Orthodox Methodist Seminaries

Orthodox Methodist Seminaries Grow while Others Falter

John Lomperis on November 5, 2020

This is a very difficult moment for American seminaries of all kinds. Across the country, they face declining enrollment and finances, resulting in significant layoffs of faculty and staff. Much of this stems from major long-term factors that posed growing challenges even before the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn. Over the next few years, we should not be too surprised to see some once-significant schools of theology either merge or permanently close.

But within the United Methodist seminary world, two have been notable exceptions to these trends in financial and numerical health. They have also stood out for their comparative faithfulness to historic, biblical, orthodox Christian faith.

This fall, United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio has seen a major increase, of 17 percent, in new student enrollments compared to last year. Its total enrollment is now 446 students. In this era, it is no small thing for an American seminary to even maintain its numbers. United President Kent Millard was quoted as saying that the current pandemic may have actually helped the school’s enrollment, as this current climate has prompted some to recognize a call to ministries “where they can help others and bring a message of God’s hope.”

United’s commitments to the historic faith as expressed in the Nicene Creed and its embrace of the charismatic movement have set it apart from the UMC’s other 12 official U.S. seminaries. United recently began a new partnership with Mosaix Global Network, which is devoted to developing multi-ethnic congregations.

Then there is Asbury Theological Seminary. While not officially a United Methodist seminary, all of its presidents since 1994 have been United Methodist, it has many United Methodist faculty, and has recently, depending on the year, educated more new United Methodist clergy than any other or almost any other American seminary. With its formal commitments to biblical authority and historic Wesleyan doctrine, it has long been a bastion of evangelical Methodism. Its main campus is in Wilmore, Kentucky, but it has expanded to extension sites in Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and now, as of this semester, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Even with all the new curveballs from the novel Coronavirus, this fall Asbury saw its seventh straight year of increased new student enrollment. The fall 2020 semester is distinguished as having both the largest-ever number of new students (514) and, with record retention rates, the largest-ever total enrollment (1,806 students from 44 states and 50 countries). For fellow number-crunching geeks, there are now also a record number of credit-hours being taken at Asbury. Asbury President Timothy Tennent has celebrated the school’s reaching record numbers in new student enrollments, total students, and classes taken as a historic “triple crown” achievement.

Before the pandemic, both schools had extensively embraced virtual learning, which seems to have helped prepare both institutions for this unusual season.

Both schools are good options for faithful United Methodist seminarians.

The growing strength of these schools bodes well for the future as we prepare for the coming transition.

(UPDATE: An earlier version of this article characterized the 17 percent increase at United as being in total student enrollment, based on the original media report linked to above. We have since been informed that the original media report is not quite correct, as the 17 percent increase was specifically in new student enrollments, and so we have updated our language. We regret the misunderstanding.)

  1. Comment by Thomas Brown on November 5, 2020 at 7:09 am

    Amazing what happens when you believe.

  2. Comment by John Smith on November 5, 2020 at 7:25 am

    While good news it is sad to note that the UMC seminaries had deteriorated to the point where this is news. It will be interesting to see what links develop between the follow-on denominations and its feeder seminaries, financial, doctrinal, etc. Just another area that hasn’t been discussed because it would be premature and nothing can be done before the foundational follow on conference meetings. Sounds like much of the UMC bureaucratic mind speak is also following on to the “new” denomination.

  3. Comment by John Crowe on November 5, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    This statement needs correcting. ” all of its presidents since 1994 have been United Methodist,”

    The founding president, Henry Clay Morrison was Methodist Episcopal South in 1923. The next president, Julian C. McPheeters, was Methodist as was Frank Bateman Stanger through and after the time of the formation of the United Methodist Church. I know this for I graduated from there in 1983 when he retired. The only president who was not United Methodist was a Free Methodist named David McKenna.

    The seminary’s official position on the Bible is infallible not inerrant.

    “Scripture In the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both the Old and New Testaments, the only written Word of God, without error in all it affirms. The Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Holy Spirit preserves God’s Word in the church today and by it speaks God’s truth to peoples of every age;”

    https://asburyseminary.edu/about/theological-orientation/statement-of-faith/

  4. Comment by Thomas F Neagle on November 5, 2020 at 5:34 pm

    Great news–but not unexpected–for the two UMC seminaries. I’ve always wondered, just from a purely marketing perspective, the idea that “all religions are the same, we are nothing special” message of liberal seminaries and denominations.

    And on the Presbyterian side, I understand that Reformed Theological Seminary (faithful and conservative) has more students than all PCUSA seminaries combined.

  5. Comment by John Lomperis on November 9, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks for that additional history, John Crowe.

    Yes, I was aware the UM ties did not begin in 1994 – although of course before 1968 there was no UMC.

    My remark about inerrancy was based not only on Asbury’s official statement of faith but what I have heard directly from key Asbury leaders.

  6. Comment by Rev. Dale Shunk on November 9, 2020 at 11:45 pm

    Hi John,
    This is a great article about he two fastest growing evangelical seminaries in the Wesleyan tradition. This growth is worthy of note and I give praise to God the Father for showing his favor on these two schools. This does prepare them to be a resource for a new conservative Wesleyan Methodist church that will form in the next two years. This news also gives me a lot to talk about with Asbury Seminary alumni as an Asbury Seminary Ambassador.
    Amen,
    Brother Dale

  7. Comment by J. Rhee on November 13, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    If I’m remembering correctly, United in Ohio was one of the seminaries that standed for affirming total inclusion of the UMC. How do they “rebrand” themselves as a conservative, in what way???
    This year could be a slight anomaly, an outlier uptic in students in the MidWest where jobs are being lost, many out of work, and seeking new career path. When economy is bad, there’s an increase in demand for “cheaper” seminary, not a conservative seminary.

  8. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on November 13, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    Not long ago, United was just another declining, has-been mainline seminary, but today the school is a very different place, explicitly committed to a high view of biblical authority. Here’s more: https://juicyecumenism.com/2013/10/21/the-united-miracle-a-mainline-seminary-turns-from-liberalism-to-orthodoxy/

  9. Comment by Jason Leininger on November 21, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Some other #’ers to check on include where the students identify ecclesiastically. Is the growth at Asbury & Dayton among students who identify as UMC? Asbury has had a massive infusion of Anglican students… maybe it matters where students are coming from, and where they will be going to in service.

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