LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recorded its 200th commencement Dec. 7.
The milestone also featured a record 204 fall graduates and two graduating father and son pairs, Tom and Jonathan Elliff and Jeffrey and Timothy Girdler.
SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr., in his commencement address, noted that the Old Testament prophet Samuel is “a wonderful paradigm for Christian ministry” because he was an instrument that God used to bring the light of truth to a dark period in Israel’s history.
“Samuel is not merely the little boy who was left at the temple, but he became a man of crucial importance to the history of Israel and to the history of God working in His church,” Mohler said.
Preaching from 1 Samuel 3, Mohler pointed graduates to God’s calling of Samuel as a prophet, noting that God calls His ministers objectively by speaking to them through His Word. And He calls them subjectively, Mohler said, by speaking to their hearts and through the church’s confirmation of their ministerial gifts.
“We need to be humbly reminded that we did not volunteer for this,” Mohler said. “No one should enter the Christian ministry because when some career inventory in high school was taken, some guidance counselor said, ‘You look like a minister to me.’
“This isn’t the process of some kind of analysis. Moses stuttered and could not even speak. Paul was the great enemy of the Gospel of Christ. None of us is here — neither on the faculty or in the graduating class — who is qualified for the Christian ministry. It is entirely a matter of God’s grace.”
Central to the minister’s calling is the command to speak God’s truth, Mohler said. Samuel spoke God’s Word to Israel, a divinely-ordained role that was never easy, Mohler said, because it often included communicating to the people of Israel God’s judgment of their disobedience.
In the same way, a minister who clearly articulates the Gospel will not put himself in a position of popularity with men, Mohler said, but he must never hesitate to speak the Word of God.
“If it were an easy thing to speak what God has spoken, then God would not need ministers, supernaturally called, supernaturally equipped, Holy Spirit inspired, Holy Spirit protected in order to do this thing,” Mohler said.
“Anyone who thinks the Christian ministry is easy, even in terms of the central function of teaching and preaching, really doesn’t understand it. This is explosive, this is dangerous and eternity hangs in the balance.”
The biblical account of Samuel also includes an implicit warning to false shepherds, Mohler said, because Samuel’s faithfulness is contrasted with the gross sinfulness of Eli’s sons and king Saul.
“It is good for us as ministers to be continually confronted by this reality of false ministers in order that in humility we would lean upon the Lord as our only sure protection,” Mohler said. “We must determine that we will bring no dishonor upon the church, upon the Gospel, nor upon this institution by how we serve.”
In the days of Samuel, God rarely spoke. Mohler reminded graduates that, like Samuel, they may serve in places where the Word of God is scarcely, if at all, heard. He admonished them to persevere in their calling as heralds of the truth of the Gospel of Christ.
“As you prepare to graduate and as you prepare to go into the fields of service in this country and around this world, I hope you are fired by a passion to bring light to darkness,” Mohler said.
KELLEY, AT COMMENCEMENT, COMMENDS NOBTS FACULTY — Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, congratulated another graduating class for persevering through the obstacles to their education from Hurricane Katrina.
“No one can begin to describe everything that these precious student families and faculty families faced during that time,” Kelley said during the seminary’s 90th commencement Dec. 15 in which 145 graduates were honored, including 10 who earned the doctor of philosophy degree.
Kelley noted that the seminary’s faculty ranked in the top 15 in a “Faculty Scholarly Productivity” index by the research firm Academic Analytics, encompassing universities, colleges, divinity schools and seminaries in the United States.
“Seventy percent of these men and women on the platform behind me lost everything they had [in the hurricane],” Kelley said of the faculty. “With their lives in total chaos, without having any access to the campus or even to their offices for … months and months, this group of men and women … made a commitment to keep on teaching. They literally reinvented the entire curriculum. They found ways to teach every single course that they had started before Katrina struck.”
Kelley called the faculty “a great collection of heroes” who performed “one of the greatest accomplishments of any theological faculty in the history of the world.”
Kelley also praised the tenacity of the graduating class, many of whom lost everything when Katrina hit.
“Losing everything you have at any time in your life is always hard, but when you are on a student budget, it’s especially tough,” Kelley said. “One of the reasons that this faculty made the determination to keep on teaching is that 85 percent of our students wanted to continue with their studies in the aftermath of the storm…. These men and women that we are honoring today were so passionate about their commitment to Jesus Christ, so passionate about the ministry to which God had called them that even in the worst of circumstances they wanted to keep on with their education. Students, I salute you for that.”
Kelley, in a commencement address drawn from Luke 24:49, in which Jesus instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with the power” of God, noted, “God intends for every one of you to have a vital, powerful, effective ministry. We can’t give that out at seminary…. That kind of power comes only from the hand of God.”
Such power, Kelley said, “must be sought. You will not get it just for showing up for work in ministry. You must look into the face of your heavenly Father. You must be on your knees in prayer and you must ask and seek and knock until that power comes…. It has to be deposited in your heart and in your soul.”
