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Seminaries report to Orlando messengers

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention were reminded of the importance of theological education through reports from the convention’s six seminaries during the June 15-16 sessions in Orlando, Fla.

Summaries of the seminaries’ reports follow:

GOLDEN GATE — Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary continues to fulfill its mission of shaping leaders who expand God’s Kingdom around the world, Jeff Iorg, the seminary’s president, told Southern Baptists.

“You have placed us in the American west to prepare global leaders,” Iorg said June 16. “We are delighted to report your seminary on the West Coast is healthy and doing what you have asked us to do — shaping leaders who will change our world.”

Iorg introduced the seminary’s strategic plan, a guide to the academic year 2019-20, when the five-campus system will celebrate its 75th anniversary. Because it will be the diamond anniversary, the strategy is called “The Diamond Plan” and states the seminary’s mission, vision, values and goals for the next 10 years.

A key part of the plan, Iorg said, was restating the seminary’s core values.

“First, we believe the Bible is the Word of God,” he said. “Because our campuses are located in some of the most spiritually challenging areas of our country, with our primary campus near San Francisco, standing for biblical positions on issues like sexuality, medical ethics, protection for the unborn, and gender identity makes us a definite minority.

“It’s not easy to stand for things we believe in, but we do it. We believe the Bible, live the Bible, teach the Bible and trust God to use its message to transform lives,” Iorg said.

He told messengers to be encouraged by the seminary’s example.

“When you find yourself in a community or culture that doesn’t share your values, stand strong anyway. You can stand for truth, live the Gospel, reach the lost, and yes, even raise a healthy family in these trying circumstances,” Iorg said.

He reminded the messengers that Golden Gate is training leaders to stand strong in “a hurricane of cultural opposition and societal change.”

The second value Iorg listed was being Spirit-empowered.

“At Golden Gate, we admit we are not big enough, wealthy enough or smart enough to accomplish anything of eternal consequence,” he said. “We are not ashamed to admit we need the power of the Holy Spirit for our work.”

The third value was strengthening churches.

“The church — local, organized and covenanted — is God’s plan and will always be God’s plan for discipling the nations,” Iorg said. “At Golden Gate, we are shaping leaders to start churches, revive churches and lead churches.”

As a corollary, Iorg said Golden Gate has a renewed passion for training pastors.

“Many students come to seminary these days willing to do almost anything in ministry except be a pastor,” he said. “We are confronting this at Golden Gate. We believe pastors are significant Kingdom leaders. We are elevating the call to pastoral ministry and challenging students to take on this important office. ”

Another value was embracing the multicultural community.

“Leaders of our national accrediting agency have called Golden Gate the most multicultural seminary in North America,” Iorg said. “As the next step in the expansion of our multinational program, we anticipate launching a new master of intercultural ministry degree in the fall of 2011 to further prepare leaders for multiethnic, multinational ministries not only in the U.S. but around the world.”

A plan must have more than values. It must also be implemented, Iorg said. One of the first implementation steps was to employ an independent firm to objectively survey a broad spectrum of Southern Baptists to discover what people think about Golden Gate. Iorg shared two highlights of what was learned.

“First, Southern Baptists across the United States have a high regard for Golden Gate. In the Western United States, 95 percent of people surveyed said they have a ‘favorable’ or ‘somewhat favorable’ opinion of the seminary,” he said.

Secondly, one of the strengths seminary alumni reported was the strong commitment to Baptist theology and the biblical preparation they received at Golden Gate.

“We are a Baptist seminary, without apology,” Iorg said. “At Golden Gate, we teach students biblically-based Baptist doctrine and practice. And based on our survey responses, students are living out the training they receive.”

As he concluded, Iorg told messengers how they can help the seminary.

“First, pray for us. Many of you pray for us and send us notes of encouragement. Keep it up. We need it.”

Iorg also asked Southern Baptists to prioritize Cooperative Program giving in their churches.

“The Cooperative Program funds employees at Golden Gate Seminary. It also funds students by enabling us to keep tuition low,” he said, adding that graduates are leaving the seminary for the mission fields unencumbered by significant debt.

