The Calvary Chapel Chronicles: Seminary or Cemetery?

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42 Responses

  1. Ryan Couch says:

    Great stuff Michael. I’m definitely one who was trained with Chuck tapes and a few books from the Great Awakening. The internet, and this site, opened my eyes to a whole new theological world and ultimately moving away from Calvary and attending three different seminaries including Reformed and Lutheran institutions. Life is a funny journey.

  2. Stewart says:

    Man, this brief article hit so many nails on the head! As one who attend CCBC, and even had Brodersen for my Men’s Discipleship while there (which was almost 18 years ago, now), I’ve had a lot of time to think and grow, and I’ve come to many of these same conclusions. I can attest to the anti-intellectual messages that get handed down to new recruits, and how there was a huge reactionary swing toward the idea that “Simply teaching the scripture simply” ultimately came to mean the elevation of being an ignorant and uneducated simpleton; you know, like Jesus was (Wait, what?…).

    I’ve actually come to appreciate what Brodersen has attempted to accomplish since Chuck’s passing. How people can get upset about trying to focus on Christ-centered theology and teaching is maddening! No, let’s ignore that stuff and just stick to scatter-gun verse-by-verse ramblings through the Bible; who cares if it’s an incoherent mess?! The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest. 😉

  3. Duane Arnold says:


    “It worked at the time…the assumed authority of the pastors and the lack of theological education in the pews made it so.”

    Great piece. The pastoral calling is many things – teaching, pastoral care, modeling Christian values, marrying, burying, stewardship, etc. It’s interesting to me that in certain circles “authority” and “authoritative teaching” is so often placed at the front of the list. Yet, this fits. As anybody who takes learning seriously knows, the more you learn, the more you realize how much there is to learn. It’s really an exercise in humility, not authority…

  4. JD says:

    What it boils down to is that Pastor Chuck Smith wasn’t the brightest tool in the shed.

  5. Michael says:


    If this site has made a positive difference in CC…this might be the area…

  6. Michael says:


    Well said… 🙂

  7. Michael says:


    Remember how shocked I was when you told me I had 15-20 minutes for the homily?
    Then I shocked to discover that you can put more in a 20 minute homily that’s well crafted than an hour that ..isn’t.

  8. Michael says:


    I disagree.
    I think he was smart and instinctive…in a lot of different areas.

  9. pstrmike says:

    The partnership with Western Seminary and CGN is interesting. I remember Western had some type of partnership with Mars Hill Church before the implosion.

    My exposure to Western is that they are primarily Reformed Baptist. I wonder how well that will mesh with doctrines like eschatology and pneumatology?

    I think this will work well for guys in CGN, Western is a good school. Patrick Schreiner and Chuck Conniry at the PDX campus are good profs. I opted for the cross town rival school, more progressive both theologically and culturally and I had already attended a school that was Reformed.

    I don’t foresee having many opportunities within Calvary with my credentials, but I’m not ruling it out either. I’ve been honest with some possibilities that I have explored about not being convinced of a pretrib eschatology, and I think that still makes some people nervous. We’ll see what happens, its a big Church out there and the first thing I want to do after completing my dissertation is sit on a beach for a month.

  10. Samuel A Tallmon says:

    Expositors Collective is the best CC conference/training I’ve ever been to.

  11. Steve Durkac says:

    I agree, Michael!

  12. Duane Arnold says:


    I remember. We’ve travelled some miles since then…

  13. Loren Haas says:

    The willful and celebrated animosity towards intellectualism drove me right out of CC church. It was like Galileo vs the Pope to challenge the official line on anything science.
    Glad I moved on…

  14. It never ceases to amaze me how different, in a few areas, my experience my experience with CC and even CCBC, was. This area being one of them. I’m not going to contest that what Michael writes about is accurate. I will offer up that it isn’t/wasn’t 100% across the board or systemic.

