Seminaries report successes, challenges

SAN ANTONIO (BP)--Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting were reminded of the importance of theological education via reports from the SBC's six seminaries during the June 12-13 sessions in San Antonio.

Summaries of the seminaries' reports follow:

GOLDEN GATE SEMINARY

Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said in his June 12 report to messengers that the seminary serves as both a reminder and an extender of the national identity and diversity of Southern Baptists.

"Among our student body are hundreds of students who don't fry their okra, sweeten their tea or follow SEC football," Iorg said, alluding to stereotypical staples of Southern culture and eliciting a knowing chuckle from the audience.

He added, "We have a distinctly West Coast, and western U.S., cultural feel –- a reminder that Southern Baptists are a national denomination with a growing national identity. But you should also know that we are all, from whatever backgrounds, committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom."

The second important contribution Golden Gate Seminary makes to Southern Baptists, he said, is being on the forefront of developing leaders who minister effectively in the multiculturalism of American life.

"More than half -– more than half –- of our students are non-Anglo, and we have faculty and adjunct faculty who are Korean, African American, Canadian, Chinese, Filipino and Hispanic," he told the messengers. "And we just elected Dr. E.W. McCall as the first African American trustee chairman of any entity in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention."

Iorg described Golden Gate as "a living laboratory of a working, multicultural community. When you walk into almost any office or department or classroom of Golden Gate, you will meet people from all backgrounds and nations of the world. And when these students leave seminary, they are comfortable connecting with people from all cultures -– equipped to minister in the ever-changing world of the 21st century."

Iorg also reported on several changes and updates at the seminary, including full accreditation for a Ph.D. program in biblical studies, which will begin this fall.

"Golden Gate is the only accredited seminary between Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. -– a distance of 600 miles each way from our Northern California campus -– that offers a Ph.D. with a high view of Scripture and conservative biblical interpretation. This gives us a unique opportunity to train leaders for ministry in the West," Iorg said.

In the fall of 2008, the seminary will be offering its first bilingual Spanish-English doctor of ministry track, joining the existing Korean-English track in that program.

With the seminary's Partners for the Future campaign having raised just over $5 million toward a $13 million goal, Iorg said, "That may not seem like a lot to those of you who live in the South where mega-churches and other schools regularly raise millions for special projects. But $13 million is still a lot of money in the West where Southern Baptists make up less than 1 percent of the population."

Iorg concluded his address with a thanks for prayers and Cooperative Program financial support of Southern Baptists, a request for Southern Baptists to send the seminary more students and a request for prayer:

"Across the West, but particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, our greatest challenge is the spiritual climate -– the spiritual darkness that expresses itself in open opposition to the Gospel. Asking for your prayers is not just a convenient way to end this report. It is our heartfelt plea to our brothers and sisters."

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary operates five regional campuses in the West: Mill Valley, Calif., just north of San Francisco; Brea, Calif., in Orange County; Vancouver, Wash.; Denver; and Phoenix.

MIDWESTERN SEMINARY

"Sometimes 50th birthdays can be tough to face," Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Philip Roberts said as he began his report to the Southern Baptist Convention June 13.

"People have compared turning 50 to canoeing down a river and then hearing waterfalls ahead. Time is running out," Roberts said. "But our 50th anniversary means something entirely different to us, something wonderful and new."

MBTS' foundation for a strong future is in place at the seminary's half-century mark, Roberts said.

"We take our stand upon the inerrant Word of God and have put our students under the leadership of a world-class faculty," he said. "Our institution's resources have increased, and we are constantly encouraged by Southern Baptists across the country."

Roberts also noted MBTS' commitment to support the SBC in advancing God's Kingdom by training men and women first to be fully committed disciples of Christ.

"We gladly take our stand with Southern Baptists everywhere, taking part in the greatest missionary enterprise in world history," Roberts said. "What a thrill it is to know that we unite with five other seminaries, two large mission entities and numerous other organizations and state conventions to help carry out the Great Commission in our generation."

