A conversation with Richard Pratt

BENYOLA: Speaking of the founding of Westminster Seminary, when we look at the founding of Ivy League universities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, like Harvard and Yale, they were founded to train pastors and provide theological education to men and women entering various professional fields. They were designed to export educated Christians into society to hold accountable the intellectual world. What happened, that these institutions sank into the opposite and what they set out to prevent, liberalism?

photo: Jim Southard

PRATT: It’s very interesting because when you value the intellectual, when you value the academic too much there seems to be a sort of natural tendency for such groups to listen more and more to the rhythm, to the melody that’s played by academia rather than by the church. That doesn’t always happen quickly and it doesn’t always happen in the same way, but let me repeat it again. When you have a high value placed upon academics, then the natural tendency is for Christian leaders to listen more and more to the melody that’s played by academia and not by the church.

What happens slowly but nevertheless surely, is a drift toward trying to make your Christian faith accommodate and be accepted by the leading academics of the day. And the leading academics of the day are usually not faithful, Evangelical Christians. And so when you have this high value on academics and the leading figures of academics, then you find a constant need to be vigilant that there is not this drift toward acceptance by the larger or broader academic community.

You take your potential teachers and send them off to the secular university to get degrees. If you’re not careful, they always come back with residue, as it were, from their academic training. That residue often begins to increase into something more than simply residue. And if we’re not very careful, then, after a couple of generations what you find is that the valuing of the academic in this manner actually opens up the faculties of our own schools to what we would call, perhaps, liberal or secular thinking applied to biblical studies and to theological studies. So the leaders of schools always have to be vigilant.

BENYOLA: So, rectors have to be chosen wisely.

PRATT: They do. They absolutely do.

BENYOLA: And who rectors the rectors?

PRATT: Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Ultimately, I’m such an American in this — I think the people do. The bureaucrats will not.

BENYOLA: Hm. How do the people hold accountable the rectors, how do they exert that?

PRATT: Frankly, they withhold their money. Or they leave for another church or denomination. That’s Americanism in me. The people have stand up and say, No more of this. And that happens in different branches of the church in different ways.

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