GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (6): Challenges for the Seminaries
By Danny Akin and Bruce Riley Ashford
Southern Baptist seminaries, like any other entity, need to give extended reflection upon their vision and mission. We must never lose sight of the fact that our calling is to serve the churches of the SBC; our vision, mission, and core values must reflect the churches of the Southern Baptist convention, in whose service we were created and under whose supervision we remain.
The first challenge for the seminaries is to maintain fidelity to Christian Scripture, allowing Scripture to provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for all theological reflection.
For three decades now, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have united over their belief in the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. We confess that the Scriptures are ipsissima verba Dei, the very words of God. This we have made very clear. What we have not made clear, however, is whether we are committed to allowing our high view of Scripture to determine and shape our ministry methods and practices. “It has become apparent,” David Dockery writes, “that a firm theological foundation is important for faithful Gospel proclamation. Pastors, theologians, evangelists, and lay people must work harder at closing the gap between theology and the work of evangelism so that our theology is done for the church and our proclamation is grounded in biblically based theology.”
A second challenge for the seminaries is to produce ministry-minded graduates instead of seminary eggheads. The brutal fact is that seminaries sometimes produce students who can discourse on theological abstractions but who are detached from real-life ministry. Seminaries must develop curriculum that keep theology and ministry riveted to one another, that are “specifically geared toward equipping local church leadership (both students and non-students) in areas such as preaching, evangelism, discipleship, pastoral ministries, church planting, international missions, and biblical counseling, etc.” Further, they must “cooperate with local associations, state convention, NAMB and the IMB in planning and hosting church planting training that puts international missions and church planting in the life-blood of all the students our churches entrust to [their] care.”
A third challenge the seminaries face is how to locate as much of our education as possible in the local church. Is there a reason not to return certain courses of study, such as pastoral ministries, to their native environment in the local church? As the GCRTF puts it, this will include developing “a strategy for cultivating more local church-based partnerships for M.Div.-level theological education, particularly in underserved regions in North America;” further, it will include developing “more opportunities for students to gain tangible experience and earn seminary credit by serving in local church internships or short-term mission assignments and provide financial assistance to students who avail themselves of these opportunities.”
A fourth challenge for the seminaries is how to provide the most affordable, appropriate, and effective mechanisms in order to allow every Southern Baptist minister an opportunity to receive a formal theological education. We must ask many questions: Are there ways we can streamline our institutions? Would it be a good idea to reduce the number of seminaries? Are there ways in which the seminaries are divisively competitive and instead need to become more of a network of truly cooperative campuses? Could such a network provide, for example, a combination of on-campus and distance education to international missionaries in a way more beneficial that what is offered presently? Would it be willing to renegotiate archaic agreements about extension campuses and online education, so that every Southern Baptist pastor who wants to have a theological education can receive one without being forced to leave the church he is serving?
All pastors need to be theologians and all good theology is pastoral; all missionaries must be theologians and all good theology is missional. Seminary education must always be directed toward producing hot-hearted ministers who “do theology for a church on mission.” Therefore, let us commit to a paradigm in which we do theology primarily for the church rather than the academy, in which we are ever-responsible to the needs of the very churches who support us, and with our down payment on this commitment being an affirmative vote for the GCRTF’s recommendations.