DTS professor John D. Hannah (not to be confused with animal lover Jack Hanna) has written an honest evaluation of the history of one of the world’s important Seminaries.
“An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism” traces the history of DTS through the prism of each of the seminary’s presidents beginning with her founder Lewis Sperry Chafer to the current Bailey administration. Hannah’s thesis is that DTS marches to the beat of her own drum, making her a square peg in the round Evangelical hole.
The work is particularly valuable in explaining the early history of DTS wherein we learn that the seminary’s theology is a fusion of Presbyterian and Plymouth Brethren thought. The reader also learns that Chafer’s purpose for founding DTS was to train biblically faithful Pastors who would serve in the drifting mainline Protestant denominations. Chafer’s good hearted intentions would ultimately prove to be a pipe dream as the mainline Protestant denominations eventually did embrace relativistic hermeneutics. The pulpits of the mainline Protestant Church were now decidedly closed to most DTS grads. These factors lead to DTS being the-go-to seminary for would be Pastors in the independent Church movement.
A theologian can find the roots of some of the animosity between the Covenant and Dispensational camps in this history. Chafer was a Presbyterian influenced by the theology of Darby, Scofield, and the Bible Conference movement. This did not sit well with some establishment Presbyterians.
Upon reading the beginning of “An Uncommon Union” a dear Dispensational friend of mine shared the tale of his missing, much beloved, Scofield Reference Bible. You see, this man has served in a Presbyterian Church within walking distance of his home for years. He was the Church’s main youth leader, and as such was examined by the elders of the Church. During the examination the man agreed to keep his Dispensationalism to himself as such things are not usually the main focus of youth ministry. This man’s bible of choice was a well loved, marked up Scolfield Bible which he was careful to keep in a leather cover at all times. One fateful day the man’s Bible was no more. They searched high. They searched low. The Bible was never seen again. It was as though the Scolfield Bible had been raptured, leaving not a trace, save for a guilty looking Elder whom denied any knowledge of the event.
To say that there has been animosity between Covenant and Dispensational camps is a gross understatement. The division and vitriol between these brothers is deplorable. Hannah’s book is helpful in clearing up the caricature of DTS as a bunch of wide eyed, Rapture Theory obsessed, fundamentalists. DTS emerges from Hannah’s portrait as a seminary doing what she ought: training men to the ministry who can accurately handle the Word of God.
Disclaimer: My interest is not as an Alumnus of DTS, but rather as a student of alumni and as a supporter of all institutions that train faithful men and women to ministry.