Seminary luncheons: highlights & challenges

by SBC Seminary Staff, posted Tuesday, June 19, 2018 (5 months ago)

DALLAS (BP) -- Campus highlights and challenges were among the topics of June 13 luncheons for alumni and friends of Southern Baptist seminaries during the SBC's annual meeting in Dallas.

Gateway

DALLAS (BP) -- About 150 alumni and friends of Gateway Seminary gathered for their annual luncheon at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas June 13. Attendees heard reports about the seminary's progress and honored two men as distinguished alumni.

In light of recent discussions in the SBC, President Jeff Iorg reminded attendees that the board of trustees governs the seminary on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Everything about the school is available to every trustee. We give them reports from every area, but we always remind them they can have access to anything they want. In my 14 years as president at Gateway, we have never had a complaint that had any criminal overtones at all. With 150 employees and 2,000 students, we do have occasional comportment issues that do not involve the law but are addressed by policy. Every one of those issues was satisfactorily resolved."

Iorg said the seminary currently faces two challenges, amid its numerous achievements in transitioning its main campus to Southern California.

"First, the seminary must adapt to changing enrollment patterns. We are still attracting a large number of students, many of whom are taking one class, so we must adapt in terms of flexible class offerings and adjustments to the faculty. Students take the number of classes they can afford to take and the number of classes they have time to take. Many are in their 30s and already have families and ministries. The fulltime student is very much in the minority in the total student body. We must continually work to meet student needs."

Iorg said the second challenge is one students face in paying tuition. "In the service industry -- where many students work as they study -- and in ministry jobs, compensation hasn't gone up much. What students say to us is that they have to find a way to pay for seminary. We need your help in raising the scholarship funds we need," he said.

He also asked attendees to send students.

"We survey students. They say they came to Gateway Seminary because someone they respect recommended us. Did you know that many people that come to seminary are intimidated? You have influence over those who need to study with us. Say to them 'have you thought about seminary? Don't assume you can't go or you can't find the money go. Let's pray about it.'"

Iorg said when the seminary relocated, administrators knew it would take a full year to work through the transition, but that it actually took two years.

"We just adopted the first operating budget that does not have a relocation line item. Gateway's financial health is very strong."

Iorg recognized Distinguished Alumni Award winners Ezio Leite and Wray Bartlett Physioc III.

Leite serves as executive director and senior clinician of Psychotherapy Services and Yokefellows. He is a clinical member of the Texas Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers and was appointed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to the Council on Sex Offender Treatment. Leite received a bachelor of arts degree from Dom Bosco College of Philosophy, a master of religious education degree from Gateway Seminary and a master of education from the University of North Texas. He and his wife Elizabete established an endowed scholarship at Gateway to assist students seeking education in biblical counseling.

Physioc serves as the civilian pastor of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel. He accepted Christ in 1977 while on assignment with the U.S. Coast Guard in Guam. Later, while stationed in Sausalito, Calif., he attended Gateway Seminary, receiving first a master of religious education degree, followed by the master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees, which were awarded concurrently. Physioc also planted Mt. Tam Christian Community Church in Marin County, Calif. In a 25-year career in the U.S. Army, he has been awarded the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal with Five Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster and the Army Achievement Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters.

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Midwestern

A panel discussion on the topic of "Theology for the Church," the president's report and presentation of the Alumnus of the Year Award highlighted Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's alumni & friends luncheon June 13 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.

During his report, Jason Allen shared news with attendees about the past year at Midwestern Seminary, noting that two major construction projects were nearing completion, enrollment continued to reach new records and that a prominent New Testament scholar had been added to the faculty.

Within two months, Allen said, the new Mathena Student Center is scheduled for completion. Thanks to significant gifts to Midwestern, the facility will be built with no long-term debt. Additionally, the seminary's existing classroom building has undergone an extensive renovation over the past several months and will be ready for use within a few weeks.

Allen also reported that in just over six years, Midwestern's enrollment has nearly tripled with headcount surpassing the 3,400-student mark. He added that projections for the fall semester continue to trend toward another record enrollment.

