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FROM THE SEMINARIES: Kelley delivers NOBTS ‘state of the seminary’; Mohler warns of Gospel compromise in social issues

Today’s From the Seminaries includes: New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Kelley extols God’s mercies in NOBTS ‘State of the Seminary’

By Marilyn Stewart

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — The past is proof God’s mercies never fail, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said in his “state of the seminary” address in Leavell Chapel following the spring meeting of the board of trustees. Kelley pointed to the seminary’s 100-year history to make his point.

“We serve an amazing God who delights in doing awesome work to nurture His children and extend the work of His Kingdom,” Kelley said. “I would submit that ‘exhibit A’ of that statement is New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.”

Prior to relating highlights of the academic year, Kelley looked back to the seminary’s founding in 1917 in New Orleans, a city with few Baptists at the time, and said the Southern Baptist Convention intended the training center for ministers to be “a mission station as much as it was to be an institution.”

The trials and challenges faced by the institution in its 100-year history are evidence that God is always faithful, Kelley said.

“I thank the Lord for putting us, and me, in a hard place,” Kelley said, adding, “It is only in the difficult places that you get the clearest view of the glory of God and the deepest experience of the richness and sufficiency of His amazing grace.”

Highlights of the academic year cited by Kelley are the renewal of accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; an enrollment that remains among the seminary’s highest; tuition income and giving to NOBTS that are trending upward; and key changes in curriculum and delivery systems.

Kelley announced 31 additional Caskey Center for Church Excellence scholarships for bivocational and smaller membership church ministers serving in Louisiana, bringing the total number of Caskey Center scholarships available to 275. Caskey Center scholarships in excess of $1 million were awarded this year and funding for two faculty positions and support staff was provided.

In the first two-and-a-half years of the Caskey Center program, scholarship recipients reported 15,163 Gospel presentations with 5,682 full presentations that included an invitation to accept Christ, with 1,372 coming to faith in Christ.

Kelley also noted that the Caskey Center is a primary sponsor for the June 11-12 SBC Pastor’s Conference in Phoenix where pastors from smaller membership churches will be the featured speakers.

Pointing to other highlights, Kelley praised the NOBTS Tel Gezer Water System Excavation team in their discovery of a cache of objects, a rare piece of linen cloth and a clay goddess mold that support the dating of the site to the Middle Bronze Age II (2000-1550 B.C.).

Kelley announced the name change of the NOBTS Division of Christian Education to the Division of Discipleship and Ministry Leadership, noting the vital role of discipleship in making gains in evangelism.

“We can’t fix evangelism problems without fixing discipleship and helping people look and live more like Jesus,” Kelley said.

In noting the upward trend in Cooperative Program giving, Kelley said 36 percent of tuition income is provided through scholarships, the highest ever, with CP being the second largest stream of income for the seminary.

Kelley reminded the April chapel audience that trials will come but that God’s compassions never fail. Relating trials to the black velvet set against a glittering diamond, Kelley said the blackness makes the diamond sparkle brighter.

“When the Lord lays black velvet across your life, you know a diamond is coming,” Kelley said. “Looking back on the trials of 100 years is evidence that God’s mercy is enough and that God will use every moment of our lives to show us that He is an amazing God.”


Don’t compromise Gospel on social issues, Mohler says at TGC

By Andrew J.W. Smith

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) — Evangelical Christians must not compromise the Gospel when cooperating with Catholics on social and political matters, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said at The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference on the Protestant Reformation.

Evangelicals’ partnering with other groups in shared matters of social concern is often necessary — such as with Catholics in the pro-life movement — but should never eclipse the importance of doctrinal differences between the two, Mohler said.

“We can be involved in common moral concerns with Catholics but we should not call what we are doing a ministry,” Mohler said during an April 4 workshop titled “When to Stand Together, When to Stand Apart: Principles for Social Cooperation without Compromise.”

Such “co-belligerence” is essential when Protestants and Catholics find themselves fighting on the same front. But evangelical Christians should never succumb to the temptation to minimize the Gospel for social or political benefit, Mohler said.

“What we can’t do is ever cooperate, on any level, in such a way that we pull back our theological conviction in order to meet some other end,” Mohler said.

Contemporary matters of cooperation — such as the 1994 document Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which Mohler did not sign, and the rapid decline of denominational and institutional distinctiveness — are rooted in a story of ecumenism spanning more than a century, Mohler said. Denominationalism peaked at the end of the 19th century, he said, as the inevitable result of religious liberty.

Denominational ties began to dissolve during the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the early 20th century, as fundamentalist Christians trying to maintain orthodoxy began leaving the mainline church, leaving behind either categorical modernists or Christians no longer as committed to denominational loyalty.

The fundamentalist Christians, meanwhile, developed their own infrastructure after World War II around “second-degree separationism,” the mandate that fundamentalists should not have fellowship with those who fellowship with liberals. New evangelicalism emerged during the mid-20th century under the leadership of men like Carl F.H. Henry, rejecting the disengagement of fundamentalism and appealing to a larger orthodoxy.

“This is the reason why there have been endless internal and external questions about evangelical identity. It’s been an external preoccupation — right down to the fact that the media never know who is and is not an evangelical,” Mohler said. “But the confusion outside has also been matched by a consternation inside. Evangelicalism has been debating its identity from within ever since the new evangelicalism emerged.”

New evangelicalism thought it was winning the budding “culture war” but when it became clear it was not, significant pressures of late modernity forced evangelicals into an “ecumenism of the trenches” with Catholics. The decline of denominational distinctiveness and the added pressure to ecumenize with political and social allies makes strongly held Gospel convictions even more essential, Mohler said.

In 2005, Mohler wrote an article titled “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” which explained the necessity of arranging a “scale of theological urgency” for doctrinal matters. At his TGC workshop, he pointed to that scale as a helpful grid for cooperation with other Protestant Christians.

“First-order agreement is necessary for evangelism. Second-order agreement is necessary for congregationalism. In third-order issues, agreement is necessary for catechism,” Mohler said. “In terms of first-order issues, we have to be unequivocal.”

Mohler updated his theological triage at his workshop, identifying matters surrounding the sexual revolution as first-order theological issues.

“They do not always arrive at first-order importance — that is, you can talk to people you know as genuine believers who disagree on these issues. But they eventually end in first-order importance because the church will teach and affirm either what is in keeping with Scripture and the Gospel or not,” Mohler said.

    About the Author

  • SBC Seminary & BP Staff

    Cassity Potter writes for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, the SBC’s news service; Alex Sibley writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and S. Craig Sanders writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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