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.