    I, personally, didn’t experience or receive the same amount or even the same kind of anti-intellectual that many other have. The version I got usually seemed tempered in such a way that it was anti “dead” intellectualism. In other words, seminaries were characterized as cemeteries only if/when there was no spiritual life or energy in them or being produced by them. I can’t quantify exactly what that means or looks like because it isn’t quantifiable as one thing.

    The message I often heard was that one need not go to seminary to be a pastor or Bible teacher. I rarely if ever heard anyone say that one should not go to seminary or pursue higher education. A lot of the guys I knew wanted to go on in school, but they simply couldn’t afford it on a pastor’s salary and taking care of a family. Instead they tried to be self-educated as much as they could be, pre-internet.

    Heck, I want to go back to school but I’m putting a kid through college already. Instead, I have a wealth of free and legitimate theological training available to me. I don’t need a piece of paper to prove that I learned or know it. Some churches want me to have that paper, but I for my own sake don’t need one.

    So I guess I’m saying Michael is right in the majority of cases. But it wasn’t as permeated as some make it out to be.

  15. pstrmike says:

    ” I don’t need a piece of paper to prove that I learned or know it.”

    I agree. What that “piece of paper” does is qualify you in such a way that demonstrates that your study has been tested, scrutinized, and at times challenged by your peers and people who know more about this than you do. It also demonstrates a willingness to be taught, and to have your studies overseen by others who’s job it is to give you a well rounded education and who taught not only facts and concepts, but also how to use that knowledge well. Being subjected to a rigorous curriculum, where you cannot take short cuts or skip over areas that you do not consider to be important is invaluable.

    You don’t need “higher education” to be a pastor, but I think it certainly helps. One of the reasons why I attended seminary is that there were too many unanswered questions, and quite frankly too much shallow teaching from Calvary Chapel pulpits that I was exposed to. Now of course there are some exceptions to that, Ken Ortize and Clark Van Wick are two that come to mind.

    I felt that I owed it to the people in our church to be as well learned as I could and to stay far enough ahead of them that I could continue to teach them truths about the Bible and spirituality. As my Episcopal pastor friend told me, “its good to be a little bit out ahead of your congregation.”

  16. The Least of These says:

    The early hippy high church renegades of CC never quite understood how “friendship with the world is enmity with God” does not mean you can’t go to higher educational institutions. I remember the long journey I took to establish myself in a career was one met with a strange disdain and dismissal because I danced outside the fear based bubble of CC, a bubble stemming from what Michael noted began with German liberalism. I’m not here to give a history lesson, I’m just saying my encounters were steeped in a cultural isolation that looked at the modern educational model as Darwinian and Freudian, and thus ungodly and to be held in high suspicion. Anything less than being devoted to a fundamental embrace of scripture in its verse by verse form meant you were dancing in the grey zone.

    It seemed a bit amusing when CC eventually opened a bible college of their own, one eschewing the need to be formally recognized by governing bodies from outside the bubble and producing their own “college” graduates taught often by those who did not always complete college work and who have never had the academic misery of having to flex cognitive gears until it ached. (Truth be told, however, they think they did ache because the endless quantity of work that lacked qualitative differentiation required hours of regurgitation.)

    I have slowly watched over the years how the hillbillies have outgrown their own backyard and how they now seek respect earned by those who went the other way by pursuing an academic career without the benefit of a CC blessing. I find it laughable those without academic heritage now seek and probe ways to get into the club without having ever earned the requisites. I’m talking worship leaders who want to be seen as music professors and pastors who want to be seen as theologians and scholars set against the backdrop of men and women (I know… women) who are truly academics.

    CC is a system built by people who experienced an extraordinary outpouring of a sacred thing that reached the marginalized youth of its day. Of that I think there is little argument. But I remember well in the 80’s and 90’s the mocking, dismissive, arrogant, prideful stance in CC that they had somehow been a little more blessed than the rest BECAUSE of their refusal to play the seminary game, and to a smaller extent the college game. Somehow in their minds the lack of academic rigor had produce a pure kind of preaching in their view. And they had their own celebrities to back this up, some of them quite naturally gifted in oration. I find it mildly encouraging that Brodersen may have had a change in heart from his early years as a critic of science and behavioral sciences, but it will be a long time before real cultural change in the CC halls is enacted.