“Finally, you can help us by sending us students,” Iorg said. “Our survey showed the most important factor in a student’s choice of seminary is still a personal recommendation from a friend or mentor. Your influence matters more than a website, brochure or e-mail. We are a long way from where most of you live, but if you send us students, we will train them to change the world.

“In 2019-20, we’re inviting the SBC to come west to the San Francisco Bay Area to celebrate with us. But don’t wait that long. Come and visit us. We’ll welcome you, we’ll inspire you and we’ll thank you for your support. ”

MIDWESTERN — R. Philip Roberts, in Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual report to the Southern Baptist Convention, updated messengers on the progress of its chapel construction project and unveiled the new fully accredited online master’s degree program.

The seminary is in the midst of building a 40,000-square-foot chapel complex on its Kansas City, Mo., campus that Roberts, Midwestern’s president, said will enhance learning opportunities for students, create room for larger events and ultimately free up room to consolidate and upgrade the present library.

“This project is largely driven by volunteer help. We’re so delighted to have the assistance of Builders for Christ in Birmingham, Ala.,” Roberts said. “They are involving, enlisting and bringing to us, at their expense, over 1,500 workers for the cause of building this chapel during the course of this summer.”

The volunteers will invest more than 70,000 hours equating to about $2 million in labor costs toward the project.

Roberts shared a story about an added benefit the project: As construction has progressed, Roberts met a worker, Darwin Gardner, from the general contractor, J.E. Dunn, who said that after spending time with the volunteers he noticed a difference between working with them and regular construction professionals.

Roberts told Gardner that the difference was their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and he shared the Gospel with Gardner. Two days later, Gardner accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

“This process isn’t about building buildings. It’s about investing in lives and making a difference for the cause of the Gospel,” Roberts said.

Another key development at Midwestern Baptist College, Roberts said, is the addition of an online master’s degree the seminary will launch July 1 named the master of arts in theological studies.

The 45-credit-hour online program consists of the core courses necessary to attain a master of divinity. Classes are available every eight weeks, and if a student takes one course each term, a degree can be earned in just over two years.

“If you’re interested in, need and want this assistance anywhere in the world, you can study with us at Midwestern,” Roberts said, adding that students can roll the hours taken for the master of arts into a master of divinity at a later time if desired.

Roberts said the master of arts in theological studies online program is a first for Southern Baptist seminaries, and the coursework is fully accredited by the North Central Association of the Higher Learning Commission and has been approved by the Association of Theological Schools.

Roberts continued his report by speaking about the seminary’s FUSION program, which provides incoming college freshmen a time of training in evangelism and disaster relief and a semester of credit hours for theological studies. Roberts said that in the FUSION trainees’ second semester, they deploy overseas to places such as Sudan, Haiti, Kosovo and India to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. Roberts added that while overseas, the students serve with International Mission Board workers in various ministry areas.

“Pray for these students, and if you have high school seniors getting ready to graduate, think about FUSION for them,” Roberts said. “We want them to come back with missionary DNA instilled in their lives, hearts and minds for the cause of Christ.”

Referencing the 6,500-volume C.H. Spurgeon collection now housed at Midwestern’s library, Roberts noted that once the new chapel is completed, there are plans to convert the existing chapel into expanded library space.

“One of the areas for expansion is to provide housing and a reconstructed library for Spurgeon’s personal collection,” he said. “We have the privilege of using this resource as a historical archive and as an inspiration for students in years ahead to live a life like Spurgeon lived and to be the kind of person that he was for the cause of Christ and the cause of the Gospel.”

NEW ORLEANS — In his report to messengers, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Chuck Kelley spoke about the “redeeming touch of Jesus Christ” on the seminary and the city of New Orleans in the five years since Hurricane Katrina.

Dressed in the shirt he wore during his Katrina evacuation in 2005, Kelley recalled the devastation of the city and the campus. He admitted that the situation seemed almost hopeless as he watched television coverage of the aftermath from a hotel room in Birmingham, Ala.

“I was shocked, overwhelmed and almost overcome by the crushing weight settling onto my shoulders,” Kelley said. “In one moment in time we went from being one of the largest seminaries in the world to being homeless, helpless and almost hopeless.”

But Kelley clung to God’s Word, finding great comfort in Psalm 46.

