This is a look at a John MacArthur influenced church in Kingsburg, California called Grace Church of the Valley as led by Scott Ardavanis. Plus this also looks at The Masters Seminary extension going into the Central Valley and asking the question, does the Central California area need that? There are similarities in fundamentalism between The Masters Seminary and some of the radical Islamic madrasas in Pakistan. That is looked at in this post.
“They require people to isolate themselves from modernity — television is wrong, eating McDonald’s is wrong, mixing with [the] opposite gender is wrong. And once you establish that isolation, then dehumanizing people is easy . . . and if you leave someone there, you have left them on a cliff.”
Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based columnist who specializes in education issues on fundamentalism and radical Islamic madrasas.
Brian Biedebach – Director of Distance Education for The Masters Seminary
“People wrap themselves in their beliefs. And they do it in such a way that you can’t set them free. Not even the truth will set them free.”
Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. 3 For we who worship by the Spirit of God[b] are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, 4 though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
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Is a like minded program that is fundamentalist coming to the Central Valley?
When I was back in California dealing with my Mom’s illness I was going through my Twitter feed and I saw something that I noticed. Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg is going to be offering The Masters Seminary aimed at the Central Valley of California. Fresno is my home. And though I live in the Washington, D.C. area I still care about the Central Valley. I have a lot of memories of my time in Fresno and Clovis. I remember when I played football in high school and riding the bus to places such as Dos Palos, Taft, Firebaugh, Kingsburg and so many other locations. I have some deep concerns about John MacArthur expanding his presence in the Central Valley. Its for quite a few reasons. But before we get into this topic, lets look at Grace Church of the Valley.
An Overview of Grace Church of the Valley
Grace Church of the Valley grew out of a 2005 Bible study in Kingsburg. One of the leaders of the study is the son of an elder at Grace Community Church (GCC) in Sun Valley, California. There was a meeting between John MacArthur, some of the pastoral team of at GCC and the Bible study leaders from Kingsburg. GCC committed a teacher for every Bible study for every Sunday evening during the interim. In 2007 Adam Bailie accepted an offer to be one of the founding pastors. In addition David Morris who served in the children’s ministry at GCC also was offered to be the founding pastor as well. The first service for Grace Church of the Valley took place on September 9, 2007. Immediately after the launch about 30 people entered into membership. In January of 2012 Scott Ardavanis became the new lead pastor at Grace Church of the Valley. Tom Rios launched the Hispanic ministry and in January of 2014 the Blake Boys became the pastor of worship and media.
Today Grace Church is led by Scott Ardavanis. Scott earned his B.A at the Los Angeles Baptist College (today The Masters Seminary) and a subsequent Master’s of Divinity at the same school. He then earned a Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can hear some of his sermons at Grace Community Church right here. Grace Church of the Valley also has an ambitious building campaign. You can read the current status on their blog. Grace Church of the Valley has quite a few ministries. Included is a ministry into the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga and the California State Prison at Corcoran. The other ministry that this church is launching is The Masters Seminary as a distance location that is aimed at the Central Valley. But before we get into the issues let’s look at what happens in other forms of fundamentalism.
How Radical Islamic Madrasas Work in Pakistan and any Similarity to The Masters Seminary Program?
When Pakistan was created in the partition in 1947 there were 189 madrasas. In the course of time their number would expand significantly. During the War in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980’s Pakistani dictator General Zia used madrasas as a way to train radicals who would then cross the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and fight the Soviets. Many of the Islamic madrasas are not registered today and they continue to grow. Today Pakistan has anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 madrasas. They drew the attention of the West in the wake of the deadly September 11th attacks. The September 11th commission called many of the madrasas “incubators for violent extremism.” Funding for many madrasas comes from the Gulf states in the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. For the Taliban many madrasas becomes tools to indoctrinate and brainwash people. Students learn deobandi ideology and Wahhabism and they are taught the Quran, sayings of the prophet, “logic” and much more. Many students can spend a few years learning, but do to radical Islamic theology at times and the education system their options are limited. What are you going to do with your life if all you know is the Quran but have no knowledge of practical skills or have any career set that can make you employable? What options do you have when the Taliban has financial offers to fight the Afghanistan government and all you know is theology? And your concept of society is poisoned? This is a massive problem that continues today.
At Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg The Masters Seminary is going to do a distance location. Dr. Scott Ardavanis is the Dean of the program and also on the Board of Directors of The Masters Seminary. The program at The Masters Seminary is going to consist of the following. There is two-way live stream which connects 40% of the California students with the Los Angeles campus and professors for interactive courses. In addition there are also onsite classes at Grace Church of the Valley which are taught by professors. I have no doubt that Senior Pastor Scott Ardavanis teaches a course or two. I would guess that other faculty is approved from a nearby church or so that is in line with this stream of theology. Plus I would image that a professor comes up and teaches from time to time. 30% of the classes are taught live at Grace Church of the Valley. The final part is online classes which make up 30% This includes pre-recorded programs.
