We’d Just Witnessed the Book of Acts

Recently, I had the privilege of helping lead a missions team from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to a country in South Asia. We spent ten days in a nation with a population four times larger than that of California, but where far less than 1% of the population professes faith in Christ. It is one of the poorest places in the world.

Almost 90% of the population claims the Muslim faith, though the average citizen adheres to what might be called “Folk Islam,” which is a mixture of traditional Islam and animistic superstition. Most of the rest of the population is Hindu.

During our time in South Asia, our team of eight students and two professors were able to minister in a number of ways. First and foremost, we shared the gospel, both through personal evangelism and evangelistic teaching. We also conducted discipleship training with recent converts from Hinduism, most of whom had recently been baptized or were preparing for baptism. We were able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with some of these brothers who had already become baptized church members.

My faculty colleague and I had the chance to engage in some theological training with our translators, all of whom are native evangelists who work closely with our International Mission Board personnel. I doubt I’ll ever have a seminary classroom experience as difficult as trying to teach the doctrine of the Trinity, through a translator, to a group of former Hindus and Muslims.

The highlight of our time in South Asia was seeing six Muslim men come to saving faith in Christ and publicly testify to their newfound faith through believer’s baptism. We had heard there were some Muslims interested in talking about Christianity in a particular village, but when we arrived there, an imam disrupted our attempts to share the gospel. We left their village, but not before secretly passing word to the inquirers that we would meet in another location.

About a half hour later, we reassembled under a bridge, which was out of public view. About a dozen Muslim men came to hear us teach about Jesus. Two students and I shared the gospel with the group, while our IMB missionary and one of our translators answered questions raised by our Muslim friends. Over the course of the morning, several of the men indicated they had trusted Christ as their Savior and they requested baptism.

To be honest, we were surprised by their desire to be baptized. One of the Muslims warned the new Christians that it would not go well for them if they went under the water. This was no idle word.

About a month before our arrival, one of our translators had been savagely beaten for “blaspheming the prophet”-he had shared the gospel. He was thrown out of his village and told not to return to his home unless he had recanted Christianity. He had only seen his wife once in the past month. Though she remains a Muslim, no one in the village will provide for her needs because her husband is an infidel. Our friend is grieving these losses, even as he continues to boldly proclaim Christ. The cost of discipleship is high in this nation for Muslim converts to Christianity.

The realities of persecution were on everyone’s minds as we walked down to the river for the baptisms. One by one, our new brothers in Christ walked out into the water, where they were met by our translator. He asked them some basic questions to make sure they understood the gospel. But then he also asked them if they were prepared to lose their livelihoods, their families-even their very lives. Their response? “Jesus is Lord.” And with that, they went down into the watery grave, only to be raised as new creatures in Jesus Christ. The week after we left, these brothers worshiped together for the first time. Lord willing, they represent the genesis of a new local church.

As we departed from the river, no one had dry eyes. How could we? One of the students asked me what I thought about the events of the morning. I told him we’d just witnessed the Book of Acts.

God’s desire is for the nations. The Lord of the Harvest has redeemed a vast multitude from every people group through the person and work of Christ. He has commanded his people, the church, to advance his kingdom to every corner of the globe. May we obediently join him in the drama of redemption by proclaiming the gospel, baptizing disciples, and planting new churches here, there, and everywhere.

Recommended Pre-Seminary Reading

Several times a year I participate in a faculty panel during our Preview Weekends at Southeastern Seminary. Prospective students pepper us with questions about theological education, doctrine, campus culture, and ministry. It isn’t uncommon for prospective students to ask us what books they ought to be reading before they enroll in seminary. In this post, I want to share some recommended readings for students who plan to attend Southeastern or a similar seminary or divinity school. I think you will find all of these books helpful in your preparation for seminary.

1 – The Holy Bible

It may sound obvious, but the most important book you can read before starting seminary is the Bible. If you’ve never read the Bible through in its entirety, I’d highly encourage you to do so during the year or two before you begin seminary. The Bible will be (or at least it ought to be) the most important book you will study during your seminary education.

2 – Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book, updated edition (Touchstone, 1972)

You will read a lot of books in seminary. For most students, this will include extensive reading in new subjects never before considered in any real depth. It would be a tragedy to read so many good books, graduate from seminary, and not really understand or remember most of what you read. Adler’s classic-first published in 1940-will help you learn to be a better reader, which will help you more than you know once you start taking seminary classes.

3 – William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary edition (Harper, 2006)

You will write a lot of papers in seminary. This is challenging for most students, but especially those who majored in undergraduate fields that required a minimal amount of research and writing. There are many helpful books that are intended to help you be a better writer, but this one is my personal favorite. You can probably read On Writing Well in a couple of evenings, and I bet you’ll even enjoy it-Zinsser is, coincidentally enough, a pretty engaging writer.

4 – Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (NavPress, 2009)

One of the tragedies of seminary is that some students sacrifice their devotional life on the altar of their education and other (admittedly worthwhile) priorities. Such students then often develop a bad attitude and blame seminary for ruining their spiritual walk. You don’t want to be that guy (or gal). Miller’s book is my personal favorite on the topic of prayer, and you need to be prepared to persevere in prayer through seminary-for your own sake and for the sake of those to whom the Lord is preparing you to minister.

5 – Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Eerdmans, 1980)

Seminarians are notoriously obnoxious, knowing just enough about theology to be dangerous. Reading Thielcke in advance of seminary will help you to stave off the potential rants, soap-boxes, bloviations, pontifications, and cage-stages that await any student who really cares about doctrine. It’s entirely possible you’ll read this book in a seminary class-trust me, a second reading will probably do you good. Read it before you enroll.

There are many other good books you could read before seminary. I’d recommend a steady diet of what I call “substantive Christian living” books by authors such as A. W. Tozer, Tim Keller, Jerry Bridges, John Piper, Tullian Tchividjian, Trevin Wax, and C. J. Mahaney-books that will feed your soul and perhaps challenge your thinking in the months leading up to the start of your seminary education. I’d also encourage you to read some good Christian autobiographies and biographies-some of my personal favorites include works about Adoniram Judson, John Newton, William Carey, Charles Simeon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

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

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.