In the middle of the last decade, at which time it had long since become apparent that the denominationally controlled theological seminaries of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (commonly referred to as the Southern Presbyterian Church) were irreversibly apostate, a group of conservative leaders in that denomination began to lay plans for the establishment of a seminary which would train men for the Gospel Ministry in the Biblical Faith. Those plans led to the founding of what is now known as the Reformed Theological Seminary, located in Jackson, Mississippi.
As is implied in the name, the Seminary claims a place within the Reformed camp. And, on paper that claim looks pretty good. The doctrinal standards of the institution are “the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as originally adopted by the Presbyterian Church in the United States.” (Quoted from the Seminary Statement of Purpose.) The faculty is made up of men from a variety of Presbyterian and Reformed denominations and these men are required to sign “A Statement of Belief and Covenant” each year, declaring their adherence to the Reformed Theology taught in the Westminster Standards as “the system of doctrine taught in Scripture.”
History has shown, however, that what looks good on paper, in these matters, often does not pan out in practice. And, this seems to be the case also at Reformed Seminary. There has been a good deal of concern, over the past few years, that Reformed is moving toward a more broadly evangelical, less distinctively Reformed stance. Particularly among the alumni has this concern been raised, as is evident from the questions asked by Alumni President, the Rev. Charles R. Young III, in an interview with Mr. Robert C. Cannada, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Seminary, which was published in a recent Alumni newsletter. In that interview, Rev. Young asked Mr. Cannada whether there was a drift away from a distinctively Reformed position, at the Seminary, toward broad evangelicalism. Mr. Cannada denies any such drift. He also denies that there is any tension between being Reformed and being evangelical. He agrees that there are such points of tension between the Reformed position and “certain elements of Evangelicalism.” But he limits those elements to two: the denial of Biblical inerrancy by some so-called evangelicals, and the charismatic movement. Nothing is said relative to the differences between the Reformed and those in the evangelical camp who deny sovereign predestination, the covenant, and so forth. Mr. Cannada, a lawyer by trade, obviously evaded the real issue.
Of course, it may be that Mr. Cannada does not agree that there is a difference between the Reformed Theology of the Westminster Confession and the blat ant Arminianism of evangelicals like Billy Graham. Or, like the blatant Arminianism of a little pamphlet which was recently sent out by the Seminary as part of a series ironically called “Living Truths.” This little pamphlet, entitled “Back to God,” written by the Rev. Frank M. Barker, Jr., one of the Ministerial Advisors of RTS, and Pastor of the large Briarwood Presbyterian Church in America in Birmingham, Alabama, is evidently being put forth as an example of what the Seminary means when it says that “Fundamental in the concept of theological training held by Reformed Theological Seminary is the dynamic union of the doctrinal strength of the Reformed Faith with the warmth of Evangelistic passion. . . .”
What this pamphlet does, however, is emasculate the Reformed Faith. What is left may be called passionately evangelistic. But, it is by no stretch of the imagination Reformed.
There are a number of things that may be said of this little pamphlet. In the first place, it does not differ essentially from the canned evangelistic approach of the “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet put out by Campus Crusade for Christ. This pamphlet is longer, but the message is basically the same. There is even a prayer to pray, toward the end, and on the basis of that prayer and the sincerity of his commitment, one is to be assured of salvation. In other words, it is not the promise of God’s Word, but the act of the sinner, and the sinner’s own “feelings” that are the ground of assurance.
The second general observation we can make about this pamphlet is that it assumes that men are earnestly seeking salvation and just waiting for someone to come along and tell them how to be saved. The idea of total depravity and inability is ignored. The fact of sin is acknowledged, but the impression is left that men are naturally concerned about their sin, worried about the wages of sin, namely, death, and scouting around for a way to get God to forgive them. Something else that is interesting in this connection is the fact that Barker seems to conceive of this wage of sin as one that is yet unpaid as far as the natural man is concerned. His whole emphasis is that of a future condemnation. Nothing is mentioned concerning the truth that the natural man is already dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1). But that, of course, would be an admission of depravity and inability incongruous with the basic assumption of the pamphlet — the assumption that men are interested in God’s salvation.
The most disturbing aspect of this pamphlet, however, is the section which is subheaded, “Conditions.” This section follows the one on “Christ” in which our Lord’s atonement for sin is discussed, concluding with the words: ” . . .. Christ paid every cent of the penalty for all our sins, even the sins we will commit in the future.”
Does Barker then believe that Christ made full atonement for the sins of His people? Read what he says in the section on “Conditions,” which we quote in full:
Does that mean everyone in the world is forgiven and does not have to worry about sin anymore? Not at all! When Christ paid the penalty in full, He paid it conditionally. The Bible tells us that there are certain conditions we have to meet before we are actually forgiven.
Let’s return to the judge and the courtroom to understand these conditions. Suppose — when I paid your fine for robbing the bank — that I paid it in full but I attached a condition: the judge was not to set you free until he felt that you meant business about not robbing any more banks. You, as the guilty law breaker, would have to meet that condition before you received the benefit of the payment. (This is in reference to an illustration used earlier in the pamphlet. ECC)
When Christ died for us He did something similar. He has attached two conditions for all sinners to meet: repentance and faith.
Now, it should be remembered that Barker, Reformed Seminary, and Presbyterianism in general in the South, have not passed through the same controversies which have contributed to the distinctive stand of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And this means that you are apt to hear terminology in our circles which would not be acceptable in your own — terminology which, nevertheless, would not necessarily imply any departure from the Truth. One might be heard to speak of “conditions,” for example, in the sense that it is certainly true that no one is saved who does not receive and exercise the twin graces of repentance and faith — the two conditions which Barker mentions.
But note how Barker approaches this whole business. Repentance and faith are not graces, imparted to the elect through the operation of God’s Spirit working with the Word, as indicated in Questions 86 and 87 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is evident, both from the section quoted above, and from the two following sections oh “Repentance” and “Faith,” that Barker regards these two “conditions,” as he calls them, as works which the sinner must perform. This, of course, again shows the lack of emphasis on depravity and inability. But even more importantly, it makes the efficacy of the work of Christ dependent upon the work of man. And this means, too, that Barker, in effect, teaches a universal atonement. What he really says is that Christ paid the penalty in full, or Christ did the work of salvation, up to a point. At that point, the will of man must take over in order for the process to be complete. So, you wind up with a Saviour who really does not save. You have salvation contingent upon the will of the flesh, the will of man.
And that under the auspices of “Reformed” Theological Seminary!
Mr. Cannada’s assurance to the contrary not withstanding, it is evident that Reformed Seminary has thrown over the Reformed Faith. It must, therefore, be obvious that those who desire a ministry trained in the pure Reformed Truth are going to have to look elsewhere.