The Future Of Theological Education In The Southern Baptist Convention -- By: Bill J. Leonard

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 06:1 (Fall 1988)
Article: The Future Of Theological Education In The Southern Baptist Convention
Author: Bill J. Leonard

The Future Of Theological Education
In The Southern Baptist Convention

Bill J. Leonard

Professor of Church History,
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

In 1859, shortly after the founding of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, John A. Broadus, faculty member and future seminary president, declared that

in our seminary the student will not be required, at the beginning or at the end, to accept any given symbol or doctrine. The professors must accept a brief abstract of principles, as one safeguard against their teaching heresy; but they are supposed to be men [sic] who have already formed their leading opinions who will undertake the professorship only if they can concur in these principles, and will therefore not be materially restricted in their inquiries, while the students will be perfectly at liberty and constantly encouraged to think for themselves.1

In 1986, former convention president, Adrian Rogers, declared:

I do not believe it is the place of the seminary to “stretch us” and lead us into areas where we have never been before. Our theology needs to rise from our lay- and pastor theologians, and this needs to be reflected in our seminaries .... A seminary is not a university in a quest for truth. Southern Baptists are a missionary organization spreading the truth that we hold in common.2

An 1874 editorial published in The Baptist (Memphis, Tennessee) objected to the fact that certain doctrines taught at Southern Seminary contradicted those held by “four or five state conventions.” The writer expressed concern that Southern Baptist funds should be used to support professors who advocated views contrary to those held in the churches. Such practices made the Seminary, “too far removed from the people to ever recover from its embarrassment.”3

James P. Boyce, the Seminary’s first president, responded that the school’s Abstract of Principles was written around three basic concerns. First, it clearly delineated the “fundamental doctrines of grace.” Second, it affirmed those distinct Baptist principles which were “universally prevalent.” Third, Boyce wrote, “upon no point, upon which the denomination is divided, should the Convention, and through it the Seminary, take a position.”4

From a historical perspective theological education remains an enigma in the Southern Baptist Convention. Since its beginning in 1845, the denomination has de...

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