On January 15th of this year I celebrated my 10th year at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. For Charlotte and me, this is almost impossible to believe! And yet at the same time, we have experienced so many things. As I pen this letter from Istanbul, Turkey, where we have the joy of being with students that God has called to the nations, I am aware that during these 10 years we have buried three parents, welcomed three daughters-in-law, added 10 grandchildren, and celebrated 35 years of marriage and ministry together. On a personal level, God has blessed us with a full and joyful life. With the psalmist I delight to sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).
I can also sing that same verse as I think about all the ways our Lord has blessed the school I have the honor and privilege of serving. An exhaustive list would require a book! However, let me highlight a few of the good things our great God has done in the past decade.
1) The Lord led us to a very clear “mission statement” that says who we are. The shorthand version is “Southeastern is a Great Commission Seminary.” Ask anyone on our campus who we are, and that is the answer you will receive. The longer version simply says, “Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.” This statement guides us in all that we do. I believe it has helped a really good seminary to become an even better seminary. It keeps us focused on the final marching orders of King Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
2) The Lord has grown our school from just over 2400 to over 3100 students, and the future looks even brighter. What a blessing!
3) We have gone from having one endowed faculty chair to seven! This is a double blessing in that it honors wonderful servants of God and helps the seminary financially. I would love to see this number double in the next 10 years.
4) The Lord has graced us with as fine of a faculty as you will find anywhere in the world. Our students have the joy of studying under godly men and women who are churchmen, brilliant scholars, and followers of King Jesus who have a deep love for the church and a passion for the nations. Three of my own sons and a daughter-in-law have studied or are studying here. As a dad, I could not ask for a better place of training for my children.
5) We built the Prince Facilities building and Patterson Hall. Both buildings have been a tremendous asset to Southeastern in terms of how we care for the campus and teach our students.
6) The Lord has blessed me with an incredible leadership team that has taken Southeastern to the next level. Bruce Ashford, Jamie Dew, Ryan Hutchinson, Mark Liederbach, Chuck Lawless and Art Rainer excel in their areas of responsibility. They make me look better than I am! And, they are my brothers and friends who challenge me to be more like Jesus.
7) Under the leadership of John Ewart, we launched EQUIP which allows the seminary and local churches to partner in doing theological education. The brilliant New Testament Scholar Don Carson said this model was a utopian dream. By God’s grace, we are making it a reality.
8) Shortly before his death, we instituted the L. Rush Bush Center for Faith and Culture. Initially directed by Bruce Little, it is now led by Ken Keathley. This Center is simply stellar in engaging the cultural issues that the church must face and address with biblical truth and conviction. I know Dr. Bush is smiling from heaven in all the Center is accomplishing.
9) We were able to receive and house the letters and papers of Francis Schaeffer, one of evangelicalism’s leading apologists in the 20th century. Words are not adequate to express what a gift this is. Bruce Little rightly deserves a huge “thank you” for making this happen.
10) Finally, and I could continue for a long time, the Lord Jesus has blessed our campus with a spirit of love, joy and gratitude. My friend Mark Dever calls us “the happy campus.” I think he is right. Visitors often comment about the happy, joyful servant spirit they find on this campus. It bears much fruit. We know that over 90% of prospective students who visit our campus will choose Southeastern as their seminary or college. Why? Because students, staff, faculty and administration are happy to be here and we just can’t hide it. And, we don’t want to!
On a number of occasions I have been asked if I aspired to be a seminary president. The fact is when God called me into ministry in 1977 on the Papago Indian Reservation in Sells, Arizona, this boy from Georgia did not know what a seminary was. I did not know they even existed. No, all I have ever wanted to do since that day is please the Lord Jesus, preach the Bible, serve the church, and share the gospel. I am the most surprised of all that I get to do what I do. I am a blessed man far beyond what I could ever hope, imagine or deserve. Thank you King Jesus for these wonderful years. If it is your will, I look forward to many more.