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Seminaries highlight strength, accountability to churches

PHOENIX (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s six seminaries are among the strongest and fastest-growing seminaries in the nation, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told messengers gathered for the SBC annual meeting June 17-18 at the Phoenix Civic Center.

Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and current head of the SBC Council of Seminary Presidents, said in his report on the state of the SBC theological institutions that one of the keys to the seminaries’ success is that they are accountable to members of Southern Baptist churches.

“Your Southern Baptist seminaries understand what theological education exists for [and] whom they serve,” Mohler said. All of the seminaries adhere to the principles of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and are proud of that fact, he continued. “We are the only six [theological] schools that are bound by that confession, because we answer to you.”

Total enrollment at the six seminaries continues to climb, with students being trained in a variety of ministries. As the number and type of ministries provided by Southern Baptist churches have grown over the years, so have the range of programs and degrees offered by the seminaries, Mohler said.

In response to a question by a messenger after his report, Mohler assured the crowd that pastoral ministry was still the heart of a seminary education — from San Francisco to North Carolina and every school in between.

“At the center of our charge is the training of pastors,” he said. “Every church must have a faithful pastor, and that is the center of our calling.”

This year’s meeting also marked the final report by Ken Hemphill as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Hemphill is stepping down to take a position as national strategist for the convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative.

Hemphill highlighted a healthy student count at the Texas seminary, financial support that remains strong and a faculty that continues to be strengthened with new acquisitions. Hemphill also thanked the convention for the opportunity to serve in Fort Worth and said that he looks forward to serving in his new role.

“Paula and I are excited to be chosen to serve Southern Baptists in our national emphasis on Empowering Kingdom Growth,” Hemphill said.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley noted that the seminary had its highest enrollment ever last year. Despite being in a place that is not often noted for its evangelical influence, Kelley said God is working mightily among the seminary’s students.

Kelley’s report also noted that the seminary’s faculty has grown from 41 to 60, adding positions in philosophy, women’s ministry, leadership and counseling, among others.

Speaking specifically about Southern Seminary, Mohler noted that the modern church is at a “turning point” and the seminaries must be prepared to produce graduates ready to deal with the challenges of a modern culture that treats biblical truth as out of step with the times.

“The challenges to the church now are more numerous and more pressing than any other generation in Christian history,” he said.

Mohler highlighted Southern’s faculty, saying they did not consider adherence to the Baptist Faith and Message and accountability to churches as a burden.

“They see it not as an imposition but as an honor to teach the Gospel once for all delivered to the saints,” he said.

Mohler also took a question from one messenger who wondered if there were “five-point Calvinists” on Southern’s faculty, and if there were, how that coincided with the Baptist Faith and Message’s article on God’s purpose of grace.

He said that he sees “no conflict between” the BF&M and the seminary’s Abstract of Principles and that every faculty member is held accountable in teaching what the BF&M states.

Southern Baptists have always had different “streams” of belief concerning the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom, Mohler said.

God “saves by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and salvation comes to all who call upon His name,” Mohler said. He added that when addressing the issue he likes to quote 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon, who, when asked how he reconciles sovereignty and free will, said he would not “reconcile friends.”

Doctrinal discussions are “a sign of denominational health. Dying denomination don’t care,” Mohler said, while challenging Southern Baptists to learn and study the Gospel and to “take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

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  • Jason Hall