LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–“Deadly seriousness” is the manner in which both professors and students should undertake the task of theological education, declared President R. Albert Mohler Jr. in an Aug. 26 address at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As “stewards of the mysteries of God,” eternity itself “hangs in the balance” with the ministers’ work.
Preaching from 1 Corinthians 4:1-12 on the gravity of the ministry and theological education, Mohler led the Louisville, Ky., seminary community in the annual convocation, the first chapel service of the academic year.
Marking the beginning of Southern’s 139th session, during the convocation newly tenured faculty signed the “Abstract of Principles,” the seminary’s confession of faith adopted as a part of its original charter in 1858. The historic occasion was made even more noteworthy by the signature of T. Vaughn Walker, professor of black church studies, as the first African American to sign the document.
Walker’s signing of the abstract, the same manuscript signed by founders James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus and other Baptist luminaries, proved doubly historic as he was the 200th to join the elite group of Baptist scholars. All professors agree to “teach in accordance with and not contrary to” the 20 articles of doctrine outlined in the abstract.
Warning many ministers approach the subject of theological education “without a proper sense of weight,” Mohler called the seminary to undertake its mission with “deadly seriousness” and a sense of urgency.
Underpinned by a dogged commitment to the authority of Scripture and to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, the academic standards of the seminary must be higher than any other educational institution, Mohler asserted.
“The medical school must teach knowing that lives will hang in the balance,” he noted. “We know that eternity hangs in the balance as our graduates teach and preach and serve and plant.”
Expressing his fascination with the Corinthian description of the minister, Mohler admitted such a designation runs counter to the expectations of the world. “What would it mean if every pastor had printed on his card ‘steward of the mysteries of God?'” he asked. “The Internal Revenue Service would certainly ask for clarification if we identify our occupation on the (tax) form as ‘steward of the mysteries of God.'”
The steward image, Mohler said, indicates a real, but delegated authority which “points not to itself, but to Christ.” The mysteries which ministers must proclaim refer not to “a gnostic secret to be held in confidence by co-conspirators, but to God’s great open secret of the gospel, hidden until the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ.”
The passage, Mohler proclaimed, requires “a theological faculty be known for what it believes” because of their incomparable responsibility to convey the historic Christian faith from one generation to the next.
“Have we faithfully passed on the truths revealed in God’s Word?” Mohler asked. “Not the latest fads of the academy, not the current rage of the theologians, but the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
Turning his attention to students in the audience, Mohler said they must join teachers in reexamining their roles in light of the imagery of stewards of God’s mysteries.
“You serve and study on a campus which is the envy of the seminary world,” he said. “And yet, far too many students pass through seminary as if gaining a union card for ecclesiastical employment.” Such responsibility calls for an understanding “this precious school is not a line on your resume. It is a matter of your stewardship before God.”
Mohler contrasted the view of ministry described by the Apostle Paul with the pragmatic temptation to trumpet technique instead of theology.
“Too many ministers are merely mechanics of modern ministry,” he declared. He cautioned that the minister must not view ministry with the same lens as all other disciplines, but be constantly wary of his ultimate accountability before God.
“You were not forced to be ministers,” Mohler remarked, quoting the 19th-century English Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon: “Brethren, if we meant to be untrue to Jesus, there was no necessity to have climbed this sacred rock in order to multiply the horrors of our final fall. We could have perished quite sufficiently in the ordinary ways of sin. What need have we to qualify ourselves for a greater damnation?”
“My prayer,” Mohler said, “is that we will think of Southern Seminary as a community of fellow stewards of the mysteries of God. We must have an entirely new sense of the importance of our task, the weightiness of our mission and the glory of our calling.”
In addition to Walker’s signature, three other newly tenured faculty members signed the seminary’s abstract: Timothy K. Beougher, associate professor of evangelism and church growth; Paul R. House, professor of Old Testament interpretation; and Robert H. Stein, professor of New Testament interpretation. Recognized for their installment in endowed professorships were Walker as WMU professor of Christian ministries, Beougher as Billy Graham associate professor of evangelism and church growth, House as Martha and Talmage Rogers professor of Old Testament interpretation and Stein as Ernest and Mildred Hogan professor of New Testament interpretation. Leigh E. Conver was installed as Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover professor of psychology of religion and pastoral counseling.
Moore is a newswriter at Southern Seminary. James A. Smith Sr. contributed to this story.