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SBC seminary presidents report to messengers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reports from two of the SBC seminaries will be posted during the week of June 16.

BALTIMORE (BP) –- Presidents of Southern Baptist Convention seminaries noted growth in enrollment and financial support in their reports to messengers June 11 at the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore.

MIDWESTERN — Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is enjoying record enrollment, major financial gifts and academic expansion, President Jason Allen announced in his report to the SBC.

Midwestern has avoided crises of resources, identity and mission common at other theological institutions in America, Allen said, thanking Southern Baptist churches for their support through the Cooperative Program.

“I’m pleased to report to the messengers of this convention that there is no crisis in Kansas City,” Allen reported. “Our resources are not in abundance but they are more than adequate, and we are responsibly stewarding all that God has entrusted to us.”

Allen said Midwestern Seminary’s primary commitment is not to seek the approval of the academic or the broader evangelical world, but to train pastors, ministers and missionaries to serve in Southern Baptist churches.

“There is no ambiguity as to why Midwestern Seminary exists,” Allen said. “Anyone who knows much of anything about Midwestern Seminary knows we exist for the church.”

Midwestern’s spring enrollment was the largest spring enrollment in its history and interjected the student body with new vitality, Allen said.

“These students are arriving on campus eager to give their lives for the cause of Christ and eager to be equipped for such a ministry,” he said.

Midwestern Seminary’s new $12 million chapel complex was dedicated debt free this spring, thanks to a generous gift from Gene and Jo Downing of Oklahoma. The seminary received $5 million in gifts and pledges over the past year, Allen said. Christian George, formerly of Oklahoma Baptist University, has joined Midwestern’s staff as curator of the Spurgeon Library.

“Dr. George’s hiring is one of the several key steps in positioning the Spurgeon Collection and the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching as a world-class, internationally-known hub of Spurgeon scholarship and preaching instruction,” Allen said.

Midwestern is aiming to double its master of divinity enrollment over the next five years and has increased its doctoral offerings, especially in its doctor of philosophy program, Allen said.

“We are especially proud to have expanded our Ph.D. offerings to include biblical theology, biblical ethics, biblical missiology, biblical ministry and biblical preaching, all offered in nonresidential formats,” Allen said. “With more than 500 students, our doctoral program ranks as one of the largest in the world, and its growth continues to accelerate.”

The seminary has launched its Midwestern Training Network, a strategic partnership with churches to facilitate theological education within the local church, and has retooled its undergraduate program led by John Mark Yeats, the new dean of Midwestern Baptist College.

Allen concluded his report by expressing renewed conviction to lead Midwestern into the future.

“Institutional convictions and mission are often lost, but seldom regained. When God blessed the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, He did not give us the assurance of His perpetual blessing on our efforts,” Allen said. “He gave us a second chance. The promise that began in 1957 [with Midwestern’s founding] — that was recovered in the 1980s and 1990s — is being realized and fulfilled in new and unprecedented ways in Kansas City. By God’s grace and for His glory, it will persist.”

SOUTHERN — “Vast shifts” in American culture present an “unmistakably huge” task to future generations of pastors, missionaries and evangelists, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said in his report to the SBC.

“We can no longer live with the illusion of what sociologists used to call ‘American exceptionalism,'” said Mohler, who this summer begins the 22nd year of his presidency. “America, as it turns out, was not the exception to the trend of secularization; we were just behind Europe. And we are fast catching up.”

He described the “vast shift” in “American society over the last 200 years,” citing polls that indicate one-third of Americans younger than 30 claim no religious affiliation. Claiming that no one alive today has experienced “a time such as this,” Mohler said Christians live “in a time morally when the world is turning on its axis.”

This “moral upheaval,” Mohler said, “presents an enormous challenge to every preacher, every evangelist and every missionary.”

With the “totality of these challenges,” Mohler stated the task of Southern Seminary: “We now understand that the task we have is unmistakably huge. And we should recognize that that is exactly where the Lord Jesus Christ directed His church to be, ready to face that challenge with the full measure of biblical conviction, armed with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and with the knowledge of what God has spoken in His Word.”

Comparing the current generation’s challenges with those in the book of Acts, Mohler said the seminary trains ministers of the Gospel to respond to these challenges in the same way Peter did in Acts: 10. Peter “opened his mouth.”

“The Lord is raising up a generation ready to open their mouths and speak all that the Lord has commanded,” Mohler said. “And Southern Seminary is committed to training up a generation of those who will open their mouths and say what Gospel faithfulness requires and all that Gospel faithfulness requires.”

