Schools formed prior to conservative resurgence

Theological schools formed prior to conservative resurgence continue to serve Southern Baptists

Conservatives began several theological schools in the 1960s and 1970s, including Luther Rice Seminary, Mid-America Seminary and The Criswell College. All three have continued–even after Southern Baptist seminaries were reformed under conservative leadership.

A Baptist missionary by the same name provided the philosophical basis on which Luther Rice Seminary was built. “He believed in missions, cooperation between churches, Christian education, the authority of the Bible, the power of the Holy Spirit, and Bible preaching,” said LRS President James L. Flanagan on the school’s website.

The school was chartered in 1962 in Jacksonville, Fla., first utilizing a nontraditional, external educational format and received accreditation from Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. In 1991 LRS moved to Lithonia, Ga., offering bachelor, master of ministry, master of divinity and doctoral degrees. According to the website (www.lrs.edu), a fundamental premise of LRS is that all teaching and learning must submit to the authority of the Bible, God’s inerrant word.

Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary’s Emeritus President, Gray Allison, told the TEXAN the Memphis-based seminary began as a place for students to come with the assurance that the faculty and staff would “believe all of the Bible was true all the way through.”

“At that time (of the founding of Mid-America) we didn’t have a seminary like that,” Allison said. Over the years, the enrollment has climbed and even though the Southern Baptist Convention has become more conservative, Mid-America is still meeting the needs of more than 500 students in Tennessee and also in New York, where a branch campus began in 1989 and has an enrollment of 59 students.

While not supported by the Cooperative Program, the requirements of Mid-America are that the faculty must be an active member of a local Southern Baptist church and every professor “have an open heart, an open door, and be a soul winner.” Students also are required to be active in ministry and winning souls.

During the first years of Mid-America, Allison recalled the seminary was criticized. “Our purpose was to get students prepared for Southern Baptist ministry. We’ve always stayed positive, not criticizing other seminaries. Over the years, we gradually won acceptance.”

Allison said the SBC conservative resurgence has been a positive for Mid-America. “The North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, the Sunday School Board, now LifeWay, all want our graduates. We have a great relationship with the SBC entities.”

During the 1970s and 80s, Allison stated they experienced many transfers from other seminaries of students to Mid-America, students who wanted a strongly biblical theological education. The seminary has roots back to 1971 as “The School of the Prophets” in Louisiana, and relocated to Little Rock, Ark., where the name was changed to Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Classes began in 1972 with 28 students.

The seminary moved to Tennessee in 1975. Despite the theological change in the Southern Baptist landscape, Allison says the seminary is “still in the business to prepare Southern Baptist folks for the ministry.” Michael R. Spradlin is the current president of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. More information is available at the school’s website at www.mabts.edu.

W.A. Criswell, legendary pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, cast the vision for The Criswell College in 1969, proposing a place where people would be trained in the infallible word of God. Two years later it was born.

“The great preacher of the First Baptist Church of Dallas had a heart for preachers as well as for the word of God,” said Chancellor Mac Brunson, now pastor of First Baptist.

“The Criswell College stands today on the foundation of its founder with a commitment to excellency in the classroom, a dedication to the infallibility of the word of God, and a love for missions and evangelism,” Brunson wrote on the school’s website, www.criswell.edu.

“This College is literally a laboratory of conservative evangelicalism dealing with the original languages of Scripture, teaching biblical and church history with expertise and depth, guiding men and women through the gospels, the Old Testament and the New testament, all with a passion and preciseness. All of this and more is accomplished in a urban environment, connected to the most historic Baptist church in America.”

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin is one of the many Criswell graduates serving in a leadership role within the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The entire theological playing field was laid out before me, but again and again I was shown why it is the word of God and truth that will stand forever,” Akin said. “I will never be able to repay the debt I owe to The Criswell College.”

The school progressed from a night institute begun in 1971 to a college offering diploma, associate, bachelor and master’s level studies, preparing students for the pastorate, missions, evangelism, Christian education, communications, your ministry, worship leadership, women’s ministry, or other related Christian ministries.

TCC Academic Affairs Vice President James Bryant was involved in Criswell Bible Institute as founding dean and returned two years ago. He questions whether any Southern Baptist-related college or seminary can affirm that all of their professors believe and teach according to three convictions that are true of The Criswell College–belief in the stated full inerrancy of the Bible, belief in the premillennial return of Christ and belief in the primacy of missions and evangelism.

“Those who require professors to sign The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 are not signing anything that uses the word inerrancy,” Bryant noted. “The eschatological article of the BF&M in the 1925 statement, the 1963 statement, as well as the 2000 statement is in no sense premillennial,” he added, making TCC unique among Southern Baptists, whose views vary on the particulars of the end times.

Bryant added, “While other institutions may claim belief in the primacy of missions and evangelism, I am not sure any other college requires a cross-cultural mission trip of each student before graduation. I also doubt that any other college or seminary requires students to do ministry weekly and report on it.”

Another aspect of the Dallas school’s uniqueness lies in its commitment to the biblical studies model even for non-ministerial students. “We still require all students to take Greek, Hebrew, two semesters of Old Testament, two of New Testament and three semesters of systematic theology. This may be the only Southern Baptist-related college where non-ministerial students are going to be proficient in those subjects.”

TCC Executive Vice President and Provost Lamar Cooper said the school stands among a small minority of theologically conservative colleges in the Southern Baptist Convention. While the seminaries have changed direction since the resurgence began to take hold, Southern Baptist colleges typically have not, he said, since college trustee boards are not accountable to the SBC and in many cases not to the state conventions.

“While that is the political reality, it is part of the reason that there has been no substantive theological shift in most of the Baptist colleges.” Cooper said.

Cooper points to another issue that sets TCC apart. “The commitment of the college has been to provide a broad-based biblical and theological education. All students in all programs must earn a biblical studies major even if the focal major is evangelism, missions, counseling, humanities, worship leadership, youth ministry or pastoral ministries.”

Cooper said this includes nine hours each in Old and New Testament, three hours of spiritual foundation, nine hours of systematic theology, three hours each of church history, evangelism, missions, philosophy, hermeneutics, six hours each of Hebrew and Greek, and nine hours in humanities, including The Ancient World, The Roman World, and the Postmodern World.

“In effect, we have created a double major for all areas–one in biblical studies and the second in a chosen area of focus.” Cooper said, “We believe this is not only great for vocational ministry but for those going into other vocations as well. Those receiving this foundation will make better doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, etc. They will have a unique and profound Christian worldview,” he insisted, anticipating their contributions to the cause of Christ, their families, churches, communities, denomination and world.

With newly installed TCC President Jerry Johnson committed to training a new generation of leaders, Cooper said the school will continue on the same course. “In short, we are going to keep on doing what we have been doing for 34 years, only better.”

 

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