SBC Life Articles

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

In 1908, dynamic changes took place across the American landscape. The growing availability of the automobile proved to be one of the most dynamic. Henry Ford built the first of 15-million Model Ts that year. A popular saying was, "You could have any color you wanted as long as it was black."

The same could be said of seminary training in that day. Southern Baptists had just one choice, but traveling back east was difficult, if not unrealistic, for ministers serving in western states. America's highway system would not be in place for many years, and it was almost the same distance from Fort Worth to El Paso in West Texas, as it was from Fort Worth to Louisville, Ky.

Our Godly Heritage

B.H. Carroll, an outspoken Baptist preacher in Texas, was burdened with the need for a seminary for the growing Baptist presence in the west. In the spring of 1905, while riding a train through Texas, the aging preacher wrestled over what to do with his burden.

"As I looked out over those plains over which in my youth I had chased the buffalo," Carroll wrote, "there arose before me a vision of our Baptist situation in the Southwest. I saw multitudes of our preachers with very limited education, with few books and with small skill in using to the best advantage even the books they had."

As the train made its way over the plains, God confirmed the answer. In spite of tremendous odds, Carroll wrote, "But from that hour I knew as definitely as I ever knew anything, that God would plant a great school here in the Southwest for the training of our young Baptist preachers."

Carroll's vision to train ministers of the gospel for America's western frontiers birthed Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Southwestern Seminary was chartered March 14, 1908. Several cities made strong bids for the new seminary, but Southwestern's board of trustees accepted the bid made by the city of Fort Worth. Citizens donated a campus site and funds to build the first building on "seminary hill" in the summer of 1910.

From its beginning, the seminary's major thrusts were missions and evangelism. Yet the same pioneering spirit that led to the founding of the seminary led Southwestern to explore new frontiers of ministry.

In 1915, Southwestern pioneered the first seminary schools of gospel music and religious education. Southwestern has been known for cutting-edge ministerial training ever since.

After B.H. Carroll's death in 1914, L.R. Scarborough was elected president. Scarborough also served in the school's chair of evangelism, the first faculty chair of evangelism at any theological seminary in America. It was called the Chair of Fire.

An Extensive Ministry

Today Southwestern Seminary is the largest evangelical seminary in the world. The seminary has enjoyed four years of increasing enrollment. The fall 1998 enrollment of more than 3,300 students is more than 4 percent ahead of the previous fall. Many students pursue training closer to home at one of the seminary's eight extension campuses. In fact, the Houston campus is big enough to rank as one of the ten largest seminaries in America.

Southwestern's students come from forty-four states and forty-five foreign countries. Most are Southern Baptist, but thirty-eight other evangelical denominations are also represented. Southwestern has become the SBC's global seminary as more pioneers from overseas are coming to study than ever before. A record number of international students, 181, enrolled last fall. They represent the finest their countries have to offer.

While living in Fort Worth, students enjoy a beautiful 200-acre campus. The Recreation/Aerobics Center is one of the most modern available in seminary life. With hundreds of churches and ministries in and around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, students can find unparalleled opportunities for local-church ministry in a fifty-mile radius.

One of the institution's historical roots is a sensitivity to the needs of the local church. In 1975, ten associations in the Houston area asked Southwestern for help in training ministers. That year an extension center was opened on the campus of Houston Baptist University. In response to recent requests from Hispanic Baptist leaders in Texas for the training of Hispanic pastors, pilot projects have already begun.

The pioneering spirit of the school's founders has kept Southwestern on the cutting edge of ministerial training. Students can choose from twenty tracks of study, more than any other seminary, such as urban evangelism, social work, childhood education, youth ministry, communication, administration, church planting, and marriage and family counseling.

Many students choose Southwestern for its innovative mentorship and church planting programs. In a unique partnership with Marketplace Ministries, Southwestern now offers a first-of-its-kind corporate chaplaincy degree program to complement the seminary's strong emphasis on military and institutional chaplaincy.

With more than ninety full-time faculty, Southwestern offers more diversity, specialization, longevity, and stability than any other seminary. Most of our faculty are practitioners, so they provide practical, hands-on training.