The seminary will enroll this fall more than 4,600 students, more than at any other time in the school’s history, Mohler said, including more than 1,700 master of divinity students. Those pursuing the M.Div. comprise the largest such group assembled at one time in one institution in the history of theological education, Mohler reported.

Mohler described three initiatives by which the seminary prepares students to speak to the challenges of the day.

First, the school’s Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization helps the seminary train students in evangelism, missions and church planting, and helps equip and send students and faculty on short-term missions trips globally.

To address the ever-increasing global influence of Islam, the seminary’s Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam exists to inform and train students and faculty to engage Muslims for the sake of the Gospel, Mohler said.

He also highlighted the Mathena Center for Congregational Revitalization, an initiative to train ministers in reviving declining and dying churches.

Concluding his report, Mohler thanked messengers for their support and for funding the seminary through the Cooperative Program.

NEW ORLEANS — With New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s centennial just three years away, President Chuck Kelley opened his SBC report with a glimpse of history.

“In 1917, Southern Baptists did something they’d never done before in their history: they decided to give birth to a seminary,” Kelley said, noting that there were then only five or six Southern Baptist churches in New Orleans. “It was not exactly easy pickings for a seminary, but [New Orleans] was absolutely crucial to the United States economy. It was a place of great world significance. And [Southern Baptists] wanted a place for training ministers where ministry was going to be part of the curriculum.”

Today, New Orleans is consistently ranked a top city for entrepreneurs and business. The movie industry is booming in New Orleans, which ranks behind only Hollywood and New York in movie production. Millennials, underrepresented in Southern Baptist churches, are moving to New Orleans in droves, Kelley noted.

“Now imagine that. Nearly a hundred years later, New Orleans is ground zero for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Kelley said. “A place where the Great Commission is not a conversation, nor is it a trip or a field experience. It is the daily life of all of us that are there.

“It is a good thing to be in the city of New Orleans.”

NOBTS has dedicated the Doris Kelley Showers of Blessing Resource Center on its main campus. Named for Kelley’s late mother, the center will house a homeschool program and a campus community center. The seminary will launch in August the Leake Magee Center for Christian Counseling, which will offer counseling services for campus families and community families alike. Kelley described the dire need for counseling services in the city.

“In New Orleans after Katrina, we lost nearly all of our Christian ministries for counseling and helping broken people,” Kelley said, adding that there are only 25 mental health beds in the entire city. “So we are going to use this center for counseling to introduce people to Jesus Christ, and there will be professions of faith from the community as they come to us to learn how Jesus can make a difference in healing broken lives. Both you and I know, at that He excels.”

Last year, more than 3,800 students trained for ministry at NOBTS, which offers 10 degrees entirely online and non-residential doctoral programs. The seminary is expanding its extension center network and offering credit through events, conferences, workshops, mission trips and study tours. Additionally, students are free to weave together any combination of class formats to suit their needs.

“Everything we do is like Legos — it all fits together,” Kelley said. “We are putting the needs of our students at the center of how we do theological education.”

Kelley briefed messengers on the new Caskey Center for Church Excellence, a partnership with an anonymous donor who gave an initial $1.5 million to provide free theological education for small church (less than 250 in attendance) and bi-vocational pastors and staff of Louisiana Southern Baptist churches. The goal is to provide up to $6,000 per year, a full scholarship, for up to 100 students who qualify.

The program targets the overwhelming majority of Louisiana churches, 91 percent of which have less than 250 in attendance each Sunday. Convention-wide, 89 percent of churches fit that category.

“We are a convention of small churches,” Kelley said.

With more than 125 applicants to date, response has been so great that just two weeks ago the anonymous donor gave an additional $1.5 million to bolster the program, Kelley said.

“And then as I’m walking to our alumni luncheon today, in the hallway of the convention, I was handed an envelope” containing an additional $1.5 million, Kelley said.

Kelley closed by challenging messengers to never be discouraged, to always trust God and to always serve faithfully, in spite of difficult circumstances.

“I don’t want you to ever forget as you are laboring and working, as you are doing work that is unappreciated and appears to be unnoticed by everyone around you, you remember God is always at work,” Kelley said.

SOUTHWESTERN — In his report to the convention Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson praised students and faculty members for their evangelistic zeal and answered a messenger’s question regarding admission of a Muslim into the school’s archaeology program.

After showing a seminary-produced video about alumni working to translate Scripture among unreached people groups in China, Patterson praised students and faculty for fulfilling the seminary’s motto, “Preach the Word, Reach the World.” He described an atmosphere of evangelism that has spread on campus, as teams regularly go into the community to share Christ and students and professors practice personal evangelism everywhere they go.

“I’m very grateful for the enthusiasm of our faculty and our students for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Patterson said.

Patterson then opened the floor to answer questions from messengers.

Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and a messenger from First Baptist Church of Keller, Texas, described a partnership between the seminary and SBTC to provide a bachelor’s degree program to inmates in the Darrington Prison Unit near Houston. Richards then asked Patterson to explain why the seminary admits atheists and other non-Christians into such a program.

Patterson said Southwestern patterned the work after a similar program provided by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Angola Prison in Louisiana. As a requirement of the state, the seminary was not allowed to discriminate against non-Christians in the admissions process, Patterson said. He also noted that the program is privately funded through donors, receiving no funds from the state.

“We have no choice,” Patterson said. “We have to admit [non-Christians] into the class, but the wonderful thing, of course, as you would guess, is that as they study in class, they are coming to know the Lord.”

For students who cannot get into the degree program, “we have Bible studies going on where formerly all kinds of things were going on, and we thank God for that. It shows the power of the Gospel in any context,” Patterson said.

In a second question, William Blosch, a messenger from First Newark Baptist Church in Thomasville, Ga., asked Patterson for “a straightforward explanation as to why, at your direction, the seminary admitted a Muslim student on campus in violation of the seminary’s charter and your admissions guidelines.”

Prior to offering an explanation, Patterson noted that this was his 63rd consecutive SBC annual meeting and said this year’s meeting was the “greatest convention that we have ever had,” noting the great things God is doing within the convention.

“Therefore, you can probably understand then, in light of that, why it is today that I come to you with an apology,” Patterson said.

“I owe the convention an apology, particularly to all of you that I have caused sorrow, heartache, disillusionment or any other kind of sorrow,” he said.

“I apologize to the whole convention that after as great of a convention that we have had, that it would come down to a report like this where I have to make that apology.”

Patterson also apologized to his family, Southwestern’s faculty and the school’s board of trustees. He took full responsibility for the exception to the admissions policies, noting it was his decision alone.

Patterson then explained the circumstances of the exception. Southwestern leads two archaeological digs, one in Israel and one on the island of Cyprus. Participants at the dig sites include Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of other faith traditions that are interested in archaeology.

The student who was admitted is a Palestinian from a Muslim background. Having observed Southwestern’s students and faculty, the young man asked to be admitted into the Ph.D. program in archaeology, Patterson said.

“I fell in love with” the student, Patterson said, “because he was a remarkable young man, very open at this point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I explained to him that it would be most unusual, but eventually I did make the exception to the rule.

“I made an exception to a rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, that the president has a right to make if he feels it is important. He was admitted as a special student in the Ph.D. program, and that is not with Cooperative Program assistance.”

Patterson explained that the student has studied on Southwestern’s campus and has not been a problem in any way.

“In fact, we think the odds are pretty good with 2,800 sold-out evangelists and one Muslim student,” Patterson said.

“I have apologized to you in a heartfelt way,” Patterson continued. “I should not have disrupted the convention and did not do it knowingly, but apparently I did, and I am sorry.

“It is a different question what I will say to God when I stand before the judgment seat of the Lord.”

Patterson recounted two previous exceptions he made to admissions policies, one admitting an atheist to Criswell College and the other admitting a Syrian Orthodox Priest to seminary. Both students came to Christ during their studies, Patterson said. He also cited an article just published online by Malcolm Yarnell that tells the story of Southwestern Seminary founder B.H. Carroll, who entered Baylor University as an atheist at the exception of school president Rufus Burleson (see theologicalmatters.com/2014/06/11/the-evangelistic-seminary/).

“Well, what will I say to God?” Patterson asked. He then shared a passage from Ezekiel 3:17-18, concluding, “I believe that when I stand before the Lord God, I’m going to say, ‘Dear God, I violated a policy, but I didn’t want to stand before You with blood on my hands. Dear God, I did the best I knew how.'”

Steven James, chairman of Southwestern’s board of trustees, concluded the report with a statement assuring messengers that the board’s executive committee will meet in September and the full board will meet in October to address the issue.

“The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, whom you have selected and elected, have heard you,” James told messengers. “Your concerns are our concerns. We take them to heart, and we take the role and responsibility that you have given to us very seriously.

“The concerns that you have expressed … will all weigh into those discussions that we have as a board and with our president, whom I believe in. So, what I ask of you is to not so much talk among yourselves but talk to the Lord. Intercede for us, for this president, for the presidents of every seminary, for the students of every seminary, for the challenges in life they face, so that we can rise up and be the denomination, be the people, who don’t act like Christians, we act like Christ.”
Based on reports from Tim Sweetman of Midwestern Seminary, Aaron Cline Hanbury of Southern Seminary, Frank Michael McCormack of New Orleans Seminary and Keith Collier of Southwestern Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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