November 6, 2008

Continuation of Discussion over the Closing of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College

Many of you aware that I participate in various discussions at the pseudo-fundamentalist Sharper Iron blog. [Resigned from SI June 2009]  Last week I was involved in a discussion at Sharper Iron in regard to the unfortunate announced closure of the Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (PBBC) scheduled for the end of this semester. Various reasons, many of which valid, were offered for what lead to PBBC’s announcement. Among them was my referencing Dr. Alan Potter’s tenure as college President (beginning in 1987) during which he began to incrementally shift the school away from its Fundamentalist heritage. The SI thread was closed by SI moderators short of their normal 20 page standard. In any event it is sad that PBBC is closing.

Dr. Alan Potter introduced changes at PBBC that were a move toward the philosophy of
Chuck Swindoll’s The Grace Awakening mindset, which Potter had stated his fondness of to a personal friend of mine. In the SI thread one of SI’s moderators did not appreciate the serious implications of Potter’s shifting PBBC toward The Grace Awakening mindset.

The suddenness and clearly new direction that Potter steered the school toward was for many Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) men an indication that PBBC had just set foot on a path away from its Fundamentalist heritage for non-separatist Evangelical tendencies. I frequently noted that PBBC tried to recover its heritage and perception as solidly Fundamentalist, but the damage was done.

Following is an observation from a man close to PBBC. Certain individuals in IFB circles, who are fond of pointing our young Fundamentalists toward the Evangelical camp, will not appreciate it, but this is what the feeling was among many after Potter initiated his changes at Pillsbury.

Although it (PBBC) struggled for a number of years to recover itself, it never really dealt with (in any real tangible way) its ruined reputation. Although this was repeatedly brought before them by many people, they never really did what was necessary to regain the trust of the Gatekeepers who send students.”
Some men in the SI discussion thread aggressively tried to dismiss or negate the chilling effects of Dr. Potter’s Grace Awakening inspired changes at Pillsbury. To them I suggested reading Dr. Ernest Pickering’s review of The Grace Awakening, titled, Are Fundamentalists Legalists? Here is a sample from page one,
Furthermore, the viewpoint espoused in his [Swindoll’s] book finds a sympathetic audience with some fundamentalists who have become “bent out of shape” with what they view as the pettiness of certain segments of fundamentalist thinking. We are afraid that, given the impetus by the writing of Swindoll, some are about to “throw the baby out with the bath water.
Reflect on that in light of Potter’s stated fondness for Chuck Swindoll’s The Grace Awakening philosophy and his introduction of Swindoll’s Evangelical mindset into PBBC. It is irrefutable that Potter’s actions triggered events that lead to the ultimate demise of PBBC. In light of Pickering’s booklet one might also begin to appreciate that cautions and warnings about strengthening ties and endorsing Evangelicals like John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler, Mark Dever and Mark Driscoll, with only rare and/or muted cautions, are not new or unique to me.

The potentially devastating effects of introducing Evangelical philosophy into a biblical Fundamentalist setting are no more stark than the demise of PBBC.

In conclusion I am posting an unedited note I received from an IFB preacher who was viewing the discussion at SI. He shared the following remarks and critique with me and I will share it with you on his behalf. I will follow with some closing remarks.

Looks like the “discussion” about what causes might have really led to PBBC’s demise has abruptly been ended by SI’s leadership saying as they did that they had allowed enough “disparaging” comments about the college. I noticed in those same thoughts any lack of equal concern for the real disparaging remarks made against much larger Fundamentalism. It appears that over and over again historic Fundamentalism can be disparaged all day long without any of the empathy that they so quickly want to show toward those individuals or institutions who march off decidedly to embrace the new “mood” of Evangelicalism.

Even the McCunes and Shepherd, while acknowledging Dr. Potter’s role in the demise, declare themselves openly to be “
irritated” in one of their own words concerning any discussion about a shift at PBBC toward Evangelicalism during Dr. Potter’s watch, but remarked only that they do not believe that PBBC’s closing is any indication of a “collapse” in Fundamentalism. While they claim to be tied close enough to better discern the cause and effect better than others, it appears that they are not understanding what else comes from such close proximity, and that is emotion. They seem to be allowing their close emotional ties to PBBC to cloud their close perceptions of the cause and effect. I believe that their specific verbiage confirms as much. This is not unique to them as it clouds our perspectives in other situations to which we are very close.

The comments by the dissenters to the issues raised about Dr. Potter’s actions during his tenure as president on the one hand confirm that there was indeed some “
fault” at Dr. Potter’s hands; however, they adamantly desire to dispute what was at the heart of those faulty actions. They want to characterize the heart of the matter as mere “relaxing rules.”

