Southern Baptist Seminaries Instill Baptist Heritage into Students

( [email protected] ) Jun 10, 2004 12:09 PM EDT

DALLAS -- The Southern Baptist Convention’s seminaries are encouraging its students not to lose Baptist heritage by offering courses relating to Baptist history. The SBC’s six seminaries speak of the importance of teaching Baptist heritage to its students.

"It is imperative that we tell our students again and again the story of how God brought Southern Baptists back to their theological roots and restored the seminaries in standing without reservation or hesitation upon the infallible and inerrant word of God," said Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin.

Southeastern offers a 16-week Baptist history class, to students as a requirement of all degree programs.

"We can never assume that the battles won in the past will be sufficient for the battles that we will engage today and in the future," Akin said. "It is easy for one generation to become unaware of what a previous generation fought for."

Southeastern also offers elective courses, including a class taught at the annual Southern Baptist Convention and a class relating to the state Baptist convention.

"We also have special presentations on the SBC, including the conservative resurgence, during a required new student orientation," Southeastern Seminary Academic Dean L. Russ Bush said.

At Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., church history professor Greg Wills said the history of the controversy is addressed in the second part of an introductory church history course which is required in every program of study.

"The conservative resurgence receives greater attention in a Baptist history course required for many of the master's degree programs," he said. "Various elective courses also treat the controversy extensively, including 'Southern Baptist Heritage, Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism,' and 'American Church History.'

According to Wills, Center for the Study of the Southern Baptist Convention has hosted conferences and forums addressing the conservative resurgence. Southern Seminary also offers a class that takes place at the annual meeting.

"In recent years our administration and faculty have felt increasingly confirmed in our conviction of the vital necessity of teaching students about our Baptist heritage, including its history, principles, polity, and character. The history of the conservative resurgence is a profoundly important part of that," Wills said.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has its main focus on the biblically oriented Reformation understanding of Baptist identity, rather than a freedom-oriented Enlightenment understanding of Baptist identity. Southern Baptist leaders such as Paul Pressler, Albert Mohler and Charles Fuller have led the Baptist Heritage class at Southwestern Seminary.

"Of course, we do teach the long Baptist struggle for religious liberty, but we carefully extricate religious liberty from its entanglement with theological liberalism which a recent generation of Baptist scholars have advocated," said Malcolm Yarnell, the assistant dean for theological studies at Southwestern.

Yarnell added, "This biblically oriented Reformation understanding of Baptist identity necessarily entails a review of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention."

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary follows almost the same method as Southeastern Seminary in teaching Baptist history. Golden Gate even offers extra credit for reading Leon McBeth’s “A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage” and for submitting paper on “the top 20 documents every Southern Baptist ought to know.”

Rick Durst, historical theology professor who teaches Golden Gate's class at the annual meeting, said, "The study encompasses the convention decision-making process and cooperative ministry and missions carried out by Southern Baptists [and] their participation at various levels.”

As for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, master of divinity and master of arts students are required to take Baptist history, which includes a study of the SBC and the Cooperative Program. Separate on-site courses focus on the history and operation of the Southern Baptist Convention and the state Baptist conventions.

"A significant amount of time is dedicated to the Elliot controversy in my class as well as divergent views of inspiration," Midwestern Seminary professor Alan Branch said.

By comparing and contrasting the doctrinal differences between the 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statements, Branch said he teaches the implications of the "criterion of interpretation" passage in the 1963 statement that is used "by moderates as a loophole to pitch Jesus against the Bible."

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has recently added a new course, “Pastoral Ministries Workshop: The Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program in Operation and Relationship," in hope to increase student attendance at the SBC annual meting and Cooperative Program awareness.

"We address the conservative resurgence primarily in our Baptist Heritage class in the graduate program, in 'Southern Baptist Life' in Leavell College, and to a lesser extent in 'History of Christianity: Reformation to Modern,'" New Orleans Seminary Provost Steve Lemke said.

Through a required orientation course, Lemke believes graduate students will be more informed about the Southern Baptist Convention early in their seminary career.