The Battle of Lexington and Wilmore

"A look at the history of two Kentucky seminaries—one liberal, one evangelical—shows how evangelicals won the Protestant mainstream."

North American Christianity, like so much of U.S. culture, is caught up in a competitive marketplace. Seminaries supply many of the leaders and entrepreneurs in the religious marketplace, along with the competing theologies that are their stock in trade. Such seminary competition leads to the congregational, denominational, and theological "market share" of tomorrow.

In the past generation, evangelicalism has grown at the expense of the old mainline. But how did this theological competition play out on the ground—and specifically on seminary campuses?

A close look at two competing seminaries in Kentucky—the mainline Lexington Theological Seminary and the evangelical Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore—shows how evangelicalism took the mainstream from the mainline.

A panoramic view of seminary trends will help set the battle scene.

Among the 20 largest seminaries, evangelicals have moved from a minority to a majority since the 1960s. This increased supply of conservative religious leaders likely will continue to expand the evangelical share of the American religious market for decades to come.

Compare the 20 largest seminaries' full-time-equivalent student bodies, as reported in the Factbook of Theological Education, for 1964 and 1997 (see "Breaking Into the Top 20," p. 48). In a little more than three decades, 11 seminaries—over half the list—were displaced by other institutions. Of those 11 that dropped off the list, 10 were mainline institutions.

Of the 11 new names on the 1997 list, only three were mainline institutions. The transformation is even more dramatic in the top 10, changing from a 50/50 split in 1964 to the mainline barely holding on to the last spot in 1997.

Only one of the institutions that dropped from the 1964 ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Tags:
From Issue:
December
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Christianity Today
The Battle of Lexington and Wilmore
close
hide this
March 11 March 11

Member-Only Access

This article is from the March 11, 2002 print issue. Subscribe to continue reading.