“Nothing can take the place of the Christian ministry. The progress of civilization, the making of many books, the increase of schools and learning, the marvelous triumphs of the press—mighty as are all of these agencies—they can never supersede the divinely sent preacher. ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.’” (George W. Truett, “The Subject and Object of the Gospel,” Convention Sermon, 1899)
I am often asked how I see my role as an academic theologian. Many are shocked when I tell them the work of academic theology pales in comparison to the importance of proclamation in sermons, evangelism, missions, music, teaching, and so on.
Theology serves ministers. Theology is second.
I have more than once considered resigning my professorship. Not out of dissatisfaction with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. But out of passion—Passion to see the Word of God proclaimed through my lips to transform human lives. There is no greater joy than being the instrument of divine proclamation.
But God always calls me back. He reminds me through good and bad of this truth: I am His alone. I have refused offers elsewhere, declined nominations, turned down an election as a president. Why? Because God called me to teach at my seminary. I must teach ministers. They are more important than me.
It was a joy when the Interim President, Dr. Jeffrey Bingham, and the Trustees approved my request to be allowed to serve as a Pastor at the same time I serve as a Professor. The synergies between church service and seminary are necessary for both.
Then, Lakeside Baptist Church Granbury and Mark Forrest called me, and my life has been overwhelmed with joy inexpressible. Now, I get to see lives transformed through my service as an elder in my own flock and then teach the truths learned at church to my students. (The idea of barring professors from serving churches is short-sighted and can be the seed of liberalism.)
My life is a demonstration of a truth held by the Founders of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminaries exist to serve the churches of Jesus Christ. We do not exist for ourselves. We are not the churches. We were constituted by the churches to serve them. We must serve or cease existence.
Over the years, I have had academics get very nervous when I speak in this way. It seems to threaten their very existence. However, it is necessary for us to remember: The Christian academy serves the churches and their ministries, not vice versa.
We are second. Be humble. Serve.