Remembering Dr. Russ Bush: A Tribute to a Mentor, Friend and Man of God

Remembering Dr. Russ Bush: A Tribute to a Mentor, Friend and Man of God

By Daniel L. Akin

It was one year ago that my colleague and friend Russ Bush left this world and stepped into the presence of his Lord and King. The date was January 22. Though time has lessened the pain of his absence, he still is greatly missed by those who knew him, studied under him and worked beside him. Fortunately the “L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture” will perpetuate his memory and legacy. I consider myself to have been greatly blessed in that: 1) he was my teacher (1981), 2) my dean (1992-1996), and 3) my trusted fellow administrator (2004-2008). Let me take a moment and reflect on each of these areas where he impacted my life as I seek to pay tribute to a wonderful man of God.

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Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 22: A Great Commission Seminary

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological 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 addresses 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.

Looking for a Great Commission Seminary?

By Danny Akin

Why Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary exists is made plain in our 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).” This is who we are plain and simple. Let me take the opportunity to unwrap that statement.

Southeastern Seminary exists to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is our passion and our priority. It is all about Him. If that ever changes, it would be best for us to disappear from planet earth! Our goal is to fulfill Colossians 1:18, that “He might come to have first place in everything.” Our hearts desire is to see Philippians 2:10-11 come to pass “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Southeastern Seminary aspires to be a Jesus-intoxicated seminary. We will be satisfied with nothing less.

Southeastern Seminary exists to equip students to serve the Church. We see ourselves as a servant to the churches who entrust their men and women, sons and daughters, to our care. Our reason for existing is “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, [growing] into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:12-13). Equipping students means teaching them what to believe and how to live. Southeastern Seminary is proudly confessional. We want people to know where we stand without apology or compromise. An outstanding faculty with well-trained minds and a missionary heart gladly teach in accordance with and not contrary to: 1) The Abstract of Principles; 2) The Baptist Faith and Message; 3) The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy; 4) The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Southern Baptists, the evangelical community, and for that matter the whole world can be certain of the biblical and theological instruction taking place in Wake Forest, North Carolina. They can also be confident that we are not interested in creating ivory tower theological eggheads who are disconnected from real persons and real life. We work hard to wed the head, the heart and the hands in fulfilling the Great Commission. We believe theology and missions go hand in hand. What we teach must be translated and transferred to where people live. Biblical truth is not only concerned with what we believe, it is also concerned with what we do.

Finally, Southeastern Seminary exists to fulfill the Great Commission. We are consumed with a passion to be a Great Commission Seminary. The call to take the gospel to the lost is a consistent drumbeat at Southeastern put before every student day after day after day.

Do our students need a reason to go to the nations? No! They need a reason to stay home! That is the heartbeat of Southeastern. 1.6 billion people have yet to hear the name of Jesus. Millions more have only a nominal witness. Our seminary exists to correct this problem! We believe there is no greater joy than seeing new believers place their faith in the Lord Jesus as they identify themselves with Him in His death, burial and resurrection. And, God has promised that they would be found in every nation and from all the peoples of the earth! What a gospel! What a mission! What an assignment! This is an awesome calling given to us by an awesome God!

Jerry Rankin is a dear friend to me and he is president of the International Mission Board. This is what he has said about Southeastern Seminary:

The increasing number and consistent flow of missionary candidates coming from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for service with the International Mission Board indicates a passion for missions that permeates the campus. Southeastern has emerged as a preeminent equipper for Great Commission fulfillment, and not only in the training of future missionaries. Those who go to pastor, serve on church staffs and in other areas of ministry are impacted and influenced by a focus on missions through studies in every department and academic discipline.

I believe in Southeastern Seminary. My calling to serve here is one of pure grace and goodness. I believe we are doing well, but I am also convinced our precious Lord wants us to do even more! My constant prayer is that God will raise up William Carey’s, Adoniram and Ann Judson’s, Bill Wallace’s, and Lottie Moon’s from the students who come to our campus. Do we need a reason to train students to take the gospel to the nations? Do we need a reason, as a seminary, to train a new generation of Great Commission Christians both at home and around the world? No, the commission is plain, and the need is self-evident.

Let me close with a personal word of appreciation that I hope will go out far and wide. Southeastern Seminary is particularly grateful for the faithful and generous support of Southern Baptists. They make it possible for us to provide the finest theological education at the lowest cost anywhere in the world. If you doubt this, just do a little cost comparison. You will be shocked at the difference! During this time of economic struggle, this commitment on the part of Southern Baptists is especially appreciated and it has never been more important. Southern Baptists make it possible for us to train Great Commission Christians. Thank you. Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for supporting us. Thank you for believing in what we do. It is a joy to partner with you in glorifying Jesus and fulfilling His Great Commission.