Another reason to celebrate, Allen continued, is the hiring of Andreas Köstenberger as research professor of New Testament and biblical theology and director of a forthcoming Center for Biblical Studies. Allen praised the new faculty member calling him one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world today.

Allen said these things bring encouragement to him personally and to the entire seminary community. However, he said they communicate something even more heartening: "The support we're receiving shows that there is a belief in the work we are doing at Midwestern Seminary."

Allen said supporters "who stand with you and provide gifts for such buildings at great expense says something about their belief in what we're doing."

"Being able to fund construction projects, keep tuition low, launch other new initiatives and grow in student enrollment says something about what the churches of this denomination believe about us," he continued. "They believe in what we're doing, how we're doing it, and they are committed to stand with us and to send us their students, trusting we will send them back as ministers who are fully equipped to serve those churches into the future."

In concluding his remarks, Allen addressed what the season ahead for the seminary portends.

"The year ahead, with God's grace and favor, will bring about completion of these two construction projects, record enrollment and an even stronger faculty and staff. It will bring about a lot of change. However, it will also bring a lot of constancy.

"Things that will not change are our theological positions; our vision "For the Church" is clear; attitudinally our mindset of humility and service will not change. That is who we are. That is what we're doing, and I am proud to serve this institution which you have invested so much in."

Following his report, Allen moderated a panel that discussed the topic, "Theology for the Church." Panelists included Midwestern Provost Jason Duesing; associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Center for Public Theology Owen Strachan; and Matthew Barrett, associate professor of Christian theology.

Questions during the panel, which were predominantly asked by the audience, covered such subjects as why theology is important for the church; what constitutes a pastor-theologian; how Midwestern's faculty interact with and serve within the local church; and what is the sense of the theological appetite of students at the seminary.

Prior to the formal program, Allen honored Matt Marrs, the North American Mission Board's Send regional director for the Midwest, as the recipient of the seminary's Alumnus of the Year award.

Marrs received a master of divinity degree from Midwestern in 2000. Before undertaking his role at NAMB, he served as director of missions for the Clay Platte Baptist Association in Missouri and pastor of Northland Baptist Church in Kansas City.

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New Orleans

Staying the course with God's faithfulness resonated at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's alumni luncheon June 13.

Chuck Kelley, NOBTS president, pointed to God's faithfulness throughout NOBTS' 100-year history, noting particularly God's provision of a "fully developed campus" at its beginning when a complete women's college campus was purchased.

"Our faithful God; always there for us," Kelley said, alluding to the musical "Our Faithful God" written by NOBTS alums and recording artists Chris and Diane Machen and LifeWay Worship director Mike Harland, which was commissioned for the 2017-2018 NOBTS centennial celebration.

The Machens, founders of the worship and evangelism ministry The Master's Music Company, performed a selection from the musical.

Named as distinguished alumni were Nathan Cothen of Calvary Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas; Fred Luter Jr. of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans; and David Fleming of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston.

Nathan Cothen, a 1990 Ph.D. graduate, led his congregation during his 19-year tenure to expand worship services to eight services in four venues in two cities. In presenting the award, Kelley praised Cothen for his long-term service.

"There are just certain things you cannot do in ministry without the ingredient of time. Nathan has done that in Beaumont, Texas," Kelley said. Kelley praised Cothen as "one of the best students" he ever had but added that he was prouder "to say you are an excellent pastor."

Cothen, son of former NOBTS Provost Joe Cothen, noted the significant part NOBTS had played in his family's life by recounting that his grandfather, Joe Cothen's father, entered Baptist Bible Institute, now NOBTS, in the fall of 1918, the first semester of classes.

"I'm so grateful for this institution of 'Providence and Prayer,'" Cothen said, using the seminary's moniker given it by first president Byron H. DeMent.

Fred Luter Jr., a former SBC president, stepped into the pastorate of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in 1986, a white congregation that had dwindled to 65 members, Kelley recounted, adding that the associational director of missions at the time instructed Luter to "bury it or resurrect it." Today, the membership numbers more than 7,000.