    In the past 10 years, as Chuck diminished until his fading from earth, I have seen a shift to find relevancy outside CC by men who once stood proudly in their special CC bubble thinking little of those who authenticated themselves through the route of higher education. This shift has occurred because they too aged and the time they have left is the sunset of their lives. As the CC leadership has eroded, the pews emptied, and the crowds thinned a search to find acceptance from peers has driven many who once spit out pablum on the useless and godless teachings of secular education now seek new sources of legitimacy.

    Personally, I worked hard to get my house in order. I resent the fact that they now want to come sit on the couch in a space I worked so hard to attain without ever having studied to show themselves approved.

  17. Rascally Rufina says:

    The dean and lead teaching pastor at both the CCBC satellite campuses I served at could neither spell or write a simple grammatically correct sentence. The smallest one in the SW quoted/ plagiarized practically whole lessons & sermons word for word from Smith, other CC pastors & approved authors. I became aware of this when tasked w grading papers and was upbraided for noting such errors in students’ work. Michael can request corroborating evidence. I do not wish to embarrass the men here in case they now like many others have gone on to get further education.

  18. Jerod says:

    I am having trouble coming up with how a theological doctorate differs from a Masters, and how that differs from a … Bachelors?… in – something spiritual…? :-/

    Seriously confused, not making fun. In the soft sciences there are supervised hours under someone else with more letters behind their name than you – Psychology or Counseling, for instance. There is some evidence for a practioner’s skill in patient assessments, self reports, and review that would “rate” your effectiveness as a counselor. Teachers, also, have their feet put to the fire (a bit) by student assessments and administrative review (though when the state measures its employees effectiveness against their own standards it becomes a little shady, admittedly).
    Obviously the harder the science the greater the need for some kind of testable permanent product.

    It seems to me (very poorly read compared to the lot of you) that a doctorate in theology, if there is nothing quantifiable to measure, would lend itself to rewarding creativity, ingenuity, as opposed to any measure of how well one uses the theology they have studied to serve.


  19. Not that guy ^, fuhshizzle says:

    Rascally Rufina,
    Many (most?) plagiarize from Spurgeon, Guzik (odd putting those next to each other – though Guzik won’t mind), Weirsbe, MacArthur, McGee (big in CCA), Gill, etc, etc. I noticed it when I heard McGee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians in a decidedly Californian accent.

    They are reading other works which is good. It’s not quite as aimless as somebody up there ^^ said – but many will fail to realize that what they are doing is incredibly dishonest, and those who do realize it will probably not correct themselves but rather sever the limb (or useless appendage) who brought the accusation. They wouldn’t accept that from their children in school or university, but from the pulpit its okay.

    Some will correct their practice when they air their sermons on the radio. So I guess that’s a good thing.

  20. Jerod says:

    Then again, I guess we wouldn’t have most of the NT if Paul weren’t such a wonk.
    Even Peter said that.

    Disregard my comment from the peanut gallery.

  21. bob1 says:

    If you peruse this attachment from the Association of Theological Schools and scroll down to pg. 58. Below that, it lists the various theological (seminary) degrees. The ATS accredits seminaries. There are about 270 sems that belong to ATS.

  22. Jerod says:

    Bob to the rescue, again. Thanks!

  23. Duane Arnold says:


    As to degrees:

    An Associates’ Degree is an AA (Associate of Arts) or AS (Associate of Science) is a two year undergraduate qualification.

    A BA (BS) are undergraduate degrees – for those going on to theological graduate schools, a good liberal arts background is helpful

    An M.Div. (sometimes a MA. Rel.) is a three year postgraduate professional qualification for clergy. At one time, Greek and a modern language (usually French or German) would be included. That has now been dropped by most seminaries.

    A D.Min. is a professional doctorate, similar to a lawyers’ JD (although the JD is closer in character to an M.Div.) It involves practical work that ends in a small dissertation on the topic underlying that work.

