Thursday, July 20, 2006

Reforming theological education

One of the great results of the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention the last three decades has been the impact made on our theological seminaries. Whatever doubts there may have been about the confessional integrity of those institutions has been, for the most part, removed. Now there is reason to believe that most professors actually believe the statements of faith that they sign in order to teach at one of our schools.

Another development in theological education that is serving to reform it even further both within and beyond the SBC is the explosion of opportunities to study via the internet. Granted, sitting at a computer is not the same as sitting in a classroom, interacting with other students. Nor is listening to an audio lecture the same as experiencing the lecture in person. There are other limitations, as well. But given all that, the availability of excellent instruction via online resources has put basic theological education within the reach of countless people who otherwise would have no hope of being taught by Martin Lloyd-Jones, Don Whitney, Roger, Nicole, Timothy George, J.I. Packer or Tom Nettles.

Now the insights of those men, and others, can be gleaned through classes offered by the Founders Study Center. Under the direction of Dr. Ken Puls, the Study Center promotes opportunities for people to study in their own church settings under experienced pastors who serve as mentors. It is inexpensive and very accessible. Although only 3 years old, the Study Center has been recognized and acclaimed by recognized leaders in theological education. Two new courses and the Fall semester schedule have recently been announced at the Study Center.

A new endeavor in theological education has just completed its first year under the direction Sam Waldron and Ted Christman, pastors of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. The Midwest Center for Theological Studies is committed to providing ministerial training in a local church context. Semester courses as well as J-term and I-term classes are offered. What makes the Midwest Center such an attractive situation for aspiring ministers is not only the presence of Dr. Waldron and Pastor Christman, but also the vitality of Heritage Church. One of the unfortunate limitations of seminaries that are based on the university model is that a student can complete the course with little or no involvement in a warm-hearted, well-ordered, confessional, evangelistic church. Yet, for those who desire to become spiritual leaders themselves, there is no substitute for being engaged--fully engaged--in the life of a healthy local church under the oversight of faithful shepherds.

I praise God for the upgrade that theological education within the SBC has experienced in recent years. And I am also grateful for these new options and opportunities that are opening up for the future.

12 comments:

Jim Shaver said...

I have heard rumblings that some Southern Baptists would like to see the Abstract of Principles at Southern and Southeastern discarded and replaced by the BF&M 2000.

The comment by a NAMB trustee in an ABP news article last week makes one wonder if there are not still crusaders in the SBC who will not be satisfied until all Southern Baptist Institutions and Churches adopt the BF&M 2000.

Here was that quote, "If you can't make the 'Baptist Faith and Message' a test of fellowship, then what good is it?" (July 14 Article by ABP entitled "Calif. missionary Stewart terminated after dispute with NAMB leader".)

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. Ascol,

Thank you for what you are offering through this study center. I hope more Reformed Baptist churches step up to the plate and offer what they can offer to pastors in their area. There are hundreds of us out here who are very well versed in Calvaminiansm and Vague Dispensationalism, but who are now starving for education in the Calvanist and Covenental tradition.

I have been greatly blessed by listening to sermons/lectures from the Founders Conference Southwest from the past several years. They are hosted by Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas at www.reformedbaptist.org. I've been able to listen to you, Dr. Nettles, Dr. Malone, Dr. Renihan, and others, and have learned a great deal.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Howard Fisher said...

Dear Tom,

I live in western KS. There simply is no reformed churches where I am. To be able to take classes via the internet with SWBTS and for the past few years with Founders, I have been truly blessed.

I hope to take another class this Fall and use the knowledge gained to Glorify Christ in my local church. Reformation may never come to my own church, but using the gifts God has given me to serve his church in conjunction with Founders may bless our local body more than I know or realize.

God Bless

Howard

John said...

I would imagine that faculty of SBC seminaries should subscribe to the 2000 BF&M. That's not some irrational demand of a fundamentalist "crusader" but the simple fact that those who receive their salary from the cooperative program should support the beliefs that those who gave to the cooperative program thought they were giving too. If the seminaries also want to hold to the Abstract of Principles, that's good too.

jmattingly said...

Dear Dr. Ascol,

One additional resource that is worth mentioning is Reformed Baptist Seminary out of Easley, SC. They, like MCTS, are a church based Seminary preparing men for pastoral ministry. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to give the link here, so I’ll refrain from doing so (though you can easily search for it).

I’ve been enrolled there for about a year, while mentoring in the context of my local church under my pastor’s oversight. I take courses in week long on-site modular format (they offer at least two a year in various locations) and by distance as well (through DVD’s or MP3’s). I appreciate their biblical mindset that encourages accountability to your local church, while also enabling you to learn from a variety of godly teachers (who without exception have pastoral experience).

Dr. Waldron has taught several of their modules in the past. Dr. James Renihan is teaching a week long course on the 1689 confession next summer in Grand Rapids, and I believe Dr. Tedd Tripp is scheduled to teach a week long course on Biblical Counseling in early 2008. RBS has also cooperated with MCTS in allowing their modules to count toward RBS credit if applicable.

I can attest to the fact that the reading, lectures, exams, and paper requirements thus far have been both academically challenging and passionately pastoral.

I echo your statements regarding God’s goodness for providing opportunities like these. It would be very difficult for me to pursue a theological education at this time otherwise. I also hope that efforts such as these will go far in uniting Baptists who delight together in the doctrines of the God’s glorious grace in salvation.

In Christ,
Jeremiah Mattingly

scripturesearcher said...

