Southeastern Seminary In Crisis: 1986–87 -- By: Morris Ashcraft

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 06:1 (Fall 1988)
Article: Southeastern Seminary In Crisis: 1986–87
Author: Morris Ashcraft

Southeastern Seminary In Crisis: 1986–87

Morris Ashcraft

Professor of Theology
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

For some, Southeastern Seminary has been destroyed. For others, the trauma was a necessary preparation for a grand “new beginning.” For all, it was the end of an era.

The Southern Baptist Convention established Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on May 10, 1950. The seminary began instruction on September 12, 1951 and graduated its first class in the spring of 1954. The seminary earned accreditation in record time with both The Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada and The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SEBTS has graduated over 6000 students who carry out their varied ministries in a large part of the world. The peak in enrollment was 1982–84 when over 1200 were enrolled.

The founding documents and the operating manuals of the institution indicate that Southeastern Seminary was intended and continued to be a distinctive Baptist theological center open not only to its region and denomination but to the larger Christian community. The doctrinal standard was determined by the Southern Baptist Convention as “The Abstract of Principles” which had been written in 1858 by Basil Manly, Jr. and adopted by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in its beginning in 1859. At Southeastern Seminary, this document is known as the “Articles of Faith.”

In a series of trustee meetings in 1987, the trustees made radical changes in the governance of the school with particular respect to the administration’s role, the selection of faculty members, and unofficially, the doctrinal stance of the school. These abrupt changes precipitated the resignations of the president, most of the senior administrators of the school and other faculty and staff.

If the “Golden Age” of Southern Baptists was the thirty-year period between 1949 and 1979, Southeastern Seminary’s entire life has been in that golden age. Despite the ominous controversy which began in 1979, Southeastern had her greatest years in the golden twilight of the early and mid-eighties. The trauma of Southeastern Seminary in 1987 had its immediate origin in the SBC Take-Over which began in 1979.

I. The Take-Over of the SBC

Southern Baptists have endured numerous controversies, but perceptive observers noted in 1979 that this one would be different. It was an across-the-board attack which aimed at control of all the SBC agencies and

boards. Previous controversies had been limited to individuals, or specific institutions or publications, etc. This was different.

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