Students who, like me, grew up a part of an Assemblies of God church in the Deep South had two popular college options when it came to traditional, orthodox higher education: either attend Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God if you wanted to live in Florida or Southwestern Assemblies of God University if you favored Texas. I would prefer Florida. But according to one Southeastern graduate, some concerning theological shifts have ensued at the Assemblies of God’s largest university.
David Thrower graduated in 1996 from Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God (renamed Southeastern University in 2005) with a bachelor of arts in Church Ministries. Raised in the Holiness Pentecostal denomination, he was attracted to SEU’s charismatic style coupled with a historical commitment to traditional Christian teaching. “My undergraduate experience was wonderful. It was what you expected from a traditional Pentecostal school,” said Thrower. “But when I returned for graduate work a few years later, it was like I had returned to a different planet.”
Thrower reportedly encountered several startling changes on campus including the presence of the Emergent Church, a movement of so-called “progressive” adherents who question the supremacy of God, the authority of His Word, and stir confusion and doubt by painting inconsistencies in Scripture. “For example, they use to have campus revivals and things like that. No longer. Campus revivals have been replaced with what’s called leadership forums and some of the speakers invited were Erwin McManus and Brian McLaren, a co-founder of the Emergent Church.”
Most concerning, however, was the worldview taught in his Ethics and Hermeneutics classes. “One of my professors was touting who he was calling theological masters. He included Barth and Bonhoeffer, but then he included James H. Cone, a liberation theologian.” Thrower continued, “It gets even more interesting because there were people who believed that Marx was a prophet of God. We were taught that in class too.”
To clarify, Thrower added, “The Ethics class, taught by Dr. Murray Dempster (touted by his colleagues as the ‘Grandfather of Modern Pentecostal Pacifism,’ which says something there!), was the one [faculty member] that used Cone’s text along with Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s in that course.”
Thrower continued, “The Marx quote —that actually that actually happened in a Hermeneutics class that was taught by Dr. Ken Archer (who teaches Bible and Theology at SEU now), and he was basing it on a text written by Merrold Westphal entitled Whose Community, Which Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009). Westphal wrote on page 140 of this book that he essentially considered Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud ‘prophetic voices of Christendom,’ and this book was used as a textbook in a Hermeneutics class although it is technically a postmodern philosophical textbook.”
The Assemblies of God denomination has been a leading supporter of Israel, but at SEU Thrower said one on-campus lecture became downright anti-Semitic. “[One] week they invited Sami Awad, a pro-Palestine advocate to guest lecture. The lecture had very anti-Semitic comments and at one point it was mentioned that Israel did not have a right to exist. The discussion became very disturbing.”
Thrower noticed that his fellow students were not only tolerant of Awad’s lecture, but downright supportive of his anti-Israel message. “The majority of students were enthusiastic. Probably because many of them were very young and couldn’t discern unorthodox teachings. I was one of the few Gen Xers in the class.”
When asked if he ever challenged his fellow students or professors Thrower answered, “I did. Of course that didn’t go over well. When I started mentioning I believed in a more traditional, orthodox faith, I was told that I was close-minded and an archaic relic of the past. I was also told that I was upholding a religion of dead white males.”
For Thrower, the shift away from orthodox Christian teaching was all too much. He transferred to Franciscan University to continue his graduate work and has since converted to Anglo-Catholicism.
While Thrower’s comments reflect only one experience at Southeastern University, we need only look to our Mainline brothers and sisters in Christ to know that a denomination’s unorthodox proclivities originates in its college seminaries and, like a deadly cancer, spreads outward.
We pray that the liberal theological shifts present at the Assembly of God’s Southeastern University are not wholly reflective of the college’s leadership, which expresses its commitment “to equipping the next generation of leaders so that they can go into the world as influential servants in their careers and their communities,” but instead are isolated to some few faculty, staff and students in the Christian ministries and religion department.
One fact remains certain. No church denomination—despite how historically orthodox or resolutely conservative—is immune from the inroads of false doctrine. As the apostle Paul instructed, “Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13)
[Editor’s note: Chelsen Vicari offers a response to questions regarding this interview HERE.]Google+