Kelley lamented a dark moment in NOBTS history when African American students were refused admission and instead provided instruction at a separate site bearing a different name.

"It is especially meaningful to me, knowing that past, that we are recognizing today a wonderful African American pastor [as a distinguished alumnus]," Kelley said, noting that Luter is the only pastor who has preached every year in chapel during Kelley's tenure as president. Turning to Luter, Kelley said, "You are a campus favorite."

Luter voiced thanks for NOBTS' support during his church's rapid growth, saying, "New Orleans Seminary has always been special in my life."

David Fleming, former co-pastor with Bobby Welch at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., has served as president of Florida Baptists' pastor's conference and as an NOBTS adjunct professor at the seminary's Orlando extension center.

Fleming was absent for the award presentation due to unforeseen circumstances, Kelley announced, but noted that under Fleming's leadership Champion Forest Baptist Church embraced multi-ethic, multi-racial diversity in a move Kelley called "a wonderful, wonderful story."

Dennis Phelps, NOBTS director of alumni relations and church-minister relations, noted various alumni who died in the last year, including Randy Driggers, vice president for development; Ron Holman, national alumni association president; Jerry Barlow, former dean of graduate studies and professor of preaching; and Shane Hall, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla.

Emily Martin, a NOBTS/Leavell College student who died while on a mission trip to Kenya last December, was also remembered, and her parents, Scott and Tammy Martin, were recognized by luncheon attendees.

In his president's report that concluded the luncheon, Kelley said "revolutionary" change is underway in academia but that "important opportunities" are present in non-residential learning.

"Virtually everything we offer is available to virtually anyone, anywhere in the world who has a computer and an 'on-ramp' to the internet," Kelley said. "If God calls you, we will do our best to make theological education accessible to you."

Kelley noted the difficulty of online learning and the advantages of residential education but acknowledged that changing times, including shifts within the SBC, demand accessibility.

"Everything about Southern Baptists speaks of moving into a period of decline," Kelley said. "[But] we understand that we've got to equip the best leaders the Southern Baptist Convention has ever had because the most challenging days the Southern Baptist Convention has ever faced are ahead."

Kelley praised today's generation of students for their willingness to follow God "to the hard places, the dangerous places," and praised the work of NOBTS' New Testament Center for Textual Studies, the Institute for Christian Apologetics, the Adrian Rogers Center for Expository Preaching, the Leeke Magee Counseling Center and other NOBTS centers.

Kelley concluded by encouraging alumni to follow God wherever He leads. "God's mercy is not always gentle, but it is always present," Kelley said. "God will always have a way forward; God will make a way."

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Southeastern

A call for repentance and a challenge to rely humbly on the Lord were a central theme of this year's Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Alumni and Friends Luncheon.

J.D. Greear, newly elected SBC president and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., referenced Proverbs 24:16, which says, "Though a righteous person falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin."

"You show your righteousness not by never falling but by what you do when you fall," said Greear, noting that this is the culture he sees at Southeastern.

Greear told attendees the number seven indicates a state of completion, meaning that for the person mentioned in the verse, falling is a state of being. A "healthy Gospel culture" is created, he said, when those who fall can learn to look to Jesus, which in turn affects positive change in relationships with others.

"That is the spirit that is exemplified at Southeastern Seminary through its leadership, through its graduates," Greear said.

SEBTS President Danny Akin followed Greear's address, speaking candidly of how the seminary and the SBC at large need to move forward in light of recent events involving the mistreatment and misrepresentation of women in the denomination.

"Brothers and sisters, we have indeed gotten right our theology," Akin said, "but in recent days, I think we have been painfully reminded that maybe our practice hasn't always matched up as well with our theology."

Akin added, "It's one thing to believe something, but it's something altogether different to live it out."

In light the recent allegation that an alleged rape of a Southeastern student was not reported during Paige Patterson's presidency in 2003, Akin described this situation as the "most painful, most heartbreaking" he has faced in his 15 years of presidency at SEBTS. However, he trusts great days are ahead for SEBTS.

