The following is excerpted with permission from a Denver Seminary graduate’s letter to the school president, dated some years back.
Denver Seminary has come to stand for something very different from the school that I knew. The CBTS [Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary] of the 1970’s was a very different school from the DS [Denver Seminary] of the 1990’s. Change, of course, was inevitable. The direction of that change was not. Or then again, given the history of theological institutions, maybe it was to some extent.
While studying at Denver, many of us who had come with the express desire of better learning the Scriptures, in order to apply them to Christian life and ministry in situations around the world, slowly became aware of a very different presence on the campus. It was the student working toward an M.A. in Counseling. Christian counseling was still a relatively new endeavor in the 1970’s, and Denver was trying to stay in front of the demands of the churches, an honorable intention, especially if the goal was to produce a sound, biblical approach to counseling, based squarely on the adequacy of Jesus Christ and the sufficiency of His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit, ministered in the supportive structure of the Christian community. Surprisingly, however, counseling students were required to have far less biblical training (no languages or exegesis) than those moving toward the pastorate or missions, a distinction I never understood. Fortunately, the counseling majors were required to take Systematic Theology (I’ll never forget several of them complaining to me about that, saying that they shouldn’t have to take Theology because they weren’t going to be pastors or theologians!).
All the rest of us were exposed to “counseling” through required courses and readings. I had little background in this area, outside of general psychology and sociology courses at a secular state university. But much of what I read and heard in the counseling courses at Denver seemed to echo what I had read and heard from the world of “Consumer Psychology” in my marketing studies elsewhere: hierarchies of needs, self-fulfillment, self-love, inner-needs, subconscious forces, etc. The Scriptures seemed to present a very different approach to life and its difficulties. My studies in exegesis, theology, and church history all seemed to confirm that there was a very distinct biblical approach toward the “cure of souls,” but the pastoral theology and counseling courses were disconnected, except for some linguistic crossover, from the biblical data.
In my frustration, I remember going to the seminary library over the Christmas break one year and stumbling upon a book by a certain Jay Adams. Well, here was a radical who claimed that we could develop a truly biblical theology and practice of counseling. Several weeks later, in a pastoral care class, a student asked the professor what he thought about Jay Adams’ approach. My ears perked up. The reply was that Adams was a good tree-shaker, but not really qualified or professional enough to deal with “real counseling problems,” that Adams interpreted all psychological problems as sin, and that “deep, emotional problems” need “professional long-term counseling” and not just the “Bible-verse Band-Aids” or “Change your behavior” advice that Adams dispensed. “What was wrong with Adams?” I wanted to know. “Too simplistic!” was the only answer I kept getting. I decided that I was probably not cut out to be a “counselor” and that I would concentrate my efforts on the “narrow world” of simple biblical truth and its application to all of life.
I could say far more about my CBTS experiences with counseling and counseling profs and students. A few of them (I’ll let you figure out the antecedent) were hysterical. But let’s just say that I stayed away from it as an issue and continued to reflect upon Scripture, encouraged by the writings of men like Adams, Schaeffer, Packer, and especially the 17th and 18th century pastoral care writers, not forgetting my favorite mentor, Spurgeon, of the 19th. In terms of my differences with CBTS, the issue might have died there.
I visited Denver in 1986 and 1991. During the latter visit I was quite overwhelmed with the changes in the orientation that the school had taken over the years. A cursory walk through the campus, especially the Birk Center, demonstrated visibly that two major focuses, dare I say the two major focuses, of training at Denver had become “Christian Psychology” and “Women’s Studies.” I spoke with friends who were in the counseling program at the M.A. and D.Min levels. They spoke favorably of their courses, describing the integration of Gestalt therapy and biblical teaching into a comprehensive view of pastoral care, describing videos of tennis-racket-wielding counselees beating on pillows to disperse their accumulated anger. I couldn’t believe my ears!
The sufficiency of Scripture is undermined by the “psychologizing” of the church, as Christians turn more and more to the supposedly established “truths” of common grace and natural revelation, instead of giving any meaningful consideration to the profound realities of particular grace and special revelation that we as God’s redeemed people have in Christ Jesus. In other words, Freud has more to say about the inner heart of man than has Jeremiah, Jung about the ultimate experience than Isaiah, Maslow about the real motivations in life than Paul, and Rogers can move us further along toward wholeness than can Jesus. But let’s not say it so bluntly.
I learned that Denver was preparing to hire a new full-time faculty member for the counseling department, a person with high credentials in the social sciences, but with no specific theological training. I suppose it wasn’t deemed necessary. What has Jerusalem to do with Vienna?
The Seminary as a whole has let me down. I wrestle with whether or not to use the word “betrayed,” and I think I will, though not lightly. The reputation which was Denver’s has been distorted beyond something the first president, William Carey Thomas, would have been able to accept. “Denver Seminary” does not mean what it used to, and I for one cannot accept for myself what it has come to mean. I imagine that the alumni of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Fuller have had to pass by this same road over the years. I don’t suppose that Denver will be the last.
I would like to believe that it would be possible for a full reversal (could we call it “repentance”?) and a return to a humble submission to Scripture. Whether such is probable, to me seems doubtful. I suspect that those of the faculty who don’t know me will simply write me off as some old, reactionary, narrow-minded fundamentalist refusing to face the realities of our generation. Those who do remember me… may think the same thing. So be it.
PAL V10N1 (January-February 2002)