A Background History of Grace Theological Seminary -- By: Ronald T. Clutter

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 09:2 (Fall 1988)
Article: A Background History of Grace Theological Seminary
Author: Ronald T. Clutter

A Background History of Grace Theological Seminary

Ronald T. Clutter

Grace Theological Seminary was born in an era of contention in the American church. The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy which divided major Protestant bodies affected also the Brethren Church. Alva J. McClain, a Brethren leader of Fundamentalist bent, envisioned a graduate seminary for his denomination. As a result of pressures for such a school, a seminary was established at Ashland College but was not received enthusiastically. Seven years of tensions, Fundamentalist-Modernist and Fundamentalist-Brethren, resulted in the dismissal of Dean McClain and Herman A. Hoyt and the founding of a new seminary for the Brethren.

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The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s and 1930s resulted in division within different American Protestant denominations. One of the smaller bodies to suffer rupture was the Brethren Church, itself the result of a schism dating back to the 1880s. Unable to settle its difficulties, the new denomination divided in 1939.1 At the center of the conflict was Alva J. McClain with two fruits of his labor—Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, and Grace Theological Seminary in Akron, Ohio, later to locate in Winona Lake, Indiana.

The existence of the graduate theological seminary for the Brethren Church had its origin in the mind of McClain. He envisioned an institution which would perpetuate and defend the distinctions of the Brethren. His dream became a reality and then developed into a

nightmare. Attempting to blend the basic tenets of Brethrenism and Fundamentalism, McClain became embroiled in conflict which resulted in his dismissal from Ashland and efforts to establish a new seminary.

McClain’s Early Life and Ministry

Born in Aurelia, Iowa, on April 11, 1888, to Walter Scott and Mary Ellen Gnagey McClain, Alva J. McClain was raised in the Brethren Church. Moved to Arizona and Washington as a youth, he attended the University of Washington but did not graduate from that institution. Converted under the ministry of Louis S. Bauman, McClain enrolled at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles where Reuben A. Torrey, a friend of Bauman, served as dean. He continued his education at Xenia Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian institution with an evangelical emphasis. Having satisfied residence requirements for the Th.M. degree, McClain subsequently finished his B.A. work at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Ordained a minister of the Brethren Church, he served as pastor of the First Brethren Church of Philadelphia from 1918 to 1924.

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