    A PhD (or in some cases, ThD) is a three to five year research degree. Three to five languages may be required. The end result is usually a book length dissertation of original research that is worthy of publication. The dissertation must be “defended” in the presence of internal and external examiners who are recognized experts in the chosen topic of the research.

    A DD (Doctor of Divinity) is usually an honorary award or, if earned, is based upon the life work and research of the individual.

    Additionally, there are Diplomas which, depending on what sort they may be, are undergraduate qualifications or a post-graduate qualification.

    All the above assume that the College, University or Seminary are accredited institutions.

  24. pstrmike says:

    Good overall description by Duane. There are so many variations that are based on the particular institutions, and the different accrediting agencies. Many schools have more than one accreditation -and IMO, there are some good schools out there with what some would consider a less stringent accreditation endorsement, that is , the accrediting agency has less requirements, or the school has no accreditation at all. Some accredited schools are able to accept certain credits or degrees from non-accredited schools. It’s a bit complicated, but the system’s purpose is to attempt to bring credibility and hold certain standards in place.

    I did a considerable amount of research when selecting the school I attended. Most MDivs still require both Greek and Hebrew, all DMin programs require a MDiv or equivalency, which usually but not always means two MA degrees. For PhDs, it was about 50/50 as to whether they required a MDiv or if they would accept an MA. Most required two research languages, although some in the U.K. do not require language proficiencies beyond English. I did consider one of these course of studies, but the cost was out of reach.

  25. CM says:

    In regards to degrees, a PhD may also require taking a PhD qualifying exam as well as a defense of your research proposal prior to the original research and dissertation defense.
    At least this is how I remember it in the STEM fields.

    But once your get it Piled Higher and Deeper, they can call you Dr.

  26. Duane Arnold says:


    Indeed… In the UK, the final defense is still paramount. I knew people who went in thinking they were getting a PhD, but came out with an MPhil… Ouch!

  27. CM says:


    True. The final defense the climax of all those years.

    I took the money and ran after only more S*** level…., though my last roommate decided to get stick around to get it Piled Higher and Deeper.

  28. Keloid Herod Keeps >:-( Jerod says:


    I just want to spell Duane….

    Thank you for the clarification. It was very helpful!

  29. CM says:

    Speaking of Doctoral Dissertations, below are a few links to dissertations from people you may not think of as academics:

    Brian May (Astrophysics):

    Peter Weller (Art History)

    Mayam Bialik (neuroscience)

    The irony is when certain elements disparage seminaries, academics, and scholarship, they tend ignore that the fact that most of the books of the New Testament were written by a scholar (Saul, later Paul of Tarsus). Interestingly the schools of Tarsus rivaled those of Athens and Alexandria and it was a center of learning in the ancient world.

    Paul himself probably spoke, read, and wrote at least 4 languages.

  30. Duane Arnold says:


    Brian May’s case is especially impressive… went back to complete after almost three decades!

  31. Steve Wright says:

    Regarding the Calvary Chapel Bible College. The school has actively been pursuing accreditation (ABHE) and earlier in the year cleared the first major hurdle to reach the “Applicant” status – a deceptive title if one thinks in terms of the normal usage of “applicant” as just starting a process. They are on the way and I am hopeful and positive that they will secure full accreditation in the near future.

    I am a huge supporter of this effort and have a track record on this blog from my first posts 10 years ago of being very critical of the mindset against formal education (by some) within CC.

    Back to CCBC. By necessity the professors going forward must have at minimum their Masters degree. That alone is a big deal for the quality of the education. Tonight my Psalms class has its final meeting of the semester. This is the third time I have taught this class (offered every two years). In 2014 and 2016 I had about 36-38 students each year. This year I have 100. The fact that after the split certain Calvary Chapels “blackballed” the college (and stopped encouraging their church kids to go to California) to try to get at Brian did not help enrollment for awhile but those petty efforts failed miserably.

