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

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

Every Classroom a Great Commission Classroom, 2004-Present

In January 2004, Daniel L. Akin was elected the sixth president of Southeastern Seminary. Akin, a professor of both theology and preaching, previously served as Southeastern’s dean of students from 1992-1996 before serving eight years as the academic vice president at Southern Seminary. Akin furthered Southeastern’s theological renewal by requiring all professors to sign the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in addition to the school’s two confessions of faith. In February 2005, Southeastern hosted its first annual 20/20 Collegiate Conference, an event that annually draws over 1000 college students. Also in 2005, Southeastern adopted a new campus master plan and completed construction on a new building to house the facilities and campus housing departments. That fall, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Southeastern sent several student teams to do construction work and outreach in the Gulf Coast and on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; total gifts and labor amounted to over $750,000. In 2006, Southeastern furthered its longstanding commitment to missions and evangelism by adopting a new institutional 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). The seminary’s informal motto became “every classroom a Great Commission classroom.”

In recent years, Southeastern has continued to educate students and develop creative new initiatives. In 2006, Southeastern established the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture in honor of longtime academic vice president Bush, who passed away in 2008 following a bout with cancer. Southeastern also began cultivating a number of international partnerships dedicated to helping provide theological education to pastors and other church leaders in the Majority World. In 2008, the seminary opened Patterson Hall, a classroom and office building named in honor of Paige and Dorothy Patterson. Patterson Hall houses the Center for Faith and Culture, The College at Southeastern, and the school’s doctoral programs. Also in 2008, Southeastern launched an official faculty blog titled “Between the Times” (http://www.betweenthetimes.com). During Akin’s tenure, Southeastern has added two additional endowed chairs: the Richard and Gina Headrick Chair of World and Missions (2007), occupied by Bruce Ashford, and the Johnny Hunt Chair of Biblical Preaching (2010), presently held by Greg Heisler. In 2009, Southeastern entered into an ongoing partnership with 9Marks Ministries to host a series of annual conferences promoting gospel renewal and local church health. After a twenty-five year run, Faith and Mission was disbanded in 2008 and was replaced in 2010 with a new refereed scholarly journal titled Southeastern Theological Review.

During Akin’s tenure, non-residential education opportunities have been significantly expanded to include online, extension, and hybrid course offerings in almost every degree program. Akin has also announced an initiative for Southeastern to partner with at least one hundred local church “equipping centers” by the year 2015. Students will be able to receive a significant portion of their seminary education through local church internships and creative course delivery systems. In part because of Southeastern’s Great Commission priorities, the seminary has been at the forefront of advocating a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC. This movement, championed by Akin and recent SBC president and Southeastern alumnus Johnny Hunt, intends to build upon the theological renaissance of the previous generation by prioritizing evangelism and church planting among unreached people groups in foreign nations and underserved regions in North America.

As of fall 2010, Southeastern Seminary has a total enrollment of almost 2700 students. Thousands of Southeastern graduates serve as pastors and other staff in Southern Baptist churches and other types of congregations. Approximately five hundred Southeastern students and graduates currently serve as foreign missionaries, the vast majority through the International Mission Board. Dozens of graduates serve as North American church planters in urban centers such as Boston, Chicago, Tampa, Atlanta, Richmond, and Nashville, as well as underserved rural areas in the Midwest and New England. Almost one hundred students have been awarded the Doctor of Philosophy and now serve in seminaries, colleges, pastorates, and denominational leadership positions all over the world. Hundreds of Southeastern students participate annually in short-term mission trips sponsored by the seminary or local churches. Numerous Southeastern professors regularly lead mission trips or teach short-term in overseas settings. God has been very gracious to Southeastern. Should the Lord tarry, it is our hope for sixty more years of “equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission.”

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

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

Seasons of Controversy and Change, 1974-1992

Upon President Binkley’s retirement in 1974, trustees elected Randall Lolley, then pastor of First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, as the seminary’s third president. The seminary experienced numeric growth during much of Lolley’s tenure. Enrollment reached almost 1300 in 1982, which remained the record until the mid-1990s. In the early 1970s, a fully-accredited Associate of Divinity program was initiated to help educate non-traditional students who already possessed some ministry experience. In 1983, Southeastern launched a new faculty journal titled Faith and Mission. But by the early 1980s, the seminary was engulfed in another theological controversy, this time a Convention-wide imbroglio over theology and denominational politics. The election of Memphis pastor Adrian Rogers as SBC president in 1979 began a succession of conservative presidencies that continues to the present. All of the seminaries were accused of employing liberal professors who denied biblical inerrancy and embraced other left-of-center views. Southeastern was widely considered to be one of the most liberal of the seminaries. In response to conservative criticism, SBC “moderates,” a coalition of theological progressives and other Baptists committed to the pre-1979 status quo, branded the conservative dissenters as “fundamentalists” and accused them of hijacking the SBC through secular political tactics. Lolley publicly sided with the moderates.

Southern Baptists formed a Peace Committee in 1985, which was comprised of representative conservatives, moderates, and those heretofore neutral. That committee issued a report in 1987 that cited doctrinal issues as the root cause of the controversy. Southeastern was among the seminaries where the Peace Committee discovered pervasive progressive theology and open opposition to SBC conservatives. Several incidents raised the ire of conservatives, including a pro-feminist chapel service in 1984, the hiring of a female liberation theologian that same year, a controversial Sunday School lesson written by an Old Testament professor in 1985, and the establishment of a chapter of the American Association of University Professors in 1987. In the fall of 1987, conservatives claimed a majority on the seminary’s trustee board. Controversy reached a head in November 1987 when both Lolley and academic dean Morris Ashcraft announced their resignations. Lolley subsequently pastored moderate North Carolina Baptist churches in Raleigh and Greensboro, respectively.

In 1988, trustees elected Southern Seminary evangelism professor Lewis A. Drummond Southeastern’s fourth president. Drummond was a theological conservative with close ties to Billy Graham. Southwestern Seminary philosophy professor L. Russ Bush was hired as the new academic dean in 1989, despite a vote of “no confidence” from the faculty. Bush had co-authored the influential Baptists and the Bible (1980), a treatise arguing biblical inerrancy was the historic conviction among most Baptists. The already declining student enrollment continued to plummet, though the number of new student applications was rising. The pre-Drummond faculty began to retire or relocate, several of the latter choosing to teach at newly established moderate schools and programs such as the Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond and the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School. A Center for Great Commission Studies was founded in 1990, reflecting Drummond’s longtime interests in evangelism and missions. Under the leadership of newly hired preaching professor Wayne McDill, Southeastern began to emphasize the importance of expositional preaching, a trend that continues to the present day. In 1992, Drummond announced his retirement and Criswell College president L. Paige Patterson was elected the seminary’s fifth president. Patterson was a respected evangelical theologian and a key architect of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.

Al Mohler’s Reflections on Moderate Baptist Leader Cecil Sherman

I sent the following email around to the Southeastern family this morning. I also wanted to share it with our readers on this blog.

Dear SEBTS family,

My friend Al Mohler has written an important article on Cecil Sherman who recently passed away. It provides an excellent assessment of a very important figure in Baptist life. It also helps us understand why we needed a Conservative Resurgence that began in 1979. You will be well served to take a few minutes and read this. It will help you see why theology matters and why we must never compromise on the full truthfulness and authority of the Word of God, Dr. Mohler’s blog.

Danny Akin