Eighty-two students received graduate degrees, including 10 who earned the doctor of philosophy degree.
Kelley reminded the 145 graduates at the seminary’s 90th commencement Dec. 15 that even with their academic training and ministry experience, they can accomplish nothing without the life-changing power of God.
TESTIMONIES VOICED AT GOLDEN GATE COMMENCEMENT — Commencement ceremonies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary Dec. 14 featured the testimonies of two graduates. Ross Reinman, a doctor of ministry graduate, recounted how the seminary’s faculty and students were a source of comfort and support as he faced chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and other treatments associated with second-stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It is overwhelming to witness God’s goodness to provide for me,” said Reinman, who is now cancer-free.
Rebecca Slick, a master of divinity graduate, told about starting a ministry in a San Francisco community known for drug use and a large number of homeless people.
“It was amazing to witness God’s healing and to learn what it means to have unconditional love,” Slick said during her testimony.
Andrew Marquez, a master of divinity graduate, was given the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award, which is named for the former Golden Gate Seminary president and his wife for students who exhibit exceptional leadership potential. It is the highest recognition bestowed upon a Golden Gate student and is typically awarded annually to one graduate from the winter class and one graduate from the spring class.
A total of 62 students from 13 states graduated from the seminary during the ceremony at First Baptist Church in San Francisco.
Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Seminary, preached from Philippians 2 as he challenged the graduates to have character that reflects the nature of God.
“If you lead a moral lifestyle, you will stand out,” Iorg said. “When you speak up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you will shine like a star.”
Iorg also encouraged the graduates to trust and rely on God for strength for their ministry.
“Don’t go out thinking you can accomplish your ministry goals on your own. It is only through God’s grace and power that you will truly be successful.”
145 GRADUATE AT SOUTHEASTERN — From the text of John 3:16, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said his prayer is for the 145 graduates to be adequately prepared for their lives of service to God’s Kingdom.
Akin, at the seminary’s commencement Dec. 14 in Wake Forest, N.C., called the verse “the heart of the Gospel.”
A total of 113 graduates from 15 states and eight other countries received master’s or doctoral degrees, while 32 bachelor’s and associate degrees were conferred on students from four states.
Of the graduates, Akin said, “They believe there is a God who loves and a Savior who saves and boys and girls around the world who need to hear the Gospel.”
Borrowing a quote from renowned pastor Charles Spurgeon, Akin said, “Our duty and our privilege is to exhaust our lives for Jesus.”
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” is the “divine love story for sinners like you and like me,” Akin said.
“This phrase explains why graduates will go out into the world…. Wherever there are people, there are sinners. This is the stop-off point for those that need to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Akin said.
Akin also called John 3:16 the greatest invitation ever extended.
“All sinners are objects of God’s love,” he said. “‘Whosoever’ includes you and includes me.” At the end of his address, Akin extended the invitation to the graduation guests, saying, “‘Have everlasting life.’ It’s the greatest possession and the greatest blessing.”
223 GRADUATE AT SOUTHWESTERN — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary conferred degrees to 223 students from 27 states and eight countries Dec. 14, including seven undergraduate students who received diplomas in theology, 200 master’s students and 16 doctoral students.
Paige Patterson, the seminary’s president, reminded graduates that their callings differ from the thousands of other graduates across the nation who will be stepping out to pursue lucrative careers.
“Your calling is very different,” Patterson said. “Most of you will never make much money…. Most of you will never be widely known. A few of you will, but most of you will work in relative oblivion…. But like Isaiah, the message that you go forth to proclaim is the only one that has the prospect of changing the lives of men and women, both for time and eternity.”
Nearly 800 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah stood out as a prophet of God among the people of Israel, Patterson said. At the time, the nation of Israel was overwhelmed with religious pluralism, much like the United States is today.
Isaiah’s message rings as true today as it did then, Patterson said. As recorded in Isaiah 7 and 9, Isaiah prophesied the birth of a child who would bring worldwide peace. Patterson encouraged Southwestern graduates to proclaim the message of the child, Jesus, who is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.
“You are venturing forth into a world more troubled than any world previous to this one,” Patterson said. “Not in all the annals of human history have people been as confused and as misguided and as concerned as to what their future may be…. And your assignment is to take to the 7 billion people on the face of this globe the wonderful message that there is a way to have peace in your heart and in your life and to guarantee the peace of eternity.”
In order to proclaim the message effectively, Patterson said graduates must be committed completely to God and dedicated to morally and ethically sound lifestyles. If Southwestern graduates guard their Christian walk closely, Patterson said, unbelievers will know that they are men and women of God who have a message from God.
Compiled by Erin Roach & Art Toalston of Baptist Press, with reporting by Jeff Robinson, director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and writers Paul F. South of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Benjamin Hawkins of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.