Roberts cited MBTS' mission statement to biblically educate God-called men and women to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

"That is our mission today, and it has been for 50 years," he said.

Roberts also mentioned Midwestern's record-breaking 1,096 student headcount.

A video presentation of pictures from Midwestern's past and present followed Roberts' report. The video also featured several students who recounted their experiences at the seminary. Eric Turner of Missouri, for example, voiced appreciation for the faculty who that taught him the Word of God; Amy Gilmore, also of Missouri, said she is confident MBTS' counseling program is preparing her for both ministry and a professional job; and Nymo Lim of Cambodia took note of the missions emphasis at MBTS toward fulfilling the Great Commission.

At the conclusion of the report, Roberts presented MBTS' birthday cake to SBC President Frank Page to thank the SBC for its contribution to and support of the work of MBTS.

NEW ORLEANS SEMINARY

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Chuck Kelley used his convention report June 12 to give testimony to God's faithfulness and to say thank you to Southern Baptists for their help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which left the campus was flooded.

Thousands of students, professors and staff members were displaced and much of the campus was devastated.

Southern Baptists are participants in a miracle of God -– the restoration of the seminary campus, Kelley said. The dramatic restoration is nearing completion and serves as one of the bright spots in the city's efforts to recover from the storm. While the total bill for the NOBTS renovation will reach $56 million, Kelley said that God has been faithful.

"God has now provided $55 million, just one more million left," Kelley said. "That's because of the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists."

Kelley thanked the other SBC entities for their sacrificial giving in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. He mentioned the Cooperative Program gift of $6.2 million, the International Mission Board's gift of $1.5 million, LifeWay's gift of $500,000, four months of staff and faculty insurance benefits covered by GuideStone Financial Resources and the offerings collected by the other SBC seminaries.

"We are where we are because of what God has done through Southern Baptist generosity and sacrificial giving," Kelley said. "Thank you on behalf of our seminary family."

Southern Baptists not only gave their money to help NOBTS, they gave time and labor as well. Kelley thanked the many who came to work in the campus restoration efforts. Their volunteer labor, Kelley said, save the seminary more than $3 million.

He gave special thanks to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. More than 200 SEBTS students helped with the NOBTS recovery –- painting student apartments and laying new sod throughout the campus.

The impact of Southern Baptist work in New Orleans is stretching far beyond the seminary, Kelley said. Thousands of SBC volunteers have poured into the city's neighborhoods to rebuild and to share the Gospel.

"What an impact you are making," Kelley said. "You are changing the very image of Baptists in the city of New Orleans."

In the past, Baptists often have been met with suspicion in New Orleans, Kelley said. But through the diligent and loving work of disaster relief volunteers and home recovery teams, new doors are opening to the Gospel.

During his report, Kelley shared a video of campus images from the past year. Set to music, the video showed the restored campus, as well as scenes of NOBTS students studying and ministering in the still-devastated city.

The song lyrics, "come and see what God has done," were repeated throughout the video, a testimony to God's provision and faithfulness in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

Student enrollment at NOBTS has rebounded following the storm, Kelley reported, saying he hopes the seminary will finish the year just 300-400 students short of its previous record enrollment.

"We thank God for calling students to come to New Orleans to study ministry," Kelley said.

Kelley offered a word of encouragement to messengers at the SBC:

"There will be in the life of every one of us a time of trouble, a time of great difficulty. Tragedies may happen in your family," Kelley said. "When that time comes, remember New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

"God is always working, even in the most difficult circumstances, for good. Truly we are a living illustration of that wonderful, biblical truth."

SOUTHEASTERN SEMINARY

Jesus' Great Commission served as the focus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's presentation to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13.

SEBTS President Daniel Akin described the seminary's commitment to making "every classroom a Great Commission classroom" and to reminding its 2,600 students they have been commanded by God to go to the ends of the earth.