Now here is what I find deeply troubling and its the reason why I started by briefly explaining the culture of radical madrasas in Pakistan. The Masters Seminary like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a program that is designed more for indoctrination, then actually learning. People who go to The Masters Seminary aren’t given an education that allows for them to think for themselves and wrestle with difficult material. They are taught to be clones of John MacArthur and go forward with a definition of what “faith” and “church” is. Like the Taliban in Pakistan, students of The Masters Seminary are taught how to think, not to question and accept what is told. They are taught how to view other parts of Christiandom and to believe in “sound doctrine” as defined in their unique way. While The Masters Seminary extension at Grace Church of the Valley won’t crank out a suicide bomber or two; they will crank out those willing to practice their own version of fundamentalism. There is one other deep concern that needs to be mentioned. One of the issues that hangs dark over John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church is how they practice nouthetic counseling. In its history, back in 1979, Grace Community Church advised a man who was suicidal and dealing with mental illness, to avoid psychiatric treatment. Kenneth Nally committed suicide and it led to a protracted legal battle between his family and Grace Community Church. One day in the future I want to do a detailed and in depth post about that situation; but for now you can read about the problems with that counseling in, “Examining The Bridge Bible Fellowship in Reseda, California and their Biblical Based Counseling Program.” My question is the following. Is this what the communities of Dinuba, Tulare, Fowler, Madera, Clovis, Dos Palos, Taft, Visalia, Hanford or Porterville need? Do they need a graduate of The Masters Seminary extension in the Central Valley to counsel someone dealing with mental illness that they need to confess their sin and repent? What sin does a person commit to make them bi-polar or schizophrenic? But are we going to see situations where bad counsel from graduates of this program will lead to an occasional suicide in churches in Visalia, Clovis or Dinuba? In the end is this program any different than some of the radical Islamic madrasas in Pakistan? There is also one other concern…are people who go through such a program being shorted in their life? Will they be able to perform any other line of work? Are they largely stuck in a fundamentalist rut with only one option ahead of them. Its kind of similar to the pastors in Sovereign Grace network? The difference is that The Masters Seminary is accredited whereas the SGM Pastors College is not.
Does the Central Valley Need This? Also a Note Regarding Grace Church of the Valley
For those not familiar with the Central Valley in California it is known as the Bible Belt of the state. It is a deeply conservative agricultural center that stretches from Sacramento in the north down to Bakersfield in the south. The Central Valley is a rich area that has a lot of tradition and culture. The downside is that it struggles deeply with poverty as it has some of the highest unemployment rates in the country if I remember correctly. There are a lot of good churches in the Central Valley and I am deeply concerned about such a program that will export fundamentalism to fine communities such as Madera, Fowler, Chowchilla, and more. Fundamentalism is not pretty, its not a faith system that honors God. Instead its a system that leaves carnage and destroyed lives in one’s wake. If you were to ask the Nalley family about Grace Community Church and the theology that comes out of there, I am sure they would raise deep concerns, and speak about the son they lost. Though I live in the Washington, D.C. area I still deeply identify with the Central Valley as its my home. Its where I was raised. Its where I sweated and played football when it was 105 degrees in the hot summer sun in high school. Its where I got my first job in Clovis after graduating college. Its where I still maintain a lot of friendships and contacts today. Fundamentalism does not leave a noble legacy. It leaves pain, destroyed families, and it devalues people. That is the concern I have with The Masters Seminary expanding into the Central Valley.
I want to let the people inside Grace Church of the Valley know that this blog is willing to write about issues that occur in this church. If there are people who get stuck in membership, face ridiculous charges of church discipline, or if there are allegations of child sex abuse which are swept under the carpet; I will write about it. Now having said that, let me also say that I hope none of that happens. But the reality is that fundamentalism can have deep issues. If there are challenges or problems then I would be happy to write about them. For those wanting to know more about about membership issues or John MacArthur I would direct you to the following posts.
- “From Strange Bedfellows to Strange Fire: What is the Relationship Between John MacArthur and C.J. Mahaney?”
- “Is Phil Johnson from Grace to You the Lt. Frank Drebin of the Reformed Community?”
- “Neo-Calvinist Membership Covenants: The New Berlin Wall Amidst a Theological Cold War?”
Again that’s it for the day, again guys know that I love you. I will see you in the near future Kingsburg!