SSHAC live blog: Panel discussion one

Communications Staff — February 18, 2009


Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University.

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Darryl Hart, director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College and professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary.

Greg Wills, professor of church history at Southern Seminary.

Topic: Understanding theological education in America

Question: Who should the academy serve? Who should Southern Seminary serve?

Mohler: Southern Seminary should serve the church. We serve the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in specific partnership with and accountable to, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I am not claiming that the SBC is the kingdom of Christ, but rather that we are serving the kingdom by serving the churches of the SBC and other churches as well.

The academy, theological institutions, should also serve the church. We should first of all train pastors. Southern Seminary doesn’t belong to the academy. We belong to the church.

Hart: The real difficulty for the seminary is the faculty. You have criteria for promotion and tenure that are academic. But you want these people to be oriented toward serving the church. To have faculty writing for the academy and the church is a real difficulty. Is there a way that you have re-written standards for faculty to accommodate that?

Mohler: After 16 years as president, I am glad to say that when we look at faculty who are up for tenure, they are well-qualified academically and have shown themselves to be serious churchmen. We haven’t taken anything away from our academic standards, but we have added more expectations for our faculty in being churchmen.

Question: What challenges face the modern seminary and seminary student?

Hart: There was time, up until 1970, that someone could go to Westminster for free. Now, many seminaries are tuition-driven. That is not necessarily bad. But it does have an effect. I would love to go back to the day when students studied together, ate together and lived together. It seems like it is still possible to do that, with donor-funding and a small group. That is a big change in seminaries today.

Seminaries today can’t be as selective in who they admit, either denominationally or academically. It has to affect faculty appointments. And it has to affect local churches. With an open market of who can attend seminaries you are less dependent on local churches and it seems like you would be more likely to forget your role of service to the local churches.

George: I think different schools are called to different models. What is non-negotiable for me is heart to heart, soul to soul: it has to have an incarnational dimension that I find lacking in much of theological education today.

Mohler: I think every theological institution should exist to serve the local church. But to go back to Hart’s point: point well-taken. I will say something that I have never said publicly: We (Southern Seminary) are fairly easy to get in, in terms of admissions. We don’t have three or four competitors for each position. I don’t think we are too easy: we do turn a large number of persons down. But we have made it so that it is difficult to graduate. Some would call this a poor model of stewardship. But this is the way I think we can best serve. It is not easy to get a master of divinity degree at Southern Seminary. We don’t have a non-language M.Div. I do not think that every school needs to operate this way, but this is how we operate.

Wills to Dever: What advice do you give students who you are sending to seminary?

Dever: I understand and regret the loss of one-on-one relationships and discussion that can take place in seminary. I value that highly. Sometimes, we recommend that students not go to seminary at all, but train under us and then go to pastor churches. We encourage students to look at faculty, location and cost, very practically. Seminary seemed unavoidable 15 years ago. In the 10-15 guys we have go through our internship program each year, probably 80 percent currently go to a residential seminary.

Are you ready to become a pastor, counselor, or church leader who is Trusted for Truth?

Apply now for summer or fall studies

Classes begin in June & Aug.