Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Harmony of the Southern Baptist Seminaries

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!
The 133rd psalm expresses so well what I experienced recently with my colleagues at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. Indeed, that same sense of blessing, though for different reasons, has arisen during interaction with colleagues at all six of our Southern Baptist seminaries. The benefits from each seminary include influences both subtle and significant, of which more below.

Dr. Jason Duesing has twice invited me to co-teach a PhD seminar in Ecclesiology at Midwestern Seminary. This time 24 students were led by three professors: Dr. John Mark Yeats, Dr. Duesing, and me. The PhD students at Midwestern impressively demonstrated, on the one hand, a rootedness in the life and needs of the local churches and, on the other hand, a desire and a capability to pursue intellectual excellence for the purpose of assisting their churches. But let us here focus on the Southern Baptist professors and administrators.

I am a professor called to, and happily ensconced in, my beloved Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. But Southwestern has never been, is not now, and hopefully never will be the extent of my moral and intellectual milieu. The melody of my own seminary is both real and beneficial, but the harmony between the seminaries is also real and beneficial. The blessings of inter-seminary harmony for Southern Baptists and for the other Christians who choose to attend one of our denomination's six institutions are important. (Interactions with universities and other seminaries are also very important, but those are different essays.)

Please allow me a moment to reflect on specific harmonious influences between the Southern Baptist seminaries. These harmonies come about through direct intellectual exchange and through indirect personal exchange. What I have noticed with regard to my colleagues at these other institutions is that they profoundly shape my soul as well as my mind by what they say as well as by who they are.

Midwestern Seminary

Some recent intellectual and moral influences from Midwestern Seminary are greatly appreciated: The Provost there, Jason Duesing, encourages others to pursue excellence in their professional work and in their personal interactions. He has an academic appreciation for all things Baptist, and for all things evangelical and universal. Dr. Duesing is unusual--he is simultaneously a great teacher, an organizational genius, and a humble man. He is an asset in the Southern Baptist academy.

Also an administrator at Midwestern, John Mark Yeats has long been one to keep the life of the churches before the academy. He reminds his colleagues of the needs of people as people, especially the needs of minorities and of the younger generation. He also knows how to help his hapless elders. (For instance, he once patiently explained to me what "LOL" meant. Don't laugh. It was necessary.) John Mark is a champion for authentic Christianity.

There were other Midwestern professors who blessed me during this recent sojourn. Dr. Rustin Umstattd, formerly a Southwestern PhD supervisee, exemplifies how one may be concurrently a teaching theologian and a great pastor. Dr. Thorvald Madsen, a long-time friend and a sharp apologist and philosopher, regaled with me over my foibles from decades ago. Drs. Matthew Barrett and Owen Strachan are two rising writers within the evangelical academy whom Midwestern in particular and Southern Baptists in general are blessed to count among them. There are other Midwesterners worthy of mention, but these were the professors with whom I interacted during this last week.

Before moving on, a personal reflection regarding the President of Midwestern Seminary: Dr. Jason Allen has built a highly successful institution through his unrelenting focus upon the seminary existing "for the church." As seen above, he has excelled at gathering and retaining a quality faculty. Moreover, his studied attention to detail is evident in the attractive architecture and pristine fabric of Midwestern. Most importantly, years ago on a flight from Kansas City, I was moved to tears through prayer that Midwestern would reach toward the future with tremendous growth and expanding influence for God's glory. Providentially, Dr. Allen is actually fulfilling a vision I merely glimpsed. Southern Baptists should appreciate the lush theological garden Jason Allen has been tending in Kansas City.

The Other Southern Baptist Seminaries

We would be remiss not to mention the other four seminaries, each of whom played a supportive role this last week. For instance, while Southwestern Seminary has long emphasized the doctrine of the church, the students benefitted from the ecclesiological contributions of Gregg Allison and Thomas Schreiner at the first of our SBC seminaries, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Allison kindly agreed to join us through video for an hour of discussion regarding his extensive treatment of a most neglected topic, the nature of the church. And Dr. Schreiner's three co-edited works on baptismthe Lord's Supper, and church leadership continue to prove their ecclesiological value.

In order to prepare for that important hour with Dr. Allison, we summarily reviewed two lectures I previously delivered elsewhere. The first lecture, published last year by the journal of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, demonstrates how Baptists sadly exchanged a healthy Christological cornerstone for the church in favor of an anemic anthropological anchor. The second lecture, delivered earlier this year at a conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana, argues for a creative rediscovery of the theological foundation of the church as a congregation.

To round off the involvement of all six Southern Baptist seminaries, it should be noted that it was the innovative work of Dr. Rodrick Durst at Gateway Seminary in San Francisco, California that first encouraged me to think of piping Dr. Allison into the Midwestern conference room by video. Dr. Durst similarly invited me to address and interact with his own doctoral students a few years ago. Gateway's exemplary model of pedagogical cooperation is spreading.

The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have both quality and diversity in the theological institutions that we sponsor. While we properly recognize the leadership of such gifted and committed ministers as R. Albert Mohler, Jr. and Daniel L. Akin, they are but the tip of the iceberg of talent in the SBC. For example, recognizing the importance of her professors, Southwestern Seminary recently began highlighting the faculty in its magazine.

Melodies and Harmony

The SBC seminaries should not be appreciated only for their individual faculties. The seminaries should be appreciated for the synergies created through the interaction of their diversities. To put it in terms taught by our music faculties, we should recognize the powerful diverse melodies being sung from our seminaries. We have Calvinists and we have Non-Calvinists; we have Preachers and we have Teachers; Evangelists and Writers; Academic Theologians and Practical Theologians; and we have some of us who want to know and teach everything.

But the beauty of theological education should not only be heard in the strength of its melodies, but in the richness of its harmony. I have recently learned from colleagues at Midwestern Seminary, just as I previously learned from colleagues when invited to address audiences at Southern Seminary, Southeastern Seminary, New Orleans Seminary, and Gateway Seminary. I have learned from their minds, and I have learned from their spirits. These other seminaries encourage me to be a better academic, and they encourage me to be a better Christian.

Southern Baptists really should be thankful for what is going on at each of our sponsored seminaries and for what is going on between them. Let us be thankful to God the Father for our six seminaries. Let us honor the seminaries for their individual melodies and let us honor them for their common harmony, a harmony rooted in a spiritual communion enabled by the Holy Spirit's gift of faith in Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this encouraging reflection. I am proud to be a Southern Baptist, and your words aptly captured the reason this is true.

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