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Latin American leaders discuss theology

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Nearly 60 church leaders and educators from Latin America gathered at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to help enrich theological education among Baptists around the world.

The summit was organized by Southwestern’s Global Theological Innovation (GTI) program, and leaders came from Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Honduras, Uruguay, Guatemala, Columbia, Venezuela and Cuba.

Speakers at the Aug. 6-10 event included Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, and Southwestern faculty.

Page urged the leaders to cooperate with one another and with Southern Baptists in their mission to train the pastors and missionaries of the future.

“I believe God is calling us to do the mission that we do together,” Page said. “That is why I am so glad that you are here. I have a vision for reaching the world, but it will only happen when we understand each other and work together…. Let us remember that we have a mission, and that mission is best done when we work together.”

Statistics show an explosive growth of Christianity in the global south, Keith Eitel, dean of Southwestern’s Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, said. According to some researchers, as many as 83,000 people convert to Christianity every day in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America, while only 4,000 become Christians in North America and Europe each day.

Theological education, however, has lagged behind the expansion of Christianity, Eitel said. Schools around the world have expressed a need for library resources, faculty development and greater recognition of their degrees by accrediting agencies and other schools.

Brent Ray, associate director of Southwestern’s GTI program, said the shortage of theological education around the world has left church leaders without the training they need for the tasks they face.

“Over the last decade many of our international Baptist seminaries have declined measurably,” Ray said. “In fact, in many countries we have watched as many Baptist seminaries have been forced to shut down.

“There is now a critical need and appeal for our Southern Baptist churches, mission agencies and seminaries to join Baptists worldwide in reaching, teaching and equipping the next generation of Baptist leaders,” Ray said.

To help solve the problem, Southwestern is working with the International Mission Board and Southern Baptist churches to organize a global network of theological schools and seminaries.

“We are moving quickly,” Ray said, “toward the formation of a global Baptist theological alliance, or consortium, whose Kingdom impact will only be measurable in God’s eternal economy.”

While the initial GTI summit at Southwestern involved educational leaders from Spanish-speaking nations, Ray said Southwestern is committed to the development of similar alliances among likeminded Baptist institutions throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.

To that end, during the summit, Paige Patterson, Southwestern’s president, awarded a presidential scholarship to Dennis Dhlula, principal (president, in U.S. terminology) of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe. The scholarship will augment Dhlula’s ministry in Zimbabwe by helping him study at Southwestern.

Daniel Sanchez, a professor of missions at Southwestern, said the seminary has worked alongside Baptist educators in Hispanic nations for more than 20 years. But the summit, Sanchez said, set a milestone in global cooperation among Baptist schools.

“What is historic about this meeting,” Sanchez said, “is that this is the first time this many seminaries from Latin America and Spain have come together to become better acquainted with one another, share information, discuss ways of cooperating, and initiate the process of forming a Baptist seminary consortium.”

The GTI network “can have a great impact in evangelism, discipleship and church planting, resulting in the growth of the Kingdom throughout the world,” Sanchez said.

Page reminded the leaders that their labor for theological education ultimately is for the Lord.

“All of this is because we have a Master, and His name is Jesus Christ,” Page said. “Great seminaries point to Christ. Great churches point to Christ. So let us love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength…. This conference, I hope, will always point to Jesus Christ. He is the reason we are here. And so we do what we do for His glory. Gloria a Dios!”

Page, a graduate of Southwestern, commended the seminary for encouraging the cooperative task.

“The Apostle Paul talked about the partnership in the Gospel in Philippians 1, and I feel like this is a similar partnership, as we join seminaries from Latin America,” Page said. “It was energizing to me to see the energy in the room, the spirit of partnership… I am thankful for the partnership for the Gospel that we see exemplified here.”

Also at the summit, educational leaders from Spanish-speaking nations learned about an opportunity to benefit from Southwestern’s new online Spanish-language master of theological studies degree. According to Craig Blaising, Southwestern’s provost, the online degree program offers advantages for theological institutions and students alike.

“Our desire,” Blaising said, “is to get education to those who strategically need it.”

While Southwestern’s Spanish MTS is available to anyone for a promotional tuition of $100 per course, students at schools within the GTI network can earn their complete master’s degrees at the reduced rate.

Through the network schools, students can gain access to personal contact with professors, libraries and ministry opportunities. Additionally, network schools can give students practical ministry training that cannot be provided online.

The Spanish MTS degree offers additional advantages to schools within the GTI network, Blaising said. Undergraduate schools, for example, will be able to offer a master’s degree to their students, and faculty members can gain further graduate training. By partnering with Southwestern, the schools may take steps toward accreditation and toward the ability to offer their own graduate programs.

For Southwestern, Blaising said, the Spanish MTS degree is “part of a strategic global outreach” — part of Southwestern’s vision to make disciples in every nation.
Benjamin Hawkins writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews). Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Benjamin Hawkins