Affirming its long-standing position on spiritual gifts, Dallas Theological Seminary late last year dismissed three professors because of their sympathies with charismatic theology.
Two of the professors, Walter Bodine, who taught Old Testament and Semitics, and Donald Sunukjian, professor of pastoral ministries, resigned shortly after the seminary’s board of directors issued a statement making it clear the professors’ views were incompatible with Dallas’s noncharismatic doctrinal stance. The third professor, Jack Deere, who also taught Old Testament and Semitics, chose not to resign and was asked to leave.
A close friend of John Wimber, copastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim and the central figure of the “Signs and Wonders” movement, Deere said the seminary had received numerous phone calls and visits protesting his support of Wimber. The statement issued by the Dallas board strongly implied that, to remain at Dallas, the professors would have to sever all ties with Wimber’s movement, though Wimber was not mentioned specifically.
In a chapter of a book soon to be published by Harper & Row, Deere states that his desire to experience the healing power of the Holy Spirit outweighed his former hesitations regarding the charismatic movement’s emphasis on such spiritual gifts. He writes, “One could debate the scriptural evidence endlessly as to whether or not God is healing today, but when I started praying for the sick I saw God heal.”
Roy Zuck, vice-president of academic affairs and student services at Dallas, said the seminary “regrets losing these men. They have made significant contributions to the ministry of Dallas.” Seminary officials had conducted a dialogue with the professors—dating to 1985 in Bodine’s case—to determine whether their views were in line with the institution’s doctrinal statement.
At issue was whether the gifts of healing and tongues are meant for the church today. According to Zuck, when they were hired by Dallas, Bodine (in 1976) and Sunukjian (in 1979) made clear their contention that it cannot be proved biblically that these gifts were limited to New Testament times. Zuck said the professors’ position changed: “Now they affirm these gifts are for today.”
Sunukjian, however, contends his position has not changed, stating that he has reached no conclusions on the issue. “The difference,” he said, “is that the Vineyard did not exist in 1979, so I was not asked to relate my view to any particular group.”
For Bodine, a turning point came in 1985. He had suffered for years by repressing what he calls “emotional pain.” In the fall of 1985, he attended a signs and wonders conference led by Wimber. “God supernaturally touched me when John Wimber prayed for me,” he claims.
Following this, Bodine approached his seminary’s leadership in hopes it would consider modifying the school’s doctrinal stance. Said Bodine, “Any theological formulation that does not stand the test of Scripture and experience together needs to be reevaluated.”
Bodine maintains that large segments of evangelical Christianity, Dallas included, are limited by a rationalistic approach to faith and thus ignore authentic works of the Holy Spirit. “Verifiable miracles are taking place regularly,” said Bodine. “Many are cautious and skeptical when they should be eager to welcome reports of what the Holy Spirit is doing.” Bodine contends conservative Christians have misunderstood and mistreated Wimber, whose growing movement now consists of about 50,000 people in some 250 “vineyard churches.”
Zuck said—and the professors agreed—that the dialogue was cordial and calm throughout. Zuck said the three “were going in a different direction.… Our choice was to endorse what they were teaching or to hold to the [noncharismatic] doctrinal stance of the seminary.”
Like Wimber, none of the three professors identifies himself as a charismatic. Bodine, though friendly toward the charismatic movement, explained that he does not believe in a second baptism of the Holy Spirit, nor does he accept the view prevalent among some charismatics that healing is available to anyone at any time. “I’m an evangelical,” he said, “who is open to all the works of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament.” Dallas, he added, is “not willing to recognize this third category.”
By Randy Frame.
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