Seminary trustees affirm new offering suggestion

FORT WORTH?The intentionally light agenda of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustee board was interrupted by a unanimous resolution asking the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to launch a seminary offering in honor of the late W. A. Criswell. In their Oct. 20-21 meeting, trustees affirmed the newly elected president’s proposed solution to alleviate rising costs in a way that would avoid shifting more of the financial burden to students.

No other major actions were taken in the regular board meeting scheduled amidst presidential inauguration festivities. The proposal of a special offering benefiting Southern Baptist seminaries arose during President Paige Patterson’s report to trustees at the first plenary session. While Patterson’s pledge to reverse a 20-year enrollment decline will provide increased Cooperative Program funding, a new source of revenue is needed to handle rising costs and significantly increase faculty salaries.

“If you’ve looked at faculty salaries you now this is one of the most astonishing and heartbreaking situations imaginable. What we pay our faculty is just unthinkable,” he said. “Southern Baptists are going to have to give an account to God for what we have not done in that regard.” In suggesting the SBC establish the W. A. Criswell Offering for Seminary Education, Patterson said the money could be designated for faculty salaries, alleviating the current budget crunch.

Patterson said the SBC Executive Committee responded to his proposal by appointing a special committee in the spring of 2002. While the proposed offering was among the various items discussed in seeking ways to increase support for SBC entities, other ideas relating to seminary education have also arisen. “I regret to say [that committee]may have taken on a life of its own,” Patterson said without elaboration.

Texas trustee Michael Dean of Fort Worth added, “Part of their thinking on this is that they want seminaries to retool and change the format of traditional theological education to take on more of an MBA approach,” he said, referring to an increased use of distance learning. He said consideration was given to moving away from a traditional approach to seminary education by scaling down campuses. “Is that what is driving this?” Dean asked Patterson.

The president acknowledged that Dean had “a most remarkable capacity to open up a new can of worms,” drawing laughter from the audience. “Yes, a fundamental distinction in how you do seminary education is very much involved in this. There are strong elements at least within the Executive Committee staff and even involving a few Executive Committee members who believe that the age of electronics has dawned, that the seminary campus is antiquated as an idea and we need to move to a primarily electronic delivery system” to reduce overhead. “There are even elements within the Executive Committee staff that advocate having one seminary with a super board operating in various other locations” utilizing media-driven instruction.

“I am forever the opponent of that,” Patterson declared. “When the day comes that you train your cardiac surgeons” and “the United States SEAL team is trained on an extension campus by means of electronic media, then I’m ready to do it in a seminary.” Convinced that would never happen, Patterson insisted that some assignments require on-the-job training as individual professors impact the lives of future ministers. By way of example, Patterson described the influence of former Southern Seminary Professor Wayne Ward in teaching him how to preach expositionally as the two interacted across the years. “I am arguing you can’t reproduce that. You can do some things by media, by internet and by extension campus, but you can’t put Craig Blaising on every extension campus. It would be sinful to put him with electronic media,” Patterson quipped, referring to the executive vice-president and theology dean.

“We are in severe danger right now of dumbing down the future,” Patterson continued. “We’re not training occupation troops here, folks.

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