Dr. John Hannah, Research Professor at DTS, recounts a brief history of DTS and what makes it unique.
“Our Past and Our Tomorrows: Rooted in a Common Experience, Resulting in a Deep Commitment, and Propelled by devotion to a Book”
Significant consequences emerge from small beginnings, often in obscure settings, by unlikely people placed in a particular vortex or concatenation of circumstances that only causes a providentalist to find its sources in the timing causes that transcend cultural and social conditions though shaped invariably by them. That is, to the mighty hand of an altogether divine and majestic being who works all things according to His own purposes and glory (social and cultural conditioning being merely the outwardly concurrent, secondary, circuities of cacophonous circumstantialisms [reasons and causes not being synonymous). All of this while others seek warranted credulity in the almighty power of chance, contingency, and human ingenuity.
Secular scholars in many fields have long debated the nature of causation and have produced an impressive array of collaborative evidence to support their insights; educators have assumed the task of translating their findings in the classroom and through their hearers to the general public. Both originators and communicators of this largely materialist, rationalistic, and Enlightenment perspective, pervasive until the last century, had seemingly run God as an active causative agent out of the universe. While not denigrating cultural, social, and personal factors in causation, providentalists argue that such factors are only the important, necessary, and celebrated circumstances through which the God of the universe, the giver of our Lord Jesus Christ in the great incarnation, has chosen to bring about his divine will exacted on the stage of time throughout the centuries, the exact purpose of the very act of the original creation, seemingly devastated, even aborted, by the retrogression, deviation of our pristine parents; a recovery promised to the ancient patriarchs and announced by the prophets; and inaugurated in the divine redemption of humanity secured securely and without contingency at Calvary where defeat was turned into triumph evidentialized by His resurrection three days later. The topic before us is in a minute sliver of the divine redemptive grand metanarrative, a droplet in the sea of God’s great plan to create a world where He will dwell in all His glory surrounded forever by an adoring crowd giving Him recognition and glory without end.
Today, I want to look with you at one happening in history, the founding and perpetuation of one institution, Dallas Theological Seminary. While I confess that the hand of God is not only the invisible cause of our existence, it is the sustaining mercies of the great being that has brought it to this day, the beginning of its ninety-third year of existence as a professional graduate-level religious institution. Without doubt, the cause of our continuance is the benevolence and gracious forbearance of the triune and majestic God of the universe. However, and with all that has been duly and properly noted in the previous paragraph, I want to spend a few moments speaking to the issue of the human factors and passions that created and has sustained our school for over nine decades.
Here is my thesis: Dallas Theological Seminary was born in the passionate, shared experience of the people of God that took shape at the beginning of the last century by a small coterie of visionary dreamers whose passion and sacrifice has been communicated for nearly a century by a faculty of women and man to thousands to students who have sat in our chapels, been mentored privately by faculty and fellow students, and have been nurtured in the classroom to go into a world with that same passion and sacrificial spirit.
What I am talking about is predicated on a clear assumption, energized by a clear commitment to an unsullied tool that we often hold in our hands, and seek to perpetuate (a passion, an assumption, and a book). In reflecting on these three factors I am restricted by time, and more so by limited knowledge and understanding, but I wish to make a few comments.
The passion animating Dallas Seminary from its inception has been that of an altogether beautiful Savior whom God had sent to address humanity’s deepest need. Dallas Seminary is rooted fundamentally and unflinchingly committed to an invisible something that you will see evidenced by our words and actions. It is the belief that there is a world far greater, stunningly more beautiful, and enduring than the blighted, contorted world seen through the blurry spectacles of selfish preoccupations and motivations. The root of our vision is the personal and individualized experience of the unseen through the one who came to us to reveal that world and to fit us for it. The heartbeat individually and collectively from our president, each and every faculty member, and staff person is the experience of the wonder of a divine forgiveness in and through Christ. That vision was and is the product of the redemptive event of the Christ, born of the experience of redeeming mercies, and its stellar remediation through the atoning sacrifice of God’s gift from heaven, the Son of God and the Son of Man. An understanding that grace through mercy has been extended to mankind, a purchase made by one that is so perfect and complete, that God’s wrath has been assuaged forever, permitting God within the limitations of his own character being infinity just to justly extend to all mankind salvation without cause or the demand of human endeavor, a free and forever forgiveness for the simple and unmerited act of recognition and acquiesce to the beauty of the person and provision of an altogether bountiful and glorious Savior. It was born in and out of the redemptive experience of Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder and first president of the institution.
