‘Only God could have done this’: SEBTS celebrates Fall 2022 prison program graduation

By Chad Burchett/SEBTS

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) – The College at Southeastern’s North Carolina Field Minister Program (NCFMP) held its second annual commencement ceremony, celebrating the academic achievement and graduation of 13 students at the Nash County Extension Center.

“Only God could have done this,” Joe Gibbs, Founder of Game Plan for Life , owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, and longtime supporter of the NCFMP program, shared at Tuesday’s graduation. “We are so convinced that you are going to change people’s lives, and we are thrilled to be a part of your mission. … You guys are going to be embarking on your mission field with the power of God’s Word.”

Gibbs charged graduates to remember God’s Word as they relocate to other prisons and to carry with them a message of God’s redeeming grace and the urgency of eternity. “We serve a God of second chances,” Gibbs reminded graduates and attendees, pointing to the example of the 13 graduates, who each illustrate the transforming power of the Gospel.

Todd Ishee, Commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Adult Correction, challenged graduates to reflect on their unique opportunity and responsibility as field ministers, encouraging them to make the North Carolina prison system a place of transformation.

“We are excited about the impact that you are going to have, the impact on our prison system, the impact on other people, and the impact on the state of North Carolina.” Ishee said. “You are going to make a difference in people’s lives, … and we are excited about the leadership role that you guys are going to play in this transformation.”

Joined by family and friends, The College’s faculty, representatives from Game Plan for Life and others, the graduates each received a Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Ministry with a secondary emphasis on counseling. The conferral of this degree not only represents the graduates’ courage and commitment but also the distinguished academic achievement of these graduates, many of whom graduated with honors.

“Congratulations, and welcome to the Southeastern family,” President Danny Akin told graduates during the ceremony. “You will be a part of our alumni forever.”

For his commencement address, Akin encouraged the graduates with a message from Isaiah 9:6, focusing on the faithful and glorious character of King Jesus. “As you go out and serve where the Lord sends you, I want you to know that you go — not just with family and friends praying for you, pulling for you, and supporting you — but also with this King, who will be with you every day and every step of the way.”

Since its inaugural convocation in August 2017, The College’s NCFMP program has enjoyed God’s blessings and experienced remarkable success, equipping more than 100 students and commissioning dozens of graduated field ministers to serve incarcerated populations throughout the state. Seth Bible, director of prison programs and assistant professor of ethics and the history of ideas at The College, reported that the NCFMP program currently has a 65 percent graduation rate, which is exceptionally high for a program that operates exclusively in an incarcerated context.

“I have been asked several times over the years how a rate that high has been achieved, particularly with the challenges that have been brought on by the recent COVID-19 pandemic,” Bible said. “My answer is simple, and it is threefold: the providence of God, the people involved, and the partnership at work.”

Learn more about the program here.

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Two NOBTS profs receive high awards for academic books

By Marilyn Stewart/NOBTS

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Two New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professors drew top honors from The Gospel Coalition and from the Southwestern Journal of Theology for books published in 2022.

Tyler Wittman, NOBTS assistant professor of theology, garnered The Gospel Coalition’s top award in the category Academic Theology for his work, “Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis,” co-authored with Robert B. (Bobby) Jamieson.

Adam Harwood, NOBTS professor of theology, received the Book of the Year award for “Christian Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Systematic” marking it as the top pick overall in 12 categories. The annual award is presented by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s academic journal, the Southwestern Journal of Theology (SWJT).  

“These works are the result of the highest quality of research and will serve as a resource for the kingdom for years to come,” said Norris Grubbs, NOBTS provost. “We are pleased that others have recognized the fine quality of research Drs. Harwood and Wittman have produced. I know that our students and many others will benefit from their labor.”

Wittman’s book, published by Baker Academic, brings together principles and rules to help readers build sound theology through exegeting scripture properly while at the same time interpreting scripture correctly by starting from sound theology, or dogma.

The Gospel Coalition announcement described Wittman’s book as providing clear categories and examples “that connect the work of historical-grammatical exegesis to dogmatic reasoning” and combining academics and worship.

“I’m honored and thankful that the book would receive any attention, let alone an award,” Wittman said. “That’s not why Bobby and I wrote it, but we welcome this recognition in hopes that it will prompt more readers to pick up the book and engage its arguments.”

An inside cover endorsement by theologian Fred Sanders, Torrey Honors College, Biola University, calls Wittman’s book “a master class in how to read the Bible directly and accurately.”

Wittman said that at the heart of the book is a vision for the “union of exegesis, theology, and the Christian life” that centers on the “greater unions” of “Christ’s humanity and divinity in one person” and the unity of the Trinity in “one divine essence.”

“If the book can make its real impact by encouraging folks to share that vision, or to improve it, our prayers will have been answered,” Wittman said.  

Harwood’s book, published by Lexham Academic, examines the essential doctrines of the Christian faith: revelation, God, humanity, Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, the church, and last things. Endorsements on the book cover praise its readability, balance, and scholarship.

Rhyne Putman, NOBTS associate professor of theology, endorsed the book calling it “a succinct, remarkably clear text that will have great use both in and outside the classroom.”

“My hope is that Christian Theology will help readers grow in their love for the Lord and others as they consider God, His Word, and His ways,” Harwood said.  

Harwood, an SWBTS alum, was honored also with the James Leo Garrett Jr. Award for Contribution to Christian Thought, an SWBTS award that honors an individual for contributions to research, scholarship, teaching and service.

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