LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–One hundred and fifty three years ago, a young scholar named James Petigru Boyce cast a vision for theological education for his colleagues at Furman University, a vision that echoes down the halls of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary today.
Boyce proposed “three changes in theological education,” arguing that such an education should be available to all men who are called to the ministry without educational prerequisites; it should be of the highest quality; and it should be tied to a robust confession of faith to safeguard theological orthodoxy.
In 1859 Boyce and three other men, John Broadus, Basil Manly Jr. and William Williams, established Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greensville, S.C., upon Boyce’s vision. Boyce became the first president and, to answer the crucial third part of his vision, Manly penned the school’s confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles.
This year, Southern Seminary, which moved to Louisville, Ky., in 1877, is celebrating its sesquicentennial anniversary firmly upon the confessional cornerstone laid by its founding faculty 150 years ago.
This summer Southern will play host to the Southern Baptist Convention as the denomination holds its June 23-24 annual meeting in Louisville to commemorate its flagship seminary’s anniversary.
The seminary will hold several events to mark its 150th anniversary, including an alumni and friends luncheon on campus at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 24, in Heritage Hall and the main gym.
At 2 p.m., the seminary will hold a dedication ceremony for its new Sesquicentennial Pavilion.
A campus-wide open house will follow from 3-5 p.m., with a book signing at the LifeWay Christian Store on campus.
SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. will host his “Albert Mohler Program” live radio broadcast from the Kentucky Exposition Center, site of the SBC annual meeting, on June 22 and 23. The radio show will originate from campus on June 24.
Mohler, at an April 21 ribbon-cutting for the sesquicentennial pavilion, helped place a time capsule in a vault that is to be opened in 50 years. Among the items in it is a letter from Mohler to be opened at seminary’s 200th anniversary that speaks of where the school stands today and its vision for the future.
“What I basically did was write [the letter] in such a way that if this institution isn’t theologically where it needs to be … they’re going to know it,” Mohler said. “It’s going to be the most embarrassing letter ever read if indeed this institution is not preserved in that way. That is our prayer — that it will be.”
For much of the 20th century Southern Seminary was a different school than it is today. Early in the century, Southern began to drift toward liberalism. This departure from Boyce’s vision remained until 1993 when conservatives regained a majority on the board of trustees and elected Mohler as president, sparking a profound reformation at the seminary.
Southern Baptists will see much evidence that their first seminary is standing upon the confessional vision of its founders. Southern is one of the largest seminaries in the world with more than 4,500 students who study under one of the evangelical world’s leading faculties.
Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration, said Southern’s graduates, students and faculty members reflect the seminary’s commitment to Boyce’s original vision.
“Southern Seminary graduates have a sense of weightiness in ministry,” Moore said. “Our students are joyful and our students also understand the gravity of the calling of preaching and teaching the Word of God. What distinguishes Southern Seminary students is a passionate, joyful seriousness, understanding what is at stake in the proclamation of the Gospel.”
Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.