Should Seminaries Drink the Poison of ATS?  by J. Parnell McCarter

ATS (the Association of Theological Schools) is a leading accrediting agency licensed by the US Department of Education, accrediting US seminaries, to entitle them and their students to take advantage of student loans, grants, transfer credits, doctoral programs, etc.  The website of ATS is at .

I would pose these questions: would any thoroughly Protestant and wisely governed seminary voluntarily put itself under the “accrediting” authority of Roman Catholic and liberal pseudo-Protestant religious leaders such as run ATS (see, condoning in some fashion un-Biblical policies (see, placing the institution under un-Biblical standards (see, becoming subject to enticement in their un-Biblical direction, and joining a network of Roman Catholic, Judaistic and other false religious educational institutions (see for the list of “accredited” institutions, a number of which are in Grand Rapids)?  Yet have not the NAPARC seminaries done precisely this? How can the wicked religious leaders that run ATS be rebuked if Protestant denominational seminaries voluntarily put themselves under their guidance?  Does this not speak to the great sin of American-based Protestant Christianity, compromising truth and joining in religious alliance with Romish and liberal pseudo-Protestant parties?  Is this not why American reformed Protestants, seeking a church which still fully subscribes to historic reformed confessional standards and more successfully eschews such corrupting religious alliances, have generally had to look to churches historically based outside of the USA, like the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, Old Reformed (of the Netherlands), etc.?  Should not Protestant seminaries instead be beacons and pillars of truth, calling those deceived by a false gospel to repentance?

Examples of un-Biblical policy guidelines as found at include:


“Freedom has specific import in the context of a religious confession of faith. Theological schools may acknowledge specific confessional adherence as laid down in the charters and constitutions of the schools. A concept of freedom appropriate to theological schools will respect this confessional loyalty, both in the institutions and among their individual members. At the same time, no confessional standard obviates the requirement for responsible liberty of conscience in the Jewish or the Christian community or the practice of the highest ideals of academic freedom.”


"Theological schools should make serious efforts to appoint women faculty members, faculty members from minority groups, and young faculty members so that academic discourse may be broadened and the freedom to teach and do research be extended to groups not now adequately represented."


Examples of un-Biblical standards as found at include:


6.2.4  Schools shall give evidence of efforts in admissions to encourage diversity in such areas as race, ethnicity, region, denomination, gender, or disability.”


“4.1.2 To ensure effective growth of the collection, schools shall have an appropriate collection development policy. Collections in a theological school shall hold materials of importance for theological study and the practice of ministry, and they shall represent the historical

breadth and confessional diversity of Christian thought and life. The collection shall include relevant materials from cognate disciplines and basic texts from other religious traditions and demonstrate sensitivity to issues of diversity, inclusiveness, and globalization to ensure access to the variety of voices that speak to theological subjects.”


“5.1.3 Composition of the faculty should be guided by the purpose of the institution, and attention to this composition should be an integral component of long-range planning in the institution. Faculty should be of sufficient diversity and number to meet the multifaceted

demands of teaching, learning, and research. Hiring practices should be attentive to the value of diversity in race, ethnicity, and gender. The faculty should also include members who have doctorates from different schools and who exemplify various methods and points of view. At the same time, faculty selection will be guided by the needs and requirements of particular constituencies of the school.”



 Among the standards are ones calling for “spiritual formation”, such as the following:


A.2.4  Personal and spiritual formation: The program shall provide opportunities through which the student may grow in personal faith, emotional maturity, moral integrity, and public witness. Ministerial preparation includes concern with the development of capacities—intellectual and affective, individual and corporate, ecclesial and public—that are requisite to a life of pastoral leadership. A.2.4.1 The program shall provide for spiritual, academic, and vocational counseling and careful reflection on ministerial roles such as leader, guide, and servant of the faith community. A.2.4.2 The program shall provide opportunities to assist students in developing commitment to Christian faith and life (e.g., expressions of justice, leadership development, the devotional life, evangelistic witness) in ways consistent with the overall goal and purpose of the institution’s MDiv program.”


“An institution shall demonstrate that its students are engaged in a community of learning whereby faculty and students have opportunities for regular and substantive interaction; peer learning; development of ministry skills; supervised experiences of ministry; and growth in personal, spiritual formation.”

learning outcomes shall encompass the instructional areas of religious heritage, cultural context, personal and spiritual formation, musical arts, and music ministry leadership.”


What precisely do these standards mean by terms like “spiritual formation” and “the devotional life”, and are there dangers associated with these as they mean them?  I am not prepared definitively to answer these questions, but certain websites (both for and against the concept) raise flags: (see the comment of Dr John Stauffer, DMin February 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm :

“As a theologian raised in and having recieved most of my theological and doctrinal training in the Church of The Nazarene I pushed back at the introduction of mindfulness as presented by buddism proponents. Then I recieved my advanced degrees from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. The focus of my MDiv was ministry and spiritual formation. My DMin church leadership and spiritual formation. I learned over a nine year seminary life that what you propose as CDM was exactly what we were being taught. Thank You for the focus. And you are correct in that therapist and counselors including myself have recieved a heavy dose of dialectical behavior therapy. That training is useful and can help us to teach CDM in a meaningful way. I am also a leadership participant in Celebrate Recovery designed by Rick Warren and John Baker. As it is used from church to church doctrinal ideas may be different but the idea of change comes from our theology and not our doctrine.”

There is good reason to be concerned by all of this information.  As the author of the website at warns: “Gordon College and all Christian Colleges Will be Destroyed by Accreditation!  It would not have to be this way if the accreditation system were wholesome, but it is not.  I fear ATS is poison, and its poison reaches to the seminaries and then to the congregations.