerrancy at a theological institution led by a woman and allowing for charismaticism.

  18. Elaine Miller says:

    How can anyone seriously say “committed to a high view of Biblical authority” and “Rev Dr. Wendy” in the same breath/sentence? Notwithstanding current western culture, consider 1 Tim 2:11ff.; 3:2; Titus 1:6; 1 Cor 14:34-35. Yes, God’s ways are higher than (our) ways!

  19. Norman Carter says:

    Very encouraging! Thank you

  20. Barbara Sowell says:

    Praise God for this wonderful turn of events.

  21. Dave Gingrich says:

    Wonderful news. May it multiply.

  22. Luis Gutierrez says:

    Hope that by “orthodoxy” you don’t mean the patriarchal culture culture of control and domination which is the root of all social and ecological violence. It corrupted the original unity of man and woman (Cf. Genesis 3:16) and is now disrupting the harmony between humanity and the human habitat. Just as we are now aware that slavery and racism are moral evils, we must become aware that gender discrimination is a moral evil that must be eradicated if solidarity and sustainability are to be attained. The need to reform patriarchal structures applies to both secular and religious institutions. Overcoming patriarchy is a “sign of the times” to the extent that it fosters authentic gender solidarity and nonviolence for the good of humanity and the glory of God. Given the enormous influence of religious traditions, it is especially critical for religious institutions to extirpate any semblance of male hegemony in matters of doctrine and religious practices. Hope the seminary will fully support the ordination of women to the ministry. In Christ, Luis

    • Riley says:

      I wish people would stop denigrating patriarchy. It’s offensive.

    • Lawrence says:

      “Patriarchal” is getting to be a tired old word used by theological liberals to discredit orthodox Christians. The UMC has been anything BUT patriarchal, as some critics note above. Moreover, there should be room in the UMC for the belief that women should not be formally ordained. Some see authoritative scriptural guidance on that issue, unlike those who seek to impose social views in the church that have no foundation in scripture or tradition in the church. There is room to disagree within the bounds of orthodoxy, in my view

  23. Dewey H. Lane, MD says:

    Taking John Lomperis’ column at face value based on the faithful past reporting by IRD this is a wonderful, may I say, shock to learn this truly Good News. I confess my “shock” is symptomatic of my incomplete faith that God would rescue His remnant in the United Methodist Church, but gives an even greater spirit of rejoicing in God’s answer to many prayers by many faithful. From a cautious perspective, I pray the UMC will not decide to defund this seminary as it has other brave evangelical former UMC seminaries.

    Dewey H Lane, MD
    Lay member, First United Methodist Church of Pascagoula, MS and a founding member of the Board of the Mississippi Fellowship of United Methodist Evangelicals.

  24. Rev. Dr. Eriberto (Eddie) Soto says:

    Praise God for what is happening at UTS. It is encouraging and will be encouraging to know by Hispanics here in the USA as well as Methodists in Cuba and Brazil where the Methodist are growing!

  25. John P. Callahan says:

    Most welcome news!! — especially since the recent apostasy of our Claremont school.

  26. Larry says:

    As a 1991 UTS grad, I rejoice in the increased enrollment and financial stability after some shaky years. United has nurtured many in fruitful ministry.

    I’m curious about where the characterization of United as “Scripture-demoting theological liberalism” came from? That certainly wouldn’t describe my experience with United, the birthplace of the Network of Biblical Storytellers.

    I pray that United will continue to move forward in faithfulness to the living God.

  27. Phil says:

    After seeing what’s happened to the Methodist church, my wife and I are on the verge of leaving it. While it’s great to see a resurgence of evangelical teaching and preaching, the fact that ANY of our offerings to the church go to support non-Christian teachings at Methodist universities and non-biblical “social” causes such as abortion, are more than we can take.

    We love our local church, pastors, SS classes, small groups, etc., and have grown greatly in faith and spirit, but this conflict within us is pushing us away from the Methodist church. How do you other spiritually strong Methodists reconcile non-scriptural practices and teachings with your own convictions ?

    • John Lomperis says:

      Thanks for your comment Phil. Your dilemma is not uncommon. It is very important to be in a local church where you can be fed, have good Christian fellowship, and be involved in Kingdom service. Praise God that you have that! As for the problems in our denomination beyond the local church, they are indeed serious, as we document on this site. But they are part of a century of unfaithful theological liberalism dominating what is now our denomination. When such problems have been going on in our denomination for so many decades, the time to give up and quit is not now, now that a major turnaround appears to be underway (however slowly). John Wesley’s “On Schism” sermon is a good resource here, where he talks about the duty to remain united to a church body as long as you are free within that body to practice and preach the faith once delivered and are not forced at any point, as a condition of being part of that body, to directly violate the faith.

