A New PhD Track for Worship Leaders and Worship Theologians

Worship leaders and worship theologians are of the greatest significance to our churches and seminaries. For this reason  we at SEBTS are more than a little excited to introduce a new PhD in Theology & Worship which does not require the student to move to SEBTS’ campus.

Students will come to campus for short periods of time in order to take one-week intensive seminars, after which time they will return to their places of ministry where they will continue to research and write while also serving their churches.

Rather than being a music-based degree, the PhD in Theology & Worship integrates multiple theological and ministerial disciplines such as Bible, theology, pastoral ministry, and worship. This will prepare students for future roles in local church worship leadership, academic research, scholarship and higher educational classroom instruction.

Students will take seminars in History of Worship, Theology of Worship, and Ministry of Worship. Those seminars are complemented by seminars in Doctrine of the Church, Doctrine of the Christian Life, The Church in Its Cultural Context, and Christian Faith & the Arts. Students will also take and independent study with a professor external to SEBTS, a professor who will chose based upon his expertise in the student’s chosen dissertation topic.

Students will study under a total of nine professors in this degree track. Professors for this PhD track include four systematic theologians John Hammett (PhD, Southern Seminary), Bruce Ashford (PhD, Southeastern Seminary), Keith Whitfield (PhD, Southeastern Seminary), and Benjamin Quinn (PhD cand., University of Bristol). In addition, seminars will be taught by musicologists Joshua Waggener (PhD, University of Durham) and John Boozer (DMA, Louisiana State University), Baptist historian Keith Harper (PhD, University of Kentucky), missiologist Chuck Lawless (PhD, Southern Seminary), and philosopher Bruce Little (PhD, Southeastern Seminary).

The PhD in Theology & Worship was created to help advance the understanding and practice of worship life in the Christian church, and to prepare students for future roles in local church worship leadership, academic research and scholarship, and higher educational classroom instruction.

For more information, and to inquire about the application process, click here.

Bruce Marshall on “The Theologian’s Ecclesial Vocation”

Among life’s better experiences is an unhurried reflection on whatever is the most recent edition of First Things, a magazine that publishes short pieces on issues at the intersection of religion and public life.  In the October 2013 edition, Bruce D. Marshall’s “The Theologian’s Ecclesial Vocation” caught my attention.[1]

Marshall, Professor of Christian Doctrine at Perkins School of Theology, tells the story of a national meeting of Catholic theologians. They had gathered to discuss what they perceived as the Vatican’s intrusive attempts to enforce Catholic teaching in the theology departments of Catholic institutions of higher education. “One after another, the theologians rose to voice their indignation at the very idea that the Catholic Church had the right to pass any sort of judgment on their fitness to teach theology. One member of the panel . . . observed that requiring Catholic theology professors to profess the teachings of the Catholic Church didn’t seem like all that much to ask” (pp. 41–2). Marshall notes that the audience was less than enthusiastic about this person’s observation.

Marshall notes that this story illustrates a common assumption among many academics: because theology is a science and science is an intellectual endeavor—as the argument goes––intellectuals should be free to pursue and publish their findings, whatever they may be. Under this view, “Theologians must be free to follow evidence and arguments wherever they may lead, unencumbered by outside interference, especially the interference of those who––like most bishops––are not themselves intellectuals” (p. 42). In other words, intellectuals often balk at the idea of any sort of restraint being placed upon their teaching and writing, especially when that restraint comes from confessional communities.

Marshall argues that this errant conception should be corrected. “Precisely as an intellectual, the theologian’s calling and task are from the Church, and so his responsibility is to the Church . . . Theology exists to serve the Church . . . The intellectual and the ecclesial belong together.” The full truth according to Marshall, then, is that because of the very nature of theology and the Church, those teaching theology necessarily serve the Church.

This in no way denies the scientific nature of the task. Marshall notes that theologians provide a necessary service for the Church. They provide the reasons the Church believes what it believes and does what it does. “Faith seeks understanding,” Marshall writes. “It starts to become theology when it searches out reasons for the truth of what it believes. . . . [The theologian’s] task is to give reasons and thereby help the learner begin to see the light the teacher already sees, the light shining from the Christian mysteries themselves” (p. 42). The ecclesial nature of the theological task does not somehow render the task less serious.

