Pau£ Blower$, Michae£ $weeney, and Emmanue£ €hristian $eminary

rollston

Dr. Cargill, Dr. Davila,  and Tom Verenna have given their say. I do not want to take away from their words.

Part of a letter the President of the Seminary sent to Dr. Rollston reads,

“At a time when Emmanuel is under severe financial stress, we have some potentially significant donors (one of whom is capable of regular gifts in the six-figure range) who refuse to support Emmanuel because they regard your influence as detrimental to students,” Sweeney wrote.

In the letter, Sweeney accused Rollston of causing crises of faith among his students, saying that he usually discounted such claims because many students come from a conservative background and are not used to having their beliefs challenged. But the number of reports troubled him, he wrote, and those issues had not arisen with Rollston’s predecessors.

This seems like a letter filled with double-speak. No specifics. Only allusions to boogey-men. One thing is clear, however, is Michael Sweeney’s position that truth takes a backseat to donor funding. I am unsure who this donor is, but Sweeney and this donor fulfill succinctly the quip in 2 Timothy 4.3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” It seems Emmanuel Christian Seminary does not seek sound teachers, but only teachers who will tell the donors and the students what they desire to hear.

This is troublesome for many reasons. If Rollston’s article countermands the school’s philosophy, then surely this reaction of the school countermands the words of Scripture, not just in denying Grace and liberty, but so too in suggesting that the only reason Emmanuel Christian Seminary is in business is to make money, heaping to themselves teachers who only speak the words that warm the wallet of ECS. If Emmanuel Christian Seminary, led by Paul Blowers and Michael Sweeney, is no longer engaged with the pursuit of the truth but instead seeks to satisfy those itching hears, perhaps it is time to chain the doors as ECS will longer have real academic standing in our communities. Indeed, let their wanton gold rust and their angel be removed.

The letter is deeply saddening because it shows an institution willing to bend to the purposed idolatration of “In God We Trust.” What is the crisis of faith Sweeney speaks of? I would suspect that it is more of a crisis within Sweeney. He is questioning himself as to whether or not he can actually continue to call himself an academic or and educator when he knows he no longer serves the academic community and no longer seeks to educate, only to confirm what the highest bidder is selling. No, the crisis of faith is not from a student, but from the office of the President. Whom does Mr. Sweeney appeal to? God or Caesar? Mr. Sweeney has chosen to cast his lot, I am afraid, with Caesar.

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Post By Joel Watts (10,113 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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20 thoughts on “Pau£ Blower$, Michae£ $weeney, and Emmanue£ €hristian $eminary

  1. I am not a professor of anything. I have no credentials other than common sense. I have been following this controversy to some degree, and my assessment of the situation is that Emanuel has shot itself some place other than its foot. If a tenured professor is given the boot in favor of gaining a donor to the school, then that school has lost all credibility, as far as I can see. Other professors at the institution will start wondering if they are next and very possibly will bail for what looks like more stable positions. Qualified professors who could replace those who bail will look at the situation and decide they wouldn’t touch the place with a ten foot pole. Possible students will look at the school and see that good professors have been leaving and decide it is not a place they want to spend their money getting an education that may be second or third rate. Thus, the congregation will dwindle until there are only a few left whose funds are not enough to pay the bills. Even if you have a donor who is willing to spend six figures in donations what good does that do an institution that has lost all respect in the academic world, lost qualified and excellent professors out of fear of possibly being ousted to satisfy some other large donor, and lost students or cannot gain new ones out of fear of an inferior education? I feel that Emanuel has set in motion its own demise.

  2. Unfortunately this is common in the Independent Christian Church context. Much the same thing happened to me fifteen years ago while I was teaching at Manhattan Christian College. Donors told the President they’d move their money if I wasn’t terminated. For schools experiencing financial distress this is key.

  3. Dear Joel:

    Are you sure that you have not misrepresented Michael Sweeney’s position? You conveyed that his position is that truth takes a backseat to donor funding. This is not really expressed or implied in his letter, at least not in the part you quoted. If he had said that the donor withheld funds because the donor objected to a true statement being advocated by Dr. Rollston, that would be one thing. But there is no indication in the letter, as far as I can tell, that Dr. Sweeney considers Dr. Rollston’s claim that the Bible advocates the marginalization of women to be true.

