This one may be a stretch for some of you, I don’t know.
However, for those of us who were involved in churches and schools in the 1960’s and 70’s that subscribed to dispensationalist ideology, the name R.B.Thieme (1918–2009) brings back some memories.
Thieme was pastor at Berachah Church in Houston, Texas for fifty-three years, from 1950-2003. He graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary, where he was heavily influenced by the teaching of Lewis Sperry Chafer. While at DTS, his studies were interrupted by WWII military service, which also had an effect on his approach to life and ministry. He became affectionately known as “The Colonel” and would wear his military uniform in the pulpit on various occasions.
When Thieme became pastor of Berachah, he immediately dismissed the church board and inaugurated a heavy schedule of teaching services—four nights a week and twice on Sunday. His teaching ministry proliferated throughout the country and around the world through lectures, books, and tapes. At one point the ministry was reported to be sending out thirty thousand tapes per month. Those who have been connected with Thieme or influenced by his teaching include Hal Lindsey (he attended Thieme’s church and mentions RBT in The Late Great Planet Earth), Chuck Swindoll, and Dan and Marilyn Quayle.
Many of his teachings are downright looney and some so convoluted that even the diagrams he used to visualize them look like advanced mathematical formulae (see below).
He may be understood as a product of dispensational methodology gone to seed, military style discipline and organization, Cold War sensibilities, and a kind of intellectual hubris by which one creates his own system and then sets himself up as the only expert over it.
The emphasis of Thieme-style church is on (the pastor) teaching doctrine, period. I have always found the ethos as warm and hospitable as an windowless military office full of gray steel filing cabinets. Some have testified that the atmosphere at Berachah Church under Thieme was as controlling and manipulative as boot camp—break down the soldier’s personality and will, and force submission to the “army way.”
Garry Wills wrote about him in his book, Under God: Religion and American Politics:
Perhaps Thieme once had intellectual gifts; he certainly aspired to an eminence only they could give him. But he has chosen a way of life certain to obliterate them—surrounding himself with sycophants; avoiding for decades any new idea or challenge; dealing always with minds he considers inferior to his; putting on display a learning whose credentials never need renewed; condescending to his own followers; refusing to deal with those whose submission is not predictable.
More critical evaluation of Thieme’s ministry may be found at:
- Thiemite blog
- Joe Wall’s doctoral dissertation on Thieme’s teachings (go to bottom of page, download PDF)
If you want to see for yourself what Thieme’s teaching is like and check out some ministries that are continuing his legacy, click on the following links:
- Berachah Church (Thieme’s church, now led by his son)
- R.B. Thieme, Jr. Bible Ministries (where Thieme’s teachings are still available)
- Bible Doctrine News (Larry Wood)
- Robert McLaughlin Bible Ministries
- Triangle Bible Church
- Bible Doctrine Church, Monterey CA
- Rick Hughes Evangelistic Ministries
When we first moved to the south side of Indianapolis, we noticed a “Bible Doctrine Church” near where we lived. It has always been small and has experienced problems; another congregation split off from it and became more mainstream non-denominational evangelical in its ministry. But it remains open.
You can still find these kinds of groups on the internet too, but as I looked through websites, I noticed that many of the churches no longer have pastors and that the people gather to watch videos of teachers from other locations. (One of Thieme’s teachings was that believers cannot grow by studying the Bible for themselves—they must have a “pastor-teacher” to instruct them).
I’d be especially interested to learn how people who are still in circles that are associated with schools like Dallas Theological Seminary and with dispensational teaching view Thieme and his legacy today.
But we want to open this up to others as well, who may have been affected in any way by “The Colonel” and his teachings.
- How many of you are familiar with Bob Thieme?
- Did you or others you know receive his tapes and read his publications?
- Have you or people you know attended Berachah Church or other “Bible Doctrine” churches that follow his approach?
- What kind of influence have Thieme or his followers had in your life or in the lives of others you know?
Any “tapers” out there?