Celebrating the Centennial of Ashland Theological Seminary -- By: Dale R. Stoffer

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 38:0 (NA 2006)
Article: Celebrating the Centennial of Ashland Theological Seminary
Author: Dale R. Stoffer


Celebrating the Centennial of Ashland Theological Seminary

Dale R. Stoffer*

On September 11, 1906, a new chapter began in the story of theological education at Ashland Theological Seminary. Though occasional courses had been offered in theology since the latter 1880s and a theological course of study had appeared in 1895, the beginning of the seminary is generally dated as 1906. The reasons for this are that prior to 1906 there were very few resources, either financial or personnel, that were dedicated to theological training and there were relatively few students in the theological department. In 1906 J. Allen Miller, who had served as the president of Ashland College since 1899, resigned in order to turn his full attention to his first academic love: theological education. He was the dean of the Theological Department from 1906 until 1933. In 1913 the theological program at Ashland College was for the first time designated a seminary. Until 1930 the seminary remained essentially a Bible Department of the college. However, in 1930 the seminary became the first graduate division of the college.

The fortunes of the Brethren Church and of Ashland College and Seminary were closely tied from the 1880s through the 1940s. For both, these years included financial and leadership crises during the late 1800s, a period of growth under capable leadership between 1900 and the late 1920s, and then controversy during the 1930s that resulted in a division in 1939 between the “Ashland” Brethren, the supporters of Ashland College and Seminary, and the “Grace” Brethren, the supporters of Grace Theological Seminary, founded in 1937. A key figure in this controversy from the Grace Brethren side was Alva J. McClain, who had replaced J. Allen Miller as the dean of the seminary in 1933. He was eventually dismissed by the Ashland College trustees in 1937 and then helped form Grace Theological Seminary.

Ashland Theological Seminary, as a result of this division and other factors, struggled to survive throughout the 1940s and 50s. The deans of the seminary during these difficult years were Willis Ronk, Melvin Stuckey, and Delbert Flora. Throughout most of this period there were only three or four faculty members and less than twenty students. There were frank discussions at the college and in the Brethren Church about the closure of the seminary. However, college president Glenn L. Clayton and seminary dean Delbert Flora felt that the seminary was needed in order to provide trained leadership for the Brethren Church. But this meant that significant advances needed to occur in all areas of the seminary’s life. Under the leadership of Joseph R. Shultz, who became dean in 1963, the seminary began a bold venture of expansion ...

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