Southeastern Seminary (4): A Faculty Who Assess Themselves by Five Criteria

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

A Great Commission faculty member is one whose professorial vocation is shaped not only by his confessional commitments but also by professional standards in the field of higher education. These confessional commitments and professional standards are the criteria by which faculty members are appointed, elected, and promoted, but more importantly are the criteria by which they can measure growth in their divinely-given vocation. Five criteria are noteworthy: Christian character, classroom instruction, research and writing, church and community service, and institutional commitment.

1. Christian character. Professors display a Christian way of life. One way of encapsulating this way of life is to say that they are actively engaged in obeying the Great Commission. Another way is to view it through the lens of the Great Commandment, in which we are told that the Lord God is one (Mk 12:29), and which instructs, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:30-31). It is interesting to note that our Lord refers to the Shema as he articulates the two greatest commandments (Deut 6:4). He draws upon its declaration of God’s Oneness and its instruction to meditate upon God’s Word in order to instill Christian love for God and neighbor. We can say that the loving and mutually reciprocal inner life of the Triune God is the model for us as we seek to love God and neighbor. We can further say that love for God issues forth in love for neighbor. Faculty members love and honor God publicly in front of their students. They love and honor their fellow faculty members, the seminary’s administration and staff, and the students who sit under their tutelage. Such love is at odds with cynicism, hyper-criticism, and other vices which sometimes poison academic communities.

The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned, it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt. –J. L. Dagg

2. Classroom instruction. Professors shape their courses and pedagogy consciously in light of the mission, and the core competencies which cause students to flourish as learners. A professor’s course never stands in a one-to-one relationship with any single core competency; indeed, even though a particular course will emphasize certain competencies over others, it will somehow be related to all of the competencies. A systematic theology course, for example, will conceptualize and articulate truth by reflecting upon biblical teaching (biblical exposition), conceptualizing and articulating it (critical thinking and communication), bringing it into conversation with what has been learned in other courses (theological integration), applying it to life and ministry (ministry preparation), and allowing it to drive us deeper into fellowship with God (spiritual formation). Inversely, a core competency never stands in an exclusive relationship with any single course or discipline. Biblical exposition, for example, is not the sole possession of the Old Testament and New Testament faculties. Each professor shapes all of his courses in light of God’s Word, listening attentively to his address in relation to the subject matter at hand. Moreover, Great Commission classroom instruction extends beyond course design into instructional method and style. Great Commission professors value each student under their charge, embracing the challenge to teach every student the churches send, whether that student is undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate; whether that student is residential or online; whether that student is learned or unlearned; whether that student is male or female; whether that student is a member of our ethnic and cultural heritage or not.

To teach seriously is to lay hands on what is most vital in a human being. . . . Poor teaching, pedagogic routine, a style of instruction which is, unconsciously or not, cynical in its mere utilitarian aims, are ruinous. They tear up hope by its roots. Bad teaching is, almost literally, murderous and metaphorically, a sin. It diminishes the student, it reduces to gray inanity the subject being presented. –George Steiner

3. Scholarship: Professors will engage regularly in research and writing. God’s revelation of himself sets the stage for the importance of such scholarship, which is vital to the life of the seminary. Because God has spoken, we listen attentively to his voice, in submission to the Scriptures, seeking to craft lecture notes and publish research in a manner worthy of our calling. As we teach our students to love the Lord God will all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, we ourselves demonstrate love for God by faithfully engaging our chosen disciplines with spiritual purpose and intellectual rigor. Although some professors will be more inclined than others toward research and writing, each professor is expected to engage in research and writing at some level, for the good of our students, our colleagues, and various publics who might benefit. A professor who continues to grow and develop within his field is likely to be a more interesting classroom instructor. A stagnant researcher is likely to make a stale instructor. Further, one of the seminary’s distinctives is its expectation that faculty members remain in scholarly conversation with professors from other disciplines, so that each professor has a transdisciplinary perspective which helps him to understand his own chosen field of research. It should be noted that the seminary integrated its office space for just such a reason. Faculty offices are not arranged by departments or fields of research; instead they are integrated in a transdisciplinary fashion.

