On October 21, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson proposed special offering called “W.A. Criswell Offering” for SBC seminaries in solution to the increases of the seminary tuition so that the students can lessen the financial burden as much as possible.
According to Patterson, Southern Baptists are facing a situation in which graduating seminary students cannot go to the mission field or minister small churches because of the debts they owe to school.
"No mission-sending agency will appoint any student from your school who has existing indebtedness," Patterson said. "The average Southern Baptist church has less than 200 people in Sunday School. If students graduate with a large amount of debt, they will not be able to make enough money to climb out of debt from their education and pastor those churches."
"When I went to seminary ... the cost was about $200 a semester, period. That was about all we had to pay. The Cooperative Program largely handled all of it. Today, 38 percent of our budget is all that is CP supported."
He said the funds from CP wouldn’t be enough to cover the increase in tuition.
"Fifty percent of the funds are given through churches to the International Mission Board. How are we going to up the percentage of what comes to the seminaries? The only way to do that is to take away from the IMB. It's not going to happen. Or the North American Mission Board; it's not going to happen.
"I can see no hope for the funding of increasingly expensive institutions ... . How do you do it? So we went to the Executive Committee and proposed we establish a new offering for the seminaries."
"The seminaries will all have a greater amount of money," he said. "One particular concern is faculty salaries. If you've looked at this you know this is an astonishing and heartbreaking situation. Southern Baptists are going to have to give an account to God for what we have not done in that regard."
Patterson also mentioned about the decreased number of hours students are devoting for school because they are working more to pay for their tuition
"While the number of students has been growing from [the] 10,000 to 14,000 level [in SBC seminaries] in the period of the last eight years, it is also true the number of hours each student has been taking has been falling," he said.
Due to this, the amount of Cooperative Program funds given to Southern Baptist Convention seminaries are also changing since the students no longer hold fulltime status.
However Patterson also addressed the possibility of negative outcome for the offering.
"There is an element of risk," Patterson said. "I do not know if it will succeed or not. My hunch is that, since the six seminaries are enjoying their greatest convention-wide popularity in history, we would overwhelmingly win in such a thing."
Southwestern trustee Van McClain, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary's extension campus in New York, made a motion that the seminary trustee board draft a resolution stating the board's support for the proposed offering. The resolution would be addressed to the SBC Executive Committee, McClain said. Seminary trustees approved the drafting of the resolution.
Patterson said that the goal of the seminary offering is not to "kill the goose that laid the golden egg." He tried to clarify that he is not proposing the offering to harm Cooperative Program by returning to the “society days,” which was a period before the Cooperative Program when each organization raised its own support.
"My own response is that such a view is shortsighted, because in your own church, when you are getting people to give, the more they give the more they give," Patterson said.
Michael Dean, former chairman of the trustee board, asked if the real reason the SBC Executive Committee opposed the seminary offering was because of a changing position on theological education, where it preferred "more of an MBA approach." That approach would mean more off-campus extension centers, more distance learning and more technology-based education.
In response Patterson said, "The fundamental distinction in how you do seminary education is very much involved in this." At the most recent Executive Committee meeting, he said, some new committee members said they believed that the "age of electronics has dawned, that the seminary campus is antiquated as an idea and that we need to move to primarily an electronic delivery system.”
"When the day comes that you train cardiac surgeons by an electronic medium and U.S. Navy Seals are trained on extension campuses and by means of electronic media, we'll be ready to do that in the seminary," he said. "But you know that will never happen. There are some kinds of situations that require on-the-job training."
He reinforced that the mentoring relationships between faculty members and students cannot be replaced, nor can the close contact with brothers and sisters in Christ who are pursuing the same calling. He also made sure SBC is not turning “dumb down the future” by going astray from the present model.
"Nobody here who is a seminary graduate could ever tell me the things he learned in seminary," he said. "You can't, even though you learned a lot. But if I asked who impacted your life while you were in seminary, you would immediately start naming off professors who shaped you."
"We are in serious danger of doing that," he said. "... We are not training occupation troops here. We are not training people how to clean their rifle only to put it on the shelf. We are training people to parachute behind enemy lines and take beachheads for Christ. ... If we have them for three years we can give you a tiger. Bat him down as many times as you want to and he'll be back. He will not fail. He will be morally upright and will not embarrass the church of God."