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RELIGION / JOHN DART

New $6-Million Library Opens at Seminary

May 09, 1998|JOHN DART

SUN VALLEY — A doctrinally conservative seminary on the grounds of the large Grace Community Church will show off its new $6-million library and faculty office building Sunday afternoon, then hand out degrees that evening to 45 graduates of the growing theological school.

The Master's Seminary, which opened in 1986, has enjoyed an annual climb in enrollment, finishing the current school year with 260 students, said Richard L. Mayhue, senior vice president and dean.

"We don't think our 13th year will be unlucky--we're forecasting between 280 and 285 men enrolling in the fall," Mayhue said.

With new seminaries proliferating in American evangelical circles in recent years, administrators of The Master's Seminary said the computer-friendly library brings the school up to expected standards for pursuing graduate degrees.

The seminary previously squeezed 65,000 volumes into a 4,000-square-foot basement of an education building. Now, those volumes--plus 40,000 that had to be kept in storage--occupy 24,000 square feet in the new library. Its 120 study stations all have plugs for laptop computers.

Although "The Master" refers to Jesus, the new library also amounts to a monument to the wide-reaching ministry of the Rev. John MacArthur, who is pastor of Grace Community's 10,000 churchgoers, president of The Master's College in Santa Clarita, a radio broadcaster, author and president of the seminary.

Six heavy plaques quoting MacArthur's words on character, integrity and other personal ideals will be affixed to the walls of The Master's Grace Library, which will have an open house from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The graduation ceremony will begin at 6 p.m.

Growing a seminary on mega-church property under the guidance of a nationally prominent pastor is a pattern that will be repeated this fall at another San Fernando Valley church complex. As announced earlier, Senior Pastor Jack W. Hayford will open The King's Seminary on the west campus of Van Nuys' Church on the Way in September.

"In terms of a cultural trend, this is not surprising," said Donald E. Miller, director of USC's Center for Religion and Civic Culture, who cautioned seminary leaders last year that theological schools built at a distance from local churches face an uncertain future.

Today, "the emphasis is on tying the training of future clergy to what's occurring in a vital, local church and connecting that in an academic way to the history of Christendom and biblical faith," Miller said. "Every seminary has a particular point of view, evangelical or liberal, but even so it is important to acknowledge a diversity of opinion."

Another issue, raised by the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, was whether the pool of quality pastor candidates was being diluted by a growing number of new, conservative Christian seminaries in the last 25 years.

"Do evangelicals in North America really need 63 divinity schools educating 30,000 potential ministers?" asked writer Robert W. Patterson in the magazine's Jan. 12 issue. "Because they compete with one another for market share, evangelical seminaries are not very selective in their admission policies, admitting virtually anyone with a bachelor's degree."

Mayhue said that he agreed with most of Patterson's conclusions.

"We thought he made the case for The Master's Seminary perfectly because we are highly selective," Mayhue said. "Spiritually, academically and professionally--they must demonstrate the kind of potential that we would look for in a pastor."

He conceded that The Master's admits some students lacking a bachelor's degree. But only about 15 of 260 were in that category this year, and they are required to take the classes required of master's of divinity students despite the fact they will be given only a bachelor's degree in the end, Mayhue said.

"They wanted the training regardless of what it cost them," he said. Women are not admitted because the conservative congregations that look to MacArthur's example and teachings believe the Bible rules out female clergy.

In contrast with many seminaries, which also admit potential educators or people going into other Christian fields, The Master's Seminary puts its emphasis on training pastors. "Ninety percent of our graduates already are placed in congregations," Mayhue said.

There should be no competition for students between The Master's Seminary and The King's Seminary, said Mayhue, a former pastor of Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach.

Though only miles away from each other in the East Valley, they are far apart on one crucial theological measure. Hayford's new school is being touted as the first Pentecostal seminary on the West Coast. But MacArthur's church and seminary disputes the modern validity of the Pentecostal beliefs in supernatural "gifts of the Spirit," such as speaking in tongues.

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