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Mohler: Southern Seminary entering ‘season of spring’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Signs of newness and expectancy indicate the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has left “a season of definition” and entered “a season of spring,” President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told trustees during the seminary board of trustees’ spring meeting April 21-22.

Just as the children of Israel reached an historic juncture when God said in Deuteronomy 2:3, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north,” God is calling Southern Seminary to turn north, Mohler said in his report to the trustees. “The fact that students have come after this season of definition” is a sign of spring, he said.

An indication the seminary is “blossoming” is the addition of nine new faculty, whom Mohler described as “first-rate scholars of unquestioned commitment, of deep and abiding conviction.”

Trustees elected Robert Stein, from Bethel Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., professor of New Testament interpretation. He is “one of the most significant evangelical scholars” in the world, Mohler said. In nominating him, Oklahoma trustee Ruffin Snow said Stein’s election was “a matter of historic significance.”

Five professors were elected who had been teaching at Southern under presidential appointment. Timothy Beougher was elected associate professor of evangelism and to the Billy Graham Chair of Evangelism. Mohler said Beougher is “commended to us as the rising star in evangelism.” Paul House was elected professor of Old Testament interpretation and to the Martha and Talmage Rogers Professorship in Old Testament. George Martin was elected associate professor of Christian missions. Esther Rothenbusch was elected assistant professor of church music, while Mark Simpson was elected associate professor of Christian education and leadership.

Mohler also announced three faculty appointments. Thomas Schreiner, also of Bethel, was appointed professor of New Testament interpretation. Hershael York, pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, Lexington, Ky., was appointed associate professor of preaching. Tom Nettles of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., was appointed professor of historical theology. Mohler called Nettles “one of Southern Baptists’ greatest scholars.”

“When all of these are added together,” Mohler said, “it amounts to one of the most significant groups ever added to any theological seminary.”

In addition to the new faculty, Leigh Conver was elected to the Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Chair of Psychology of Religion and Pastoral Counseling and T. Vaughn Walker, professor of black church studies, became the first African American to be granted tenure at Southern and was elected to the Woman’s Missionary Union Chair of Social Work.

Mohler said the seminary’s programs are another indication of the spring season. Calling better preaching one of the church’s “crying needs,” he announced the development of a formal proposal for a new doctor of ministry in expository preaching.

“One of the most exciting developments in that degree,” Mohler predicted, “is the way it will be taught,” and “some of the leading expository preachers” in the SBC will be teaching its courses. That proposal will be presented to the faculty for approval in May. “I believe this degree program holds the real promise of bringing change to the entire SBC,” Mohler said.

Regarding trustees’ hopes for the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, “They have not been met. They have been exceeded,” Mohler reported, saying the evangelical world already recognizes it as a school “that has assumed leadership.” Trustees learned more than 400 pastors have already indicated interest in the new doctor of ministry in church growth because, according to Mohler, it responds to pastors’ cries to “give us the tools.”

Mohler reported to trustees that the seminary’s new season also has seen a “shared vision and understanding and a period of constructive work” between faculty and administration as evidenced by two proposals which were presented for trustee approval. Through a “process of consultation and discussion, the president and the Faculty Committee have come to a unified proposal on these policies adopted unanimously by the faculty,” Mohler said. The Faculty Committee is an organization that acts as a liaison between the faculty, administration and trustees.

Trustees approved both proposals, the first a revised faculty disciplinary policy and the second a revised statement on constructive relationships.

“Nothing could bring me any greater satisfaction,” Mohler admitted, than seeing that “there is now a sense of growing together on this faculty” after going through a period of transition.

“I want to tell you we have at Southern Seminary what I firmly believe is the foremost faculty of any evangelical institution,” Mohler asserted. “A community of God-called scholars whose academic preparation is exceeded by no other faculty, whose commitment to scholarship is exceeded by no other community of scholars, whose love for students is evident by the fact that students are drawn to them,” Mohler said. Mohler thanked the Faculty Committee and its chairman, Dan Stiver, professor of Christian philosophy, for their willingness to be constructive partners.

The state of campus facilities also shows signs of spring, Mohler noted. Construction is progressing on a conference center and dining facility, a “remarkable addition” to the student center.

“The most important development in terms of student life,” according to Mohler, is the $1.4 million renovation of classroom space in Norton Hall. The trustees’ executive committee in February approved plans for the renovated facility, developed in consultation with the faculty.

Mohler reported long-term needs on campus, including $14 million in “deferred maintenance needs” which must be addressed. “We are making significant progress on those deferred maintenance needs, but as you look around the campus you will see that some of those needs are still very pressing.” A strategic plan looking at every building is being developed. Mohler said the administration’s goal is the total renovation of all campus buildings in the next 10 years.

Trustees approved a budget of $14,611,646, a 3.1 percent increase over the current budget. Included in the financial blueprint is a $120,338 increase for academic programs, a $47,520 allocation for the new “Southern Baptist Journal of Theology” and a $217,064 increase in student financial aid.

Mohler noted the budget reflected changes in the seminary’s Cooperative Program allocation, which is based on a three-year rolling average. Because enrollment bottomed out during the 1995-96 school year, “we are headed into the two years which are most likely to cause us budgetary constriction,” Mohler said.

Mohler said he was pleased to present a budget which included no fee increases for students in most degree plans. The budget includes a $100 per semester increase in matriculation for research doctoral and doctor of ministry degree programs. Child-care fees have also been increased an average of 2.5 percent in the budget.

Mohler said he was “less pleased” the budget does not include salary or wage increases for faculty and staff. “We set as our goal to have no fee increases,” Mohler said, and this could not be accomplished with salary increases.

The seminary’s mission is “not only sound and healthy, it is advancing,” Mohler declared. Illustration of that health is found “in the ministries of those who leave this school and serve the churches,” he said. Mohler concluded his report by saying that in this season of expectancy and excitement, one must look at the fruit of those who were trained at Southern Seminary to see its mission.

Trustees joined Mohler in honoring Paul Kim, dean of the Carver School of Church Social Work in its closing months. Kim served in the capacity while on sabbatical leave from Louisiana State University. He has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and will be leaving this summer to teach in Korea for one year.

Kim said that of the five institutions he has served during the last 30 years, Southern is the one of which he is “most proud.” Kim praised Mohler for “awesome young leadership for this seminary and for the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Trustees re-elected Jerry Johnson chairman of the board of trustees; Ruffin Snow, first vice chairman and chairman of the executive committee; and John Hicks, secretary. Fred Caffey was elected second vice chairman. Johnson is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, Englewood, Colo.; Snow is minister of evangelism at First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla.; Hicks is an attorney from Taylorsville, Ky.; and Caffey is a dentist from Martinsville, Va.

Trustees were told of $39,835 in repairs to the balcony and steeple of Alumni Chapel following heavy rains in March and were informed of changes in the seminary’s asset allocations to decrease fixed-income investments by 5 percent.

In other action, trustees:

— elected Kim Wagner of Arkansas and Otis Ingram, III of Georgia as interim trustees.

— approved a Council of Seminary Presidents resolution allowing the president or, in his inability to act, the chairman of the trustees, to appoint representation to the Council of Seminary Presidents.

— approved the audit subcommittee’s report and recommendation to continue to use Coopers and Lybrand as the seminary’s independent auditing firm.

— honored trustees Robert Beddingfield of South Lyon, Mich., David Miller of Heber Springs, Ark., P.A. Stevens of Louisville and Richard White of Franklin, Tenn., who complete their tenures this year.

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  • David Porter