From 2006-2009 I did my M.Div at Western Seminary here in Portland. Overall, I really loved my time at Western. I chose Western over George Fox mostly because I thought it would be more challenging for me to do a degree in a conservative, Reformed seminary. And it was. After going to a largely Arminian (and mostly hostile to Calvinism) bible college in Illinois, to jump into a grad program at a Calvinist school was a fun challenge. I’m not a Calvinist, they didn’t convert me, but I can represent what they think and believe without all the unhelpful caricatures and hostility.
The faculty was excellent as well. They were all solid and willing to engage in a variety of ideas without defensiveness. And they were even open to have a wide variety of visiting faculty teach. I remember when Doug Pagitt was in town and we had a conversation about his latest book with some faculty and a few students. If I remember rightly, John Johnson had Brian Mclaren and/or Tony Jones teach something at the doctoral level. But something changed in 2009, 2010. It seemed like a push, or some kind of pressure to solidify conservative, Reformed roots and shelter the school off from anyone outside of that stream. So mostly the visiting faculty became professors from SBTS who went through their own winnowing of anyone who wasn’t bleeding for the conservative Reformed movement.
In any case, in 2011 I began the Th.M program at Western after being awarded a scholarship that paid for the first year and completed a seminar on Augustine with Marc Cortez (which was excellent) and New Perspectives on Paul with Jim DeYoung which was also great. I did a Bonhoeffer class with Joel Burnell from Poland and a few independent studies on the nature of the Bible. It was a fun foray into post-graduate work but largely I decided that I was not cut out for the academic route, but was called to be a pastor first and foremost. The time limitations with having a few kids and a full time pastorate were too much so I dropped off after doing about 10 hours of the program. I have no regrets in doing that and feel at peace with the direction of my life.
After that, I kind of buried my head in the sand a little bit I guess and haven’t been keeping up with Western much. Recently I saw online that Western Seminary has partnered with Mars Hill Church in Seattle to open a campus of Western as a part of Mars Hill School. I was immediately saddened to see this and think this is a terrible direction for the school on a number of levels.
More than saddened, I am a little embarrassed. I’m embarrassed that people are now going to associate Mars Hill and Western more than ever before. I’m embarrassed when people ask me where I went to Seminary, I’m going to say Western and many minds will turn to Mars Hill and associate me with that. Honestly, if I were still in school, I would transfer out at this point.
In regard to the number of levels that strike me. First and foremost, I’m embarrassed academically. To choose to associate yourself with a church and a name that has recently been caught plagiarizing does not scream academic excellence! Nor does Driscoll’s fundamentalist and ignorant rants.
Second, I’m embarrassed culturally. No, not because Mars Hill is known for being “all about Jesus.” It’s because they’re known for abusive and controlling tactics, degrading local preaching by showing a video, perpetuating celebrity Christian culture, saying demeaning and degrading things about women. And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg folks. And now when I say, “I went to Western Seminary” I almost feel like I have to tack on, “But, I’m not associated in any way with Mars Hill.”
Third, I’m embarrassed ecclesiologically. Lots of this is expressed above. Capitalizing on a celebrity-persona and status. Not valuing the local preaching of scripture. Taking a franchise approach to church planting. Threatening to sue anyone and everyone who says a word of dissent against Mark or the church.
Finally, I’m embarrassed ethically. Why would a seminary partner with a church who has been found out to misappropriate designated funds, who has spent 200,000 dollars of church funds to pay for Mark Driscoll’s book to be on the NY Times bestseller list, who has countless accusations online ranging from a sexual felony in Portland that has gone unreported to about every abuse of power possible.
For all of the above reasons, I think this is a horrible idea for Western Seminary. Why muddy your name by getting mixed up in this polarizing mess? Like it or not, when you start a campus IN Mars Hill, you’re inheriting all of the baggage that comes with this one man’s mistakes. Is it worth it? Does it not in some way also mean you’ve condoned it? Or at least overlooked it?