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Conservative resurgence part of Baptist seminaries’ curriculum

DALLAS (BP)–A lot has happened in the last 25 years in Southern Baptist life, and the SBC’s six seminaries are making sure its students are well-informed.

“It is imperative that we tell our students again and again the story of how God brought Southern Baptists back to their theological roots and restored the seminaries in standing without reservation or hesitation upon the infallible and inerrant word of God,” said Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin.

Southeastern Seminary students spend several hours of the 16-week Baptist history class required of all degree programs studying what is commonly called the conservative resurgence.

“We can never assume that the battles won in the past will be sufficient for the battles that we will engage today and in the future,” Akin said. “It is easy for one generation to become unaware of what a previous generation fought for.”

Other Southeastern Seminary classes address the subject, including a class taught at the annual Southern Baptist Convention and a class relating to the state Baptist convention. Both are electives.

“We also have special presentations on the SBC, including the conservative resurgence, during a required new student orientation,” Southeastern Seminary Academic Dean L. Russ Bush said.

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s approach is nearly identical to Southeastern Seminary’s. Golden Gate’s class at the annual meeting is taught by historical theology professor Rick Durst.

“The study encompasses the convention decision-making process and cooperative ministry and missions carried out by Southern Baptists [and] their participation at various levels,” Durst said.

An additional hour of credit is available to students who read and analyze Leon McBeth’s “A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage” and submit a paper on “the top 20 documents every Southern Baptist ought to know.”

According to the catalog of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, master of divinity and master of arts students are required to take Baptist history, which includes a study of the SBC and the Cooperative Program. Separate on-site courses focus on the history and operation of the Southern Baptist Convention and the state Baptist conventions. This year’s students enrolled in the SBC class will meet with authors Jerry Sutton and Paul Pressler to hear their analyses of how the denomination has been reformed.

“A significant amount of time is dedicated to the Elliot controversy in my class as well as divergent views of inspiration,” Midwestern Seminary professor Alan Branch said.

By comparing and contrasting the doctrinal differences between the 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statements, Branch said he teaches the implications of the “criterion of interpretation” passage in the 1963 statement that is used “by moderates as a loophole to pitch Jesus against the Bible.”

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary recently announced a new special event course designed to encourage student attendance at the SBC annual meeting and to increase Cooperative Program awareness. The course, “Pastoral Ministries Workshop: The Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program in Operation and Relationship,” will be offered at this year’s Indianapolis convention.

New Orleans Seminary Provost Steve Lemke predicted students will gain richer appreciation for the Cooperative Program and a greater commitment to the SBC through the combination of several elements — the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, the newly created Cooperative Program Chair of Southern Baptist Convention Studies, a new required course on the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program, and a new course taught at the SBC convention site.

“We address the conservative resurgence primarily in our Baptist Heritage class in the graduate program, in ‘Southern Baptist Life’ in Leavell College, and to a lesser extent in ‘History of Christianity: Reformation to Modern,'” Lemke said.

Through a required orientation course, Lemke believes graduate students will be more informed about the Southern Baptist Convention early in their seminary career.

At Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., church history professor Greg Wills said the history of the controversy is addressed in the second part of an introductory church history course which is required in every program of study.

“The conservative resurgence receives greater attention in a Baptist history course required for many of the master’s degree programs,” he said. “Various elective courses also treat the controversy extensively, including ‘Southern Baptist Heritage, Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism,’ and ‘American Church History.’

“Our Center for the Study of the Southern Baptist Convention has also hosted conferences and forums designed to interest and inform students, faculty and staff on the character, importance and course of the conservative resurgence.”

Southern Seminary also offers a class that takes place at the annual meeting.

“In recent years our administration and faculty have felt increasingly confirmed in our conviction of the vital necessity of teaching students about our Baptist heritage, including its history, principles, polity, and character. The history of the conservative resurgence is a profoundly important part of that,” Wills said.

The assistant dean for theological studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary said the Fort Worth, Texas-based school underwent a “historiographical shift.” Theology professor Malcolm Yarnell said that rather than focusing on a “freedom-oriented Enlightenment understanding of Baptist identity, we have returned to the biblically oriented Reformation understanding of Baptist identity.

“Of course, we do teach the long Baptist struggle for religious liberty, but we carefully extricate religious liberty from its entanglement with theological liberalism which a recent generation of Baptist scholars have advocated.”

Yarnell added, “This biblically oriented Reformation understanding of Baptist identity necessarily entails a review of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Southern Baptist leaders such as Paul Pressler, Albert Mohler and Charles Fuller have addressed the Baptist Heritage class, Yarnell said.

“The students have responded especially well to Judge Pressler, a leading architect of the conservative resurgence, and his books have gone like hotcakes,” Yarnell said.

Yarnell said students sometimes ask “How can we keep the conservative reformation going?”

“The fact that they ask the question and find answers in our Baptist Heritage classes should encourage all those who gave so much that the SBC might be reformed,” Yarnell said.
This story originally appeared in the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter