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Southern Seminary trustees mark new era by eliminating Covenant Renewal document

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Trustees of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary eliminated the Covenant Renewal, a document intended for a time of transition implemented by the school in 1991, during their April 10-11 meeting at the Louisville, Ky., campus.

Trustees also adopted the 2000-2001 budget, gave final approval for construction to begin on a new conference/guest housing facility, approved a name change for the James P. Boyce College of the Bible and elected three faculty members.

The elimination of the Covenant Renewal document was an action that symbolically marked the end of the period of extreme controversy in Southern Seminary’s history.

Adopted in 1991 by the seminary’s faculty, administration and trustees, the Covenant Renewal document was a “negotiated way of pointing toward the future,” Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said. “It was a document adopted unanimously by neither the faculty nor the trustees. It represented a very difficult time.”

The document pledged the school’s “respect for the convictions of all Southern Baptists and our intention to be sensitive to conservative viewpoints within the Southern Baptist Convention.”

It was designed in an “effort to achieve a balanced representation through intentional employment of conservative evangelical scholars” for future faculty openings.

“It came at a particular time in this institution’s history when the trustees and administration and faculty were not unified on the direction of the seminary and its future,” Mohler said. “Looking back in a historical perspective I can understand the origin of this document, but the time has clearly come when it is no longer necessary.”

Several weeks ago the faculty committee brought to the faculty a proposal to eliminate the Covenant Renewal document. The faculty passed the proposal unanimously and asked the administration to bring the matter before the trustees, who also approved the document’s elimination unanimously.

“This board of trustees, our current faculty and our current administration have a covenant for which we need no document,” said Stephen Corts, vice chairman of the board and chairman of the board’s executive committee. “Our covenant is recorded in the Word of God, centered in the Great Commission, founded upon our common allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ and our shared confidence in God’s Word as it is in truth.

“It is time for this,” Corts continued. “It is past time for this. It is the right time for this. It is time to take this step with joy, looking back at all that God has done to make this possible.”

In his report to the board, Mohler said the seminary had 1,368 students on campus in the 2000 spring semester and more than 2,400 students for the 1999-2000 academic year, combining on- and off-campus students. Mohler also affirmed as “sound” the seminary’s financial situation.

Mohler also announced the appointment of two professors to the Southern Seminary faculty: Randy Smith and Carl Stam.

Smith will begin June 1 as assistant professor of missions at Boyce College. He has been youth pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., the past nine years. He is also the founder and chief executive officer of Youth Ministry International, a youth missions organization in Grand Rapids. He previously served on staff at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and Firestone Road Baptist Church in North Canton, Ohio.

Smith and his wife, Lynn, have three grown sons.

Stam will be a music professor in Southern Seminary’s school of church music and worship. He has been pastor of worship and music at Chapel Hill Bible Church in Chapel Hill, N.C., since 1991. Stam formerly taught in the department of music at the University of Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina. He holds two degrees from UNC, including a master of music degree in choral conducting.

Stam and his wife, Doris, have three children.

The board approved a 2000-2001 operating budget of $18,440,732, a 9.4 percent increase over the current year. As part of the budget, trustees agreed to reinstate revenues and expenditures for the seminary’s Child Development Center, which was scheduled to close in July.

After reconsidering the matter, however, seminary officials decided to leave the center open, at least for another year. Mohler asked trustees to appoint a task force to study the matter and propose a course of action.

The board also gave final approval for the Rice and Judson project, part of the 10-year, $70 million campus plan. The seminary will renovate Rice Hall and Judson Hall and transform the buildings from student housing to conference/guest housing. As part of the $5.75 million project, a new building will be added to connect the two halls.

Construction on the project is scheduled to begin in August, with a target completion date of Dec.31, 2001.

After receiving final trustee approval for the project, the seminary held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site April 11.

“We are reminded by the Scripture that unless the Lord builds the house, the builders build in vain,” Mohler said at the ceremony. “Let us pray that the Lord will bless this project, and that we will use it to his glory and his glory alone.”

Trustees elected three professors to the Southern Seminary faculty with tenure: William F. Cook as associate professor of New Testament interpretation; Thomas J. Nettles as professor of historical theology; and Gregory A. Wills as associate professor of church history.

Since 1991, Cook has been associate professor of New Testament and Greek at Florida Baptist Theological College in Graceville, Fla. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida, a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas and a doctor of philosophy degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

In addition to his teaching duties at FBTC, Cook has taught at Southern Seminary as a visiting professor and at New Orleans Seminary as a contract teacher. He has contributed articles to such publications as the Biblical Illustrator, Echoes and The Theological Educator.

A native of Kentucky, Cook and his wife, Jaylynn, have three children.

Nettles has served as professor of historical theology at Southern Seminary since 1997, when Mohler appointed him to the position. He was professor of church history and Christian thought and chairman of the church history department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill., from 1989-97. He has also taught at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Tennessee and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A graduate of Mississippi College, Nettles earned both a master of divinity degree and a doctor of philosophy degree from Southwestern Seminary. He is the author of such books as “Baptists and the Bible” and “By His Grace and For His Glory.”

Nettles and his wife, Margaret, have three children.

Wills has been with Southern Seminary since 1994, first as archivist, then as adjunct professor of church history. In 1997 he became assistant professor of church history; in 1999 he became associate professor of church history.

A two-time graduate of Duke University in North Carolina, with a bachelor’s degree and a master of theology degree, Wills earned his master of divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts and his doctor of philosophy degree from Emory University in Atlanta.

He is the author of “Democratic Religion” and has contributed articles to several other publications.

He and his wife, Catherine, have three children.

In other action, trustees:

— changed the name of the James P. Boyce College of the Bible to Boyce College. This change was made primarily to remedy problems graduates might face when trying to enter some foreign countries. The college opened in the fall of 1998 and is the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.

— re-elected Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church, Bakersfield, Calif., as chairman of the board; Corts, pastor of Edwards Road Baptist Church, Greenville, S.C., as vice chairman; Otis Ingram, president of Ingram & LeGrand Lumber Co., Macon, Ga., as second vice chairman; and Byron Boyer, a retired teacher from Louisville, Ky., as secretary.

— approved sabbaticals for nine seminary professors.

— authorized the seminary’s financial board to conduct a feasibility study for post-retirement insurance benefits for full-time faculty and staff of the seminary. The trustees also gave the Financial Board the authority to implement such benefits, if feasible.

— approved a resolution regarding limited retirement benefits to conform to legal requirements.

— passed resolutions of appreciation for three trustees ending their service on the board: Thomas Harding, of Ballinger, Texas; James Harris, of Dayton, Ohio; and Thomas Taylor, of Louisville, Ky.

Trustees also responded to a referral from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee requesting that the entities of the SBC review their cooperative endeavors with other denominations and religious groups. The trustees approved a report to the Executive Committee saying that the seminary “conducts no cooperative endeavors with other denominations and religious groups, other than participation in academic associations, accrediting agencies, and educational consortia. …

“The Southern Baptist Theological reports that the school is involved in no interdenominational or inter-religious endeavors or activities that would compromise our cherished convictions in any manner, nor lead to any confusion concerning our mission and identity as an institution serving the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the report says.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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