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Seminaries report to Phoenix messengers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
PHOENIX (BP)--Messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention were reminded of the importance of theological education through reports from the convention's six seminaries during the June 14-15 gathering in Phoenix:

GOLDEN GATE -- A school like Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary would not exist in America's West apart from the support of Southern Baptists, Jeff Iorg, the seminary's president said June 14 during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Golden Gate Seminary is your seminary, with responsibility for training leaders in the western United States. We currently have more than 2,100 students, meeting on five campuses, in cyberspace and at dozens of learning centers," Iorg said. "Because there are few Christians and even fewer Baptists in the West, a seminary of our size and strength would probably not be possible without your support. We are profoundly grateful for your Cooperative Program gifts, your prayers, and for sending us students."

Iorg said his report was aimed at helping the messengers better understand the strategy and scope of the seminary's work. "Golden Gate uses some unique approaches to meet the special challenges and opportunities in the West," Iorg said. "Our key strategy: Golden Gate is a seminary-system, not a seminary campus. We operate fully-accredited campuses -- not extension centers -- in five of the largest cities in the West." Extension centers offer a few classes, while regional campuses deliver entire degree programs -- culminating in five graduation ceremonies every spring.

Much of the seminary's strategy is driven by geography, Iorg said, noting the West is a vast territory that mandates a multi-campus systemic approach to cover the region. "Our primary administrative campus is near San Francisco," he said. "We also have campuses near Los Angeles, Portland, Denver and, yes, right here in Phoenix."

Iorg explained how Golden Gate's five campuses encircle the West, somewhat like the other five SBC seminaries encircle the South. The five campuses cover 3,569 miles. "If you made a similar trip to visit the other five SBC seminaries," he said, "You would only log 3,056 miles. Our five campuses are more than 500 hundred miles farther apart than the other five SBC seminaries are from each other. The West truly is a big place!"

Iorg also pointed out that the West's diversity is another reason for operating five campuses. "While people have the same basic needs everywhere, they express those needs quite differently in different locales," he said. "A five-campus system makes cultural adaptation more possible in a wide variety of ministry settings."

The president also addressed the question of quality and efficiency, when comparing a standard campus approach to a system approach.

"We have one academic dean, one faculty, one set of degree objectives, one set of course templates and one academic policy guidebook," he said. "We are one seminary at many locations."

A significant way to assure quality among the campuses is by sharing faculty, Iorg said, describing how professors teach at both their home campus and a secondary campus. "Many of our core faculty -- myself included -- also teach in our online learning program," he said. "This means students have the opportunity to take classes from almost the entire faculty as professors rotate to various campuses or teach in cyberspace. During our recent 10-year accreditation review, one of the assets pointed out about Golden Gate is the academic strength and educational quality of our multi-campus system."


The president described another unique aspect of the system approach: the variety of delivery methods: block scheduling where classes only meet once a week, intensive classes that meet for one week or for a series of weekends, hybrid-classes that combine a few days of face-to-face instruction with online delivery, and fully online courses through the "eCampus" program.

"Another distinctive of our strategy is our close partnerships with state conventions in the West," Iorg noted. "Most of our seminary's strategy has been developed in response to requests from state convention leaders who depend on us to train leaders for their churches and ministries."

"Thank you, western state leaders, for being our partners," Iorg said. "Thank you, Southern Baptists for helping make our work possible. We realize we are not 'your father's seminary.' We have been on the cutting edge -- geographically and methodologically -- for a long time. We have had a multi-campus system since 1972. We taught our first online class in 1998. We have often been swimming upstream against funding challenges and detractors who dismiss our strategy, but we have persevered because we believe it was and is the right approach for our half of the country."

Southern Baptists adopted Golden Gate Seminary in 1950, Iorg reminded his listeners. "Thank you for making us part of the family. We are committed to our denominational mission of accelerating the fulfillment of the Great Commission," Iorg said. "We are doing our part by shaping leaders who expand God's Kingdom around the world. Southern Baptists, you can trust our product -- we are biblical. You can join our focus -- we are missional. You can celebrate our significance -- we are global."

MIDWESTERN -- R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, focused on the impact receiving an education can have upon a singular person and thus the world, when he delivered his annual report to the messengers of the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention.

Roberts described a young man from a wealthy family who attended a university and was strongly influenced by a brilliant professor. The student's life was transformed and he became deeply involved in religious activities, including Scripture study and daily prayer. Through his educational experience, this rich young student found a purpose in life. The institution was the King Abdul-Aziz University in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. The professor was Palestinian-born Islamic scholar Sheik Abdullah Azzam and the student was Osama bin Laden.

"What a difference an education can make," Roberts said. "However, when it's a Bible-based education based on the truth and reality of the word of the Lord, the fruit that the Bible teaches will be evident. When it's based on anything else, whether it's radical Islam or liberalism or an alternative worldview, the fruit -- as in the case of Osama bin Laden -- is also, sooner or later, clearly evident."


When people and churches send their students to study at Midwestern Seminary or any of the other Southern Baptist seminaries, they will get the grounding they need to change the world for the cause of Christ, Roberts said.

"Students who come to us will not learn about a god who hates, but they will learn about a God who loves -- a God who loved the world so much 'that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever would believe in Him shall not perish but will have everlasting life,'" Roberts said. "They will not learn about a god who demands us to sacrifice our lives or the lives of our children or to kill in his name, but they will learn about a God who sacrificed for us -- 'for He Himself is the propitiation for our sins and not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world.'"

The president, now in his 11th year at the helm of Midwestern, continued his report by saying the seminary is "alive and well in Kansas City, Mo., in the heartland of America." The seminary is experiencing record enrollment this semester, with 1,103 students taking 6,877 credit hours, the president noted.

Roberts provided an update on the progress of Midwestern Baptist College, the 100-percent online degree program, which began in July 2010. The master of arts in theological studies degree offers 15 courses online that are completely transferrable into the master of divinity degree at Midwestern, he said.

"We are happy to tell you that the master of arts in theological studies online program is now participated in by students from more than 30 states and eight countries, to help and equip and provide theological education anywhere in the world," Roberts said. "We're also glad to tell you we have a fully actualized missions program through not only our regular missions curriculum at the seminary level, but also through a program called FUSION."

The FUSION track provides college students a time of training in evangelism and disaster relief and a semester of credit hours for theological studies. In the FUSION trainees' second semester, they deploy overseas to places such as Angola, Thailand, India and Peru to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. While overseas, Roberts added, the students serve with International Mission Board workers in various ministry areas.

"In strategic partnership with the IMB, we provided this year the opportunity for 42 students to serve and evangelize in eight countries -- some of them closed to traditional missionary activity -- for the cause of the Gospel," Roberts reported. "Sharing the Gospel, telling the truth, deepening their devotion on mission for Jesus Christ -- "Veritas, Pietas, Missio" -- lives changed forever and lives forever changed for the cause of the Gospel."

The president's report continued with a brief update on the progress of the Midwestern chapel complex project. The construction of the 40,000-square-foot building is progressing well and is about 80 percent complete, Roberts said. Sixty volunteers from Southern Baptist churches and organizations are laboring to accomplish the task at the present time.


Additionally, the endeavor was originally quoted to cost around $12 million, but spending to date is just over $6 million. About $3 million in savings has come through the time and efforts of Southern Baptist volunteers, Roberts said.

The presentation concluded with a video that demonstrated Midwestern's commitment to its core value of "mission" -- taking the great truths of the Bible and putting them into practice.

"We're thrilled to be serving you as your Southern Baptist institution in the Midwest for the cause of Christ, for the glory of God and for the progress of the Gospel," Roberts said.

NEW ORLEANS -- Theological training in the 21st century requires a strong commitment to the unchanging Gospel paired with flexible methodology, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said June 14.

The days of a "one size fits all" approach to ministry training are gone, and the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina helped the seminary find innovative ways of training students, Kelley said. Now the seminary is working hard to develop even more access points for God-called men and women to receive training.

In the aftermath of Katrina, the faculty completely reinvented the curriculum and found new ways to teach, Kelley said. Now the school is using those lessons to reshape its approach to ministry training.

"While we will continue doing things we've always done, we have now determined we are going to fit what we do into the circumstances and calling of our students and the ways that they are best able to learn," Kelley said.

"Traditional classes are still there. You want to study apologetics? You want to come to the campus to one of the largest collections of ancient Greek manuscripts in the United States and study the Greek text in a serious, scholarly manner? You want to study expository preaching? You want to come and prepare for women's ministry, Christian education, discipleship? Come on," Kelley said. "We have all the traditional classes that we have always had."

The seminary's extension center system, which offers training sites throughout the Southeast, also is here to stay, Kelley said. But the school is not limited to main campus and extension center training. NOBTS offers online training that allows anyone in the world with an Internet-equipped computer to access theological training.

The seminary has developed hybrid courses which combine the best aspects of traditional classroom training and Internet study, Kelley explained. Hybrid courses give students face-to-face interaction with faculty and fellow students, but with a limited number of course meetings. The rest of the course is completed online. Other students are enrolled in hands-on training programs in which they are mentored by a pastor or ministry leader. Kelley calls these multiple access points the "ministry training cafeteria."

"This is what we are doing now, but who knows what the future may be," Kelley said. "God has opened up possibilities for us to equip students for ministry that one could never have dreamed of in the past -- and the best is yet to be."


This year, New Orleans launched its fourth prison-based ministry training program, Kelley said. The latest program is located in Louisiana's only women's prison. The first class includes 20 women who are trying to reach their prison for Christ.

"Jesus is going to be able to use them to transform the inside of that prison," Kelley said. "We're just going to unleash the power of the Gospel by training effective leaders for ministry.

"That is the story of theological education today. It is the story of being flexible in your methodology," Kelley said. "It is the story of grasping hard to the biblical content of the inspired, inerrant Word of God and all the ministry skills that someone needs in the world of this day."

Closing his report, Kelley urged the messengers to attend the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. He invited two New Orleans pastors, David Crosby of First Baptist Church and Fred Luter of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, to share a word on behalf of the city's Baptists.

"God is at work in the city of New Orleans. It's a great time to be there," Crosby said. "We want you to come and be a part of the convention next year."

" is a great mission field," Luter said, encouraging the messengers to participate in the Crossover witnessing event next year. "There are a lot of lost folk down there who need to know about Jesus Christ."

Luter said he hopes many who came to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Katrina recovery will come and see how God is restoring the city. "You have shown the people of New Orleans and the media what churches in our convention can do through your prayers, your support and coming down and helping us rebuild," Luter said.

Kelley echoed Luter's comments, urging the messengers to come experience the miracle God is performing in New Orleans.

"There is a greater receptivity to the Gospel than we have ever had in my 35 years in New Orleans," Kelley said. "People are going to come to Christ."

SOUTHEASTERN -- The Southern Baptist Convention heard from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin about increased enrollment numbers, faithful faculty and intentional partnerships for theological education during the seminary's annual report June 15.

With a record enrollment during the preceding school year, and another expected record enrollment in the coming months, Akin said he is greatly encouraged by God's faithfulness in bringing students to study at Southeastern.

"In 1992, in the height of the Conservative Resurgence, the school was at 585," Akin said. "There were people that were predicting the school would not survive, but by God's amazing grace, today more than 2,700 students are at Southeastern."

People are drawn to the seminary because of the caliber of heart for the Great Commission and of the faculty, Akin said. He pointed out that, as in past years, the number of students coming to study for service with the International Mission Board has continued to increase. "Southeastern Seminary aspires to be a Great Commission seminary, and we are now training more missionaries and church planters than at any other time in our history," Akin said.


The heart for sharing the Gospel among the unreached and unengaged of the world comes directly from the faculty, Akin said, many of whom have served overseas as career missionaries and have come to Southeastern to infuse the Great Commission into a variety of disciplines.

"God has brought back six former career International Mission Board personnel who teach -- not in the area of missions -- but in the areas of Old Testament, Hebrew, New Testament, Greek, hermeneutics and also theology," Akin said. "What's exciting is those men also bring to their discipline the question of, 'How do you teach Hebrew so you'll further the Great Commission? How do you teach theology, or Greek so you'll further the Great Commission? How do you teach hermeneutics so that you further the Great Commission?

"These are men who not only talk about the Great Commission, but they do the Great Commission," Akin said. He told the story of David Alan Black, a professor of Greek at Southeastern, who along with his wife Becky travels each year to Ethiopia at Christmastime, in lieu of gifts, to minister among the poor and share the Gospel.

"I could spend hours telling you about these who go on the international mission field," Akin said. "Many of them serve on pastoral staffs. They serve as pastors, elders and deacons. Southeastern does have a remarkable group of men and women as our faculty."

Akin also gave an update on Southeastern's intentional initiative to wed the seminary to the local church for theological education.

"We call it our Great Commission Equipping Network," Akin said. "Our goal is that by 2015 we will have more than 250 churches that we're in partnership with in delivering theological education. We recognize that there are some things the seminary does very well. There are other things that are done best in the laboratory of the local church. We take great delight in partnering in providing theological education."

Questioned from the floor about whether Southeastern Seminary is pushing a "Calvinist" agenda, Akin said, "Southeastern has one agenda: It is called the Great Commission. We are committed to the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe His last words are meant to be lasting words, so any agenda other than that would be the wrong agenda."

Akin said, "As long as I'm there, we're going to be about joining hands with Southern Baptists and taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth to fulfill the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus Christ -- the Great Commission."

SOUTHERN -- During his report to the convention, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed to the increasing secularization of American culture as motivation for continued fervor in theological education.

Mohler emphasized the apparent disconnect between what many people claim to believe and how they apply that belief.

"Even though 95 percent of Americans say that they believe in God, the secularizing forces that have hollowed out the religious life of Western Europe are fully in force in American culture right now," Mohler said.


This loss of biblical fidelity is evident across the academy, where history professors discount the importance of history, English professors deconstruct classical literature and science professors seek to inculcate students with scientism. Southern Seminary finds herself squarely in this context, Mohler said.

"We understand that the hope for the next generation of Southern Baptists is not merely in programming and activities," Mohler said. "It is instead in pastors and church leaders who are able to equip the saints for transformation through what the Holy Spirit calls 'renewing of the mind.'"

In a culture where beliefs and standards are constantly changing, Christians cannot assume the Gospel is understood; rather, the Gospel message must be "proclaimed, modeled and guarded" as a matter of stewardship from one generation to the next, Mohler said. This stewardship represents exactly why Southern Seminary assembled -- and continues to assemble -- a world-class faculty that is orthodox, evangelical and committedly Baptist. Southern Seminary continues to fight the good fight for the Gospel as she trains others to do the same, Mohler said.

SOUTHWESTERN -- The article on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's report to messengers was not available at press time.

Based on reports by Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; T. Patrick Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Gary D. Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Garrett E. Wishall of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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