Accreditation

Are we accredited? Yes and No. We are not accredited by regional and parachurch organizations. This is not because of quality. This is because of conviction. We think their practices are questionable at best. But we fear they may even be counterproductive.

There are two major routes for accreditation. The first route is a secular accreditation based on your region in the States. The second route is a parachurch accreditation. There are many of these agencies in existence, but the gold standard is the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). We don’t want to pursue either of these routes. Below are reasons why.

First, theological accreditation should never be in the hands of the regional accreditors. They are not part of the government but are given approval by the government to operate. Simply put, secular and unbelieving accreditors should not be put in the position to measure the validity and quality of any particular theological and ministerial education. They have no ability to perform this task in reality. And they have no authority to perform this task in reality. So we are not pursuing secular accreditation from these secular agencies.

Second, there is no inherent authority in any parachurch accrediting agency, whether ATS or another agency. These agencies are a collective board of people who determine the validity and quality of theological colleges and seminaries. But their authority doesn’t come from the state, the church, or even the Bible colleges, seminaries, and universities. They claim their own authority. And Bible colleges and seminaries let them have authority. So if we want to become accredited, we have to pay people who have no inherent authority, and who are given authority by our own permission, to then give us authority to offer accredited education. We find this to be an unnecessary and unhelpful circle. Because there is no inherent authority in these agencies, we are not pursuing theological accreditation from these agencies.

Third, there isn’t much of an objective criteria for measuring validity and quality by ATS and other parachurch agencies. They offer accreditation to both liberal and conservative theological worldviews. They offer accreditation to both physical and online educational formats. They offer accreditation to many different philosophies of education. They offer accreditation to many different teaching methodologies. When such vast multitudes of differences exist and are considered equally tenable, we don’t see how objective criteria for accreditation could exist. What is put in place must be subjective. In fact, these agencies operate from a philosophy where accreditation can be continually validated and qualified based upon self-assessment by the institutions and self-improvement measured by some kind of number in accordance with each institution’s own theological worldview and philosophy of education. Our problem with this is that success and development in theological education and ministerial formation is frequently measured spiritually and not physically. How do you measure growth in theological understanding and formation? How do you measure growth in character formation? How do you measure growth in ministry skill sets? This is relative to each person. And the fruit of the growth takes years to reveal itself, for good or evil. This is why improvement is usually measured by some form of academic standards, be it test scores, paper scores, departmental growth, etc. But we don’t think academic standards are sufficient for accrediting Bible colleges and seminaries. Because there is not an objective standard for accreditation, we are not pursuing theological accreditation from these agencies.

Fourth, parachurch accreditation takes a lot of time and money. ATS recommends each seminary hire a full-time liaison between ATS and the seminary. That’s a lot of time and money alone. This doesn’t include the price for accreditation itself, which is very expensive. But our primary concern is the ever increasing burden of self-assessment and self-improvement in numerical standards. We find this to be quite distracting from the purpose of the seminary: to train future pastors for ministry. Because of the unnecessary expense in time, money, and focus, we are not pursuing theological accreditation from these agencies.

Fifth, accreditation from a parachurch agency doesn’t guarantee a degree will be accepted at a secular university, a Christian university, or even another Bible college or seminary. This can be read on the websites of several Bible colleges and seminaries. Because parachurch accreditation doesn’t guarantee our degrees will be accepted, we are not pursuing parachurch accreditation from these agencies.

Sixth, we aspire for this seminary to become a ministry of a single local church and many partnering local churches. It would be theologically inappropriate for a church-based seminary to submit to a regional or parachurch accrediting organization. Because of this, we are not pursuing regional or parachurch accreditation.

We believe that if anybody shouldn’t be concerned about secular or parachurch accreditation for theological education and pastoral formation, it should be the local church. The church submits to King Jesus. The church has its own authority from King Jesus. It doesn’t ultimately submit to the state. It doesn’t submit to colleges, seminaries, and universities. It doesn’t submit to accrediting agencies. It doesn’t submit to parachurch organizations. We want local churches to provide accreditation to our seminary by holding our seminary and students accountable, by approving the work of our students, and by recommending and sending their aspiring ministers to Forge Theological Seminary.

We are accredited by local churches. Each student who receives education through our seminary must have their work accredited by their own local church. Their pastors and other leaders must approve of the books they read, the assignments they write, and the assignments they perform. When this seminary becomes housed in a local church, every student’s work must be accredited by that local church as well as their own local church. And when this seminary becomes housed in multiple local churches, students must have their work accredited by the their campus and by their own local church.

We care about theological education and pastoral formation, and we want this to take place in the local church. That’s what we strive to do: train current and future pastors to rightly understand and apply theology in the context of the local church. Theology isn’t mere academics to us. Theology is pragmatics as well. We care about knowing, applying, living, and proclaiming the truth revealed to us in the Scriptures by our Triune God.

For a more complete treatment on these matters, we recommend reading John Frame’s “Seminaries and Academic Accreditation.”