Akin introduced SEBTS' new mission statement, adopted in October 2006 by the seminary's trustees: "Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20)."

"We did something that is very simple and, I think, at the same time very historic," Akin said. "We are intentionally seeking to be a Great Commission seminary."

He added that the mission statement simply puts into words what the seminary has been doing for many years, describing SEBTS' mission-sending program -- called the "2+2" or "2+3" program -- as the "greatest missions training mechanism Southern Baptist seminaries have."

Students involved in the 2+2/2+3 program spend two years at SEBTS' Wake Forest, N.C., campus studying theology, missiology and other practical subjects before being commissioned with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board to serve overseas for two or three years.

Akin said nearly 90 percent of 2+2/2+3 graduates remain on the field as career missionaries following their graduations. He reported that Southeastern sends between 15 and 30 units (single or married student missionaries) to the field each year. He added that the prayer of the faculty and staff of Southeastern is that they would, within the next few years, see that number radically multiply to 200 to 300 units each year.

"We're challenging those who come to go where they've never gone before," Akin said.

Akin called the Apostle Paul a "great theologian and great missionary" who is worthy to be emulated by believers. He said his desire is for all Southeastern students to have a "hot heart for Jesus, a passion for lost people and a heart for the nations." He added that must also be based on a solid theological education.

Another goal Akin shared was that of increasing enrollment to more than 3,000 by 2010. He praised SEBTS' new doctor of education program as well as the soon-to-be revamped doctor of ministry program as assets to the institution and catalysts for its growth.

SOUTHERN SEMINARY

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary gladly uses the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a guide in hiring professors but holds professors to standards that go beyond the BF&M in order to ensure their commitment to God's truth and their compliance with the wishes of the Southern Baptist Convention, seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said June 13 in his report to messengers.

"If you're going to hire a seminary professor, you want the one who most comprehensively embraces the truth taught by the Scripture and embraced by this denomination," rather than "those who merely meet the most basic requirements," Mohler said.

"That means that you would expect and you should demand that the presidents of your seminaries, as they do, and the boards of your seminaries, as they do, take that responsibility seriously to inquire of anyone who would teach at our seminaries what they believe on any conceivable issue to make sure that there be no error, that there be no heresy, that there be no lurking misconceptions that would do injury to the next generation of Christian preachers."

Mohler said he had planned to report on other items but chose to speak about the hiring of seminary professors in light of discussion at this year's annual meeting. Messengers adopted a statement June 12 acknowledging that "the Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible" and that "it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention."

Mohler, who served on the committee that revised the BF&M in 2000, said, "I promise you that we are guided by the Baptist Faith and Message as we envision any issue that comes before us, as we envision the hiring process and the establishment of policies within not only The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but all of our seminaries."

In response to a messenger's question, Mohler explained why seminaries need to ask questions of professors beyond the issues addressed by the BF&M. For example, though the BF&M does not address the practice of speaking in tongues, Southern Baptists want the seminary to ask whether prospective professors speak in tongues and not hire those who do, he said. Such issues, he said, "nonetheless are a matter of our accountability to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention."

Mohler also reported that enrollment in Southern's master of divinity program, Southern's central degree for training pastors, has achieved record levels.

"There are now more young men studying at Southern Seminary in the master of divinity program than anywhere in any place at any time in the history of the Christian church," he said. "That is a matter of tremendous pride and thanksgiving for Southern Seminary."

Mohler concluded that the numbers of students studying at Southern along with the seminary's commitment to doctrinal fidelity are evidences of God's blessing.

"The Lord has blessed what has taken place on the campus of Southern Seminary, such that we are now experiencing a record enrollment. We will have over 4,400 students enrolled at Southern Seminary this year."

SOUTHWESTERN SEMINARY

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, in his June 12 report to the SBC annual meeting, said the seminary is honored to be one of six ships in the Southern Baptist armada of seminaries that are fighting against the tide of liberalism, neo-orthodoxy and ecumenicalism.

