Skip to main content

Chuck Smith famously proclaimed that God does not call the trained; he trains the called. Like many Calvary Pastors, I owe much of my ministry to this insight: if a pastoral calling were only to be found on the other side of a seminary degree, I would have never discovered God’s plan for my life.

However, Pastor Chuck’s statement is sometimes interpreted as anti-seminary, anti-education, and even anti-intellectual. For those who take it this way, the Holy Spirit is sufficient, and pursuing education is a lack of faith or reliance on the minds of men. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding anyone who feels God’s call on their life and does not seek to learn as much as possible by any means necessary.

But my concern here is not to make a biblical case for continuing education but to speak to a corresponding need in our movement. We need scholars. Men and women whose call is to devote themselves to the studious development of theology. Let me be clear: throughout the scriptures, God calls shepherds to be kings and prophets, cowards to be commanders of armies and fishermen as apostles. But he also calls some to be scholars to the benefit of the church and the glory of God.

Throughout its history (and I would argue, by God’s design and providence) the church has been reliant on scholars. Following in the footsteps of Moses, Daniel and Paul are educated men who served as pastor-theologians. Augustine was a world-renowned rhetorician who was prolific in theological works. Martin Luther, before and during the Reformation, was a university professor. In John Calvin’s vision for church leadership, there were not just pastors and deacons but doctors. Thank God in our own time for voices like J.I. Packer, John Stott, Norm Geisler, and many others. Even if you only read Warren Wiersbe and Chuck Smith, they read and were formed by scholars and theologians.

Not recognizing this is like that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep’s fashion mogul character challenges her frumpy assistant (Anne Hathaway) because she thinks that fashion has nothing to do with her. Still, the color of her discount sweater was the byproduct of the fashion industry she ignored. Fashion flows downstream, and so does theology. What is shared across today’s pulpits flows (seen or unseen) from a great cloud of theologians.

It is this fact that everyone relies on scholars, which brings me to voice my prayer for scholars within our movement. The Pentecostals, who are about 50 years ahead of our charismatic movement, have a saying: missions at dawn, missiology at dusk. What happened with Calvary Chapel in the 70s was just that: a happening. God moved mightily, and we rarely slowed down to articulate, define, or develop what God was doing. However, as the Calvary Chapel movement enters its 5th decade, it is time for prayerful and deep thinking. There are a few reasons this is the case.

Because we face, and will continue to face, new contexts and new challenges

Love it or hate it, our world has changed drastically over the course of our lifetime. These new challenges require us to develop our theology to meet new needs. The word develop is essential. The call for scholarship is not a call to forsake our theology but to identify its central tenants and their implications for today. As we do so, we also discover what was essential and timeless and what was incidental and flexible. I am calling for both a truly Calvary Chapel response, while at the same time recognizing we cannot rely on yesterday’s manna.

Because the church at large needs the unique voice of Calvary Chapel today

We are not alone in facing the new challenges of our world; denominations and movements across evangelicalism are seeking to thoughtfully respond to the issues of our day. Calvary Chapel has already had an immeasurable impact on the church at large, and I am convinced that there are challenges today that Calvary is uniquely suited to lead the way on. However we can only do so if we speak, thoughtfully and publicly, from our unique Calvary DNA.

Because if we do not, we will lose our identity and continue to fragment

As I said above, the church is inescapably reliant on scholars. If we do not have them in our midst, we will be solely shaped by those outside. Pretty soon, our common core will be outweighed by our diverse responses and opinions. I am greatly concerned by the growing eclecticism of individual pastoral theologies. Especially among the younger generation of ministers in Calvary Chapel (who read broadly), they often fail to carefully integrate the ideas they find compelling with our heritage. Not every theological trend out there is compatible with our core beliefs, and like an organ transplant, if it does not match our blood type, it will destroy the host.

I also long for unity within Calvary Chapel, but that can only come as Calvary scholars (plural) help us to generate consensus on how God is leading us today. If the loudest and most formative voices are found outside, that will only pull us away from one another and apart as a movement.

Because longevity demands we pass on our roots and not just the outward forms

Fruit cannot be modeled and emulated; a seed must be sown, cultivated, and grow anew. In the same way, nothing less than a theology of Calvary Chapel can sustain the movement. We may be able to create a facsimile in a generation or two, but each generation will just be a copy of the copy before it, and over time the image will degrade until it is not representative at all.

When scholars partner to pass on their legacy and help the next generation to continue what God has done, we call that education.

It is no surprise that many in our movement feel the seminaries outside of Calvary cannot pass on what we see as faithful and vibrant Christianity, but that does not mean we cannot build a better institution. If we were to do so, it no doubt would look different, and I would not have it any other way.


In conclusion, I want to reiterate what I said earlier: Calvary Chapel needs scholars, plural. What is needed cannot be accomplished by a single voice. And pulpits are not a particularly useful tool for developing consensus. Instead, we need venues and institutions which cultivate creative thinking and invite dialogue. Only this will help us continue to move forward together. Only then can we face new circumstances and say with one voice, it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.

Justin Thomas is president of Calvary Chapel Bible College (CCBC) in Twin Peaks, California, where he is an alumnus. Prior to serving at CCBC, he was the founding pastor of Calvary: The Hill in Seattle, Washington. In addition to holding an M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary, Justin is continuing his studies at Western as a doctoral student (Ph.D.) in Intercultural Education.