Discover more from To Reenchant the World
Dale Partridge and Ministry Credentials
A Response to Recent Events
Recently, I have been asked by numerous people to comment on Dale Partridge’s ministry. This has taken me aback, for I had no plans to do so. It is true that for a short season, Dale was a student at Grace Bible Theological Seminary, where I teach. For this reason, people have recently sent me numerous public statements made by Dale about his seminary training. In sum, due to Dale’s own statements, many are confused about how long Dale has been a seminary student, what classes he took, and how much preparation for ministry he had before entering it. This is all relevant because Dale has created and assumed numerous ministry positions, including that of President of Reformation Seminary.
I cannot give the particulars of Dale’s training, and in this post, I speak only for myself. I do so with real sobriety and a pervading sense of sadness, for I find no joy in this task. Having noted that, what I can say is that by his own admission, Dale does not have a MDiv. He does not have a master’s degree, nor a bachelor’s degree. Per Dale’s own communication, he has a certificate from Western Seminary and has taken classes at other institutions. This includes GBTS: Dale was a student here for a short time, taking a few classes as he has publicly stated, but is not a student any longer.
In Dale’s own public confession, he has in the past caused real confusion about these matters. Recently, Dale wrote this after online interaction with Nick Campbell, who has tracked numerous concerning developments in Dale’s body of work:
I, Dale Partridge, repent for using misleading language regarding my education credentials that were deceptive and wrong. I repent for deceiving people that my credentials were greater than they were. This was an untruthful and sinful way to operate as a Christian. I repent for deflecting any blame that I should have owned immediately, and I repent for justifying any deception or dishonesty. It grieves me to think I have sinned against the Lord Jesus Christ, who paid for my transgressions on the cross. As a result, I have committed to greater vigilance and integrity in my online communication. My wife, staff, Board of Directors, and several members of our church have been aware of these discussions from the start. I hope you all can forgive me.
I am very glad to see Dale say these things publicly. For my part, I take his apology as it comes. But it is worth noting that while an apology does represent a right response to sin, an apology does not sweep away real problems related to sin. One cannot expect, upon apologizing, that all consequences have now been cancelled, and that there is nothing further to discuss. Instead, an apology is often the beginning of a longer—even much longer—process of unwinding what went wrong that necessitated an apology. While the believer’s sin is wholly forgiven in Christ, we cannot miss in biblical terms that there are yet effects of our sin, and even more, we must work through our sin in order to understand it, fight it, and seek to defeat it (Colossians 3:5-17).
Let me say a further word to explain the preceding paragraph. We should honor apologies and the repentance they express as much as we possibly can. I personally know of no reason to doubt Dale’s words about his clear and public sin. But even as we honor such action, we must remember that grace does not cancel justice. If as a true Christian you embezzle $10 million and you apologize for doing so, that is sound and right. We will receive your repentance with gladness. But you will in no way avoid the repercussions for your embezzlement; though forgiven by God, you will need to face serious consequences for your actions.
Think of the tough lesson—or series of lessons—David learned after his adultery with Bathsheba and arrangement of Uriah’s death. Among many, many other effects of his sin, David lost his unborn child due to his own wickedness. He was forgiven, fully forgiven, but the Lord ordained that his child would perish. In 2 Samuel 12:13–14, the prophet Nathan delivers this terrible news to David:
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.”
David repented of his sin as this chapter shows. But David still faced ramifications for his transgressions. This teaches us that our repentance, though right and God-glorifying, does not erase just repercussions. By Dale’s own admission, he has repeatedly used “misleading language” that is “deceptive” in order to portray himself as possessing more credentials or training than he actually has.
Sadly, the “deception and dishonesty” Dale has showed with regard to his education credentials is not small; it is significant. The Christian ministry is founded on truth; without truth, there is no true gospel ministry. If pastors and teachers have an ongoing pattern of being deceptive, unclear, and shifty regarding their background, what kind of foundation do they have for shepherding? Again, it is right to apologize when caught in sin as Dale did, but Dale’s pattern of behavior demands further attention. It deserves accountability, adjudication, and engagement from trusted leaders and, ideally, the local congregation.
When we pair our awareness of such behavior with Dale’s fast-moving trajectory and numerous big theological shifts (as referenced here—in a few years by his own reckoning, he’s gone from “Arminian to Calvinist, Premil to Postmil, Reformed Baptist to Presbyterian”), one is left concerned by this track record. Without knowing or guessing at the innermost intentions of the heart, Dale seems to be moving at lightning speed, and with little accountability, little training under mature brothers, and minimal credentials.
