Many around the country associated with Grace Theological Seminary and Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, refer to former seminary professor John Whitcomb as “Mr. Grace.” For over 38 years, Whitcomb taught at Grace, the seminary of the Grace Brethren fellowship of churches.

But in February, just a few months short of his scheduled retirement, Whitcomb was relieved of his teaching responsibilities. In a letter sent to seminary students, alumni, and pastors, Grace Seminary president John Davis stated that Whitcomb for some time “has been a source of division in the seminary and college resulting from off-campus and on-campus activities that have fallen well short of propriety and God-honoring sensitivity.”

Davis is a former student of Whitcomb’s; the two are long-time friends, colleagues, and coauthors. But they could not disagree more in their analyses of what is happening at the school. Their dispute illustrates the tension in Christian higher education between faith and learning (see previous article).

Breaking From Tradition?

Whitcomb maintains some faculty members hold theological and doctrinal views that seriously deviate from Grace’s traditional emphases, including biblical inerrancy, premillennialism, and biblical creationism. (The school officially maintains a young-earth, six 24-hour-day view of Creation.)

In various speaking engagements and in other contacts with those associated with Grace, Whitcomb has been candid in his analysis—out of concern, he says, for the seminary he considers home. In a letter responding to the Davis epistle, Whitcomb writes, “Do we angrily dismiss a surgeon who points to cancer cells within our body which we do not want to see?”

Davis charged in his letter that Whitcomb’s problems with his colleagues, though “conveniently wrapped in theological language,” were mainly “personal or relational.” Davis conceded in an interview that this was “a judgment call,” one he would like to have back. He said he believes Whitcomb is sincere in believing Grace has serious theological problems.

But Davis strongly maintains Whitcomb’s conclusions are misguided, that Whitcomb “has dramatized and exaggerated issues” and “perpetrated inaccurate information,” in part by issuing unsupported allegations. Some of these allegations, Davis noted, surround faculty who have long departed Grace.

Part of the disagreement appears to surround theological judgment. One professor at Grace, for example, maintains that Genesis 1:1 states a theme, and that the narrative begins with verse 2. According to Whitcomb, such an interpretation is incompatible with the docrine of ex nihilo creation. Davis disagrees.

The two also appear to hold different views of administrative responsibility. Davis cited a case in which a professor who, after discussions with the administration, clarified ambivalent teachings to bring them in line with Grace’s doctrine. Said Davis, “[Whitcomb’s] approach to administrative problems is immediate surgery and radical firings. Anything short of that is not acceptable.”

Davis added that the faculty at Grace have recently drafted and signed a major statement affirming what the seminary has always affirmed. The occasion, he said, was to respond to Whitcomb’s allegations. If Whitcomb is right, said Davis, the question becomes, “Are all these faculty members outright liars?”

Whitcomb maintains, however, that Davis is “sweeping [the school’s problems] under the rug. And he believes the situation at Grace is not isolated, that schools all over the country are falling away from long-cherished doctrines. Many of those associated with Grace, no doubt, are now examining the evidence in an effort to determine whose perspective on the current conflict best represents the truth.

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