The author also argues that theological efforts (like theologians) exist in community rather than in isolation. “Every intellectual activity is responsible to a community, and not only to the ingenuity or insight of its individual practitioners.” There is an inherent difficulty (for theologians) in this truth: the community consists of many stakeholders who are not intellectuals. Marshall writes, “The community to which theologians finally answer [after their peers] is the Church. But the Church is made up mostly of those who are not intellectuals and who do not practice theology. How can this be?” (p. 42) Marshall argues that this can be because, “accepting the judgment of the Church belongs to the very nature of the theologian’s vocation, just as accepting the ways of the sea belongs to the vocation of the fisherman” (p. 43). As for why the church is equipped to critically assess the theology of a particular theologian, Marshall argues that the answer lies in the nature of Christian community: “Neither the act of breathing nor what one breathes is communally mediated at all, but the act of believing and what one believes are” (p. 43). That is, what defines the Christian community is the public truth (i.e. the gospel) that grounds and norms the belief of each individual in the community and thus makes the community what it is.

One might object that this suppresses the prophetic role of the theologian, his role “to criticize the Church and so change the Church for the better . . . .” If not, won’t the theologian simply uphold the status quo? Marshall anticipates this counterpoint and responds: the conscience (of the theologian) must be followed but the conscience may be wrong. “We sin if we fail to follow our conscience, but heeding its voice is no guarantee of virtue.” Moreover theologians may fall to the sin of pride (“a studied ingratitude”) by not allowing other “ordinary Christians” to correct their sinful speculations, which take the form of “intellectual freedom” (p. 43).

Intellectual freedom and conscience are important values for both Church and theologian, Marshall notes, “but they are not absolute values” (p. 43). Theologians must, by the nature of their role, distinguish between faithful and false dissent. To do so, Marshall sees the proper ordering of faith and science (or reasons) in theology as essential. “Faith and reason are not opposites, to be sure, but there is a definite and ordered relationship between them . . . Faith perfects reason . . . It is not reason that perfects faith . . . ” (p. 44). What do theologians do in the case of deep disagreement with the Church?

Theologians must, then, engage in loyal dissent: “faced with a conflict between the teaching of the Church and his own conscience, should accept the right of the Church . . . to judge his teaching, even though his judges may not be his natural intellectual equals.” This is no different for any other Christian. As Marshall rightly notes, “By calling us to life in his Church, Christ bids every Christian to have an ecclesial appreciation of her or his vocation” (p. 44). In this way the theologian privileges the right of the Christian community, for Marshall the Catholic Church, to point him or her back to the God and community he or she serves. Marshall rightly concludes that, “this surely requires a high view of the Church” (p. 45).

In response, I’ll make two points. First, although Marshall’s ecclesial context is different from ours, such that we must speak of Baptist churches (plural) rather than the Baptist Church (singular), his central point remains valid. Academic theologians who teach at Baptist colleges, universities, and seminaries must realize that they are responsible to the churches that created and nourished those institutions. Although theologians teach and write for various audiences (including church, academy, and society), it is the church who called their institution into existences and the church who ultimately has the right to judge their teaching.

Second, as Marshall noted, certain theologians equate theology with science and then hurriedly conclude that their (scientific) investigations should be unfettered, and certainly should not be restrained by those who are not themselves intellectuals. In addition to the correctives to this view which Marshall provided, I add this: theology is a “science” which has God’s revelation as its data. There is first of all God’s word for creation by which the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork (Ps 19:1). There is second of all God’s Word Incarnate, who perfectly images God and who is the key to the meaning of creation. And finally, there is God’s Word written, which is our indispensable theological guide. Theology is disciplined reflection upon God’s Word written, which itself provides corrective lenses which enable us to see clearly his word for creation and his Word Incarnate. Further, theology is a science (scientia) which has wisdom (sapientia) as its end, a wisdom which issues forth in worship and mission. In sum, any theology which is not a disciplined reflection on God’s self-revelation, and which does not issue forth in worship and mission, is not a theology from or for the church. Thus it is one that should be judged as deficient by the church.