    The opportunities will be tremendous. Christian students who want to study business or some other major, rather than go the junior college route, can take their general ed courses at CCBC and transfer them. Their parents can send their children to a safe, Christian environment on a wonderful campus – while the kids can leave the house and start the process of “growing up”

    Likewise, with accreditation the college will be able to visit high schools and let people know a) they exist and b) what they can experience at CCBC. In addition, significant financial aid and student loan opportunities become available that otherwise would not be to an unaccredited school.

    Interesting note from the website, connected to this blog post. Under “Why was accreditation not pursued earlier”

    Readiness. Many of our pastor-teachers and alumni have pursued further education over the past few years, meaning that we now have more credentialed faculty members available to teach.

    Need. More and more students and parents have expressed a desire that CCBC become accredited.

    Reach. We want to reach a broad base of potential students, many of whom are not familiar with Calvary Chapel. An external measure of quality assurance will be helpful to these students and their families as they consider attending CCBC.

  32. EricL says:

    Steve @ 10:19am, that is great news for CCBC. I would expect that the school will grow leaps and bounds once it attains accreditation and is noticed by folks outside the Calvary Chapel community.
    The campus is nice and very well located in a burgeoning area with few other colleges around. I think the only other Christian college alternatives in that area would be APU’s small extension campus or commuting all the way up to CBU.
    Glad to hear about the move toward accreditation.

  33. CM says:


    Yes true. Brian May was delayed doing some side musical gig for a number of years….

  34. RR says:

    Good to hear that after over 20 years, CCBC finally becoming a real college. Great update, Steve. Must be driving some of the old guard quite bonkers. Suppose that means the end of any little CC starting a CCBC branche with just a complete set of CS tapes and a Strong’s Concordance.

  35. Duane Arnold says:


    Ah yes… I think that I heard something about that ?…

  36. We see traces of the 1925 Scope’s Trial right up to today among fundamental evangelicals. I wonder if evangelicals will change in academia and if they do, could they be accepted…a lot of baggage and history here. Thanks for your thoughts!

  37. Joe says:

    I will try and make this short and sweet. I spent decades going from church to church, spending perhaps three or four years at each looking for answers and finding none. The ignorance of who God really is as presented to me by educated pastors with at least a master’s degree, I find, in hindsight, disheartening. When I happened through the doors of a Calvary Chapel in 2000 and began several years of receiving verse by verse teaching, my Hunger for the Holiness and Righteousness of God finally began to be filled. My fellowship with my brothers and sisters at Calvary Chapel deepened my understanding of how God desires to work in our lives. God has broken me over and over and over again, refining me into slightly more Christlikeness. What he still needs and desires to teach me could not be learned with a thousand doctorates. Yes, I have encountered the scandalously ignorant among the flock at CC, but not nearly to the extent that I have experienced in other ‘denominations’. I am fully aware of shortcomings in the Calvary Chapel system, but please remember this, that I and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU, are a living breathing shortcoming with no hope of self-imputed perfection this side of Heaven. Please reread your postings and mentally wring out any hints of pride contained therein. Blessings

  38. JL says:

    I was publicly shunned by a Calvary Chapel. Is this normal?

  39. Michael says:


    Depends on the situation…we’d need more details to answer intelligently.

  40. JimmieT says:

    Joe- Jan 6 2019
    Deeply appreciated your post!

  41. Jean says:

    “When I happened through the doors of a Calvary Chapel in 2000 and began several years of receiving verse by verse teaching, my Hunger for the Holiness and Righteousness of God finally began to be filled.”

    That’s interesting. Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed. Are you saying that you are not blessed, because your hunger and thirst has begun to be filled? One of the problems of the over realized eschatology of holiness movements is the denial and of original sin and its impact on the Christian. Those movements tend to breed hypocrites.

    There’s nothing wrong with verse by verse teaching, but it is not a guarantee of anything or superior to another preaching style. The test of good preaching is whether it exalts and proclaims Christ and him crucified, and condemns all other paths to God and every idol that man sets up.

  42. Joe says:

    JimmieT, thank you for your post. My post was 4 years ago and it is difficult for me to remember all of the context of my reply and of that which I was replying to.

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