The institution's historical passion for missions and evangelism continues to drive the school of theology under the consecrated leadership of dean Tommy Lea. Southwestern trains 50 percent of all Southern Baptist missionaries and 40 percent of all Southern Baptist pastors.

The school of educational ministries, under the leadership of dean Daryl Eldridge, prepares capable ministers for every area of ministry. For years Southwestern has provided most of the faculty for religious education schools.

The school of church music, under the leadership of Benjamin Harlan, produces ministers with professional excellence and practical church-ministry skills.

Southwestern's music faculty are in touch with the local church insuring that the school offers a pragmatic music degree. Southwestern's Oratorio Chorus performs four times a year with the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra. After their recent Christmas concert, the music critic of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote that the Chorus "is as capable of producing a sublime whisper as it is the tidal waves of vocal grandeur that make this group one of the best symphonic choirs in America."

The A. Webb Roberts Library is one of the largest theological research centers in the nation. It houses the Tandy Archeological Museum. The Kathryn Sullivan Bowld Music Library opened in 1992 and houses the largest collection of sacred music in the world.

Researchers already use Southwestern's Baptist History and Heritage Center. The famous Breed Collection was acquired in 1998 and will be the centerpiece of the Center.

Students and faculty also choose Southwestern because of the Southwestern family. Just as those pioneers in the west relied on each other, members of the Southwestern community develop life-long friendships.

A Promising Future

Kenneth S. Hemphill became president July 28, 1994. Under his leadership, Southwestern is scouting the needs of the 21st-century church and exploring innovative ways to prepare future ministers. A blue-ribbon panel of pastors and denominational leaders is helping the "Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century" faculty committee prepare recommendations. The first to be implemented is a new course in leadership development.

Twelve professors joined the faculty in the past year. Samuel Shahid was appointed to direct a new Islamic Studies program, the only one of its kind. Shahid is a leading scholar in Islamic studies.

With the recent addition of Frank Harber as a professor of evangelism, seminary students will for the first time be able to accompany a professor on crusades as field education experience. Students will do crusade preparation and follow-up.

The faculty still includes such names as Roy Fish, Bill Tolar, C.W. Brister, who has written more books on pastoral ministry than anyone in Southern Baptist life, and Leo Garrett. Southwestern offers the strength, stability, and diversity of professors who are seasoned veterans, while also offering a new generation of faculty. Southwestern is developing an intentional strategy to add minority professors to reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of the student body.

Southwestern is in the middle of a $100-million Touch the World … Impact Eternity campaign. Nearly $25 million has been raised to help make Southwestern the cutting-edge seminary in the 21st century. Pledges toward the campaign by faculty, staff, and trustees exceeded goals.

An $18-million leadership development complex under construction will feature state-of-the-art classrooms and conference facilities. Administrators hope to instill a lifelong learning strategy in every student. The new leadership development complex will facilitate their future training.

Recognizing that much of a person's ability to succeed is based on attitude and relationships, Southwestern is exploring ways to help students improve relationship skills.

Southwestern is also planning to build unique living and learning centers, each of which will house twenty-four men and a live-in mentor. The dorms will be an innovative addition to theological training. Southwestern's Scarborough Institute for Church Growth, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, is blazing new trails in the areas of mentoring, bivocational training, and church planting.

Dub Jackson, the International Mission Board partnership evangelism coordinator for the Western Pacific and Asia, is now working with the seminary's World Missions Center. Their innovative training, research, and recruitment efforts are encouraging greater participation in overseas mission trips by seminary students than ever before.

Southwestern is developing unprecedented opportunities with institutions overseas. The seminary is forming partnerships with educational institutions in Taejon, South Korea; Tokyo, Japan; Bangelor, India; and Dallas Baptist Seminary, a Korean school.

Under President Hemphill's leadership, the seminary will continue to be responsive to the needs of the local church and to emphasize missions and evangelism with academic integrity.

President emeritus Robert Naylor has well said the sun never sets on Southwesterners. Those who go to Southwestern do more than just go to seminary. They join a select group of people who have dared to take the gospel to every continent in exciting, effectual ways. They join a family of pioneers.

    About the Author

  • David Porter