"We are moving upriver committed to the absolute lordship of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are moving upriver committed to the inerrancy and sufficiency and the necessity of the Bible to order our faith and our practice," Patterson said.

Patterson addressed several points of criticism that have been leveled at Southwestern, one being that the seminary has become fundamentalist.

"One-half true," Patterson said. "When my automobile breaks down, I always want a fundamentalist auto mechanic, not an experimentalist one.... But our fundamentalism is a fundamentalism of commitment to the fundamentals of God's Word and not to legalism, which will kill as sure as liberalism will."

Patterson addressed the issue concerning speaking in tongues and private prayer language. Many people have taken issue with a statement issued by seminary trustees in October 2006, which stated:

"As it concerns private practices of devotion, these practices, if genuinely private, remain unknown to the general public and are, therefore, beyond the purview of Southwestern Seminary. Southwestern will not knowingly endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including 'private prayer language.' Neither will Southwestern knowingly employ professors or administrators who promote such practices.

Patterson said the seminary's position follows the scriptural instruction, "Forbid not to speak in tongues." But he emphasized that Southwestern is a Baptist seminary and there are consequences that flow from that affiliation.

"We are not an institution belonging to the charismatic movement," Patterson said. "Consequently, we have stated openly, and state it again, that we will not be the progenitor of charismatic doctrine whether it is what began in the troubled church at Corinth, or continued in Montanism, or is common in our present day."

The third criticism Patterson addressed was that Southwestern is not ecumenical.

"Once again, that is a half-truth," Patterson said. "It is absolutely the case that we can and must cooperate with other people when it comes to matters of co-belligerency on moral issues.... Furthermore, when it comes to the possibility of soul-winning and evangelism, we can show the 'JESUS' film with anybody who believes that salvation is by grace through faith alone. But, ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to planting churches, we plant Baptist churches. They pay the bills."

Patterson said this is nothing new for Baptists. Regardless of whether a person traces Baptist history back to England or to the Anabaptists in southern Germany and Switzerland, Patterson said Baptists have historically been separatists.

SBC President Frank Page allowed Patterson extra time to field questions from messengers. Patterson responded to questions about:

-- Southwestern Seminary's new homemaking concentration. "It is homemaking for the sake of the church and the ministry and for the sake of our society," Patterson said. "Folks, if we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed."

-- How the seminary equips its students and faculty for worldwide missions. "We believe that every faculty member, first of all, ought to go somewhere to a Third World mission field at least once every four years...," Patterson said. "By the same token, we tell every student who comes that sometime in their sojourn here, 'You will be expected to go to a Third World mission field.'"

-- What the seminary is doing to prepare for the unique challenges of the 21st century. "To establish the Gospel of Christ in men's hearts, it is still the greatest single mountain we have to climb. We can only climb it in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are doing everything we can through missions and evangelism, but more than that, through the entire curriculum to point everybody to understand this world, meet it head-on with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and let's take as many as we can with us to heaven."

-- Whether trustees and employees of the seminary are allowed to sign the Baptist Faith and Message with written or unwritten disagreements or exceptions. "To the very best of our ability, we cover everything with a prospective faculty member long before they get down to the point of signing," Patterson said. "Then, when it comes time for their official introduction and election, in a chapel service we bring out the desk of B.H. Carroll and put it there on the platform. We bring out the chair of B.H. Carroll and we put it there on the platform. Dr. [Craig] Blaising, our provost, stands on one side and I stand on the other side. There is before him a copy of the Baptist Faith and Message. We watch as he puts just his signature, and only his signature, on it. There are no annotations."

A transcript of Patterson's report to the convention, along with the questions and answers, can be found on his website, www.paigepatterson.info.


Reported by Amanda Phifer, Amelia Hendra, Gary D. Myers, Joy Rancatore, David Roach & Brent Thompson.

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