As they see it, however, Potter’s relaxing the rules was faulty only because it happened too fast and that it happened without involving more people first. They specifically deny that in his rules relaxation there is to be found any vestige or tincture of Evangelicalism because Evangelicalism according to them is
evidenced only by some overt ecclesiastical compromises

These men are willingly ignorant of the true nature of Evangelicalism. It would serve them well to read more of the past pastor of Fourth Baptist Church and past president of CBTS, Dr. Ernest Pickering, rather than the current musings of Dr. Kevin Bauder.

Dr. Pickering’s book *The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism defines the movement more as a mood than anything thing else. A mood can be hard to specifically define, and its effects can impact much further and broader than most Fundamentalist can even begin to appreciate. If one doesn’t understand what the mood is, he won’t see it at work and many claiming the moniker of Fundamentalist especially those at SI don’t see it in CCM, the new worship, contextualization in mission, etc. Dr. Pickering covers how this mood of Evangelicalism has affected believers’ attitudes and actions.

The Evangelical mood desires to
loosen restrictions, blur lines, and blend a Christ/cultural mixture as the new balanced Christian way of life. That is what self-identifying Evangelical Chuck Swindoll advocates in his book The Grace Awakening, a redefinition of Biblical grace-living in light of this new mood, and that redefinition is exactly what Dr. Potter read about, agreed in principle with, and then sought to implement at PBBC according to his own testimony
. End of story!

It is sad that the discussion at SI never moved even remotely close to really evaluating Dr. Potter’s action in light of the knowns of Evangelicalism. Could it be because many there are affected to a degree with that same mood?
In private conversations (following the thread's closure) I encouraged men in the SI discussion thread to reflect on Dr. Pickering’s critique of Swindoll’s philosophy in light of Potter’s stated fondness for the philosophy of The Grace Awakening and how he obviously began to introduce Swindoll’s Evangelical mindset into PBBC. I am hopeful they can now better understand why Potter’s actions triggered events that lead to the ultimate demise of PBBC. They might also begin to appreciate that my cautions and warnings about fawning over the stars of Evangelicalism, with very few warnings about the obvious associations and methods of ministry these same IFB men would never condone or tolerate in their own ministries, are not new or unique to me.

I also suggested reading Dr. Pickering’s booklet,
Should Fundamentalists and Evangelicals Seek Closer Ties? In that booklet Pickering’s concerns are primarily about the “New” Evangelicals.  IMO, the so-called conservative wing of Evangelicalism (Mohler, Piper, Duncan, MacArthur, Dever,,) is the bridge to New Evangelicalism.



  1. Hi Lou ~

    As far as the school involved or the blog Sharper Iron, I don't know much about what is written in this article. But I am wary of Chuck Swindoll and his contemplative leanings as reported by Lighthouse Trails some time ago, and am very bothered that my favorite listener supported radio station still broadcasts him twice each weekday (morning & evening) as well as Sunday (not to mention Ravi Zacharias who also favorably quotes Foster and Nouwen).

    I tried to follow the links to Pickering's booklets, but there was an error on both. Is there another way to obtain them? I'd be very interested to learn more on the dangers of Swindoll's theology.

    Thank you so much.

  2. Pearl:

    Many of he booklets by Dr. Pickering are out of print at the moment. Baptist World Mission is working on a project to incorporate all of his pamphlets into some kind of book form. Once it is ready I will announce it here.


  3. I don't know you, but I know Dr. Potter, (I was a married student at Pillsbury during his tenure there), and I would attend chapel even on my off school days to hear him preach! The man loves God, he loves people, he is real! At the time, I also was a supervisor at a local store where both his high school children worked; and they were both wonderful, sincere, hard-working, young people who also loved God as far as I could tell.
    As it happens, I attended PBBC in 1978-1979, then after a number of years, returned in 1989 and graduated in 1995. Therefore, I was under both philosophies, and Dr. Potter's grace inspired me more to love and follow God, than did the prior traditional rules-oriented approach.
    Lastly, I don't appreciate your disparaging of Dr. Potter - he and his family are good people.
    Kelly Howarth

    1. Kelly:

      Dr. Potter may be "good people," which I'll take your word on. The changes Dr. Potter brought to Pillsbury did, however, put in motion events that ultimately resulted in the school's closure.

      I drew a parallel to what happened to Pillsbury with what is and going to happen at Northland. Please see-

      What Do Pillsbury, Tennessee Temple & Northland Have in Common?


  4. Another thing to perhaps keep in mind that the facilities were by and large rather old. The dorms were built in the 60's, the gym was probably the 60's as well. The main building on campus was built in about the 80's (the 1880's, that is). While it was a grand building with lots of style, it perhaps needed some work to keep up (although I am not privy to the details). The newest building on campus was built, if I'm not mistaken, in the 70's. A church is people, not a building. But a college on the other hand, is people and the facilities, and it can be hard to attract students to aging facilities when other colleges have much more modern campuses. This is not a problem than can be blamed on any person or administration. Rather, it's just another challenge that has to be dealt with.