KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees unanimously elected R. Philip Roberts as the fourth president of the Kansas City-based Southern Baptist seminary during a called board meeting Jan. 8-9.
Roberts told trustees on Tuesday that is accepting the position as “a trust from God, the Southern Baptist Convention and from you.”
Roberts will begin his duties in mid-February, completing a seven-year tenure with the North American Mission Board where he currently serves as vice president for the Strategic Cities Strategies Group.
Board chairman Carl Weiser, pastor of Hyland Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., said the seven-member committee had reviewed more than 30 resumes and concluded, “Dr. Roberts is the man of God who will lead this seminary with vision, confidence and dependence on almighty God.”
Following the unanimous endorsement of the board on Monday night, Roberts told trustees and assembled faculty that he and his wife, Anna, awoke with “a great sense of excitement, anticipation and joy.” He told Baptist Press of his intention to continue the high standard for classical theological education that had already been established at Midwestern through instruction in biblical studies, theology and church history.
“My own philosophy of seminary education is that it’s an extension of the Great Commission,” Roberts said in the interview. “It is the highest and most sophisticated form of what Jesus taught us to do.” Roberts said he intends to draw on his strength of involving students in practical ministry and encouragement toward mission service.
While “respectful of creative and new ways to approach theological education,” Roberts said the strength of seminary is its ability to balance ministry with theological studies. He intends to emphasize a supportive community for seminary students, noting, “There’s a lot more teaching that goes on in addition to the classroom.”
Raised in “a mission environment,” Roberts said he benefited from the example of his father, the late Ray Roberts who served as executive secretary of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio and helped plant churches in that state as well as the New York and Penn-Jersey conventions. “We live in a world of 6 billion people, most of whom do not know Jesus Christ or have not heard his name,” Roberts said, noting that he is committed to developing ministers who can reach the world for Jesus Christ.
Roberts first met with the search committee a year ago, telling them he would seriously consider the position “if they felt that I was the best possible choice for president, and more important, if they felt led of God to come our direction.” After being contacted again last October, Roberts said he and his wife considered their decision over Thanksgiving and agreed to allow his name to be advanced.
Speaking to the board and faculty, Roberts stated, “Let me just say personally that I’ve been a friend of your former president for many years,” referring to Mark Coppenger who led the seminary from 1995-99. “I was saddened by the events that led to his departure,” Roberts added.
Coppenger was dismissed in September 1999 after trustees concluded that expressions of anger had “irreparably damaged his ability to lead.” Upon leaving the seminary Coppenger said, “I wish the best for Midwestern, and I will be cheering from the sidelines,” looking forward to God’s direction for his own ministry. He now serves as a church planter in Evanston, Ill., and praised the selection of Roberts as the next president of Midwestern.
Roberts spoke of his past association with Midwestern, stating, “It has been my joy under his leadership to have served as an adjunct professor, chapel speaker and occasional missions lecturer. I look forward with a real sense of divine joy at what God has for the future of Midwestern Seminary.”
The 50-year old Roberts and his wife have two children, Naomi, 18, and Mark, 14. His salary at Midwestern has been set at $124,000.
The new president brings to the job broad experience in training ministerial students. As director of the interfaith witness team at the North American Mission Board, Roberts often taught seminary students to understand the perspective of other religious groups in order to witness more effectively. He served as professor of missions and evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1990-94 and co-directed the Lewis Adison Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies.
Roberts responded to a reporter’s question about his defense of Calvinism by stating, “My position is clearly laid out in the Baptist Faith and Message. When we look at the Baptist Faith and Message we see that obviously it is not an Arminian document. It talks about the necessity of the Holy Spirit convicting and drawing sinners, to the perseverance of the saints, God’s foreknowledge and his elective purposes.” Roberts said he has no “particular theological agenda” apart from maintaining faithfulness to Scripture.
In regard to a question about the role of women in ministry, Roberts affirmed the inclusion of an amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message relating to the family. “I believe the role of pastor and pastor/leader is a role designated for males.” He noted Midwestern’s reputation for training women for other ministerial roles, particularly those serving alongside their husbands in church-related vocations.
“Anna was a fulltime church worker and graduate of a Polish Baptist seminary,” Roberts said in appreciation of the contribution of women in ministry. “When we went to Southeastern we lived in seminary housing and she was an encouragement to the wives.”
Although the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith makes the denomination’s position clear on the matter, Roberts said, “It doesn’t mean we have to shut down discussion.” He added, “For 20 centuries, the vast majority of the Christian church endorsed that view,” with objections raised “only in the last few years,” he said. “We would stand with the mainstream of the Christian witness.”
Roberts commended Midwestern’s current faculty, noting that his nephew, Kyle Roberts, an M.Div. graduate from 1999, often reflects on “the wonderful teaching” he had in his studies. “Everything I’ve heard has been affirmative and positive” about the faculty, Roberts said, adding, “I look forward to working with them.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PRAYING FOR PHIL AND ANNA ROBERTS.