Friday, October 15, 2010

A Worthwhile Read

Recently finished "An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism" (ISBN 978-0-310-23786-0) by John D. Hannah. In this 399 page book the author, who is a distinguished professor of historical theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, recounts in very readable form the 80 year history of the school. Voluminous source materials drawn from the school's official archives containing the family papers of the founder Lewis Sperry Chafer and the presidential papers from the schools five presidents - all interpreted through the lens of an "insider" - provide fascinating reading. Even though he is a sympathetic biographer Hannah does not gloss over the human foibles of the men who have been mightily used of God in the founding, growth, and maturity of Dallas Seminary, yet in his own words "the school has no ugly ghosts lurking in dark corridors" (pg. 21). As a former part-time student of Dallas Seminary in the mid-1980's I enjoyed the insiders look at some of the myths and controversies that were already part of the culture when I attended.

The book begins with a very helpful and enlightening review of the Modernist / Fundamentalist religious conflicts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dallas Seminary was conceived in those turbulent years through the influence of the Bible Conference Movement, which was fundamentalist in its leanings, but uneasy with the polemics of some of fundamentalism's rising spokesmen. In later decades this left Dallas Seminary in the awkward position of identifying with the theology of fundamentalism (dispensational pre-millennialism) while methodologically identifying with the rising tide of Evangelicalism. Even to this day the school reflects some of the tensions that come from not having a foot firmly placed in either camp. It will be interesting to see how the Mark Bailey presidency (2001-present) shepherds the school through these tricky waters.

As a committed dispensational pre-millennialist myself I am well aware that few, even among the academic world of Evangelicalism, would share my deeply held convictions regarding the church and Israel so I praise God for the ministry of DTS. May it continue to turn out men and women who are passionate for the Scriptures and committed to disciplining the nations until the Rapture takes us home.

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