Today marks our fall commencement exercises at Southeastern Seminary. In a couple of hours, I’ll sit with my faculty colleagues as we proudly watch our students walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. I’m so thankful for these students, dozens of whom I’ve taught in my classes. It will be an exciting day.
Graduation always reminds me of the strategic importance of theological seminaries. Southeastern Seminary is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, an ecclesiastical tradition that doesn’t require a seminary education for ordination or ministry placement. The educational requirements for pastors and other ministry leaders are left up to the autonomous local churches that call them. Nevertheless, most Southern Baptists agree that seminaries are beneficial; that’s why we fund six of them through our denominational budget, the Cooperative Program.
In his excellent book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper includes a chapter titled “Brothers, Pray for the Seminaries.” In that chapter, Piper lists twenty-one ways that he prays for seminaries such as Southeastern.
- That the supreme, heartfelt and explicit goal of every faculty member might be to teach and live in such a way that his students come to admire the glory of God with white-hot intensity (1 Corinthians 10:31; Matthew 5:16).
- That, among the many ways this goal can be sought, the whole faculty will seek it by the means suggested in 1 Peter 4:11: Serve “in the strength which God supplies: in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
- That the challenge of the ministry might be presented in such a way that the question rises authentically in students’ hearts: “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
- That in every course the indispensable and precious enabling of the Holy Spirit will receive significant emphasis in comparison to other means of ministerial success (Galatians 3:5).
- That teachers will cultivate the pastoral attitude expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:10 and Romans 15:18: “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. . . . I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles.”
- That the poverty of spirit commended in Matthew 5:3 and the lowliness and meekness commended in Colossians 3:12 and Ephesians 4:2 and 1 Peter 5:5-6will be manifested through the administration, faculty, and student body.
- That the faculty might impress upon students by precept and example the immense pastoral need to pray without ceasing and to despair of all success without persevering prayer in reliance on God’s free mercy (Matthew 7:7-11;Ephesians 6:18).
- That the faculty will help the students feel what an unutterably precious thing it is to be treated mercifully by the holy God, even though we deserve to be punished in hell forever (Matthew 25:46; 18:23-35; Luke 7:42, 47).
- That, because of our seminary faculties, hundreds of pastors, 50 years from now, will repeat the words of John Newton on their death beds: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Jesus is a great Savior.”
- That the faculty will inspire students to unqualified and exultant joy in the venerable verities of Scripture. “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8
- That every teacher will develop a pedagogical style based on James Denney’s maxim: “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.”
- That in the treatment of Scripture there will be no truncated estimation of what is valuable for preaching and for life.
- That students will develop a respect for and use of the awful warnings of Scripture as well as its precious promises; and that the command to “pursue holiness” (Hebrews 12:14) will not be blunted, but empowered, by the assurance of divine enablement. “Now the God of peace . . . equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20).
- That there might be a strong and evident conviction that the deep and constant study of Scripture is the best way to become wise in dealing with people’s problems. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- That the faculty may not represent the contemporary mood in critical studies which sees “minimal unity, wide-ranging diversity” in the Bible; but that they will pursue the unified “whole counsel of God” and help students see the way it all fits together. “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).
- That explicit biblical insights will permeate all class sessions, even when issues are treated with language and paradigms borrowed from contemporary sciences.
- That God and his Word will not be taken for granted as the tacit “foundation” that doesn’t get talked about or admired.
- That the faculty will mingle the “severe discipline” of textual analysis with an intense reverence for the truth and beauty of God’s Word.
- That fresh discoveries will be made in the study of Scripture and shared with the church through articles and books.
- That faculty, deans, and presidents will have wisdom and courage from God to make appointments which promote the fulfillment of these petitions.
- And that boards and all those charged with leadership will be vigilant over the moral and doctrinal faithfulness of the faculty and exercise whatever discipline is necessary to preserve the biblical faithfulness of all that is taught and done.
You can read the entire chapter online for free at the Reformation 21 blog. Also, be on the lookout next year as B&H Academic releases an updated and expanded edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.
I hope you’ll pray for me, my faculty colleagues, and our students at Southeastern and other similar schools. And if you think about it today in particular, pray especially that the Lord will use our graduates to boldly proclaim Christ, advance his church, and make disciples of the lost here, there, and everywhere.