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Roberts begins Midwestern tenure with Scripture as his first words

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Quoting Scripture after mounting the platform to a sustained standing ovation, R. Phil Roberts was introduced as the fourth president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during a chapel service on the Kansas City, Mo., campus Feb. 13.

“‘As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith abounding therein with thanksgiving,'” Roberts quoted from Colossians 2:7 in the New Testament.

“I wanted the first words out of my mouth as president of this institution … to be from the Word of God,” he told the seminary community.

Roberts officially began work Feb. 13 after receiving a unanimous invitation by the seminary’s trustee board Jan. 8. He is the former vice president for the Strategic Cities Strategies Group at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, where he had been on staff for seven years.

Board chairman Carl Weiser, pastor of Hyland Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., in his introduction of Roberts, read positive endorsements from Southern Baptists across the country. One such endorsement read, “You could not have found an individual anywhere in the Southern Baptist Convention more uniquely prepared to be a seminary president.”

“Dr. Roberts is all those things,” Weiser said. “God has used him in mighty, mighty ways.”

Following his introduction, Roberts thanked a packed chapel crowd and reiterated his commitment to the “truths” of Scripture, noting that its power “will change our world and will change lives.”

“I’m absolutely 100 percent committed to make that clear from my beginning point here this morning,” Roberts said. “To let you know how absolutely committed I am to seminary training and education based on the truth and inerrancy and reliability and power of the Word of God.”

Roberts asked those in chapel to pray he will have the “wisdom of Solomon … a heart for God like David … the zealousness of the apostle Paul, the courage of Peter — post Pentecost [and] the spiritual sensitivity and insight on our Lord and Master and love for him like the apostle John.” Roberts said he would pray through the seminary directory for each person listed.

Lauding two others as those among his “contemporary friends and heroes,” Roberts introduced chapel speaker James Merritt, Southern Baptist Convention president and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville, and Paul Negrut, president of the Romanian Baptist Union and Emanuel University and Seminary in Oradea, Romania.

Negut spoke briefly of Roberts’ involvement in ministry in Eastern Europe when he was a pastor in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and of his work at the campus in Romania.

“I came all the way from Romania for this day,” Negrut said. “Your president is one of the first and few who dared to cross the line into enemy territory, it was his God that brought us together. You have a president who has a heart for the Lord and who has a vision. I came here to let you know that God gave you a man who loves the Lord and he loves to teach, but more than that, he loves to see the world coming to know Jesus Christ.”

In an interview after chapel, Negut said Roberts, whom he has known for decades, is “sort of a legend” in Easter Europe and “greatly admired” by the people there.

Merritt also spoke highly of Roberts, after an introduction in which Roberts said Merritt had left a legacy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. as “a conservative — back in the days when it was not cool to be conservative.”

After his genial greeting, Merritt finished a story Roberts told earlier about sharing Christ with a waitress at a restaurant across the street from the Kansas City campus.

“I watched your seminary president very tenderly and lovingly, like a newborn baby, share the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Merritt said. “I watched your seminary president lead a waitress to Jesus Christ. That is the heart of Phil Roberts.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan