SSHAC live blog: James P. Boyce’s vision for Southern Seminary – Tom Nettles

Communications Staff — February 18, 2009

Speaker: Tom Nettles

Title: professor of church history at Southern Seminary

Boyce had surveyed and experienced a variety of proposals for theological education. Boyce gave an address at Furman University in 1856, a two-hour presentation that left a strong impression.

Boyce focused on three elements in his thoughts regarding theological education:

Need for abundant ministry

An abundant ministry is needed to spread the Gospel in the world. The failure here is Baptists’ failure to uphold the principles clearly set forth in the Bible. Boyce proposed that theological education should teach a theology that the Bible teaches.

Boyce defended the biblical qualifications for a minister including knowledge. That knowledge, Boyce said, was of God and His plan of salvation, not of philosophy. Boyce readily conceded the usefulness of the faithful who love the truth.

At the same time, Boyce concluded that God would work out the greater proportion of His purpose though those with no formal training, but who faithfully hold to the truth and the teachings of Scripture. But if theological institutions can assist in preparing such men, then it is a worthwhile endeavor.

Learned ministry

Boyce believed that theological education should also train men who would become the next generation of scholars.

Orthodox ministry

Boyce had seen the dangers in the denigration of doctrine. Boyce had seen attacks on confessionalism and had seen the value of confessionalism.

John Broadus felt compelled to explain this point to the constituents of the seminary prior to its founding. Broadus wanted to speak to those who were nervous about having a confessional statement required of the faculty. Broadus felt compelled to explain the importance of such confessionalism for maintaining theological and doctrinal integrity and fidelity to Scripture among the faculty.

Boyce taught that the faculty should be held to a high standard and believed that confessionalism was a good tool to insure this.

For those who teach the ministry, no peculiar argument is allowable. Before agreeing to teach, professors should agree completely with the confession they sign. They should agree on every point in accordance with what the seminary believes the Bible teaches.

A similar statement to the above was incorporated into the seminary’s Abstract of Principles in 1859.

In 1874, Boyce maintained his position that such a statement of faith was essential to the survival of the school. Boyce reminded the trustees that confessions were no enemy of biblical truth, but would help promote fidelity to Scripture.



Any historical record of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is incomplete without an honest telling of their complicity in American slavery and racism. For more on that story, read here.


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