For the Church: Theological Education, the SBC & the Future of Midwestern Seminary (IV)

This post was originally published on 15 April 2013.

Southern Baptist: By Conviction, by Culture, by Determination.

Midwestern Seminary’s vision is simple, yet full: she exists for the Church. This purpose both defines our institutional to-be list, and it drives our institutional to-do list. To exist for the Church, however, does not quite tell the whole story. Midwestern Seminary does not simply exist for the Church generically, but for Southern Baptist churches, specifically.

The overarching vision of Midwestern Seminary is to train gospel ministers to serve Christ within the context of Southern Baptist churches. While Midwestern, like all six Southern Baptist seminaries, happily receives students from the broader evangelical world, there is no question as to who is our core constituency. As an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, we bend our entire program of theological education toward SBC churches. This determination to serve the churches of our denomination is a happy acknowledgement of our ownership and a contented submission to our statement of faith, but it is also a confident and winsome resolve to own and project our Southern Baptist identity.

To be sure, as a denomination we have idiosyncrasies and unseemly moments, but embarrassment or cynicism must never set in. Ours is a great denomination, and the call to serve its churches is a noble one. Southern Baptist Convention churches have entrusted their six seminaries with a precious stewardship: to train their pastors, ministers, and missionaries.

As referenced in For the Church III: Guard the Truth, the determination to serve Southern Baptist churches begins with ironclad confessional integrity, but it is much more than that. This commitment should also form a seminary’s culture, shaping its ethos and pathos.

Appreciating our Southern Baptist Heritage

In The Vindication of Tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan famously observed that tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. As Southern Baptists, we should eschew traditionalism, but happily embrace our tradition, for it is rich indeed. To fawn for a denominational golden era is unhelpful nostalgia, and the seminary or church that determines to live in the past will soon be relegated to history itself. However, to neglect our heritage is a ruinous form of denominational amnesia that exhibits a most strident form of ingratitude. Southern Baptists’ blood, toil, tears, sweat—and yes, money—founded, built, maintained, and recovered our institutions. We both honor our Baptist forebears and inform and strengthen our present witness when we appreciate our Southern Baptist heritage. In other words, we need to keep the faith, but pass on our tradition.

In this regard, though we have little influence over whom the churches send to seminary, we do have much influence over the type of graduates we send back to them. Increasingly, students arrive at seminary from un-churched backgrounds or from churches of marginal SBC affiliation. The phrase “Cooperative Program” means little to them and names like Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong even less.

The frequent discontinuity between students and the denomination is regrettable, but not inalterable. As an SBC seminary, Midwestern bears a missiological and moral imperative to instill within our students knowledge of and appreciation for the Southern Baptist Convention. While in seminary, a student’s ministerial formation is often caught as much as it is taught. The culture of a seminary can impact a student as much as the curriculum or classroom experience. To this end, as the culture of a seminary pulsates with an affection for the SBC, graduates will depart more attuned to the denomination and more desirous of partnering with it.

A Seminary for the Entire SBC

Midwestern Seminary’s identity as a Southern Baptist seminary means she is committed to training students for the entire convention. Midwestern is not called to focus on a niche group. Southern Baptists are a diverse lot—generationally, geographically, ethnically, theologically, and methodologically. Midwestern Seminary intentionally seeks to serve all of these different currents within our denomination, under the purview of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

There is a sense in which the Southern Baptist Convention is both a family and a neighborhood. As a family, we share overarching passions for the Word of God, the Great Commission, and Baptist distinctives. However, we also are like a neighborhood, in proximity to one another, but not in the exact location on many secondary issues. Midwestern Seminary is committed to serving the entire neighborhood known as the Southern Baptist Convention, with the BF&M 2000 fencing the property.

Graduated and Ready to Serve

To serve Southern Baptist churches means we graduate ministers who are well positioned to serve in them. One practical aspect of our seminary’s stewardship is to keep tuition as low as possible so students will graduate as expeditiously and as unencumbered as possible. Most seminarians manage through their schooling by juggling multiple jobs and cobbling together just enough resources to get by. Such circumstances often protract their time of study, delaying their deployment into the local church. Even worse, some students graduate with burdensome debt, which will prove difficult to repay on a minister’s salary. We therefore have a missiological obligation to make theological education as affordable as possible and a moral obligation to discourage student indebtedness. Whether graduating to serve the church locally as a pastor or minister or internationally as a missionary, the financial constraints associated with such ministry posts could stymie God’s call on one’s life, if not preclude it altogether.

By conviction, by culture, and by determination, Midwestern Seminary exists to train students for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet, the primary way Midwestern serves SBC churches is by meeting their most pressing—and most manifestly biblical—need: to train pastors, ministers, and evangelists for the church. I will address this topic next Monday in For the Church V, entitled First Things First: Training Pastors, Ministers, and Evangelists.

Part I // Part II // Part III // Part IV // Part V // Part VI // Part VII // Part VIII


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