This year the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrates the 100th anniversary of its own founding in Waco, Texas. Born in the postmillennial fever that anticipated "The Christian Century" (yeah, right), Southwestern has endured more hardship than perhaps the witnesses to its founding could have imagined. But through it all, God has used the seminary to accomplish much for His Kingdom and to make deep marks upon the visage of the Southern Baptist Convention. The founding of SWBTS was, I believe, significant to the larger history of the Southern Baptist Convention in several ways.
- The founding of SWBTS demonstrated that the Southern Baptist Convention was large and healthy enough to keep multiple seminaries afloat. A mere forty years earlier it was not at all a settled question as to whether Southern Baptists needed even one seminary. I believe that the founding of Southwestern Seminary is, in this way, a testament to the burgeoning success that Southern Seminary experienced during the New South period.
- SWBTS's founding both gave evidence of and accelerated a major westward shift of the center of influence within the Southern Baptist Convention. During the nineteenth century, people from Atlanta, Richmond, Nashville, and Charleston dominated the Southern Baptist Convention. The twentieth century witnessed the rise of Memphis, Jackson, Dallas, and Waco to positions of significant influence. Certainly the bare facts of westward migration account for some of this shift, but the existence of SWBTS ameliorated the "brain drain" that resulted from putting all of the most promising preachers from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma onto Louisville-bound trains. SWBTS arrived on the scene as the convention was passing a baton from Boyce, Broadus, Manley, Howell, Graves, and Dagg to Gambrell, Carroll2, Truett, Buckner, and Burleson.
- The founding of SWBTS hastened the waning of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the fountainhead of Calvinism in the SBC and has been since its inception. SWBTS emerged not so much as an anti-Calvinistic seminary but as a seminary a bit more disinterested. Over time, some organized resistance to Calvinism grew among some of the SWBTS faculty. For an earlier research project I read through all of the papers of W. T. Conner. His growing dissatisfaction with Calvinism (which he regarded as Southern Baptist "orthodoxy") is a passionate focus within some of his personal correspondence. Of course, Calvinism was on the wane at Southern as well during the twentieth century (Dale Moody, anyone?), but the emergence of alternatives to Southern seminary within Southern Baptist life served to erode Calvinistic hegemony over the theological education of Southern Baptist pastors.
- Although B. H. Carroll may have anticipated a save haven for Landmarkism at SWBTS, quite the opposite eventually developed. Of course, the basement of Fort Worth Hall is the birthplace of The Trail of Blood, but J. M. was quickly replaced with other voices. The influence of Baker and Barnes, Estep and McBeth, built a Church History department that, as much as any institution in the convention, waged war on Landmarkism.
- SWBTS elevated more-pragmatic, less-ideological subjects as academic disciplines in their own rights. The role of the Evangelism department at SWBTS is emblematic in this regard. The concept has spread far beyond SWBTS. On the one hand, it has served to guard us against a cold, intellectual orthodoxy. I believe that the emphasis upon pragmatics at SWBTS is one reason why advancing Modernism and Neo-Orthodoxy did not enjoy quite as much success in Fort Worth as it did in other climes. On the other hand, perhaps the SWBTS mindset has played some role in the propagation of the bald pragmatism that has such a stranglehold on our denomination today. I offer this one not so much as a conclusion I have drawn, but as a hypothesis I'm stirring around in my brain.
I could go on, but I'll bore you no longer. Seminary Hill has helped to shape the history of the SBC. Much in the past century is worth celebrating. I exercise my gift for understatement when I say that Southwestern Seminary has been a blessing to my life. I offer thanks to B. H. Carroll for his inspirational vision of seminary education. I offer thanks to Lee Scarborough for persevering through the worst of times. I offer thanks to our brethren in Louisville, whose financial bailout in the abyssal of the Great Depression preserved Southwestern to endure to this day. Most of all, I thank the teeming masses of Southern Baptists whose Cooperative Program dollars and other contributions have provided for me to attend SWBTS.
May the next century eclipse the first.