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.

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  1. Roger Simpson   •  

    Dr. Finn:

    Thanks for putting up this multi-part post. This fills many gaps in my knowledge of the history of Southeastern.

    I didn’t know that Dr. Bush wrote the book “Baptists and the Bible”. In fact, I had never even heard of that book. I’m going to go to Amazon (or maybe my local Lifeway store?) and see if I can get a copy of it.


    Roger Simpson Oklahoma City

  2. Nathan Finn   •     Author


    It’s a great and important book. You should definitely read it.

  3. Gene Scarborough   •  

    This segment reflects a “golden dream” view of SEBTS. You have relied too heavily on the publications of the Seminary for it.

    Some realities:
    1) In the face of published statistics of great enrollment, I journeyed to the campus to do a photographic recording of pictures of all classrooms at the most popular class hour–11:00 Tuesday. That strip of film I will gladly share with you. It shows about 80% of all those new and old classrooms—EMPTY.

    2) You fail to cite the academic background of the new faculty—most from places such as Liberty University, etc. It reflects an unbalanced faculty in the face of one which could not be characterized as you imply to be “liberal.”

    3) Also in previous years any student metriculating without additional fees had to be recommended by his local SBC church. I was not allowed any access to student files to determine how many were non-SBC.

    4) In private conversations around the Library and across campus I often asked, “And what church are you from.” The answer given by a vast majority indicated students from Liberty U / Bob Jones / Pat Robertson’s University / etc. My personal observation was Patterson drew students from all the conservative schools with which he had a connection.

    5) The alumni magazines I continued to receive were about 60% a publication lauding Dr. Patterson over the courses being taught and books being written by faculty.

    I viewed it as “President worship” which had never been a part of the alumni magazine before.

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