"I do believe that we're going to come out on the other end a better, stronger, more Christ-like seminary," Akin said.

Akin said he is trying to "create a kinder, gentler complementarianism, not an arrogant, hierarchical patriarchal kind of complementarianism" -- one where women are welcome and can pursue any degree offered at the seminary.

Amid times when leaders have resigned or been fired from key positions in the SBC, Akin expressed the need for all attendees to examine their hearts before God.

"I believe it's a call from God for us to make sure we walk humbly before our Lord because any good thing that He is doing here, it is a result of His goodness and His grace and not our intellect," he said.

Akin highlighted three key aspects he wants to see at SEBTS moving forward: remaining focused on Southeastern's theological identity, maintaining a Great Commission focus and working with humility.

"I'm very thankful for where we are today but I also know where I believe God wants us to go, and I'm absolutely convinced we will get there on our knees," Akin said.

To close out the luncheon, musical artists Shane & Shane led alumni and guests in a time of worship.

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Southern

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. presented pastor Juan R. Sanchez with the school's 2018 Alumnus of the Year award during its June 13 Alumni and Friends Luncheon. Mohler also received a resolution of appreciation from the SBC Executive Committee for his 25-year SBTS presidency. Additionally, Mohler announced a Missionary Alumnus of the Year.

In giving the alumni award to Sanchez, Mohler said: "As a pastor, as a Baptist statesman, as one who has a missionary vision, a Gospel heart, and biblical clarity, Juan Sanchez is exactly what we want Southern Seminary to be about."

Sanchez, a master of divinity (1999), master of theology (2002) and doctor of philosophy (2015) graduate from Southern Seminary, is senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, and current president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Sanchez also is a council member of The Gospel Coalition, cofounder and president of Coalición por el Evangelio, and assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.

For the occasion of Mohler's 25th anniversary as Southern Seminary's presidency, Stephen Rummage, outgoing chairman of the Executive Committee, attended the luncheon to present the resolution of appreciation for his years of service to the seminary and the convention.

"Dr. Mohler has been a key leader in Southern Baptist life for decades," said Rummage, senior pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla. "Through his media interviews, his podcast 'The Briefing,' he's been the face of the convention to large numbers of people who have no direct connection to a Southern Baptist church. But they know who we are, they know what we believe, they know what we stand for because of his staunch defense and presentation of a biblically formed worldview and his faithful handling of the Word of God."

The resolutions cited numerous hallmarks of Mohler's service commended him for "his steadfast commitment to God's Word, his devotion to the Great Commission, and his 25 years of visionary and effective leadership of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on behalf of all Southern Baptists for the advancement of the kingdom of God."

For the full text of the resolution of appreciation for Mohler, click here.

Mohler presented the Missionary Alumnus of the Year to Reid Karr, an International Mission Board missionary and church planter in Rome and SBTS master of arts graduate (2012).

"Reid cannot be here because he is where he needs to be right now, with his daughters," Mohler said. "The last thing we want to do is for this award to become an impediment to a missional call."

In August 2015 while home on furlough, Karr's wife was killed in a traffic accident on the evening before the family of five planned to return to Rome. Kyra Lynn Karr left behind her husband and three daughters. Despite his loss, Karr returned to Rome, where he and his children continue the work the family started.

Mohler said he hopes to present the award to Reid next year in Rome. During the programed part of the luncheon, the seminary played a video of Karr's story.

"We as a school are not worthy of such graduates," Mohler said. "I look at that young man, and I just want to stand back and wonder at a board of trustees who would entrust something so important to me. … I considered it such a high honor then and I just want to tell you, I consider it an unspeakably great honor now. Twenty-five years later, I am all the more aware of the fact that it is such a precious stewardship that was handed to me."