    It seems unobjectionable that Dr. Sweeney did not specify the name of the donor he describes; many donors desire to give anonymously, or near-anonymously, in accord with the principle of Matthew 6:1-4. If Dr. Sweeney, by not naming the donor, was conforming to the donor’s request for anonymity, surely there can be no protest against that.

    You stated, “If Rollston’s article countermands the school’s philosophy, then surely this reaction of the school countermands the words of Scripture, not just in denying Grace and liberty, but so too in suggesting that the only reason Emmanuel Christian Seminary is in business is to make money, heaping to themselves teachers who only speak the words that warm the wallet of ECS.” On the contrary: *if* Rollston’s article opposes the school’s philosophy, and *if* some sort of obligation exists for ECS professors to maintain a public image consistent with the commitments of the school (such as its stated commitment to the authority of Scripture), then Dr. Sweeney’s statements suggest that at least one donor, or potential donor, has perceived these things, and that the donor is therefore reluctant to help finance a school that claims to be committed to the authority of Scripture while one of its professors is telling people not to value a Biblical teaching.

    You stated, “Indeed, let their wanton gold rust and their angel be removed.” Oh please. The concern expressed in Dr. Sweeney’s letter has everything to do with assuring the continuation of the school in a time of “severe financial stress,” and has nothing to do with greed and avarice. From the sound of it, what Dr. Rollston has written about Scriptural authority (to the effect that the marginalization of women is a Biblical value) is likely to drive away some potential donors. Those donors may sincerely believe that they cannot in good conscience bankroll a professor whose public statements seem to undermine the authority of Scripture. It is unobjectionable if they follow their conscience, and equally unobjectionable to inform Dr. Rollston that they are doing so.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • James,

      Considering that Rollston spoke the truth – no one has yet to issue a real response against him on the same scholarly level – and that Sweeney sited donors, not Rollston’s “poor scholarship” I can safely say that Sweeney’s goal is not the truth, which involves the pursuit of it, but keeping the donors happy. Sweeney did not address Rollston’s letter, but as usually, cited strawmen for his reasoning to fire him.

      Really wish you would cite Scripture consistently. You know, like when two disagree, or where the truth is… But you do not. I am not protesting the failure to release the name of the donor; I am questioning if such a donor actually exists and if this donor does, is this donor not already connected to ECS through Paul Blowers.

      So you admit the marginalization of women is a biblical value? James, it is one thing to say values are found in Scripture and another to say that something is a Scriptural value. The donor is paying for his/her own values, not for any digging into the truth and what that might yield. You are implying that values are determined by the amount of donations received, or the threat of donations missed. You prove the point of this post.

      They are greedy not for the truth, but for the old they can get for making a profit on the truth. Let us remember that at one time ECS stood with sound scholarship against the fundamentalists. Now? Well, now money is involved.

      • Dear Joel:

        I don’t grant that Dr. Rollston spoke the truth in his article. I have responded in a few comments over at the Bible & Interpretation blog about this. Michael Palaluk has also responded at his blog, in much more detail than can fit into comments-boxes.

        Just because Dr. Sweeney mentioned donors and not other concerns in one particular letter does not mean that other concerns do not exist, so your judgment of Dr. Sweeney’s goal seems premature (and somewhat judgmental).

        You wrote: “Really wish you would cite Scripture consistently. You know, like when two disagree, or where the truth is… But you do not.” I am not sure what you mean. What Scriptures have I cited here inconsistently?

        You wrote: “I am questioning if such a donor actually exists and if this donor does, is this donor not already connected to ECS through Paul Blowers.”

        Huh? Throughout your post you take the existence of the donor(s) for granted. It sort of looks like you are just looking for an excuse to cast aspersion upon Dr. Sweeney and Dr. Blowers, floating the accusation that they are more concerned about keeping the school financially viable than they are about allowing professors to speak the truth to their students (as if the latter would be possible without the former) . But the real situation, to the extent that it can be deduced from the letter, seems to be that they are concerned about the financial viability of ECS, and about the effects of Dr. Rollston’s public statements on that.

