Southern Seminary celebrates McCall on the anniversary of his presidential election

Communications Staff — September 8, 2011

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary honored former president Duke K. McCall, Sept. 6, on the 60th anniversary of his election as president of the seminary.

In an unprecedented service afforded only few institutions, current Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. led a full-to-capacity Alumni Chapel in celebrating McCall’s more than 32 years as president of the school. McCall, who served at Southern from 1951 to 1982 as the institution’s seventh president, also turned 97 years old, Sept. 1. These two milestones offered the seminary the opportunity to highlight the life and legacy of McCall, one of the most influential figures in Southern Baptist history.

“Moments of grace are often rare. And this was an incredible moment of God’s grace and mercy to be able to welcome back a patriarch, Dr. Duke K. McCall, whose involvement with Southern Seminary spans more than half of its 152-year history,” Mohler said. “It was a very rare and singularly important occasion for Southern Seminary to honor Dr. McCall for the 60th anniversary of his election as president of this institution.”

McCall, whose contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention cover most of the 20th century, massively shaped both Southern Seminary and the convention in ways that continue to define them today.

“Dr. Duke McCall is representative of a generation of Southern Baptists who served and built this denomination, its churches and institutions,” Mohler said. “We need to remember that we  are living in houses we did not build and we are drinking from wells we did not dig. And, as God’s people are warned not to take these things for granted, we must live in constant appreciation to those who helped to build all that we build upon.

“At the same time, it is very important to be able to articulate what has taken place in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention and why it’s so important to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints and all that Southern Baptists believe and expect their institutions to believe and teach,” Mohler continued. “To have Dr. McCall come back, given his own lifespan and role in the Southern Baptist Convention and see him received with honor by a chapel filled with people, most of whom were not alive when he was elected as president, and many of whom were not alive when he retired as president of Southern Seminary was something that was really, really important.”

At one point, Mohler directly addressed McCall from the chapel platform. He talked about the honor the entire seminary community felt in celebrating McCall’s 60th anniversary, and expressed his personal gratitude for McCall’s presence at the event. Later, Mohler reflected on his own experience as a Southern Baptist and the significance of the McCall celebration to him as Southern’s current president.

“I grew up having had the opportunity to hear Southern Baptist leaders in my home church,” he said. “I knew and recognized the names of Dr. Duke McCall, Dr. Grady Cothen, Dr. Robert Naylor and others who led the Southern Baptist Convention. I was a Royal Ambassador and had to memorize the names of Southern Baptist institutions and their executives and even their addresses and this was very much a part of me before I arrived as a student at Southern Seminary in 1980. When I did come as a student, I had the privilege of observing him as a president and he made a big impact on my life.

“When I came to be elected president of Southern Seminary in 1993, I came to bring about a process of theological change required in order to bring this seminary into theological and doctrinal accountability to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mohler continued. “That process was extremely costly and I was in the position of having to correct a course that had been set by my own teachers who had invested a great deal in me and had loved me and had generously given themselves to me. To be able, after being here for 18 years as president, to welcome back Dr. McCall in a context of honor that also made clear what Southern Seminary stands for and what we believe was incredibly moving to me. It was, for me as an individual, a moment of very great satisfaction. The opportunities to enjoy historic celebrations, and share relationships and affections, without theological compromise, are rare and very precious.”

Russell D. Moore, Southern Seminary’s senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology, said of the opportunity to honor McCall:

“I will remember this day as long as I live. This was a healing, hopeful day for Southern Seminary, a tie between Southern Seminary’s heritage and future.”

After Mohler’s remarks, McCall had the opportunity to respond, and he did so with his characteristic wit.

“The only appropriate response to all of this is silence,” McCall said. “But that’s one quality I’ve never had.”

McCall went on to encourage those in attendance to give themselves fully to God , and allow him to shape the course of their lives. He then concluded his statements with the same humorous charisma with which he opened:

“Now that I’ve gotten out the introduction to my sermon, let’s pass the plate and go home,” he said.

Adding a special significance to the occasion, present at the event were not only Dr. and Mrs. McCall, but also their four sons and daughters-in-law and members of their extended family, along with several figures from the McCall era. Mohler said about welcoming back the McCall family and guests:

“The McCall family has meant so much to the history of the Southern Baptist Convention and to Southern Seminary, and right before the eyes of Southern students and faculty, we experienced a family reunion, which is an important part of institutional life.”

The morning concluded with the inaugural address in the Duke K. McCall Lectures on Christian Leadership, an endowed series established by the McCall Family Foundation, Spring 2011. This endowed lecture series speaks to the importance of Southern Seminary in McCall’s life.

“Dr. McCall has made clear his love and support for his alma mater, the institution he so tenaciously served,” Mohler said. “His identification with us and our identification with him in the context of the year 2011 is priceless, something Southern Baptists could not have foreseen years ago, but something made possible by God’s mercy and grace to us.”

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