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Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: Returning to Its Roots

Trinity was birthed in 1897 as a 10-week Bible course held in the basement of a church to train workers for the Swedish Evangelical Free Church. From that humble beginning, the school took on various forms and emerged in the early 1960s as Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under the direction of what had become the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and under the leadership of a new dean, Kenneth Kantzer (1917–2002).

Kantzer was one of the leading architects of the new evangelical movement, which guided theologically conservative Christians away from fundamentalism’s cultural and intellectual isolation. He believed a seminary could combine robust biblical orthodoxy with gospel piety, evangelistic zeal, cultural engagement, and academic excellence.

This “Kantzer vision” was compelling. Trinity blossomed and soon became one of the largest seminaries in America. Its influence reached far beyond its sponsoring denomination, and it became, in Kantzer’s words, “a love gift from the EFCA to the entire church of Jesus Christ.” Trinity graduates have had a worldwide influence.

Recent years have seen declining enrollment, and, in the minds of some, a diminished connection to the EFCA. With the president of the denomination leaving that position and now assuming the role of Trinity’s president, the school is returning to its ecclesiastical roots without wavering from the “Kantzer vision.” This move helps to clarify its central mission—to train pastor-theologians, missionaries, and laypeople for ministry in the local church and through the church to the world.

Trinity and the EFCA

Trinity aims to produce biblically faithful, theologically driven, and culturally aware Christian leaders. It’s dedicated to providing theological education that’s accessible, affordable, and applicable for those who want serious preparation for the challenges of a rapidly changing, multicultural world.

Trinity aims to produce biblically faithful, theologically driven, and culturally aware Christian leaders.

This closer connection with the EFCA will enable Trinity to customize its education to the real needs of the church, with both in-person and online learning, as it explores new and creative ways to partner with local churches in educating ministry leaders.

Trinity already shares the statement of faith of the EFCA, and it has maintained a strong theological core. But this renewed relationship with the EFCA will foster a closer ethos alignment. Several aspects of this ethos stand out.

1. The EFCA takes its ‘evangelical’ name seriously—its ministry is centered on the evangel, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Its 10-point statement of faith is an expansion of this gospel, and it provides a touchstone for every aspect of ministry (for the EFCA focus on the gospel in addressing various cultural controversies, see the recent
statement, “Where We Stand in the EFCA: Denials and Affirmations”). This ethos reinforces the existing Trinity motto: “Entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thess. 2:4). Trinity seeks to prioritize the gospel above all else, and, in the words of TEDS dean David Pao, to “boldly demonstrate the transformative power of the gospel which challenges and subverts all the competing ideologies that threaten the life of the church.”

2. The EFCA maintains an unwavering commitment to the authority of the inerrant Scriptures.

The EFCA motto “Where stands it written?” (echoing Jesus’s words “Have you not read?”) has resounded through the decades of its ministry, and has been a hallmark of a Trinity education.

Longtime professors Don Carson (cofounder of The Gospel Coalition, which began with Trinity support on Trinity’s campus) and John Woodbridge have published extensively in defense of this critical Christian conviction. With this renewed alignment with the EFCA, training pastors to expound the Scriptures will become an even greater priority.

3. The central EFCA distinctive is that it ‘majors on the majors.’

The EFCA seeks to focus on that which is central to the gospel and unites believers. In reflecting this value, Trinity has the opportunity to impress on a much-divided world “the significance of silence”—that is, Trinity is bound by a statement of faith that is resolutely orthodox but is silent on many issues that have divided biblical believers (e.g., the time and mode of baptism or the cessation or continuation of miraculous gifts). As a result, Trinity can bring  together faculty and students from Baptist, Anabaptist, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, Lutheran, and Holiness traditions, displaying the beauty of gospel unity.

Though intimately linked to and supportive of the EFCA and its distinctives, Trinity can still serve students from a broader spectrum of the evangelical community, especially from churches with no denominational affiliation.

4. The EFCA has always embraced the missionary mandate to go to all peoples with the gospel, and sending missionaries was one of its central purposes for joining together as churches.

The EFCA now has more than 500 missionaries serving in 40 countries. Trinity has fostered that international focus both by training missionaries to go and by receiving students from all over the world to study—students who then return to leadership positions in their churches, denominations, and schools. A Trinity education exposes its students to the worldwide church.

5. This strong connection with the EFCA underlines that Trinity is a denominationally confessional institution.

This is significant, for it means Trinity is accountable not only to a set of theological propositions but also to a people. It’s accountable to God’s people situated in local churches, where Christ dwells by the Spirit.

A Trinity education exposes its students to the worldwide church.

As the apostle Paul affirms, it’s the church of the living God, God’s household, that’s the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Though we often think of the seminary upholding the truth for the church (and it can), Paul declares it’s ultimately the church that must uphold the truth for the seminary. Positioning Trinity under the banner of the EFCA can help both to remain faithful to the gospel once and for all entrusted to the saints.

Return to Roots

In renewing its ties with the EFCA, Trinity is returning to its roots.

It’s entering a new day with a renewed commitment to the local church and its ministry—which is, in the divine design, the central means of God’s work in the world.


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