[1] Bruce D. Marshall, “The Theologian’s Ecclesial Vocation” (First Things, Oct 2013): 41–45.

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Southeastern Seminary (2): A Mission Centered on our Lord’s Great Commission

[Note: This blogpost is the second installment in a five-part series which articulates and expounds Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s mission to be a Great Commission seminary.]

The mission of God, depicted in the previous blogpost, is one in which he redeems his imagers and restores his good creation. However, we find ourselves living “between the times,” as it were. We live in an era between the first and second comings of our Lord, an era in which Christ’s reign has been initiated but not fully realized. In this time between the times, the Lord commissions us to be signs and instruments of his kingdom, charging us to bring the totality of our lives under submission to his Lordship, and making disciples of all the ethne. One of the purest distillations of this mission is found in the Matthean account of the Great Commission, to which the seminary’s mission statement refers. Matthew writes, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen” (Mt 28:19-20). Matthew presupposes the mission of God and applies it to the mission of God’s people in a way that is uniquely helpful for articulating the seminary’s ministries. Arising from the main points of this text are three imperative characteristics of our seminary faculty:

1. At SEBTS, we will not take for granted the Lordship of Christ. Our Lord begins this passage by declaring that all authority had been given to him in heaven and on earth. This “heaven and earth” language points the reader back to the Genesis account, linking Christ the Redeemer with God the Creator. Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, is the one true and living God. This Jesus—Lord of creation and new creation—is the one who commands us and does so with universal authority. A healthy Great Commission seminary, therefore, will provide an environment in which students learn to bring all of life under submission to Christ’s Lordship. Christ is Lord over our personal, social, and cultural lives; Sovereign over our spiritual, moral, rational, creative, relational, and physical lives; King over our families, churches, workplaces, and communities.

2. At SEBTS, we will make disciple-making the focal point of our mission. Just as the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sent them to others. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn 20:21). His directive is missiological, extending beyond Jerusalem and the people of Israel to the uttermost reaches of the earth—to all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations. It is proclamatory and prophetic, in that believer’s baptism by immersion serves as a proclamation and a picture of the gospel, and a preview of the coming Kingdom, when Christ the King will resurrect not only his anthropos but also his cosmos. It is ecclesiological, as baptism precedes and leads to fellowship with a local church. It is personal and spiritual, as baptism signifies one’s personal profession of allegiance to the Triune God.  Finally, it is deeply pedagogical and theological as it involves teaching everything that Christ commanded, a charge that ultimately involves us in teaching the entirety of the Christian Scripture, in whom Christ is the towering actor and of whom Christ is the ultimate author. A Great Commission seminary, therefore, is one in which students learn to study and to teach the Scriptures in their entirety; one which encourages personal and spiritual renewal and corporate spiritual vitality; one which understands its mission as arising from the church and in turn serving the church; one which pulses with the heartbeat of world mission, recognizing that we live in a time—between the times—when God is searching for servants who will say “Here I am” in willingness to take the gospel to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

3. At SEBTS we will engender trust in Christ, who alone can empower our mission. In our mission to make disciples, the Lord will always be with us. He undergirds the mission with his presence and power, and will do so until the end. Because of his resurrection, the world has a deeply joyful ending, one in which the Lord redeems for himself worshipers from among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and he dwells with them forever in a renewed heaven and earth. A Great Commission seminary, therefore, is one which engenders confidence in God, the gospel, and our mission. The task is daunting, considering that opposition to the gospel has never been more formidable than in the twenty-first century. The magnitude of our task, however, is matched and exceeded by the magnitude of our biblical convictions: that God is a missionary God; that a central theme in the Scriptures is God’s desire to win the nations unto himself; that God will do so through the gospel of his incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Son; that the church’s task in each generation is to proclaim the gospel, make disciples of the nations, and bring God glory in every conceivable manner; and that God has promised and will secure the final triumph of his gospel, even to the ends of the earth.