        You wrote: “So you admit the marginalization of women is a biblical value?” No; I am saying that the impression given by Dr. Rollston’s article is that the marginalization of women is a Biblical value.

        You wrote: “It is one thing to say values are found in Scripture and another to say that something is a Scriptural value.” Exactamente! If Dr. Rollston’s article had merely conveyed that some authors, in some passages, record events that involved the marginalization of women, or that some passages (especially OT passages) assume a social context in which women are second-class citizens, this would not have been controversial. But that is not what his article says. The gist of the article, as I understand it (and, I suspect, as most readers understood it) is that the Bible instructs the church to marginalize women, and that the Bible is incorrect about this and its instructions should not be considered valuable or authoritative.

        Yours in Christ,

        James Snapp, Jr.

        • I’m not sure I could stomach another reading of Pakaluk, but I have yet to see any actual demonstration that Rollston was wrong. The very real fact remains that at various times, women, slaves, ethnic minorities, and the like are marginalized and with theocratic permission. There is nothing wrong with allowing that Scripture contains these things. Even Paul pointed out the inefficiency of Scripture. What is wrong, however, is ignoring it.

          You don’t cite Scriptures consistently. You cite them when you want them, when you need them to allow you to act authoritatively.

          “Seems to me” is the basis of your argument, James. Indeed, instead of examining the article for its merit, you read it how you seek to read it. It is not most readers. Only four, maybe four, vocal defenders – two of which are known homophobic ideologues with the default switch set to Nazi Germany, one guy who claims to received his doctorate from God, and you – have read it in such a way. Oh, and Blowers.

  4. Rollston didn’t say much of anything in his HuffPost article, did he? I understand the good doctor is an expert in a variety of areas which are essentially linguistically technical, not exegetical or hermeneutical. It is one thing for a technician to say that there are various words for “you,” but quite another for him to extend that to doctrinal deductions.

    The article in HuffPost is actually rather poorly done in my opinion being incomplete in both its treatment of the topic of the marginalization of women, and the Biblical supports for and against it. Further, it is confusing. Assuming that Paul wrote the Epistle to Timothy, Rollston both decries and acclaims Paul’s writings about women without any attempt to reconcile them.

    The article comes across quite frankly, not as a scholarly article at all but rather a slightly sarcastic, flippant, and petulant social comment about Todd Aiken and what Rollston apparently takes as a rather simplistic social sound bite, “Biblical values.” As such, neither the article nor the reaction to it should even be noticed by serious scholars from any view of women’s marginalization in society at any time in history.

    If either Emmanuel or its donor base are concerned about Rollston’s statement about the “Bible’s view” in this article, they should probably go find something more substantive to worry about. Maybe the number of underprivileged people within an hour’s drive of the school, and the continuing social segregation among peoples in Tennessee.

      • What I said was: anyone who either 1) thinks Rollston’s article has any substance at all, or 2) who would either base any deductions on it, or hope to use it as a support for any action against a professor are not thinking correctly.

        Neither the article nor the current bruhaha provides any positive reflection on Rollston, Emmanuel, or anyone who uses the article in their arguments one way or another.

        Of greater import, perhaps, is the tenure action with regards Rollston; that is worthy of discussion. However, any attempts to defend his article are pointless because it’s a poor one from the get go.

  5. I can’t believe you want to play that game. Let’s see, an IQ of 142 and a couple graduate degrees, one of which has something to with the topic.

    But perhaps my most relevant credential for this discussion is my uncanny ability to read English critically.

    You?

    Maybe you could point out the doctoral-level, substantive, air tight academic arguments in the article for me? Then maybe, explain how the inherent sarcasm either adds to or detracts from any sense of scholarship.

  6. I’m confused. is it inappropriate to discuss the paucity of Rollston’s post and/or Emmanuel’s somewhat poor response to it? Or is it standard operating procedure to divert the discussion toward each other’s personal characteristics?

    Is that the way accademia works,

    or are we supposed to discuss the substance of the topic at hand?

  7. Joel,
    Since we’re on the topic, the Nov issue of Christianity Today (according to my Google Reader inbox) has a discussion of statements of faith in Christian academia. For what it’s worth.

  8. Actually, what you’ve done is offered nothing substantive to the conversation, preferring to use ad hominem comments and deflection instead.

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