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Midwestern committed to join hands with churches, Roberts tells leaders

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Churches joining hands with the seminary to do the work of the Lord will be a priority of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Philip Roberts. In a meeting of key Southern Baptist leaders from Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, Roberts said, “This is what makes the rubber hit the road — when the churches are able to join hands and force with the seminary to do the work of the Lord.”

The group of 40 ministers gathered March 1 at the Embassy Suites in Kansas City, Mo., to meet the new seminary president. Included were directors of missions from Kansas City and the surrounding region, ministers of churches throughout Missouri and Kansas, as well as staff from both the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists and the Missouri Baptist Convention. Roberts was given gifts to welcome him back to the Midwest, including a pair of cowboy boots.

Pat Bullock, director of missions for the Heart of Kansas Baptist Association, introduced Roberts, praising the work he had done with a seminary in Romania. “I’m absolutely convinced he’s God’s man for this job as he comes to lead Midwestern Seminary.”

Roberts thanked the leaders for their support of the Cooperative Program that provides 60 percent of the seminary budget. Such generosity makes it possible for Southern Baptist students to receive the least-expensive graduate theological education available outside of Catholic institutions.

“And thank you, too, for sending students,” Roberts said. “We consider them a wonderful and yet a very serious trust to us.” He pledged that they would be given “the right kind of theological perspective that would be respectful of your convictions as Southern Baptists and to equip them as best we can to do ministry.” Attention to the spiritual life of students and quality instruction in the classical disciplines of theology and church history will remain a priority, he said.

Roberts said he would challenge students to consider a call to international missions and encourage opportunities for short-term missions experiences in the Midwest and overseas. “If God is going to move in our midst at Midwestern,” he said, “it is going to result in a number of young people being called to ministry in even the most neglected and hostile parts of the world.”

The new president expressed concern for the context in which students study, stating, “It is absolutely critical that Southern Baptists maintain a seminary presence and witness outside of the traditional Bible Belt states of the SBC.” Both Midwestern and Golden Gate Theological Seminary in California “bear witness to our denomination that we’re interested in the whole of the United States and North America.”

And as students become acquainted with the Midwest, Roberts said some will be more open to ministry in the great cities of the Midwest as well as its rural areas. “The Great Commission does not say go into all the great comfortable warm places where it’s warm all year-round,” Roberts quipped.

Immediate dreams of the new president include hiring a full-time professor of evangelism, an increased effort in attracting new students, and campus development. With recent funding cuts by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Roberts acknowledged that any addition to the faculty would be challenging. “To do some of these things will take a bit of a miracle from God, but we’re determined to seek those resources.”

Earlier in the day Roberts addressed a chapel audience, using the example of the church at Philadelphia cited in Revelation 3 to demonstrate how God opens the door for a body of believers that recognizes its own lack of resources. He predicted that the school would one day consider the action by the Baptist General Convention of Texas a blessing. “We may learn the lesson that while God sends his blessing and resources through the fingers of his people, ultimately, everything comes from God.”

Roberts told the chapel audience that he prayed God’s blessing on the older state convention in Texas, that they would win thousands of people to Jesus Christ and start hundreds of new churches. “I would never begrudge them what they do with their resources. Ultimately, that’s their responsibility and accountability before God. We acknowledge every good and perfect gift that comes down from God.” (A complete transcript of the March 1 chapel address is available at Midwestern’s website at www.mbts.edu.)

During a Feb. 28 interview with the Kansas City Star, Roberts spoke of the goal announced by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to send SBC seminaries an additional $1 million to help make up the shortfall, viewing that as part of God’s provision.

He opened the floor of the luncheon meeting to questions from the area ministers who had gathered to meet him. In answer to a question about the likelihood of the seminary relocating, Roberts said, “There is no panic or rush for us to sell the property. We know that’s a large part of our indebtedness.” An offer by a local corporation interested in the property proved too low for serious consideration, Roberts said.

He encouraged a state convention representative anxious for Midwestern to offer theological training in western Kansas and Nebraska to contact the school’s Nehemiah Center for Church Planting to review opportunities for such education. “We’re interested in ministering to you and with you in your areas of service,” Roberts said, stipulating that extension centers require “a fair number of students” because of the expense of sending faculty out.

“I believe in contextual seminary education,” Roberts affirmed, “assisting and encouraging the churches. You are the dog that wags the tail and we are to be a servant to the church.”

In answer to a “perception that Midwestern has become a center for five-point Calvinism,” Roberts said he told a reporter who asked that question to get a copy of the Baptist Faith and Message SBC statement of beliefs to read from beginning to end. In so doing, Roberts said, “You’ll discover what my theology is. It is very clear in there that the Baptist Faith and Message maintains a high view of conversion through the work of the Holy Spirit and the convicting power he brings when the gospel is preached.”

Roberts also spoke of “a high view of new birth,” as the doctrinal statement refers to “God’s personal election in terms of salvation.” Such biblical positions have been held by Baptists in the mainstream through the years, he added.

Pledging that he would not require more or less of faculty than their adherence to the Baptist Faith and Message, Roberts said, “I’m looking for people who endorse that confession of faith willingly, happily, and are comfortable with it and have no other agendas apart from faithfulness to the Scripture as expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message.”

While other issues may be addressed in theological studies, Roberts said, “We should have no other agenda than encouraging people in their faith and helping people in the cause of missions and evangelism.”

He also encouraged churches and associational leaders to “work in tandem” with the seminary to be certain those they endorse for seminary education have experienced conversion and a call to ministry, calling churches “our first guardian in that regard.”

Laypeople were encouraged to take courses offered on-site at local churches in the Kansas City area or to consider special student status for those who do not feel called to ministry. “We’re delighted to do more to minister to the laity in the churches,” Roberts said.

Regarding distance learning options over the Internet, Roberts said, “It’s something we want to continue to encourage, but we’re not necessarily going to put all our eggs in that basket.” He noted his concern that accreditation requirements be honored while also being careful not to undermine classical education. “That’s going to be a discussion that’s going to flourish and rage in academic circles for some years,” Roberts said. “Where it all leads I’m not real sure. It could lead to a virtual realignment of higher education. The story is yet to be written.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter