Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, SWBTS

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

34 comments:

Baptist Theologue said...

Bart,

This post was very interesting. I didn’t know that J. M. Carroll penned The Trail of Blood in the basement of Fort Worth Hall. I lived in Fort Worth Hall for two years before I met Miss Right. My only memory of the basement involves the concession machine there. My room was on the second floor right above the first floor office. One day there were tornado warnings for Fort Worth, and I walked down to the basement to get a Twinkie out of the machine. To my surprise there was a crowd of people from the neighborhood down there fervently praying for divine protection from the tornado. At the time, I didn’t participate, but after the tornado that my younger son and others experienced recently at Union University, I think I will join such praying in the future. During my three years at SWBTS I don’t remember hearing anything about B. H. Carroll’s “Ecclesia,” but that article has been influential in forming my ecclesiological beliefs. It is still a very relevant article. Of course he was an advocate of close communion. I sense that many people today want to deemphasize denominational distinctives to avoid conflict and promote unity. I believe, however, that Christians of diverse denominational stripes can unify around what they have in common and cooperate in some endeavors while respecting their differences. If they understand the distinctives of each denomination, they can avoid conflict and have more unity and cooperation in what they have in common.

Now for a fun historical quiz. . . . Who was the famous, nineteenth century American who was a Baptist for a while and said the following words?

“Two objects constituted the summum bonum, the supreme good, worthy of the sacrifice of all temporalities. The first was the union, peace, purity, and harmonious cooperation of Christians, guided by an understanding enlightened by the Holy Scriptures; the other the conversion of sinners to God. . . . ‘I pray—for those who shall believe on me through their teaching, that all may be one . . .’ Thus Messiah prayed. . . . Was there at any time, or is there now, in all the earth, a kingdom more convulsed by internal broils and dissensions, than what is commonly called the church of Jesus Christ? . . . We think it not amiss or incongruous to make an effort, and to put our hands to the work of peace and love. From Messiah’s intercession above quoted, it is incontrovertible that union is strength, and disunion weakness. . . . The union of Christians is essential to the conversion of the world.”

Bart, you probably know who said this, so don’t give the answer right away.

Chris Johnson said...

Bart,

I like your approach here….

SWBTS has provided biblical training to many of my greatest friends. Just from my High School graduating class of about 50 guys….there were two future SWBTS graduates and many others that benefited from what the school has offered. Several of my good friends have been professors and are professors now. Being a native of Texas, SWBTS was the seminary that we as Baptist’s look forward to visiting. So I think you are right to say that SWBTS has been a good thing.

I was glad to see it weather the liberal thinkers of just 20-40 years back, and now regaining its biblical focus. May God continue to prune it for His Glory.

Blessings,
Chris

Anonymous said...

Bart,
Excellent post. While working on my dissertation at Southern Seminary, I spent considerable time studying the evangelistic history of our convention. The establishment of the "Chair of Fire" at SWBTS was just as influential as you surmise.

Blessings brother,
Chris Bonts

Todd Nelson said...

Bart, I appreciate your insights and tribute to SWBTS.

My dissertation contained a cursory review of the stream of Southern Baptist writing theologians. It helped me appreciate both Southern's and Southwestern's histories.

I have nothing but good to say about my first years at SWBTS -- 1983 to 1986. It was a stimulating, wonderful, and blessed time of study under warm-hearted scholars. Glad to hear that your experience was a positive one as well.

In my later years as a doctoral student, however (1988-94), I witnessed some of the worst aspects of the CR. And sad to say, today, I can no longer in good conscience recommend the seminary to a young person preparing for ministry or missions.

I enjoyed and appreciated Baptist History in seminary, but ten years of mission service has given me no enthusiasm for a Baptist Renaissance of the kind that is being promoted there now. Instead, my desire is to see more “Great Commission” Christians cooperating with greater effectiveness for Kingdom expansion. Where did I first hear about that need and that ideal? Southwestern.

Happy Centennial SWBTS. May your star rise again for the sake of the gospel of the Kingdom going to and spreading through all the people groups of the world.

BT, I like the quotation. Can you enlighten us now?

Bart Barber said...

BT,

I think your little quiz may be a "harbinger" of things we witness in our present day. :-)

Bart Barber said...

Chris,

Thanks. Well said.

Bart Barber said...

Chris,

Brother B. H. had a pretty good idea, didn't he?

Bart Barber said...

Todd,

Wherever people give careful devotion to the scriptures, a Baptist Renaissance is inevitable.

Chris Bonts said...

Bart,
Brother B.H. was having a very good day when he established the "chair of fire" which was the first chair of evangelistic ministry in the world. Today, all of our seminaries have them.

By the way, keep fighting the good fight in the blogosphere. I don't have nearly the time to keep up with and respond to everything I read and see (this dissertation won't write itself). It's nice to a see a baptist voice of reason that stands against the daily invectives propagated elsewhere.

If you are ever in Louisville, drop me a line.

Chris Bonts

Bart Barber said...

BT,

Even with my hint, it seems that nobody else wants to take a stab at it.

I'll give everyone another few hours, but then I'll have to venture my own guess amidst a fanfare of instrumental music.

Bart Barber said...

Chris,

I'll be up that way in August on the way to a mission trip. Perhaps we can meet then.

Baptist Theologue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baptist Theologue said...

Bart,

You gave two good, fairly subtle hints about his identity. Here are another couple of hints: In 1813 his church became part of the Redstone Baptist Association in Pennsylvania. In 1823 he began to publish The Christian Baptist.

volfan007 said...

bt,

i believe that you may be talking about alexander campbell. am i correct? the founder of the campbellites...which is also known as the church of Christ.

david

Baptist Theologue said...

David,

You get the Baptist History award for today. Here's what Leon McBeth said about him and his movement:

“Taking the name of ‘Reformers,’ these Campbellite Baptists sought to cleanse the churches of all ‘human traditions’ and return to ‘primitive order.’ One of Campbell’s most frequent attacks had to do with the expense of mission societies. . . . The Campbell movement represented a serious threat to Baptists in several areas, of which antimissions was only one. Eventually the ‘Reformers’ almost wrecked the Baptist denomination in the West, sowing seeds of discord wherever they appeared. . . . In the 1820s, he led an ultraconservative ‘Reformation’ which challenged historic Baptist teachings and ultimately split the denomination. Hundreds of Baptist churches left the denomination to line up with Campbell’s ‘Reformers,’ who after 1830 formed a new denomination known as Disciples of Christ or Church of Christ. Historians estimate, for example, that fully half the Baptist churches of Kentucky switched to the new Disciples movement.” (McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, pp. 375-377)

selahV said...

Bart..Congratulations to SWBTS! May God continue to bless and pour out His Spirit upon the minds of His called-out ones. May every man and woman who graduates from there be an instrument of His perfect will. May His grace continue to be sufficient to meet the needs of the leadership who seek to edify and encourage all who attend. selahV

volfan007 said...

bt,

what? no prize? man, this was a lame contest.

david :)

Alex said...

Thanks Bart;

We do indeed thank God for SWBTS (which never dampened my Calvinism but enhanced my evangelism!).

The great benefit of 100 years is that the 'Big' Issues of today look soooo much smaller.

I wonder what they look like in glory....

kws said...

History is full of irony. Such is the fact that led by Dr. Mohler, Southern Seminary is eroding the hegemony of Arminianism in the theological education of Southern Baptist pastors of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Bart Barber said...

Keith,

Touché

Baptist Theologue said...

Another irony involves a former Southern Seminary president, E.Y. Mullins, who, like me, advocated TUP, not TULIP:

Albert Mohler described the influence of Mullins on Southern Baptist thought regarding soteriology as chairman of the committee which drafted Southern Baptists’ first confession of faith:

“His role as chairman of the committee which presented the 1925 ‘Baptist Faith and Message’ statement as the Southern Baptist Convention’s first official confession of faith furthered the process of shifting from a Calvinistic to a more modified position.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., “Baptist Theology at the Crossroads: The Legacy of E. Y. Mullins,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 3, no. 4 (Winter 1999): 13.

volfan007 said...

bt,

do you know bob campbell?

no relation to alexander, and he's not a campbellite.

david

Baptist Theologue said...

David,

I know Bob Campbell very well. He started our mission in July, and I became church planter/pastor in September.

Mike

volfan007 said...

bt,

tell bob i said hi. he's a good friend of mine.

david

Bart Barber said...

Ladies and Gentlemen, the last three comments have been provided to you by our sponsor, Classmates.com.

:-)

Baptist Theologue said...

Back on topic. . . . Today I received my special centennial edition of Southwestern News giving the history of SWBTS. There was an interesting quote about B. H. Carroll before he founded the seminary:

"As a circuit preacher to several small rural churches, Carroll led numerous successful revival meetings with his powerful, passionate preaching and was recognized as a firm defender of Baptist beliefs and conservative biblical theology." (p. 15)

It appears that he was willing to emphasize denominational distinctives.

Todd Nelson said...

Bart,

You wrote, "Wherever people give careful devotion to the scriptures, a Baptist Renaissance is inevitable."

Yes, we've heard this statement before from Malcolm Yarnell, leader of the BR at SWBTS. And we should expect to hear it from Baptists who possess great confidence that they know the Bible and practice its precepts more closely than any other denomination.

Our Baptist squabbles of the last 25 years and my working overseas with believers and new converts from around the world, however, have combined to dispossess me of such great confidence. While I do appreciate my Baptist heritage (particularly the grounding in the Word and the emphasis on missions), I no longer care to be associated with Baptist pride or a Baptist Renaissance. I would much rather emphasize the Kingdom of God and cooperation with Great Commission Christians than tout Baptist distinctives, especially to new believers. I want to make disciples of Jesus, not specifically Baptist disciples. I pray for the planting of NT churches that grow indigenously, not necessarily as Baptist churches.

I wish SWBTS well, but I wonder if this emphasis on a particular Baptist identity -- an identity that not even a majority of Baptists in the world agree to -- is one of the several factors contributing to a stagnation in seminary enrollment.

Nevertheless, carry on with the Baptist Renaissance. Better to make Baptist disciples of Jesus than to not make any disciples at all -- as long as those Baptist disciples can be humble about their distinctive doctrines.

mysterysolvedwithmessiahjesus said...

Bart,

Thanks for helping JLG today. Talked to him as well.

Here is the blog www.mysterysolvedwithmessiahjesus.wordpress.com. Probably broke the link somewhere because it is so long. :-)

Amy

Baptist Theologue said...

Todd,

I just finished looking at the website for the international church that you pastor. I noticed that the membership application for your church has the following question:

"Have you been baptized either by immersion after you became a Christian, or as an infant and you have confirmed your faith publicly?"

Does this question mean that you accept people as members who have experienced sprinkling as infants but have not experienced immersion as believers? I noticed that after the question you had blanks for them to indicate where and when they had been immersed or confirmed. So, correct me if I am wrong, but it appears that you accept people as members by immersion (believers' baptism) or by infant baptism plus confirmation.

I was an IMB missionary to South Korea for ten years. When I was in language school, there were two English-speaking international churches that we could attend on Sunday night after we attended a Korean Baptist church on Sunday morning. One was an international Baptist church, and the other was an international "union" church. Can you guess which one we attended?

Ron P. said...

Bart,

Was out of town for a funeral and got back in the middle of the night. We got to go to the dinner tonight and part of the concert. It was great to be there for part of the celebration for SWBTS. May God continue to bless this great institution of higher learning!

Ron P.

Todd Nelson said...

Mike (BT),

Yes, as an international and interdenominational church, we do accept members based on their public profession of faith, either through immersion or through confirmation. Our concern is more for a regenerate membership and unity in the Body of Christ, rather than rebaptism of believers.

Having said that, I do teach believer's baptism, we immerse all new believers, and we do rebaptize many who request it. But we don't require rebaptism for membership.

We are not a Baptist church, nor are we a Union church. We are an international evangelical multi-denominational church -- trying to be biblically based, locally rooted, internationally focused, and welcoming all.

With the original elders of our church, considering our multi-denominational context (and the lack of church options here for expat believers), I made a prayerful decision not to make rebaptism a barrier to church membership. We do, however, baptize only believers (by immersion), and we accept only believers as members.

Recently I was questioned in a friendly way about our application form for membership by a Southern Baptist from Alabama who's been attending The Bridge with his family for eight months. He said he would have joined already if all he had to do was walk down the aisle and sign a card. Instead, he's been procrastinating about filling out the two-page form with a church covenant included.

I mention this incident only to point out that our process of receiving members, by comparison to some Baptist churches, may actually assist more in ensuring a regenerate and committed membership than those churches which still quickly receive new members "on the spot". Our church covenant and constitution also provides a way of disciplining members should it become necessary.

I understand that our position on baptism will not please many Baptists, but that's ok with me. I also have a position regarding certain spiritual gifts that some Southern Baptists disagree with. :-)

BTW, we are not under appointment with the IMB. We started with support from Baptist churches, friends, and family. But now, after four years, praise God, we are fully supported from the church we planted.

Bart, sorry to take up space at your place on this tangent. I'm happy to move over to my place, or email.

Mike, thanks for the question. I'd be happy to converse further and learn more about your work in Korea and in Memphis.

Blessings, all.

Baptist Theologue said...

Todd,

Thanks for your response. I was at SWBTS from the Fall of 1980 to the Spring of 1983, so I guess we barely missed each other.

Todd Nelson said...

Mike, I sent you an email. Thanks to you and Bart for the chance to converse...

Jerry Pierce said...

Bart -- great insight into the difficult balancing act we strive for between worshipping with our minds (theological reflection) and worshipping with our hands through missionary work. They are interdependent.