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.”

Distance Learning Options at Southeastern

We at BtT would like to take a moment make you aware of the distance-learning options at Southeastern. Many of you have commitments to family, work and ministry that make it impossible for you to attend our main campus at Wake Forest for the entirety of your particular degree program. To meet these real needs, an innovative system of delivering theological education to the student has been developed that is academically sound, ministry focused and Christ centered through the use of online classes, extension center, hybrid format classes and short-term intensives. Students can combine online and extension center classes with hybrids and five-day break classes to earn an entire degree with only a limited amount of time at our main campus.

The most recent development in this system is the use of what we call “Hybrids”. Hybrid classes begin each semester with online materials and include a weekend with the professor at our Wake Forest campus. Students spend time in discussion groups, have Q&A time and interact with the most current issues in each field. After the weekend with the professor, students complete the class with the online materials. This allows student the flexibility of distance learning plus face-to-face time with our faculty and on campus credit for the class.

There are multiple options for taking advantage of distance learning in earning your degree at SEBTS:

  • The Master of Arts in Christian Studies can be done entirely at the Tampa Extension Center
  • The Associate of Divinity degree may be earned entirely via distance learning.
  • Masters of Divinity students may earn up to 30 hours via distance learning.
  • Undergraduate students may also incorporate up to 30 hours via distance learning.

The staff in our Distance Learning Office (Director, Dr. John Ewart; Assistant Director, Jerry Lassetter; and Administrative Staff, Sandy Herrera and Kristi Emme) would be happy to discuss a plan for taking distance learning classes that will suit your needs. They are available by email at distancelearning@sebts.edu or by phone (919)761-2269. Further information is also available on our website at http://sebts.edu/distance.

Christmas in August @ SEBTS

Dear SEBTS Family,

Words are not adequate to express my excitement as we look forward to the fall 2009 semester. I am so excited about so many things that will take place this semester, some of which we will experience as unexpected surprises from our great God! I want to remind you that in chapel on both August 25 and 27 we will be taking our “Christmas in August” offering for the International Mission Board. Amazingly, not everyone in the SBC thinks this is a good idea. This genuinely breaks my heart. However, I think heaven is pleased when God’s people give sacrificially to reach the nations with the gospel, regardless of when they do it! How urgent is the need? Just read the August 14th IMB press release below and decide for yourself. 1.6 billion people have yet to hear. We must pray. We must go. We must give. The worship of King Jesus demands it. The heart cry of the nations requires it. I love you and count it an honor to serve you at this Great Commission seminary.

Danny Akin

Lottie Moon shortfall limits Gospel access, leaves missionaries on hold

8/14/2009

By Don Graham

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–They had said goodbyes to their neighbors, friends and church family. They had sold their home and furniture. They had resigned from their jobs. They had even given away the family dog, a miniature collie named Q-tip.

When Tim and Audrey Shepard* decided to answer God’s call to share Jesus in Asia as Southern Baptist missionaries, they knew there could be obstacles. But the couple never expected that the obstacle would be lack of funds from Southern Baptists.

The Shepards are two of the 69 candidates in the pipeline to serve as long-term missionaries through IMB (International Mission Board) who have been told they can’t be sent to the field at this time. That’s in addition to an estimated 350 short-term candidates who also have been turned away from missionary service this year.

In May IMB announced it would severely limit the number of missionaries sent in 2009 due to reduced giving through the Cooperative Program and a $29 million dollar shortfall in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. More than half of IMB’s annual budget comes from the Lottie Moon offering, 100 percent of which is used to send and sustain the more than 5,600 Southern Baptist missionaries serving overseas. The goal for the 2008 offering (which funds the 2009 budget) was $170 million, but only $141 million was received, $9 million less than received for the 2007 offering.

The Shepards previously served 15 years with IMB but left the field in 2004 and moved to Jacksonville, Fla., so their daughter, Nora,* could attend high school in the United States. They planned to return to the mission field when she entered college and began that process in the fall of 2008. They were on track to arrive in Asia by the end of 2009 to partner with another IMB missionary couple working to spread the Gospel among some of Asia’s minority people groups.

But all that came to a screeching halt July 27 when an IMB representative called the Shepards to explain that their missionary appointment had been put on hold because there wasn’t enough money to send them.

Audrey says the news has left the family discouraged and confused.

“You feel sort of directionless – we really don’t know what to do now,” she says. “It’s tragic that money is holding back God’s work around the world. … There are people dying every day that are not going to have the opportunity to hear about Jesus because so many missionaries are being held up.”

So far the Shepards haven’t been given a firm date when they will head to the mission field. Spring 2010 has been mentioned, but no promises have been made. That means the Shepards will be on hold for at least six months. Right now they don’t know where they’ll live or what they’ll do. They’ve decided to stay temporarily in their church’s mission house. They’re not even sure where to register their 8-year-old son, Eric,* for school this fall because that depends on where they’ll live.

There’s a chance Tim and Audrey will be able to keep their jobs in Jacksonville, but since they didn’t renew their contracts, there’s no guarantee. Tim taught middle school math and science; Audrey was a school psychologist.

“We’re ready to go to the field,” Tim says. “My mind is already on ministry and going back to secular jobs just to pay the bills doesn’t excite us too much.”

The Shepards’ delay also is having serious repercussions in Asia, at least for the team they were set to join.

Sam and Elizabeth Hughes* are Southern Baptist missionaries on the edge of exhaustion. They run a handful of ministries focusing on 24 minority people groups, 18 of which are untouched by the Gospel. Without the Shepards, that’s more than a million lost people divided between one husband-and-wife team with three young children at home.

Sam was counting on the Shepards’ arrival to provide some much-needed relief – helping with ministry logistics, training national partners and following up with new believers or those who’ve expressed an interest in learning more about Jesus. God has blessed the work to the point where it is more than Sam can handle alone. He says news of the Shepards’ delay – and of the Lottie Moon offering shortfall – hurts morale.

“It’s time for a gut check. Are we serious about reaching the world or not?” he says. “I’ve got a list as long as I am tall of things I need them (the Shepards) to be doing.”

Though it’s a serious inconvenience and fraught with logistical nightmares, the Shepards say the delay hasn’t subdued their passion for reaching Asia. In fact, they’re so committed to their calling to be Southern Baptist missionaries they’re considering moving to Asia on their own dime so they can start learning the language and be more prepared when they begin their assignment.

“Communism has destroyed souls of the people – there’s no hope,” Audrey says. “We want to be a part of sharing Christ where there are so many who are dying without Him.”

The Shepards say that if their delay, and the delay of 67 others in going to the mission field, helps Southern Baptists realize the importance of lost souls overseas, “so be it.

“I’m happy if that’s what will come of this,” Audrey says. “That people wake up and realize that they need to give their money to support missions.”

*Names changed

Don Graham is a writer with IMB.

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Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is a registered trademark of Woman’s Missionary Union.