A controversy at William Tyndale College (formerly Detroit Bible College) in suburban Detroit indicates the school’s leadership and the constituency it has traditionally served have different concepts about what the school should be.
Late last year, 6 of the school’s 20 board members resigned, citing discontent with the direction in which it has moved in recent years. Through phone calls and at least one formal petition, faculty, staff, alumni, and others associated with William Tyndale have called for the resignation of its current president, William Shoemaker.
From all appearances, critics’ differences are not with Shoemaker alone, but with the school’s board of directors. Shoemaker came to Tyndale in 1983 with the mandate of achieving regional accreditation and establishing a Bachelor of Arts program. He told CHRISTIANITY TODAY he had accomplished both goals and that the school has grown 39 percent (to over 400 students). This process, he said, has sometimes entailed “flying in the face of some traditional theological definitions.”
Shoemaker said that when he took over, an inordinately high percentage of the school’s faculty and administrators were graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary. He implied that broadening the faculty’s educational credentials was an essential step in the school’s quest for accreditation.
Critics allege, however, that the school’s administration has been insensitive to the wishes of the school’s traditional constituency, which is now threatening to withhold both dollars and students. Matthew Parker recently resigned as associate vice-president for urban academic affairs at the college, citing the school’s move away from preparing students for the pastorate and other Christian ministries and towards preparing them for the marketplace.
Critics have also registered concern that the school is abandoning its traditional concept of dispensational theology. A current faculty member, who asked not to be identified, accused Shoemaker of “tampering with the school’s doctrinal statement” by attempting to “redefine key theological terms.” He cited the term “imminent” as an example, claiming the school has always understood Christ’s imminent return to mean “at any time,” and that this has always implied a pretribulational view.
Shoemaker acknowledges he leans toward a midtribulational view, that Christians will be taken from the Earth during the tribulation of the end times. He maintains that this view need not be inconsistent with a view of Christ’s return “at any time” and that the question of where the school has stood historically is open to debate.
However, speakers at a public meeting attended by nearly 500 people last month at First Baptist Church in Northville, Michigan, concluded that Shoemaker does not represent the school’s historical position. Shoemaker was invited to attend, but the two sides could not agree on ground rules. He said he wanted a “strong moderator,” and that a “public debate” of the issues would not have been productive.
Shoemaker expressed the hope that the current conflict can be addressed through Christian conciliation, and said such an offer has been extended to his critics. “If for no other reason,” he said, “this would model for our students and for the church how believers ought to deal with differences.”
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