EDITOR’S NOTE: This story follows an initial Baptist Press report April 22 on the trustee meeting at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Students preparing for ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will face three major issues in the next 10-15 years, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told trustees during their April 21 meeting at the Louisville, Ky., campus.
The issues: an increasingly secularized American culture, Islam and a generational shift in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Mohler said his first concern is the loss of a Judeo-Christian worldview and the embrace of secularism in the American culture, even in the Bible Belt where, until recently, churches have ministered in a region deeply influenced by Christianity.
Every region of America, however, is rapidly becoming like Europe, Mohler said, which went from maintaining vestiges of its Christian heritage through the 1940s to rejecting the faith by the 1960s.
“We are going to discover that cultural Christianity is what eventually disappears in a secularized age,” Mohler said. “Cultural Christianity has been so much a part of the environment of our ministry and of the expectation of our churches that it’s going to be a very different situation for the pastor of the First Baptist Church to worry about being arrested rather than to worry about whether he’s going to get the first seat in the restaurant….
“[W]hen you start looking at a lot of the logic of what is becoming endemic in the culture toward the future, we’re going to be in a very different situation than we’ve ever faced before,” Mohler said. “And we’re going to discover that we are not as many as we thought we were.”
Mohler cited two recent studies that have shown that the number of people in America who claim to be Christians has decreased dramatically over the past few years. Soon, only vestiges of Christianity may remain in America, he said.
“We’ve got to prepare students to be ready for that and to be able to lead churches to be able to understand what it means to be the church when we no longer have the cultural supports that we had counted on, wrongly, I think, all these years,” he said.
A second concern Mohler voiced is the rise of Islam as a global religion. Recently, a United Nations human rights council passed a resolution condemning the defamation of religions, protecting Islam in particular. This development should disturb Christians, Mohler said, because it could hinder Gospel engagement of Muslims by Christian pastors, evangelists and missionaries.
“Islam considers it a matter of every Muslim’s responsibility to protect the honor of Islam,” Mohler said. “Let me point out that we serve a Christ who was scorned and rejected of men. We are never called upon to defend the honor of the Gospel. We are called upon to defend the Gospel. God will defend His own honor.
“We are not to call upon the state, and we are certainly not to call upon the United Nations, to criminalize assaults upon Christianity, because what we are really looking at in this defamation language is an end to evangelism and an end to missions.
“Realize that we will be sending out students into a world where Islam is going to become a definitional issue for most of them either because they are going to be in Muslim-dominated lands or because they are going to be in lands of Muslim influence such as Europe or they are going to be in a world that is being reshaped to Muslim sensitivities.”
The third concern facing the seminary is the growing generational divide within the Southern Baptist Convention, Mohler said. With much of the convention’s leadership growing older, the SBC faces a shift toward younger leadership in the coming years, he said Southern must train its students to graciously bridge the divide.
“We are increasingly becoming generationally divided in such a way that the generations are not even talking to each other,” Mohler said. “We’re in a strategically dangerous moment here and Southern Seminary needs to be the place, a happy, healthy place, where we do not allow that to happen.
“We have got to avoid a hardening of the wrong attitudes and a hardening of the wrong issues because we cannot afford to go off in different directions, generationally defined, in this denomination. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Also during the trustee meeting, the seminary’s new Sesquicentennial Pavilion was opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The seminary will hold a dedication ceremony for the pavilion during the SBC’s June 23-24 annual meeting in Louisville in June.
A marker of Southern’s 150th anniversary, the pavilion serves as a welcome center to the campus and houses the admissions and security offices. The new building took approximately eight months to complete.
“With this building we are making a statement that 150 years after Southern Seminary was established we have more to do, not less,” Mohler said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We have a greater challenge, not a lesser challenge. We have a glorious challenge…. This is a statement about the seriousness with which Southern Seminary takes this task and about the permanence that we believe the Lord has invested in us — not in an institution, but in the unchanging, eternal truths upon which this institution is established.”
Mohler placed a time capsule behind a stone encasement. The capsule is scheduled to be opened in 2059 on the seminary’s 200th birthday. Among the items in the capsule are seminary publications, a campus directory, an academic catalog and a letter from Mohler to the seminary president 50 years from now.
Mohler said his letter contains an admonition to keep the seminary faithful to biblical truth.
“What I basically did was write in such a way that if this institution isn’t theologically where it needs to be whenever that thing is opened, 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.”
Describing the new building as a reminder of God’s blessings on the seminary and His faithfulness to provide for the training of ministers, Mohler said, “In a day in which many people say that an institution that stands for what this institution stands for would not survive, look how the Lord has blessed us beyond anything we could imagine.”
In other business, trustees:
— approved the creation of the new School of Church Ministries (see April 22 BP article).
— extended tenure to two professors: Brian Vickers, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, and Carl Stam, associate professor of church music and worship.
— promoted six professors: Gregg Allison to professor of Christian theology; T.J. Betts to associate professor of Old Testament interpretation; Timothy Paul Jones to associate professor of leadership and church ministry; Barry Joslin to associate professor of Christian theology; Russell D. Moore to professor of Christian theology and ethics; and Shawn Wright to associate professor of church history.
— installed Eric Johnson as the Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care.
— approved the formation of an Academy of Sacred Music to serve as a think tank for the conservation of Christian hymnody and music. The academy will sponsor lectures, performances, recitals, symposia and other initiatives under a director appointed by the president.
— voted to change the name of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth to the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism, dropping the term “church growth” because the term is dated.
Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and David Roach is a writer for the seminary.