That passion resulted in a functional assumption that was and is undergirded by the corporate reality of the individualized experiences of the redeeming event in Christ. It is simply that together something can be done that could maximize and radically escalate the best of our efforts if only executed individually. What is that “something?” It has to do with the vision that we all share, the wonder of forgiveness, the grace expressed in divine redemption, and the deep desire to express an appreciative attitude through action, action rooted in the act of God through Christ. What am I talking about? We believe that this message is so compelling, beautiful, and delightful that it must not be keep confined in the walls of our churches, but proclaimed, taught, and believed on in the world. Our operative motto is “preach the Word,” literally “scatter the seed,” the seed of the gospel which in essence is the composite of the claims that Jesus made about himself. This is the assumption that rises out of our individual experience of being encountered by the Christ and now institutionalized across a seemingly ever-increasing array of emphases corporately expressed.
The passion that drives Dallas Seminary is the gospel; the profound and deeply motivating sense that mankind has a serious problem that cannot be resolved by good intentions, moral resolve, community pressure, or governmental programs and regulations. The problem is not that dysfunction is rooted in external forces, some environmental paralysis, the crushing of our ids aborting the natural development of our egos in youth by a superego, but our moral ineptitude is a blighted and twisted set of affections. The tragedy of mankind is amnesia, not caused by a blunt force applied to the cranium, but a voluntary unwillingness to hear the voice of natural theology in the sunset, however shadowed and weak that voice may be, and certainly not of an atoning savior. The root problem for all of us is a spiritual cardio-vascular issue that can only be addressed by an inward change that only God and His provisions as described in the Bible. We have a passion and we have as fundamental basis for it; however, there is something else. Passion, motivating and shaping our vision alone, has not resulted in the effect you see today in this happy place; it took and takes a philosophy, a structural frame work, that defines and refines our vision.
What gives life and direction to our passion, the driving reality within the depth of our beings, and vision, the implementation of our passion in outward action, even informing our philosophy of education is simply the Bible. The Bible is the heart of our educational curriculum because it shapes the content, defining the perimeters, of truth. For us it has been and is, and shall ever be, the only source of unquestionable truth. Why? Because is the only book that not only describes a world beyond itself with pointed accuracy, it helps us understand ourselves, and describes one who came to give us the hope. The Bible is unapologetically true and sufficient explaining life, begetting life, and sustaining life until that time when what its promises about life come to eternal fruition. We belong to a tradition that recognizes the contribution of natural theology, philosophic rationalism, the role of experience, and the importance of the collective wisdom of those who have gone before us. However, we believe and order our lives on the assumption that the witness of Scripture stands above and beyond all other revelatory sources of knowledge. The Bible, simply put is the only unsullied, impeccable source of our knowledge of God, which we have called “Theology.” The Bible is the source of our knowledge of God. The Bible and its teachings, what we call “Theology,” describes the supernatural wonder of human redemption that inspires what we do here. We study this great book, we submit to this great book, because the God of the book has allowed us into His world, a world of unmitigated truth and love. The Bible is placed in the symbols of our institution (“Preach the Word,” “Touching Lives with Scripture,” “Teach Truth…Love Well”), not merely to indicate a continuity with the past, but to declare that we find the Bible and its historically interpreted message, the so called “Old, Old Story,” to be as relevant to our generation as when the promise of life that was proclaimed to Abraham and his children four thousand years ago. We want to be Bible-centered people, not because we are fearful of the uncertainties of our present world, needing what Marx said was a dulling, intoxicating drug called religion to hide our cowardice, but because we believe that human nature became so blighted as when our first parents were expulsed from God’s presence that this great book is all we need to resolve the problem of hell, death, sin, and divine wrath.
The story of the seminary is also that of a hearty band of men and women, board members who direct the school’s future guarding its integrity; an administrative staff (including its now five presidents) that gave themselves selflessly to the endeavor; a faculty that has chosen to be here in less than ideal circumstances at times; a staff that may have proven to be the most selfless of all, and a student body (now in the thousands) that have bought in the vision and carried it to the ends of the earth, as well as countless donors over the decades that believed in what we were attempting to do and gave of their resources, laboring in prayer, that this work could go on.
I conclude with a poem by Stuart Townend, an English worship leader in Brighton, who has authored and co-authored several known contemporary songs, some with Keith Getty of Ireland; the one we sang together earlier. I think it is what the seminary is all about: our vision, our basis, and our collective and enduring sacrifice to carry it into our world with passion. You who have entered this institution for the first time have joined a band of people now over nine decades in the making that know what we are about (we have vision), who know the basis that controls and directs our passionate vision, the Word of God, and are willing to lay aside what others consider valuable because we have fallen in love with the creator of the universe. I ask you to join us! Listen once more to the words that we sing.
How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom
About the Contributors
John D. Hannah (ThM, 1971; ThD, 1974) has worked at DTS for more than forty years. His interests include the history of the Christian church, with particular focus on Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. Among his many publications is An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism (2009).