It is not unusual to find such an instinct in a man desirous of ministry. Many of us can see such a tendency in our own hearts, a tendency we must put to death, not nurture. This is part of why ministry training (whatever precise form it takes) is so helpful and needful. One is training for the teaching office, the office which is judged more strictly than any other on planet earth (James 3:1). This is the office appointed to herald the good news, tenderly lead the sheep, call off the wolves, and present every believer mature in Christ (1 Peter 5:2; 2 Timothy 4:2). The office of elder is a high calling and a serious undertaking.
We have some freedom in discerning our precise pathway to the ministry, but no man should enter this office quickly or in a spirit of speed; recent converts, in fact, are barred by the Bible from becoming elders, and for just this reason (1 Timothy 3:6). Part of why we desire preparation, and not merely a fast launch into the eldership, is because of indwelling sin. Here is an underrated element of ministry training: it reveals and exposes not only discrete sins, but patterns of sin. As we are around older and more mature brothers in Christ, we are made aware of our stumblings, weaknesses, frailties, and iniquities (James 3:2). We resolve to fight and overcome these failings, even as we recognize that sanctification will be a long-term process.
The wise pace of training, in fact, mirrors the steady pace of the Christian life. Just as sanctification is in no way the experience of instantaneous perfection, so too training for ministry is not the fast accrual of credentials. There is serious opportunity for personal growth, in other words, that is found in the very rhythm of ministry training itself. (The accountability experienced in ministry training, by the way, mirrors the accountability we need in ministry itself. We never, ever outgrow accountability; if we think we do, we are in grave danger.)
But a healthy sense of pace is only part of what we gain. In ministry preparation, we study the things of God. These things the angels long to look into (1 Peter 1:12), reminding us that while we should move intentionally through our course of training, we should not move hastily or distractedly. We want, amidst other duties and callings, to marinate in the Word of God in our seminary training. We want to not only attain a credential, but—of vastly greater importance—to draw near to God (James 4:8). We want to savor the wisdom of the Father, the mercy of Christ, the power of the Spirit. The ministry, after all, is where deep discipleship takes place; this high calling requires deep thinking and deep processing. It asks not for fast-twitch training, but deep preparation.
All this helps to explain my broader concern with Dale’s recent activity. While only God knows our heart, I can simply say that his unclear and misleading statements do not speak well to a man being a shepherd of souls, nor a president of a school, nor a theological leader (in some sense) online. Further, as noted, Dale has—by his own timeline—gone through numerous theological transitions, and in a compressed amount of time. Many of us have a category for God providentially reorienting our life, thinking, and locality, but Dale’s rapid and repeated shifts cannot fail to draw attention and foster concern.
At this point, some might point to a strong sense of calling to ministry on Dale’s part. How could a man exit ministry, one could ask, when one is gripped by an internal desire for it? In honesty and calmness, I would respond like this: our sense of “calling” is not unimportant in pursuing ministry, but it is strongly balanced by our accountability to a local church, our willingness to submit to elders (or fellow elders), our humble readiness to hear feedback and wisely incorporate it, and our watching our life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16). As I stated above, teachers are not judged less strictly due to all that they have going on in their life; teachers are judged more strictly (James 3:1). This is because what teachers say directly affects others, and has the potential to lead God’s people either to eternal life or to eternal judgment.
Because of these fearsome stakes, humility for the teacher is not 1/50th of our qualification; humility rooted in the grace of God is the essential marker of our ministry. We must hear warnings and rebukes; we must not shake off wise counsel; even when we find ourselves imperfectly acting in these respects (as all of us do at some level), we must continually recommit ourselves to the way of the cross, humbling ourselves by the power of grace, and opening our ears to listen to wisdom. This is in order that we would turn back to the good ways and the wise paths, and not wander, drift, and slide (Hebrews 2:1).
This post gives me no joy to write. I am conscious in writing it, in fact, that as I have said, any who would speak up in this way must take heed, for we too could easily fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). So it is for me; so it is for any pastor, teacher, or elder. However, with that needfully noted, after much prayer and counsel, I have made the difficult decision to issue a public warning, a loving warning, but a sober warning nonetheless.
To reiterate, I speak up here because I have been asked numerous times from many different people about public statements and public actions. In none of these cases have I solicited inquiries; to the contrary, I have been frankly taken aback by how many men and women alike have reached out to me to express—entirely of their own volition—various concerns about Dale’s ministry.
While I take Dale’s statement of repentance as it comes, for the reasons stated above, I cannot commend Dale’s participation in the Christian ministry. His deception, rapid pace, and numerous shifts concern me greatly. I am not the arbiter of Dale’s soul nor his vocation, but I pray that—for his good—he will hear these words of loving rebuke, and heed what wisdom is in them.