On Great Commission Church History Classrooms

According to our mission statement, 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 also like to say that at Southeastern, “every classroom is a Great Commission classroom.” But what does that look like, especially if you are not a missions or evangelism professor? Good question.

My title is Assistant Professor of Church History and Baptist studies. My main sequence of courses is Church History I, Church History II, and Baptist History, all three of which are required core courses. I also teach periodic elective courses on a variety of topics in Baptist Studies and post-1500 church history. Because my classes are not about the Great Commission in the same sense as some other courses, I have to deliberately bring missional priorities to bear on my teaching and assignments. This is what I do.

In my Church History lectures, I emphasize the spread of Christianity through both informal expansion and formal mission efforts. I have found both “history of missions” and “global history of Christianity” texts helpful in shaping my own lectures. I also discuss key figures and movements in missions history (e.g. Ulfilas, the Edinburgh Conference) and try to correct misperceptions and oversimplications (e.g. the Reformers weren’t concerned with missions, William Carey was the first modern missionary, etc.).

In my Baptist History lectures, I emphasize the central role that missions has played in Baptist history, including Southern Baptist history. I discuss key Baptist mission pioneers (there are loads of them!) and important controversies surrounding Baptist missions (ditto). I also discuss the way the language of missions was used in 20th century Baptist life in both helpful and confusing ways. I give some considerable attention to how Southern Baptists cooperate for the sake of missions, particularly through the Cooperative Program.

In all of my classes, I try to make regular Great Commission application. First, I regularly urge my students to consider serving as either foreign missionaries or North American church planters. Second, I recommend reading (including some material unrelated to the class) that I think will help students develop Great Commission priorities in their own ministry. Third, because I am a history professor, we talk quite a bit about how the gospel has been contextualized in various times and places-we discuss good and bad examples of this and try to make relevant application to our present context(s).

As far as assignments go, in each of my classes every student is required to share the gospel at least once during the course of the semester. Students who fail to complete this assignment receive a letter grade deduction from their final grade. While such an assignment might seem unusual in a history class, I explain to my students that we are a theological seminary equipping students primarily to serve the churches through various ministry vocations. We are not pursuing education for the sake of knowledge alone, but education unto edification-we are training for life, godliness, and ministry. Plus, if my students are sharing the gospel, it helps hold me accountable to do the same-we professors live in a Christian bubble as well, so I need encouragement to get out there in the world and share Jesus.

Finally, though it is not directly related to the classroom, I try to be a Great Commission role model to my students. After all, professors (and other leaders) are always teaching-even when we aren’t teaching. I help to coordinate my local church’s Missions Ministry Team, and my students know it because I talk about what our church is doing. I also try to periodically help lead SEBTS mission trips-I am co-leading a trip to India with my friend and colleague George Robinson (who, by the way, is a new Between the Times contributor). And I share with my students some of my own evangelism efforts, especially those that I think include some “teachable moments” (both for the good and the bad!).

This is what I do in my classes-no doubt some colleagues do some things differently and better. I try to regularly learn from my colleagues various ways that I can incorporate Great Commission concerns and all kinds of other important and helpful priorities in my classes. (For example, an ethics colleague, Mark Liederbach, first encouraged me to include a personal evangelism requirement in church history classes, though this requirement is normally associated with personal evangelism classes.) I still have much to learn, and am thankful that God has surrounded me with so many godly role models.

If you are looking for a seminary that weds sound doctrine with missional emphases, then Southeastern is the place for you. If you want to learn to think rightly about God so that you can live rightly before God, then I would urge you to consider Southeastern. If you want to consider what it means to be a gospel-centered leader who is reproducing other gospel-centered leaders, for the glory of God and the sake of the nations, then you may find Southeastern to be just what you are looking for. Let me encourage you to contact our Admissions Office and schedule an appointment to come and visit the SEBTS campus. If you are coming this way, shoot me an email-I’d love to meet you and hear what the Lord is doing in your life.

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  2Comments

  1. Pingback: One Baptist Perspective » On Great Commission Church History Classrooms

  2. Cory Wilson   •  

    Nathan,
    Glad you are teaching history in this way. There is a very good chapter by Andrew Walls titled “Globalization and the Study of Christian History” in Craig Ott’s Globalizing Theology that addresses this issue. If you haven’t read it I think you would enjoy it.
    Blessings
    Cory

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