“What I saw is that we have a Savior who could,” Kelley said. “After five years I stand before you to report that Jesus could repair even our brokenness, and He did.”

Kelley praised the selfless work of SBC disaster relief workers who came early and often to help rebuild the seminary and the city. According to Kelley, the service of these volunteers changed to the image of Baptists in New Orleans.

He thanked all of the SBC entities that sacrificed their own resources to ensure New Orleans Seminary’s recovery. A special allocation of $6 million from the Cooperative Program became the largest single gift toward the seminary’s relief efforts, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary sent multiple teams to help restore the campus.

“The SBC family rallied, and Jesus began to redeem,” Kelley said.

The redeeming touch of Christ can be seen in the growing enrollment at NOBTS, Kelley said, and in innovative training ideas that have developed following the storm.

One of those new training initiatives, Unlimited Partnerships, grew out of the post-Katrina challenges facing New Orleans-area churches. Bill Taylor saw the needs of the churches firsthand and developed a creative plan to address those needs, Kelley said.

A joint effort of NOBTS, the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, SBC churches throughout the nation and the SBC Executive Committee, Unlimited Partnerships involves seminary students in the evangelism and discipleship efforts of recovering churches in the region. The students are mentored by ministers at partner churches throughout the nation.

Kelley said that 14 of the 19 New Orleans-area churches participating in Unlimited Partnerships have reported 36 percent growth in worship attendance and 62 percent growth in Sunday School attendance.

“Hurricane Katrina taught us that you do not have to have a seminary campus in order to do theological education,” Kelley said. “Our goal for all of our academic programs is to make them as accessible as possible to any man or woman called of God for the service of the Gospel ministry. Never before have there been more ways to get your theological education than NOBTS now offers.”

Kelley cited the ministry wife certificate program as one example of how NOBTS is reaching a goal of accessibility. Through an endowment gift by Tommy French, a longtime Louisiana pastor, ministers’ wives throughout the world can receive training via the Internet.

“Although this August will be the five year mark since the storm, much remains to be done in the city and on the campus,” Kelley said.

The seminary is still missing 92 apartments destroyed by Katrina, and Kelley asked messengers to pray that God would provide for the construction of apartments to meet the growing campus enrollment.

In closing, Kelley reminded messengers of God’s ability to redeem even the darkest circumstances. New Orleans Seminary, he said, can serve as a living illustration that a long journey through trouble does not have to be endless.

“Never forget. Never forget. We have a Savior who could,” Kelley said. “He could take a hotel room filled with overwhelming sorrow and grief beyond expression and transform them into an unshakeable confidence that gave me the courage to believe redemption was coming.

“He could bring a devastated seminary back from the brink of destruction and make a healthy and whole seminary today,” he said. “That same Savior is with you tonight and will be with you all the days of your journey. He will bring you all the way home.”

SOUTHEASTERN — Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is collaborating with local churches to fulfill the Great Commission, Daniel Akin, the seminary’s president, said at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando June 15.

“We’re convinced there are some things ministers learn only in the context of the local church — the furnace of the local church, where they’re refined and prepared,” Akin said.

“It is our prayer that by 2015, we can be in partnership with more than 100 churches across our convention so that we can have men and women who are not only at Southeastern but who are under a godly mentor who is allowing them, day in and day out, to see what goes on in the life of the local church.”

Akin said he believes partnering with local churches is the future of healthy, theological education.

“We [the seminaries] are called to serve you, and we believe the local church can serve us as we come together in doing good, healthy, theological education that prepares men women for mission field and prepares men and women for the local church, as well,” he said.

Akin said Southeastern’s heartbeat is to get the Gospel message to the 1.6 billion people who have never heard the name of Jesus and the millions more who have very little access to the Gospel.

“Today, we take up the challenge to train more to go to the nations, to train more to go to the underserved parts of America, to go to the big cities where the need for the Gospel is so evident, and to go to the rural outposts as well,” Akin said.

This commitment to training Great Commission Christians leads Southeastern to invite people to campus who may hold differing beliefs in order to stretch the minds of the students, Akin said in response to motions that Southeastern cease inviting those with differing beliefs.

