The Story of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1950-2010 (Part Three)

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Author’s note: This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is the third of four posts commemorating that history.

The Fastest-Growing Seminary in America, 1992-2003

Under Patterson’s leadership, the faculty completed its transition from theologically moderate to conservative. In addition to the Abstract of Principles, Patterson required all faculty members to sign the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). Southeastern experienced remarkable growth during the 1990s. Though only 555 students matriculated the semester before Patterson’s arrival, by spring 2000 Southeastern enrolled almost 2100 students; Southeastern was the fastest-growing seminary in America in the 1990s. Major improvements were also made to several campus buildings. In 1995, the seminary renovated the Manor House, a large house used for lodging prospective students visiting Southeastern. In 1997, Bostwick Hall, one of the oldest remaining building on campus, was extensively renovated and converted into apartments. Binkley Chapel was renovated in 1998 and construction began on two new apartment complexes. The next year, Mackie Hall was renovated into faculty offices and renamed Stephens-Mackie Hall. In 2001, the seminary dedicated Jacumin-Simpson Missions Center, a building housing faculty offices, a state-of-the art auditorium, and the Center for Great Commission Studies, now named in honor of former president Lewis Drummond.

New academic programs were also initiated during the Patterson administration. Southeastern expanded the Associate of Divinity program into a fully-accredited four-year college in 1994, now called The College at Southeastern. The following year, the seminary established a Doctor of Philosophy program. In 1999, Southeastern added a Master of Arts in Christian School Administration to equip teachers and administrators to serve in Christian private schools. That same year, a Women’s Study Program was established under the leadership of seminary first lady Dorothy Kelley Patterson; the program included graduate courses and a Certificate in Women’s Studies for student’s wives and other laypeople. Southeastern also became the first SBC seminary to embrace the Biblical Counseling paradigm for Christian counselors. Several faculty members assumed leadership positions in the Evangelical Theological Society and other professional scholarly organizations. Russ Bush and John Sailhamer served as presidents of the ETS in 1994 and 2001, respectively, and Andreas Köstenberger edited The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.

An emphasis on evangelism and missions continued to permeate the campus. The seminary installed evangelism professor Alvin Reid into the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism in 1995, the school’s first endowed chair. That same year, Southeastern added a Master of Divinity with International Church Planting, the first degree of its kind at a Southern Baptist seminary. This course of study is popularly known as the 2+2 Program because the degree requirements include a two year term of service with the International Mission Board. In 1997, Southeastern established a partnership with the New Hampshire Baptist Convention in an effort to plant SBC churches in New England; other similar partnerships soon followed. In 1999, the seminary partnered with the North American Mission Board’s Nehemiah Project and added the Master of Divinity with North American Church Planting. Patterson continued to exercise leadership in the wider SBC, and from 1998-2000 he served as president of the Convention, the first seminary president to have that honor since 1924. In 2003, Patterson resigned in order to accept the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 3: A Compelling Vision Grounded in Confessional Identity

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Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

In 1991, in the heat of the Conservative Resurgence, Paige Patterson authored an important and visionary article, in what was at the time Southern Seminary’s journal, the Review and Expositor (Vol. 88, 1991; 37-55). The title was “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC.” Filled with wisdom and insight, Patterson called for theological renewal based upon complete confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, seminaries that are “breeding ponds for ardent evangelist” (39), theological parameters “which will guide convention life doctrinally” (41), missiological renewal, “innovative strategies” (42), ecclesiological renewal, socio-political renewal (e.g. a biblical response to racism, abortion, church and state, feminism and the sanctity of the home) and spiritual renewal rooted in prayer, holiness, word and witness. Patterson also challenged Southern Baptist to look and learn from other brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we might not see eye to eye on every point of doctrine. Learn from the “spontaneity and participation” of neo-charismatic friends (45), just stay away from “their experienced-oriented epistemologically defective theology and their topical and overly emotional preaching. . . .” (A good word indeed!). The vision Patterson articulated was comprehensive in scope and compelling in its attractiveness for those who love Christ, the Church, the Word and the lost. In a real sense his vision provided more than a decade and a half ago the contours and impetus for a Great Commission Resurgence that, of logical and spiritual necessity, should grow out of a Conservative Resurgence committed to the truth of Holy Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One aspect of this vision came to fruition with the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This was a revision of the 1963 statement. Baptists have always been marked by confessional identity. Such confessions, based upon our understanding of the Word of God, provide a witness to the world of “these things we believe.” They also provide a consensus for our coming together for cooperation in obedience to the Great Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, like prior confessions, addressed particular theological issues with a long doctrinal history, as well as more relevant questions being debated in the current contemporary context. Thus one finds, for example, clear and unequivocal statements on the truthfulness of the Bible; the exclusivity of the gospel; penal substitution; God’s complete and total omniscience (no “open theism”); baptism by the Spirit at conversion; the sins of racism, homosexuality and pornography; the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death; and a complementarian view of the home and church. It is a point of historical interest that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 committee was appointed by Paige Patterson and chaired by Adrian Rogers.

All of us recognize that as a human confession this statement is not perfect. Furthermore, it is not exhaustive. Still, it can serve as a sufficient guide providing good, solid parameters for ecclesial and missional cooperation among Southern Baptist. It is instructive to note that all six seminaries have pledged to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. In addition, Southeastern Seminary and Southern Seminary also teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Abstract of Principles penned by Basil Manly Jr. in 1858. Finally, and uniquely, Southeastern Seminary also requires each and every faculty member to affirm “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and “The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” These latter statements are in perfect harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in my judgment, and taken together, provide a healthy and robust standard of confessional identity and conviction. Thus there should be no question about what we believe or where we stand. There should be no doubt as to our vision or our mission. When other denominations are in retreat, apparently seeing how little they can confess, Southern Baptists are headed in a different direction all together. We desire to be clear and transparent in what we believe, preach and teach. There is no biblical gospel without theological content. There is no Great Commission to pursue without doctrinal conviction. This is who we are. This is where we stand. This is what we believe. This is why we go!