Some Reasons I Believe in Seminary and Theological Education

I am convinced that the most important characteristic or qualification of a minister is personal integrity. I address this several times every semester at Southeastern Seminary. Paul says in 1 Tim. 3:2 that a leader in the church must be blameless or above reproach. Personal integrity is foundational to everything else that one does in ministry. Second, I believe compassion and love for those we serve is crucial. Jesus said that love would be a distinguishing mark by which men would know that we are His disciples. Therefore, a genuine love and compassion for our people is absolutely essential. Third is biblical fidelity and conviction. A minister of Jesus Christ should live a Bible saturated life. If a minister does not believe in the inspiration and complete truthfulness of Scripture, in the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible, in my judgement he is not qualified to be a minister of the gospel. Our view of the Bible should be the same as that of the Lord Jesus and it is clear that He did not doubt a jot or a tittle (Matthew 5:17 & 18). Fourth, a minister must have a passion for the souls of lost men and women, boys and girls. Jesus came “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We, like our Lord, must be about the task of sharing the gospel, and do so as the Puritans said, “promiscuously.”

At Southeastern Seminary we are committed to training Apostle Pauls. We want men and women with keen minds and theological conviction balanced with a passion for missions and evangelism. Theology and missions should never be divorced. Indeed, each will be impoverished without the other.

Theological preparation can assist a minister in each of these areas. Of course it is the case that one can be competent without theological education, but theological education can take each of these four vital areas and assist the minister in his growth and development. Is theological preparation, then, the most important qualification or even a necessary qualification? No. But it certainly can be a great benefit for those who take the opportunity to pursue it.

I am convinced that tremendous problems will arise in a church as a result of a lack of theological education among its leadership. Our churches overall are grossly anemic in their basic knowledge of biblical and theological truth. The blame for this must lay at the feet of the ministers who are responsible for preaching the Word and also for committing biblical truth to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). Many of our churches are vulnerable to the latest theological fad or “wind of doctrine.” False teachings like open theism, salvific inclusivism, and even universalism can slip in unchecked if pastors are not instructing and exhorting their people in sound doctrine and refuting those who teach error (Titus 1:9). Theological education can assist a minister in knowing both what he believes and why he believes. It can help him understand the great theological debates throughout the history of the church (think divine sovereignty and human responsibility!) and to more readily recognize theological danger and error when it appears. Grounding ministers in biblical and theological truth can help them do the same for their church and enable a church to stand strong for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

I believe the minimum requirement in terms of theological education to be the master of divinity. Again, there are always exceptions to the case, but by and large this three year 90 hour program of study is what I would expect minimally for the minister who would pastor my church. Of course, more education is better. In fact, I encourage every minister that attends our Seminary to go as far in their theological education as they possibly can. Furthermore, I tend to throw down a gauntlet, but one that I believe is true, and say to them that anyone who has the ability, calling and opportunity to go all the way to the highest level and does not do so sins against God and prostitutes the gifts that the Lord has given them. It is a matter of Christian stewardship that we hone and refine the gifts that God has given us for His honor and His glory. Indeed, God deserves excellence in everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31). This includes our loving Him with our mind (Matt 22:37).

At Southeastern Seminary we seek to address the full orbed expectations of the minister of the Gospel. We begin by laying a strong foundation in biblical and theological studies. We continue to be committed to the original languages of Greek and Hebrew, and we believe that they are absolutely essential for the faithful preaching of the Word of God. We do not, however, want our ministers to become ivory tower theologians who are “no good” to the common people. Therefore, we balance our curriculum with strong emphases in missions, evangelism, leadership, biblical counseling, and expository preaching. We have developed “interim partnerships” with local churches who teach our students what they can learn only in the context of a local church. We want to expose our students to various models and approaches to ministry, critiquing all that we examine in light of Scripture.

Southeastern Seminary believes there is really only one valid model for preaching for an effective ministry. That model is exposition. We recognize that exposition can be done in different ways, however, the faithful preaching of God’s Word, book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and word by word cannot be neglected if the church is to be dynamic, vibrant and alive.

Far too many seminaries have compromised in the area of biblical and theological conviction, and as a result they have adopted a more therapeutic model when it comes to educating their ministers. A pastoral care model or a cooperate CEO model too often dominates rather than a pastor-teacher model (Eph. 4:11) which is true to Scripture. The good shepherd of a local church will feed and lead, preach and protect his flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). To do this effectively he must be convicted of biblical truth and grounded in biblical truth. At Southeastern Seminary we place a premium emphasis on the classic disciplines of theological education, and we are convinced that this is absolutely necessary for the health and vitality of the church in the 21st century.

The single most important reason that someone who believes that God has called them to ministry should pursue theological education is because it will enable them to be a better minister. Billy Graham has often said that if he could add anything to his ministry, it would be a seminary education. He believes that the ministry that God has given him would have been even more productive had he availed himself of seminary. That is a strong word from a very well respected voice. I believe all persons who are considering vocalional ministry would do well to heed the counsel of this great servant of God. I don’t think they will be disappointed, and neither will the people they serve.