The point of Christian scholarship is not recognition by standards established in the wider culture. The point is to praise God with the mind. Such efforts will lead to the kind of intellectual integrity that sometimes receives recognition. But for the Christian that recognition is only a fairly inconsequential by-product. The real point is valuing what God has made, believing that the creation is as ‘good’ as he said it was, and exploring the fullest dimensions of what it meant for the Son of God to ‘become flesh and dwell among us.’ Ultimately, intellectual work of this sort is its own reward, because it is focused on the only One whose recognition is important, the One before whom all hearts are open. –Mark Noll

[The scholarly life] implies a serious resolution. The life of study is austere and imposes grave obligations. It pays, it pays richly; but it exacts an initial outlay that few are capable of. The athletes of the mind, like those of the playing field, must be prepared for privations, long training, a sometimes superhuman tenacity. We must give ourselves from the heart, if truth is to give itself to us. Truth serves only its slaves. –A. G. Sertillanges

4. Church and Community Service. Professors serve their churches and communities. Similar to a profession of faith in Christ, meaningful membership is a prerequisite to one’s vocation as a seminary professor. A seminary professor who is not regularly and closely involved in the life of his church is disqualified vocationally. Although a professor may not be serving on staff at a church, he is known as a regular attender, a person in close fellowship with the church, and one who otherwise demonstrates his commitment to the redeemed community. Through meaningful church membership, professors teach their students that one who loves Christ will also love Christ’s bride; they model for their students the life-on-life discipleship that emerges fully only within a local church setting.  Likewise, professors may find ways to serve the community.

The enduring authority of Christ’s commands compels Christians to study the Bible’s teaching on the church…. Christian proclamation might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (see John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible. -Mark Dever

5. Institutional Commitment. Professors serve at Southeastern because they are committed to Christ’s call on their lives through the ministries of this institution. They teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the articles of faith and statements of affirmation. They are committed to the vision and mission of the seminary as expressed in its mission statement. They are committed to engendering faith, hope, and love among their colleagues, students, and the administration. Although the seminary is not a church and should not be confused with one, it is indeed an institution which trains the church’s servants and which should therefore serve as a model of Christian community. Faculty members will be careful to love and honor students, colleagues, and the seminary’s leadership. They will pray for the seminary community, and faithfully seek to play a part in the spiritual vitality of that community.

Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim…. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -G. K. Chesterton

Doing Theology as a Servant of Jesus (2): Theology Aims at the Head, the Heart, and the Hands

One of the benefits of marriage is that it brings a theologian down to earth. During the first years of my marriage to Lauren, my patient wife had to listen to hours of my theological bloviations, which I delivered with the oratorical verve of Will Ferrell and a great deal of unsuccessfully suppressed self-satisfaction. After I had finally given birth to the entirety of my “train of thought” (on creational ontology, revelational epistemology, or some other lofty topic), she would say something to the effect of “Now, what’s your point?,” “Would you please define your terms?,” or “And in what possible world does this matter?” So, in honor of my wife (to whom I owe myself a thousand times over, as she no doubt knows, though she never lets on. Or not very often), we’ll kick off this series by defining “theology,” and then proceeding to several posts that discuss “how to do it” and “why it matters.”

What is theology? If we are going to reflect upon theology, we must first define it. There exist as many definitions of theology as there are theologians, and the various ways of defining it are not necessarily opposed to one another, but one way to put it is to say that it is “disciplined reflection on God’s self-revelation, for the purposes of knowing and loving God, and participating in his mission in this world.”[1] Theology is disciplined reflection on God’s self-revelation, because the God we know, love, and obey has revealed himself in times past through his mighty acts, through his prophets and apostles, and through the incarnation of his Son, and now reveals himself through his written Word (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). This written Word is the primary source upon which a theologian draws, and is the norm by which we measure any other theological source (e.g. church tradition).

Further, theology is done for the purpose of knowing and loving God, and participating in his mission in this world. The task of theology is cognitive, affective, and dispositional. It aims at the head, the heart, and the hands. J. L. Dagg writes, “The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned, it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt.”[2] Theology entails more than merely acquiring information about God; it entails affection for God and submission to God. When the theologian properly attends to the cognitive, affective, and dispositional dimensions of the task, he is able to glorify God’s name. Herman Bavinck writes, “… a theologian, a true theologian, is one who speaks out of God, through God, about God, and does this always to the glorification of His name.”[3] The task of theology, therefore, is to glorify God by knowing, loving, and serving him.

One of the things I’m really driving at here is the fact that theology should not be an ivory-tower enterprise. When it becomes disconnected from God’s church and her mission, and when it becomes an endeavor undertaken by isolated “intellectuals” who are not actively serving God and hischurch, it ceases to be a truly Christian theology. When Paul did theology, he did it in the midst of ministry and mission. And his theology furthered the ministry and mission. So there is a mutually beneficial relationship between Christian theology and Christian ministry. We will talk more about this in a later installment.

[1] This definition can be further nuanced by distinguishing between more specific approaches to theology, such as biblical theology, systematic theology, and integrative theology. These nuances are briefly treated later in this chapter.

[2] J. L. Dagg, A Manual of Theology (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano, 1982), 13.

[3] Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1956), 31.