LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Graduates of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary can draw strength for ministry from the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and their obedience to His call, President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said in his commencement address to the seminary’s 2018 graduates.
During the 220th commencement exercises on the seminary lawn May 18, 284 master’s and doctoral students were present to receive degrees as part of a graduating class of 320. The 320-person class is the largest during Mohler’s 25-year tenure as Southern’s president.
“As much as we glorify God in this [commencement], we glorify God for redeeming a church by the blood of His Son and gifting that church with ministers who have served since the time of the apostles until now,” Mohler said in his address.
Preaching from Romans 16:25-27, Mohler noted that the apostle Paul concluded his watershed epistle with a fanfare to God’s glory in Christ. The book of Romans is the titanic center of the New Testament, he said, describing in comprehensive terms the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The conclusion to the letter praises the God “who is able to strengthen,” assuming that all Christians — including ministers of the Gospel — need strengthening, Mohler said. Seminary graduation, though a significant accomplishment, should be a testament to every student’s absolute dependence on God in both life and ministry, he said.
“I want to tell you graduates, as I look at you, you look very strong. You look good. You look healthy. You look ready. But you are not strong and you are not ready,” Mohler said. “You are not up to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ — not one of the ministers of the Gospel of Christ is sufficient. Every single one of us at every single moment is dependent on another’s strength. We are never weaker than when we think we are stronger, and we are perhaps never stronger than when we sense that we are weaker.”
As they enter their various ministries, the graduates need to remember Christ’s individual, solitary ability to rule over the universe and control all things, Mohler said. That power is utilized on behalf of believers, and that power is the only thing that can strengthen Christian ministry.
This strengthening occurs in three ways, Mohler said: the preaching of the Gospel; the Word of God; and the command of God on the lives of believers.
In the preaching of the Gospel, Paul makes it clear that all ministers preach the same Gospel that transformed Paul’s life. This transformation is the only thing that equips faithful Christian ministry, Mohler said, and inspires believers to teach and proclaim the saving message to the ends of the earth.
Only the Word of God can provide the content of that faithful preaching, Mohler continued, saying that the seminary curriculum was designed to cultivate a biblical reflex in all its graduates.
“What has been inculcated in you through hours and months and years of study of Scripture is the instinct to turn to Scripture,” Mohler said. “When we are ready to preach, when we are about to teach, when we need our own souls fed and as we prepare to feed the souls of others, our right instinct is to turn to the Word of God.”
And ministers are strengthened by the call of God that they obeyed when they attended seminary, Mohler said. The call to repent and believe in the Gospel is a command that must be obeyed, he said, and so is the call to ministry.
“What you see here, brothers and sisters, in these graduates is the answer to a command,” Mohler said. “We refer to it as a call, and it is not a call that was offered to these graduates for their consideration. It’s a call that came as a command, and the only rightful response is obedience. That is what we are celebrating here today: obedience.”
During graduation, Mohler presented the annual Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence to Michael A.G. Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary who has taught at Southern since 2008. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and author of the 2011 book “Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church,” among many others. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.
The recipient of the 2018 Josephine S. and James L. Baggott Outstanding Graduate Award was Jason E. Milton, a master of divinity graduate from Berea, Ohio.
Mohler’s commencement address will be available in audio and video format at equip.sbts.edu.