Theological education, Southern Baptists and the future of Midwestern Seminary

KANSAS CITY – In a series of eight essays posted on his blog in June, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason Allen described his vision for theological education at a Southern Baptist seminary. To read the unabridged essays, titled “For the Church,” visit www.jasonkallen.com. The following includes excerpts from these essays:

The educational crisis and the seminary’s mission

“Current observers of higher education, including theological seminaries, likewise acknowledge a crisis exists in many of the seminaries and divinity schools in North America today. This crisis is so profound it is forcing institutions to re-conceptualize their model of education and their means of delivering it…

“Sadly, the most urgent and consequential crisis in theological education is not one of funding. It is more fundamental and philosophical; the crisis is one of identity. What is a seminary to be? Stemming from and coupled with this crisis of identity is a crisis of mission. What is a seminary to do?

“The answers to these questions of identity and mission are predetermined because a seminary is to be a pre-committed entity that looks to Scripture for its purpose and mission. When a seminary looks to Scripture for its identity, it will be drawn to one inescapable conclusion: a seminary must exist For the Church. When Christ promised in Matthew 16 to build his church, it was more than a reference to a secondary kingdom initiative. Rather, it was a prophetic word, a declaration, as to his redemptive and kingdom intent.

“After all, Christ died for his church. He is the head of his church. He is the church’s bridegroom. He gifts his followers for service in the church. He calls out pastors, teachers, and evangelists to equip his church. When baptized, believers are baptized into his church. Christ is currently building his church, and he will one day return for his church. In fact, Christ is so personalized with his church that he identifies persecution against his church as persecution of himself.

“Therefore, Christ’s preoccupation with his church must inform a seminary’s rationale and mission. His pledge to build his church is not only a promise to which a seminary should cling, but it is also a mandate a seminary should embrace. After all, Jesus has promised to build his church – not his seminary. …

“Midwestern Seminary is unquestionably committed to serving the church and is unapologetically bending her resources and energies toward this end.”

The need for doctrinal fidelity

“Throughout the Conservative Resurgence, professors often engaged in an insidious game of ‘catch me if you can.’ When an allegation of heterodoxy arose, the moderate establishment placed the burden of proof on the ‘fundamentalists.’ Moderates argued that fundamentalists bore the moral responsibility to sift through their obfuscation and “double speak” to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, their guilt of errant belief. The moderates assumed the conservatives were morally obligated to function like a court of law, honor-bound to prove conclusively that a professor had violated the confession of faith. Such burden of proof is nonsensical and needless.

“It is not the Southern Baptist Convention’s moral responsibility to find evidence – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that a professor is violating their confessional commitment. Rather, each signatory bears the moral and confessional obligation to demonstrate, prima facie, that he or she believes and teaches in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. The burden of proof is not on the denomination; the burden of proof rests on those whose salary the denomination pays. The Southern Baptist Convention has every right to expect members of their seminaries’ instructional staff to demonstrate, in a prima facie way, their own theological faithfulness. …

“The fulcrum of doctrinal accountability for a seminary is its confessional statement, but it is only as meaningful as the integrity of the one signing it, and only as helpful as the courage and care of those charged with enforcing it. This oversight begins with the seminary’s administration, but it encompasses the churches that own the seminary.

“As the Constitutional Convention adjourned in Philadelphia in 1787, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked, ‘Mr. Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?’ ‘A republic, madam,’ Franklin replied, ‘if you can keep it.’

“We may amend this story and ask, ‘What have Paul Pressler, Paige Patterson, and Adrian Rogers bequeathed to this generation of Southern Baptists?’ The answer is doctrinally faithful seminaries, but we must have the courage and determination to keep them.”

An appreciation for the Southern Baptist tradition

“In The Vindication of Tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan famously observed that tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. As Southern Baptists, we should eschew traditionalism, but happily embrace our tradition, for it is rich indeed. To fawn for a denominational golden era is unhelpful nostalgia, and the seminary or church that determines to live in the past will soon be relegated to history itself. However, to neglect our heritage is a ruinous form of denominational amnesia that exhibits a most strident form of ingratitude. Southern Baptists’ blood, toil, tears, sweat – and yes, money – founded, built, maintained, and recovered our institutions. We both honor our Baptist forebears and inform and strengthen our present witness when we appreciate our Southern Baptist heritage. In other words, we need to keep the faith, but pass on our tradition. …

“The frequent discontinuity between students and the denomination is regrettable, but not inalterable. As an SBC seminary, Midwestern bears a missiological and moral imperative to instill within our students knowledge of and appreciation for the SBC.”

A priority for training pastors, missionaries

“If Southern Baptist seminaries do not intentionally train the next generation of pastors, then from whence will they come? Seminaries are not indispensable, but under the auspices of Christ’s plan to build his church, the pastoral office is indispensable. While Midwestern Seminary does many things, and many things well, we unapologetically minister under an Ephesians 4 mandate, giving our best energies to training to pastors, ministers, and evangelists for the Church.”

A burden for the lost

“An institution that graduates students eager to preach Christ, plant churches, and disembark to the mission field is an institution that is doing something right. Conversely, an institution that sends forth graduates apathetic about the Great Commission and unburdened for the lost is an institution that has lost its way. Midwestern Seminary must settle for nothing less than training a generation of ministers burdened over the lost and zealous for the Great Commission.”