I have a college education, of sorts. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — for almost three years. Educationally, Midwestern was inferior in every way. Most classes were either taught by incompetent professors, or the instruction was at a Sunday School class level. Here are the classes I took at Midwestern:
- Basic Music Theory [or how to wave your arm in 4/4 time]
- Fundamentals of Speech
- Homiletics [ignore everything you learned in speech class]
- Western Civilization [emphasis on the Christian era]
- American Literature
- English Grammar [God, do we have to diagram more sentences?]
- Biology [God did it]
- Introduction to Missions [awesome real-life stories from an IFB missionary/pastor]
- Baptist History [think The Trail of Blood]
- Social Problems [sin is the problem, Christ is the solution]
- Christian Counseling [psychology bad, Bible-based counseling good]
- Personal Evangelism [one, two, three, repeat after me, bless God, you are SAVED!]
- Bus Ministry
- Physical Education [I aced this class]
- Major Prophets
- Bible Doctrines [but only approved IFB doctrines]
- Life of Christ [Jesus, Jesus, Jesus]
- Pentateuch [main takeaway: Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible]
- Revelation [a literalist, dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial interpretation]
- Pastoral Epistles [never forget what the Bible says about pastoral authority]
- Hermeneutics [how to read the Bible like a Fundamentalist Baptist]
I had several professors who were top-notch. Larry Clouse and Dr. Tom Malone, come to mind. However, they were the exceptions to the rule. Most of my professors were either pastors or pastor’s wives. Evidently, being a pastor or married to a preacher automatically qualifies you to be a competent professor.
Five professor stories come to mind that I would like to share with readers. I won’t mention them by name, but students who attended Midwestern in the 1970s will certainly know who I am talking about.
One professor believed it was his duty to keep Polly and me away from each other. He was friends with Polly’s father. At the time, Polly’s mom — she wore the pants in the family — had told Polly that she would not permit her to marry me. This finally came to a head when Polly stood up to her mom for the first time, informing her that we were getting married with or without her blessing. Forty-two years later, we are still married, and my mother-in-law still thinks Polly could have married a better man.
Polly was a fast-fingered typist. I, on the other hand, typed with two fingers. Polly, madly in love with the man she called her “bad boy,” typed all my term papers for me. The aforementioned teacher would grade our papers, giving Polly As and me Ds. He would write notes on my papers about my formatting and typos. Polly received no such corrections, even though she was the one typing my reports.
Another professor was a deeply closeted gay man who lived in the dormitory. Early in the second semester of his class, he and I got into a heated discussion over his sexual proclivities. I let him know that I knew exactly “what” he was, as did every man in the dorm. It was the 70s, and I was quite the homophobe. He informed me that I was no longer welcome in his class; that he would give me a passing grade for staying away. Worked for me. More time for basketball.
Another professor was a pastor’s wife. She taught Western Civilization. She made no attempt to interact with students. Day after day, she read the textbook to us. That’s it. The highlight of this class was trying to figure out who farted or who was snoring.
One professor became so enraged at me over dropping his hermeneutics class that he took me to task in his next chapel sermon. While he didn’t mention me by name, he directly looked at me as he railed against a student who dropped his class, a student who was a quitter, who lacked character.
And finally, let me talk about the pastor who taught Biology. Midwestern had no lab. The class consisted of lectures and reading an ancient Bob Jones Press published textbook. What I most remember is this professor’s racist lecture on the importance of marrying your own “kind.” I wonder what he meant?
I was hardly a good student. The reasons for this are many, which I shall explain in a moment. My grades were average, and I had a few Ds and one F. Polly graduated second in her high school class. She was and is one smart cookie — whatever the hell that means. Yet, when I look at her transcript, I see that she struggled in some of her classes too. What happened? It couldn’t have been the difficulty of the classes. I can understand why I was an average student, but Polly? She should have aced her classes. All of them.
Consider my schedule for a moment. I had classes in the morning and then went to work, a full-time job, in the afternoon. I often arrived home after lights out. When, exactly, was I supposed to do my school work? After lights out schoolwork was forbidden. Students would receive demerits for having their lights on after 11:00 pm. On the weekends, I worked in the bus ministry, spending hours on Saturday visiting my bus route. On Sundays, I got up early to drive a bus and then attended Sunday School and morning church. Sunday afternoons, I drove to Detroit to preach at a drug rehabilitation center. And then I would go to church on Sunday night. Throw in going on weekend dates with Polly, fixing my seemingly always broken-down automobiles, playing basketball, attending dorm devotions, and horsing around with my friends; I had little time for school work.
I have long believed that Midwestern used a med school regimen to wash out men they deemed “weak” or “unfit” for the ministry. Tom Malone, the chancellor of the school, may have denied evolution, but he definitely believed in the survival of the fittest. He had no tolerance for weakness. Malone and other chapel speakers frequently railed against quitters. When Polly and I left Midwestern in the Spring of 1979 (she was six months pregnant and I was unemployed), we were labeled quitters. We were told by school administrators and friends alike that God didn’t use quitters. This meant, of course, that if we didn’t graduate, God wouldn’t “bless” our lives and use us in any significant way.
In the mid-1980s, Malone was preaching a conference for Jim Dennis, a 1960s Midwestern graduate and Polly’s uncle. Malone had heard from Polly’s father — also a Midwestern grad and pastor of a nearby IFB church — that I was pastoring a fast-growing IFB church in southeast Ohio. Before beginning his sermon, Malone mentioned me by name, complimenting me on my work. He then admitted, “if Bruce had stayed any longer at Midwestern, we probably would have ruined him.” I guess I wasn’t a quitter, after all.
I didn’t receive much of an education at Midwestern. I met the love of life while there, so there’s that, but preparing me intellectually for the ministry? Midwestern failed miserably at this task. “But, Bruce, you know so much about the Bible and Christianity. How did that happen?” After Midwestern, I went on to get a twenty-five-year education in the privacy of my study. I devoted myself to filling in the massive gaps in my education. I studied hours and hours each week, reading countless theological tomes as I prepared my sermons. All told, I preached over 4,000 sermons.
I refused to wing it, as many of my preacher friends did. One IFB evangelist, Dennis Corle, told me that I was wasting time studying, that 4-5 hours a week of preparation was all I needed, that I should spend the bulk of my time winning souls. I ignored Corle’s ignorant career advice, choosing instead to devote myself to preparing to preach the best sermons possible. My congregants deserved my very best, and with the rare exception, I gave it to them.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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