In his address to the luncheon attendees, Mohler said he decided not to give the sermon he prepared and instead to "speak to [attendees] from the heart." Reflecting on his earliest days as president of Southern Seminary, Mohler referenced "two times of refuge" to which he and his wife Mary always looked forward: when members of the school's board of trustees came to campus and being around alumni and supporters during the Southern Baptist Convention.

"We are here because we want to be at the Southern Baptist Convention," Mohler said. "We are here because we want to be among other brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we have a shared identity, a common confession, a cooperation together. Then, we want to be with fellow friends and alumni of Southern Seminary, because as a part of that larger family of the Southern Baptist Convention, this is a very important family. This is a very old family, and it's a very precious family."

Mohler noted that during his tenure, Southern Baptists have contributed nearly $150 million to Southern Seminary, even churches that haven't sent a single student for training at the institution.

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Southwestern

During Southwestern Seminary's Alumni and Friends Luncheon, interim President D. Jeffrey Bingham assured attendees that Southwestern "is moving ahead in a strong, capable and orderly manner."

"I actually am very optimistic about our future because I know the One who is ascended and I know the One who indwells us," Bingham said. "And their power and their grace and their goodness are able to carry us wherever they wish for us to go.

"Would you join me in my optimism? Not in flesh and blood, but our optimism in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- together, one God. And it is to them that owe complete faithfulness, worship and gratitude."

Bingham, who is leading Southwestern while a search is underway for a successor to former President Paige Patterson, shared about the seminary's ongoing efforts in world evangelization, noting that evangelism continues to be the school's heartbeat. He cited four specific examples of how Southwestern is bringing the Gospel to the lost.

First, he noted the seminary's participation in the SBC's Crossover effort in the week leading up to the convention's annual meeting. Of the 175 students who participated from various SBC seminaries, 100 were from Southwestern. Collectively, they made 19,464 contacts, had 3,180 Gospel conversations and saw 340 commitments to Christ.

Second, Bingham shared that Southwestern deploys preachers across the country each year during spring break to preach revivals in local churches and impact their surrounding communities with the Gospel through its "Revive This Nation" initiative. This year, 87 students and faculty preached from New York to Hawaii, and they collectively saw 90 professions of faith, 31 baptisms and 307 other commitments.

Third, through personal evangelism, students in this spring's missions and evangelism practicum courses made 2,860 Gospel presentations and saw 552 professions of faith.

Finally, Southwestern is deploying teams around the world this summer on mission trips. Locations include South Asia, Thailand, Japan, Canada, England and Brazil.

In addition to the evangelism reports, Bingham also noted that Youth Ministry Lab celebrated its 50th year this spring of preparing men and women to serve in youth ministry.

Bingham concluded his report with what he jokingly called the most important thing. "It gives me great joy to announce that the professors beat the students for a second year in a row at the annual Softball Showdown," Bingham said. "They're doing the evangelism, but apparently we can hit the ball."

Beyond Bingham's report, the luncheon also honored two individuals, Terri Stovall and Ken Whitten. Stovall, who serves as dean of women's programs at Southwestern, was awarded this year's Distinguished Alumnus Award. She is a three-time graduate of the seminary -- master of arts in religious education (1992); Ph.D. (2001); and master of divinity (2012). Bingham called Stovall her "a faithful scholar" who is "instrumental in women-to-women training, both in the church and in the Southwestern student body, of which one-quarter are female."

Whitten, meanwhile, was the inaugural recipient of Southwestern's Reach the World Award. The senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., has led mission work in West Africa, East Asia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Romania, England, Paraguay, Panama and Guatemala.

The luncheon concluded with officer elections for Southwestern's alumni association. Gil McKee and Wes Baldwin became president and vice president, respectively, by acclamation for 2018-2019. John Avant was elected vice president for service in 2019-2020.

Reported by Kathie Chute of Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention; T. Patrick Hudson of Midwestern Seminary; Marilyn Stewart of New Orleans Seminary; Lauren Pratt of Southeastern Seminary; Andrew J.W. Smith and Aaron Cline Hanbury of Southern Seminary; and Alex Sibley of Southwestern Seminary.
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