“There are occasions when people will disagree with us, but sometimes we even have atheists on campus, people who do not agree with us, so our students can figure out what they believe and why they believe,” Akin said.

Southeastern equips students by training them in a myriad of fields, from associate’s degrees to doctoral degrees. Because of the faithful support of Southern Baptists, Akin said, Southeastern has by the grace of God been able to train more men and women in fields such as missions, pastoral leadership and biblical counseling.

“If God would be so kind to allow us to see and be a part of a Great Commission Resurgence, we will all join hands together to see that the nations are brought to the throne of King Jesus,” Akin said.

SOUTHERN — Deep conviction and a passion for upholding truth and the Gospel makes it a privilege to train the current generation of students, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said June 15 during the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary report to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mohler told messengers that the importance of theological education today is almost unprecedented in light of the decline of theological fidelity in other mainline denominations. He thanked messengers for the quality of students they send from their churches to Southern Seminary.

“There is a generation coming that is ready for deployment and eager to serve,” he said. “As you see the generation coming, you do not see a diminishment of conviction. Instead you see a surge of conviction.

“You see a younger generation coming that has been tested as by fire. They have been raised in a postmodern world where they have had to define themselves as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ against all of the ideological trends this culture presents them,” Mohler said. “They are fervent, dedicated and deeply convictional believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and out of your churches they are being called.”

Southern Baptist seminaries are facing challenges with the current economic state, Mohler said, but not a crisis because of the Cooperative Program.

“You are undergirding the theological education of those young ministers and missionaries, and it is making the crucial difference,” he said.

While such financial support is critical, Mohler said, the students that the churches of the SBC send to Southern Seminary are a far greater prize.

“You entrust us with that most precious commodity: young persons called from your churches for ministry,” he said. “I want you to know what delight I find, and we find as faculty, in the students that you send us. I want to tell you that they are coming with a great love for the local church that we only hope to deepen and enrich and with a great concern for the mission fields that we wish to fuel.”

Mohler reminded messengers that 10 years ago in Orlando they led the SBC to take a clear stand on biblical truth through the adoption of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

“It was in this place at that time that Southern Baptists came together and said, ‘We are going to make clear where we stand theologically,'” he said. “‘We are going to make concrete and clear the convictions on which we stand and the convictions that are binding on all who would teach in our seminaries.'”

Mohler noted that the adoption of the BF&M 2000 was a landmark decision as a denomination voted to make its theological convictions more, and not less, clear.

“It was important 10 years ago. It is far more important now,” he said. “Ten years later the students are coming. They are enrolling in their seminaries not in spite of what this convention stands for but because of what this convention stands for.”

SOUTHWESTERN — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is training students to rediscover God’s holiness and orient their lives around it, Paige Patterson, the seminary’s president, told messengers during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 15.

Following a brief video about the seminary, Patterson expressed gratitude to Southern Baptists for their support of their six seminaries, which all rank in the top 15 largest seminaries in the world.

Patterson recounted the Old Testament story from Leviticus 10 of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who offered “strange fire before God” and died. God was teaching His people to distinguish between what is holy and what is unholy. Patterson assured messengers that Southwestern is committed to teaching students to understand the doctrine of the holiness of God.

“You see, you can do anything you want to organizationally, and ultimately it will still fail unless people come away with a concept of the holiness of God,” Patterson said.

A true understanding of God’s holiness, he said, recognizes that God is completely unlike anything else, that He owns everything and that people must approach Him properly.

“Southwestern Seminary believes deeply that the doctrine of the holiness of God has largely been lost in this day in which we live,” Patterson said. “And so, therefore, we are committed to rediscovering what it means that God is holy and training an entire generation of preachers and missionaries who will reflect that in their preaching, who will reflect that in their witnessing, who will reflect that in their missionary spirit and their willingness to go to the ends of the earth.”

Patterson praised faculty members at Southwestern who travel with students to foreign countries as well as areas in Fort Worth to evangelize and plant churches. He told the story of being unable to locate one of the professors about an important matter only to discover that the professor had led a man down the street to Christ and had been discipling him every day.

“Well, that was one kind of discovery you love to make, isn’t it?” Patterson said.
Based on reports by Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, T. Patrick Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Gary D. Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Garrett E. Wishall of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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