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Joe Rigney, At Odds with Bethlehem Seminary Board, Resigns As President

By Bob Smietana
joe rigney
Joe Rigney, president of Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has resigned in a “divergence of vision” with the school's board. (Courtesy Photo)

Joe Rigney, a controversial Twin Cities seminary president with ties to influential author John Piper and Idaho pastor Doug Wilson, resigned Monday, due to what the school’s board called a “divergence of vision.”

“I do not believe that I have the full confidence of the Trustees, the elders of the governing churches, or the Chancellor,” Rigney said in his resignation letter, according to a statement from Bethlehem Seminary in Minneapolis.

The issues of divergence, according to the board, included Rigney’s views on Christian nationalism. Rigney has been supportive of the ideology, which has gained currency among evangelical Christian leaders and some Republican politicians, particularly since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The board also said Rigney’s views on baptism put him at odds with the school’s faith statement and with other leaders at Bethlehem.

“The point is that Dr. Rigney’s more recent emphasis on a hoped-for eventual Christianization of all society, including the civil government, has put him at odds with other leaders of the school who would warn against the use of civil authority to establish Christianity as an official religion,” the board statement said.

Rigney was named president of Bethlehem College and Seminary in September 2020, following the retirement of former President Tim Tomlinson. He had previously served as a professor at the school. The Minneapolis school was an outgrowth of Bethlehem Baptist Church, largely under the director of Piper, former Bethlehem church pastor and current chancellor of the school.

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Rigney is perhaps best known for claiming that empathy is a sin and for a 2021 conflict over race relations at the seminary and Bethlehem church. He has also drawn attention for his relationship with Wilson, a Moscow, Idaho, pastor known for his statements in support of Christian nationalism and for past statements saying American slavery was in keeping with Christian principles.

In announcing Rigney’s resignation, Piper and the chair of the school’s trustees expressed thankfulness for 16 years of service on the faculty and as president and said they had “high regard for his integrity and spiritual authenticity.”

However, Rigney is now “out of step with several distinctives which Baptists have historically viewed as biblical.”

According to the statement, another area of disagreement is that Rigney is now open to the idea that infant baptism could be biblical, meaning he could no longer sign the school’s statement of faith, which holds to so-called believer baptism, which is based on a conscious profession of faith by a person who is of age.

Rigney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The statement from the school did include a comment from the now-former president.

“My family and I are currently praying and considering a number of options for our future, all of which would enable us to spread a passion for God’s supremacy in all things.”

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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11 Responses

  1. You guys should be ashamed of yourself. Read James 3. There is no scandal, but any juicy news you can latch on to, regardless of how you slander people, you do it. “Controversial pastor” is ridiculous. And to say that he claims that empathy is a sin is false and just lazy reporting. Over empathizing by taking on someone’s full emotional load on yourself is a sin, unwise, and destructive according to Galatians 6:1-10. You really need to check your motives and watch out. Anyone who slanders good pastors is harming the church and bringing dishonor to Christ.

      1. Watched it just don’t agree with characterization from other media/articles. It’s been misrepresented from intent.

  2. Can’t help but wonder if Rigney’s supporters are tempted to feel empathy toward him at this time.

  3. I believe Rigney meant well. He is a man who firmly stands by his convictions and certainly we need more of that. In reading about Rigney, I see an American tragedy. He means well. But sadly, the push for abundant Free Grace on the left has led to significant loss of credibility within Presbyterian and Episcopalian pulpits. So much so, that there is a counter-pendulum swung so far the other way, that we have the John MacArthur and Piper folks (Lordship Salvation) on the other side. Again, Lordship Salvation and strict obedience is a natural and reasoned response to the Free Grace at any cost movement of 1970’s. But it is an American tragedy, costing great loss of credibility to Protestant movement. Not unlike secular politics, there is a chasm and schism between “left” and “right,” borne out of lunacy of 1960’s and 1970’s. Rigney and those of his belief system, are simply to be an expected reaction to such radical ideologies. I see him as a victim of American dystopia, more than a threat.

    1. I think you have “free grace” (good) confused with “cheap grace” (bad). I recommend you take a look at the following website:

  4. Changing one’s mind due to doctrinal evolution is something that happens. And it is a mark of integrity to leave an institution if one arrives at a position outside the parameters of that group’s views. Not to try and bring that institution along with on the same trajectory.

    I actually wish more of this would happen within denominations, churches, seminaries, etc.

    There may be more politics and personal tensions behind the scenes of this particular case (perhaps likely). But based on the bare facts presented here this could actually be considered a good example.

    1. Steve I couldn’t agree more! Meaning, you can think for yourself! The problem today is whether it is theological, political or social people just regurgitate what they have been taught.

      I remember when I first disagreed with a theological giant. I thought I must be missing something. However, the more I studied. The more convinced I was of my new Hermeneutical conclusion. That’s not the same as just disagreeing with someone to be disagreeable.

      1. People need to make time to study for themselves.
      2. People need to think for themselves no matter who is giving them information.

      1. to Steve and James,

        I wholeheartedly appreciate and agree with your positive points. May we each assume individual responsibility before God to follow Him as faithfully as able. We study the scripture, lean on the Holy Spirit for understanding, and relate with the members of our local fellowship to understand appropriate application.
        May we realize that God is unlikely to excuse us in the reasoning that ‘my human spiritual leader taught me this was right, or that was wrong – I had no idea they were mistaken’.

        prayer: “we come before you humbly, O Lord, to obey and glorify You! Change us as you desire so we may follow You pure in Spirit and in Truth. amen”

        1. Chris…I agree with a lot of your points. I only push back a bit. First I don’t see statements that aren’t congruent with the others. Second, based on Philippians 1:6, 2:12-13 and Ephesians 2:8-10. The work of sanctification is synergistic from human experience. I wonder if it really is monergistic. That’s just a thought. The Christian life is a process of discovering and becoming who we are in Christ.

  5. This is theological. Reading the article, my first thought… Post Mil. Sure enough he was on a panel defending that system of eschatology. “Christian Nationalism” closely resembles that view via application. Same eschatology as Doug Wilson. I watched the empathy video. The entire video. Those commenting on that conversation misrepresented the context of the comments. I understand why they had to part ways. Bethlehem missed the boat when they identified a certain race (during the service) after the shooting of the massage parlor. The antithesis of Christian Nationalism. Both seem to have biblical flaws. However the US citizen status and the identity in Christ will put one at odds. This is a good split.

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