What Bible believing, Bible preaching, Bible teaching seminary president, professor, church pastor, evangelist, missionary, or custodian (janitor) would object to the contents of the Abstract of Principles and the BF&M????

C. T. Lillies said...

I haven't read the Abstract--I can't find one. But I have read the BF&M 2000. If the Abstract is document that generally goes along with reformed theology I can't see how they could be compatible.

Much Grace
Josh

Timmy said...

Tom,

If I can recall correctly, I remember Dr. Mohler at the T4G conference sharing that his desire is to see theological education take place in the local church. He was applauded when he said that he would love to see seminaries put of out business with churches taking the responsibility to teach and train ministers in their own ecclesiological context. I think this could be where the continual reformation of theological education takes place.

I have grown up in strong, conservative SBC churches all my life, but outside the regular discipleship training classes and home Bible studies, I never received any theological training. Looking back, I am grieved for that lack; however, looking forward, I have much to hope for as I see things changing.

With our seminaries putting out competent ministers, maybe they would go back to their churches and emphasize theological education in their pastorate. This reminds me of Dr. Mohler's three articles of the pastor as theologian. Maybe if we can recover the primacy of biblical truth in the life of the church aside from pragmatic models and programmatic emphasis, then maybe the landscape could be ripe for such theological reformation in the local church. I would love to see this take place. Churches like Bethlehem Baptist Church with their TBI institute and Capitol Hill Baptist Church are two I think are pioneering the way.

Thank you for the great resources available in the Study Center as well as the Journal. When I first found this, I thought to myself, "Why hadn't someone told me about this? This is fantastic stuff."

lee n. field said...

You might find these (http://www.covenantseminary.edu/worldwide/default.asp) worth checking out. I've listened through a couple of them in my "abundant free time".

deacon said...

Although the BF&M 2000 is not straight forward in its language as the Abstract of Principles (AP) is, I don't see the problem in holding to both.

BTW, here is a link to a copy of the AP:
http://www.founders.org/abstract.html

GeneMBridges said...

I haven't read the Abstract--I can't find one. But I have read the BF&M 2000. If the Abstract is document that generally goes along with reformed theology I can't see how they could be compatible.

Okay, there are several issues here. First of all, SBTS and SEBTS use both the Abstract and the BFM2K.

You can read the Abstract here:http://www.sbts.edu/aboutus/
abstract.php

James Boyce and Basil Manly Jr., particularly Manly, wrote it. It is an Abstract of the LBCF, Charleston, and Philadelphia Confessions. Their work should interpret it. It should not be left to the minds of the signatories to reinterpret it. They would never dare to that with the Bible, but they'll do that with a confession. Go figure.

The argument that the BFM2K is incompatible with the Abstract is false for several reasons.

The BFM2K is another iteration of the New Hampshire Confession. The NHC was adopted by B.H. Carroll for SWBTS. Carroll most certainly affirmed doctrines like unconditional election and monergistic regeneration. For example:

The true scriptural position [concerning regeneration] is this: There is, first of all, a direct influence of the Holy Spirit on the passive spirit of the sinner, quickening him or making him sensitive to the preaching of the Word. In this the sinner is passive. But he is not a subject of the new birth without contrition, repentance and faith. In exercising these he is active. Yet even his contrition is but a response to the Spirit's conviction, and the exercise of his repentance is but a response to the Spirit's conviction, and the exercise of his repentance and faith are but responses to the antecedent spiritual graces of repentance and faith. Carroll goes on to state that "repentance and faith are fruits of regeneration, (An Interpretation of the English Bible, Volume 4, p. 287). Notice, Carroll clearly states that even faith is a response to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and faith is the fruit of regeneration, not the cause of it.

If the BFM2K is not congruent with the Abstract, then Carroll was not congruent with the NHC, the very confession he selected for SWBTS!
That would be, of course, absurd.

The NHC itself was written to contradict the Free Will Baptists in 1833. Notice that it does not include statements about the freedom of the will and the coextensitivity of the atonement, which are typical in FWB confessions of that day. Where it mentions free will, it defines it as free agency, which, in 19th century parlance is a reference to free agency. At that time, "free agency" was shorthand for the what the Philadelphia Confession describes under the header for Free Will. The gist is that the doctrines herein described do not conflict with man's free agency, and that is fully defined in the Philadelphia Confession.

Thus when it speaks of regeneration, election, &tc, it is to be understood in the categories and definitions of historic Calvinism of that day, not in the synergistic terms of latter generations that have simply read the NHC while committing semantic anachronism. The BFM2K is thus very compatible with the Abstract and vice versa. It is the synergists in the SBC who are out of step with the BFM2K, because they don't know the history of the words in the BFM2K. If they would like to redefine them, then they may do so, but if they do, then they are buying into Post-Modernism, where you can redefine language to suit your needs. Moreover, if they declare the Abstract incompatible with the BFM2K, they effectively cut off their ancestors right to teach in the very seminaries they founded. What's more they cut off the original use of the NHC at SWBTS, viz. Dr. Carroll himself, who even went so far in his theology to affirm the covenant of grace and inter-trinitarian covenant of redemption. (An Interp. of the English Bible, Romans 8:28) and unconditional election outright (Ibid, 1 Peter 1:1,2).

C. T. Lillies said...

Mr. Bridges

Thanks for the links. I've downloaded the pdf's and will read them.

FYI, I'm not trying to discredit either in favor of the other, just trying to learn. (I'm trying to decide if I'm honored or terrified to find myself on the business end of one of your comments.) I'll read them both and get back to you.

Much Grace
Josh