Contra Rick Warren 29 of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Did Not Have Ministry Degrees from Seminary or Bible College


This morning, Pastor Rick Warren tweeted the following:

He didn’t cite a source for this tidbit, but it’s almost certainly wrong.

Here’s a list of the signers, together with a the college each graduated from (if any):

Delaware

Pennsylvania

Massachusetts

New Hampshire

Rhode Island

New York

Georgia

Virginia

North Carolina

South Carolina

New Jersey

Connecticut

Maryland

I’ll assume the biographical information linked to is correct. By my count, 27 of the 56 signers attended no college. This doesn’t mean they were uneducated, of course. Wealthy families sometimes educated their children by means of private tutors or apprencticeships.

That leaves 29 signers who attended some college or another. John Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister with an appropriate “seminary” education. So, that’s 1 in Waren’s favor. But the only way he can arrive at this conclusion for the other 28 college-educated signers is by assuming that all the colleges these persons attended were either seminaries or Bible colleges. Harvard was established to avoid the danger of an “illiterate ministry,” though by the Revolution, it was tilting Unitarian and educating non-ministry students. Yale was founded to continue the Puritan tradition that Harvard was perceived to be abandoning, but it educated both ministerial and lay students. William & Mary was established to be “a certain Place of Universal Study, a perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and the good arts and sciences.” Princeton was founded to train ministers, but its educational focus shifted to preparing leaders, both ministerial and lay, during the presidency of John Witherspoon. The College of Philadelphia was founded by Benjamin Franklin and cannot in any sense be construed as a “seminary” or “Bible college.” By my count, 21 of the signers attended one of these schools. The remaining 8 attended schools in either England or on the continent.

The only way Warren can reach his conclusion is by counting all these schools as seminaries or Bible colleges. Even if training ministers was the founding purpose of some of them, it wasn’t the founding purpose of all of them. And even those colleges whose founding purpose was to train ministers had broadened their purpose to train lay leadership by the time of the signing.

So, while I know and respect Rick Warren and thank God for his ministry at Saddleback, I have to completely disagree with this inaccurate tweet.

UPDATE: Chris Rodda debunked David Barton’s claim sometime ago. Here’s the video:

UPDATE 2: Here’s David Barton explaining, in part, the “29 of 56″ statistic:

2 thoughts on “Contra Rick Warren 29 of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Did Not Have Ministry Degrees from Seminary or Bible College

    • Harvard May have been founded to train ministers, but by the time of the Revolution, the vast majority of its students were not training to be clergy. From the Wikipedia link you provided:

      “The early motto of Harvard was Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae, meaning “Truth for Christ and the Church.” In the early classes half the graduates became ministers (though by the 1760s the proportion was down to 15%) and ten of Harvard’s first twelve presidents were ministers. Systematic theological instruction was inaugurated in 1721 and by 1827 Harvard became a nucleus of theological teaching in New England.[9]”

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