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We Needed NBBC

November 5, 2014

mourning nbbc smallRecent news from Dunbar, WI has signaled the full and final end of the decade long demise of a beloved institution. On August 1, 2015 Northland International University will become an extension of Boyce College and the property of Southern Seminary. I have sorrowed throughout the last ten years of deception and change. Now the course is nearly finished and I grieve anew. As a graduate of Northland and a pastor in the Upper Peninsula, I sorrow over the loss of a valuable ministry partner, one which was not revived under the current administration nor will be replaced under the new ownership. Encouragements like Heart conference, Monday’s pastor’s conferences and extension teams that greatly ministered to scores of small churches and isolated pastors throughout Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula are now gone. Instead, this region is likely to face an influx of Southern Baptist pastors whose doctrinal commitments and ministry methodologies are suspect. This is a grievous thing.

I fully acknowledge that some within the Southern Baptist Convention have made monumental stands and accomplished that which no one else has been able to do. For a comparatively few to grab an entire denomination by its heels and drag it out of the mire of theological liberalism is a feat well deserving our praise. I appreciate the doctrinal clarity of the teaching of some of the leaders at Southern Seminary and within the SBC. Despite the great work they have done to defend the truth, I am not comforted. Though the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer on the verge of teetering headlong into theological liberalism, they still position themselves squarely in the middle of classic new-evangelicalism. This is not a good thing. I am not against the Southern Baptist Convention because I possess a stubborn sense of independence and autonomy that refuses to be a part of anything bigger than me and my church. Nor am I insular and isolationist, hanging on to an outdated system in hopes of returning to fictitious glory years of the church. Rather, despite recent moves in the right direction, the Southern Baptist Convention still practices that which undermines the doctrines they rightly proclaim. This article is not the place to expound on those practices, but I will list a few of those which are the greatest source of my consternation. First, the Southern Baptist Convention is not and has not been separatistic. The convention does not practice separation from those whose teaching denies the gospel. As long as theological liberalism is taught in their schools; as long as seeker sensitive, market driven, entertainment oriented or shock preachers are accepted in their midst; and as long as cooperation across significant theological boundaries is promoted, then the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Mohler and others notwithstanding, is supporting by its practice the distortion and corruption of the gospel. If Peter was justly rebuked for distancing himself from Gentiles to appease the Judaizers, then those who team up with apostasy should much more be rebuked. The Southern Baptist Convention is not rebuking these men and ministries, it accepts them as a part of its own. Second, the Southern Baptist Convention is overrun by a ministry methodology that is attractional and entertainment driven. If there is good cause to rebuke churches who bribe kids onto their buses with 6 packs of Coke, then there is excellent cause to rebuke churches who bribe crowds into their auditoriums with concerts, light shows, scintillation, and the ridiculous antics of buffoons in the pulpit. This kind of ministry methodology runs contrary to Scriptues and what Northland used to stand for. Dr. Ollilla often summarized the dangers of attractional ministries with these words, “what you do to attract them is what you must do to keep them.” We must not win converts by words and programs of man’s wisdom, but with the message of the gospel so that the excellency of the power may be of God and that their faith will stand in the Word of God. Last, and closely related to the first, the Southern Baptist Convention is still filled with theological unorthodoxy. It is necessary to ask a graduate of any Southern Baptist School if he upholds the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, and then to ask him what he means by that! it is necessary to ask a graduate of any Southern Baptist School if he believes the sign gifts have ceased and if someone alive today is getting direct revelation from God apart from the Bible. I have good cause to suspect the theology coming out of the Southern Baptist Schools because there are still so many churches and institutions that teach aberrant doctrine. No, I am not encouraged that Southern Seminary is moving into the northwoods. I am concerned and fearful for churches in this area because of the next generation of leaders that will be pouring in from Boyce at Northland.

I am concerned for the future and I mourn what has been lost. For the first ten years of my experience with Northland, the college stood as a bastion of reasonable fundamentalism. Northland upheld and propagated much of the best of the fundamentalist legacy. She did not get embroiled in stupid debates about trivial matters. She did not insist that her standards were of Divine origin and applied to all. Northland upheld certain expectations of behavior, not as an end or means of righteousness, but as practical, cultural applications of Biblical principles. As Dr. Ollila often said, the standards were “buttons, not badges.” The standards served useful functions, but were never the end themselves or the display of one’s spirituality. Northland upheld a deep respect for the Word of God. She taught a robust, studious exegetical approach to the Bible. Northland did not just give lip service to the preaching of the Word, she taught and modelled sound exposition. Men like Doug MacLachlan, Dave Doran, Les Ollilla and Sam Horn taught and practiced a model of preaching that sought to rightly divide the Word. Students were consistently under the teaching of men who knew a passage in it’s full context and were able to show the historical, literary and lexical foundations on which a text was preached. Hobby horses shot, not ridden. We need more fundamental schools that teach and practice that kind of preaching. Northland did not promote any leader as the pinnacle of a movement, a man to be followed and emulated for his own sake or a regal personage who reigned over his fundamentalist fiefdom. Northland taught and modeled a servant leadership that flowed from the heart and genuinely sought the promotion of the church and edification of others. I was able to see this from both sides, as a student hearing it taught and as a pastor watching my former professors and administrators genuinely seek to serve. I was humbled to sit across from Dr. Brilliant Exegete and Bible Scholar and hear him ask, “How can we serve you, Pastor?”. For a clueless pastor in his early 20’s making a royal hash of his attempts at ministry, such a question meant far more than libraries of books on pastoral ministry. I watched men spend weekends in churches of 8-10 people when they could go anywhere in the world they wanted and preach to hundreds in massive churches. Then they came back when invited the next year. “Be great, serve” was not just a motto or a graduation gimmick, it was a way of life. I mourn the loss of such an institution that drove genuine service into the very DNA of its students.

I mourn because a necessary and balancing force in fundamentalism has been lost. I mourn because an institution that faithfully prepared men and women to preach the gospel, upheld truth in doctrine and practice and who modeled Christlike service is gone. I rejoice that in all things, God is accomplishing His plan for His church. While I sorrow over what is lost, I look forward to what God is going to continue to do through His people


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