October 8, 2012

Non-Fundamentalists to Critique Fundamentalism: Could This Be Another Round of Revisionist History?

Today the Central Baptist Seminary (MN) will be open its two day Fall Conference. The theme of the conference is, Fundamentalism & Higher Education: The Influence of Central Seminary at Pillsbury College.1

A title like that has several possibilities for where the discussion might go.  Who are some of the conference speakers?  Larry Pettegrew, Doug Bookman and Alan Potter all of whom hired on at John MacArthur’s school.  Larry Pettegrew is now at Shepherd’s Seminary. Ed Glenny teaches at Northwestern. Ray Pratt went to BBC, Springfield after the Pillsbury blow-up of 1983. As for the speakers: Why does Central BAPTIST Seminary host primarily non-Baptist, non-Fundamentalists to speak on issues of Fundamentalism?  Granted the speakers were among those who were at Pillsbury during the tumultuous years.  The majority of this speaker line up, however, presently reflects the kind of Fundamentalism that Dr. Kevin Bauder thinks is worth saving.

Kevin Bauder has a track record of heaping “lavish praise” on so-called conservative evangelicals and joining them in cooperative ministry while “castigating” Fundamentalism. It is, therefore, entirely possible this conference will be a continuation of revisionist history and/or besmirching Fundamentalism.

Jon Pratt wrote an interesting assessment of Pillsbury’s demise (Jon’s father, Ray Pratt, is speaking at the conference). The paper is titled, A Legacy of Serving the Lord’s Church: The Story of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (1957-2008).2  For our purposes I want to excerpt an extended portion.
“Dr. Clearwaters assumed the presidency for the next seven years (1968-1975), but in 1970 the Board asked Dr. Joseph Rammel to come as the new Executive Vice-President. Dr. Rammel possessed excellent administrative skills, and the Board eventually promoted him to the office of President in 1975 at which time Dr. Clearwaters was made the President Emeritus. Dr. Rammel’s presidency was marked by an expansion of course offerings and educational programs, an improvement in faculty quality, and a steady increase in enrollment culminating with a high of 726 in 1980. But the latter years of Rammel’s tenure (he served through 1986) saw decreasing enrollment and some significant personnel issues. Paramount among these issues was the upheaval of the 1983/1984 school year when 25 faculty members departed at the end of the spring semester. This number constituted more than half of the teaching faculty and included the department heads of Bible, math, history, English, industrial science, philosophy, Christian education, secretarial science, education, and business. Those departing also included several key administrators such as the Academic Dean, Registrar, and Dean of Students. To be sure not all of these people left because of a conflict with the president, for some were going on to different ministries and would have left regardless of the situation. However, at least 75% were either fired by the president or resigned out of protest to the president’s actions. The reason for the decision to dismiss some of these faculty members still remains a mystery, and since Dr. Rammel has since died (in 2006), we can never know for certain.”
Later Brother Pratt writes,
“Regardless of the reasons for this large number of departing faculty, the constituency of the college began to question what was happening at the school and the enrollment began to descend even more rapidly, reaching a low point of 347 in the fall semester of 1986. Eventually the Board of Trustees lost faith in Rammel’s ability to lead, and they accepted his resignation as 1986 came to an end. Soon after this in the spring semester of 1987 the Board announced that Pastor Alan Potter, a Pillsbury graduate and pastor of a vibrant church in Lancaster, PA, would be assuming the presidency in April of that year. Potter’s dynamic personality and progressive vision for the college greatly encouraged the faculty and students. Enrollment numbers increased to a high of 369 (in the 89/90 school year) during his 7 year tenure. One of the great discouragements of Potter’s presidency was the failure to attain full accreditation with the North Central regional accrediting agency. This was an unexpected disappointment especially because Pillsbury’s main competitor, Maranatha, achieved accreditation during this time. Sadly, Potter found himself at odds with the Board over certain initiatives he wanted to advance, and he chose to resign in 1994. By 1994 the enrollment had declined to 245 as the Board hired Dr. Gerald Carlson, an alumnus of Pillsbury and Vice President at Maranatha. But Carlson’s tenure lasted only one year as he experienced great frustration with the faculty who did not want to head in the same philosophical direction that he felt the school should go.”
Would I like to attend this conference? Sure!  I like to keep my file current on what others think sank Pillsbury.  For what it’s worth, Pillsbury’s demise was very unfortunate, but it appears that Northland International University is on a trajectory toward its own ultimate demise. See, What Do Pillsbury, Tennessee Temple and NIU have in Common? 


For a continued discussion of CBTS please continue to, What Does Central Seminary& John Piper’s Desiring God Have in Common?


Site Publisher Commentary:
One individual, with knowledge of the 1983 blow up, noted that Dr. Rammel’s leadership was compromised because of the compromise in his family, which Jon Pratt noted.  Dr. Rammel, furthermore, was allegedly building the school on under-the-table scholarships for football, and not enforcing the disciplinary standards (kids came back to the dorms drunk and were not expelled).

Related Reading:


  1. From a conversation I had with Pastor Marc Monte he shared this among other thoughts on Central and this conference.

    “Many of the key speakers were actively involved in both Pillsbury and Central during pivotal years. Of course, their close association gives them an insider’s perspective—something valuable to the conference theme. It must be noted, however, that these men abandoned the Clearwaters/Pickering-style Biblicism for broader Evangelical circles. Their reasons for departure likely color their perspectives even though they were insiders. I would be very interested in their reminiscences of those years, but not so interested in their critique of the fundamentalism they abandoned.”

  2. Could someone kindly direct me where I could read and reference the paper by Jon Pratt entitled; A Legacy of Serving the Lord’s Church: The Story of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College. Sincere thanks; Andrew Paz - andypaz.fbc@gmail.com

  3. Is it possible to read/reference the paper produced by Jon Pratt concerning the Pillsbury Baptist Bible College history. Thank you.

    1. You will find it, in PDF form, at this link.