For The Record

In the previous “You and God” post, I reflected on a slice of history through which I lived more than 50 years ago as a seminary student. It triggered thoughts of days well past, and brought to mind many more incidents that seemed very important at the time but, with the passing of half a century, have faded into almost insignificance. I want to share with you one such happening.  I have never addressed this topic with anyone other than a handful (if that) of close family and friends.

This was during my final year in the Master of Divinity program at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. That was a fairly new degree for ministry-bound men at the time, replacing the Bachelor of Divinity degree. Both designations were pretty much misnomers, as the course for each was 96 hours, with an undergraduate degree required for admission; therefore it was, for all practical purposes, a “doctoral” degree, though it was called a “Bachelor” and later a “Masters” degree. At any rate, the courses were excellent, though some were a bit redundant for students with a B.A. in Bible.

With just months to go to before graduation, having taken at least 12 credits each semester while working full-time to support my family, I was in the seminary library and happened to notice, near the librarian’s desk, a copy of the paper that had been awarded a scholarship as the best paper submitted in the Apologetics course.  Since it had caught my eye, I paused and glanced through it and was at once appalled—not because of the content, but because of the grammar. In the 10 or 12 pages, I counted more than 100 misspelled words or grammatically incorrect constructions.

I made a copy and visited the office of the course professor, showing him what I had read and asking how such a paper, written for a seminary-level class, could be awarded “first-place.” His only response was, “Well, we are not training writers here, we are training preachers.” I left his office totally dissatisfied with the answer, knowing that in the school where I had received my undergraduate training such a piece of work would not have passed any teacher’s desk as acceptable, much less been given an award.  I was stunned.

My next course of action was to write a letter to the businessman who had given the ($500 if my memory is correct) scholarship money for whom the apologetics scholarship was named. I sent this gentleman a copy of the paper that received the award he had sponsored, with the 100-plus grammatical and spelling errors circled in red, remonstrating to him that I had addressed this inconsistency with the course instructor with no success. It seemed clear to me that, for whatever reason, a mistake had been made in awarding first-place to a graduate-level paper that would not have received a passing grade in bonehead, undergraduate English. I received no response from the businessman.

In the meantime, I received word that if I did not apologize to the faculty for my letter to the donor and my rebellious attitude, I would not be allowed to graduate in the spring of 1969.  That would mean four years of hard work—and lot of money spent on something that both my wife and I had sacrificed considerably for—“down the drain.”  It was a dilemma for sure. I did not feel an apology was needed.

Ellen and another seminarian’s wife made an appointment with Dr. Clearwaters, our pastor as well as president of the seminary. In tears, these women pleaded my case with that dear old man of God, but to no avail, since he could not overrule the decision of the faculty member. One might recall what had happened a year earlier when Dr. Clearwaters, as chairman of the board of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, had intervened and overruled a decision of the college president, Dr. Myron Cedarholm, in a disciplinary matter. The result of that intervention was that a new college was founded in the fall of 1968 in Watertown, Wisconsin!

So, as all of these events were transpiring, I applied and was accepted for admission as a transfer student to the San Francisco Baptist Theological Seminary, where Dr. Arno Q. Weniger was president. It was much like Central Seminary in its separatist position.

As the months rolled on, God worked in my heart about my attitude and how I had by-passed channels of authority in appealing to the scholarship’s donor. 1969 was a year of rebellion. The hippie movement was rolling full-steam ahead, especially in California. Race riots were occurring in many major cities, where whole city blocks were being burned to the ground, including some not far from our house in Minneapolis. And the 1968 tumultuous Democratic convention was still very fresh in mind.  Winds of Woodstock were in the air, and anti-war protestors marched in the streets and on college campuses, raising questions as to America’s involvement in Vietnam. It was an age of rebellion as never before, it seemed, and I did not want to be known, in my part of the world, as a rebel.

Consequently, I arranged for a meeting with the faculty, and in brokenness offered an apology for by-passing proper channels of authority in going to the businessman with my grievance. I did not apologize for questioning the legitimacy of the award, but only for going above the faculty and staff in writing to the scholarship’s sponsor. Whatever I said was enough to placate the disturbed leaders, none of whom replied verbally to my apology. I was informed in writing that I would be allowed to receive the diploma that I had worked diligently for four years to obtain.

I left Minnesota shortly after graduation that year, but with no bitterness toward any one person. It was perplexing to me that the faculty could not see the issue at hand, but I fully recognized the error in judgment that I had made in by-passing the administration when I wrote to the man who funded the scholarship. I continued to love Dr. Clearwaters. Some 20 years later, I would invite him to speak at the church I pastored in Indianapolis, and he graciously accepted. He was a 20th-century giant in my world—with feet of clay, to be sure, but no less a hero of the faith to me. Some of the other faculty members at that time, not so much.

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) 

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