    • Geary says:

      I recommend you consider church directed giving when it comes to paying apportionments. You can determine which funds you support and direct the conference treasurer in your annual conference to direct your payments to those funds. As long as you pay the entire amount you will be considered a “100% Apportionment” church.

  28. Rob Nystrom says:

    I wonder how many people commenting have read, “Three Simple Rules” by Bishop Reuben Job. It’s terrific.

  29. Donald F Guest says:

    The case may be somewhat overstated. I earned my DMin at United prior to Dr. Wendy. I chose the program because of great biblical Christians who led and taught the program like the Rev Wyatt T Walker (Baptist), Dr. Frank Thomas (Southern Baptist), the late Dr Prathia Wynn Hall (of Brown Chapel AME, Selma, AL where the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March was based while she was its pastor), Dr Carlisle Fielding Stewart, then pastor of the fastest growing and largest UMC in the Detroit Conference, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, committed evangelical and pastor/scholar of the Pentecostal Movement, Rev Michael Slaughter, pastor of the largest and fastest growing UMC in the Dayton area (and several other pastor/scholars who distinguished themselves by their “fruit-producing” faith as opposed to the deadening pall of scholastic liberalism or orthodoxy).

    Dr Deichmann inherited a school already characterized by strong evangelical faith commitments expressed through the activist pietism of the German evangelical and Black Religious Experience traditions. (matriculated 1996/1999).

  30. Hampton Bumgarner, M.Dv. says:

    How small minded are we to be, to be so dismissive of all the work that was done in many realms by those who preceded this ‘shift in focus’………It touches on arrogance in some of its responses…. With blessings to each and all, and with Gratitude and expressed appreciation for the Whole community at United and at Dayton.
    Hampton Bumgarner, 1978

  31. Randy says:

    I would like to reply to Riley above. I too graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville in Dec. 1977 just before the seminary fired so many of its liberal professors, and became so strongly Calvinist and cessationist. I took the most conservative professors I could find, having my undergraduate bachelor degree from another Baptist institution where liberalism was also taught in the Religious Studies dept. I believe today there is more commitment to the Bible at United than at SBTS. The cessationism at SBTS is itself a departure from historic Christian faith. I experienced the most Biblical teaching of my life at United in my doctor of ministry courses. I have never been to a seminary that was so committed to believing and obeying the Bible as those I experienced in the D.Min. My profs. in the D.Min. program at United allows the Bible to speak without reading into the text meanings that are not consistent with the context. Most of the Christian world believes in a conservative view of the Bible with belief in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit – all of them. I recently met with the leadership of a Reformed denomination in Netherlands that wanted to see the whole denomination move from its cessationism to the continuationist position. I was asked to come and teach to effect such a change. In England I was told by leaders in the Anglican church that cessationism was almost non-existent in Anglicanism today. The Archbishop of Canterbury told me he believed the hope of Christianity for England and Europe was in power-evangelism – keeping the power of the gospel and the power of the Spirit tied. As one of my professors at United said, “The signs and wonders are not given to accredit the gospel but as part of the gospel. The signs follow the gospel, not just the Apostles. The apostolic preaching did include signs and wonders, and there is nothing in context in the Bible that substantiates the rationalistic rejection of God’s power to heal and deliver today. I became tired of hearing “spiritualizing” of the gifts and the signs and wonders. The Liberals “demythologized” the gospel, the cessationists “spiritualized” it. Whether you graduated from a liberal school or a Reformed cessationist school you would not feel any need to equip the believers as part of basic discipleship in how to work in the power of the Holy Spirit and His contemporary-ancient-apostolic gifts. The members under both the liberally trained pastor or the cessationist trained pastor would have very similar experiences to each other. Both would be taught unbelief regarding healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues today. Though for very different reasons. The liberal pastor and the cessationist pastor are strange bedfellows on this issue. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to preach in the largest traditional Baptist church in Brazil, and many of its largest traditional Baptist churches; in the largest Baptist church in S. Africa; the oldest and second largest Baptist church in Argentina; the largest Baptist churches in Brazil who are part of the charismatic Baptist association with 50,000 members. I thank God for my experience in the doctoral program at United, it was by far the most biblical experiences of all my ten years of theological training. It truly is amazing if not miraculous what God is doing in this school.

  32. Randy says:

    In my last comment I misspoke. The 50,000 members wasn’t the combined members of the association, but the membership and average attendance of the one largest Baptist church.

    Sorry about no paragraphs, I was afraid it would post if I hit the return as some programs have done.

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