The education of ministers of the Gospel is a serious matter. Those shaped by theological education include the ministers who study in our seminaries, and all those who are touched by their ministries. Generations to come will be influenced by those now studying in our schools.
For this reason, a study of theological education must be serious in intent and responsible in approach. Sadly, the report of the BGCT Seminary Study Committee meets neither of these requirements. Though some members of the committee asked responsible questions and demonstrated serious intent, the general approach of the committee was irresponsible and cannot be taken seriously.
1. The BGCT Seminary Study Committee did not seriously consider theological education as conducted by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Any responsible study would require lengthy investigation of the entire seminary program. The BGCT committee was interested only in a narrow range of issues—virtually all related in some way to the Southern Baptist Convention controversy of the last twenty years.
A comprehensive study would have established that Southern Seminary is one of the leading institutions of theological education, with a faculty known around the world for excellence in teaching, influence in writing, pacesetting in scholarship, and faithfulness in conviction. The larger context and purpose was ignored by the committee, which focused instead on a narrow agenda.
2. The BGCT committee misunderstands the nature of confessional theological education.
Many of the questions asked by the committee were directed to our identity as a confessional institution—that is, an institution with a public statement of faith that every professor must sign and to which all faculty members are accountable. The BGCT committee constantly referred to this as "creedalism," and insinuated that this is a new development among Southern Baptists. This is a misrepresentation at best. Southern Seminary's original 1859 charter required all professors to teach "in accordance with and not contrary to" the Abstract of Principles, our historic confession of faith. Further, professors are to sign this pledge "without hesitation or mental reservation."
Southern Baptists should expect no less. From its founding, Southern Seminary has required professors to sign this statement of faith—and every administration has been obligated by charter to enforce this provision. Several former faculty members have stated publicly that they signed the statement with reservations. This is not acceptable, and it is dishonest. One cannot sign a statement of faith with fingers crossed.
Southern Seminary also requires faculty to sign the Baptist Faith and Message statement as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention. This is not a new policy in any way. As a matter of fact, the SBC voted in 1969 to instruct all of its agencies to use the BF&M as a guideline for hiring and program. This is only what should be expected.
3. The BGCT committee misrepresents the 2000 revisions of the Baptist Faith and Message.
According to the BGCT committee, the 2000 revisions have "changed many of our cherished Baptist and long-held Christian beliefs." This is nonsense. First, the report claims that the removal of the 1963 language identifying Jesus as "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted" transforms the BF&M "to the status of a creed." This statement is ludicrous in several ways.
First, the statement was not simply eliminated. It was replaced with a sentence that is far more in keeping with historic confessions of faith. The new sentence affirms that "All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." The language of the 1963 statement is not found in any historic confession of faith, nor did it appear in the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the SBC. If this has transformed the 2000 statement into a creed, the same must be true of the 1925 statement. The BGCT distorts history and makes reckless claims with this accusation.
Second, the 1963 language has been used to deny the inspired status of Biblical passages. For example, some have claimed that the 1963 language allows an interpreter to deny that God really ordered the conquest of Canaan or that Paul's writings on women in the church carry full Scriptural authority. The BGCT committee was made aware of these statements, but was unmoved. This is an evasion of responsibility. If the BGCT committee really believes that such interpretations are legitimate, its members should have the courage to tell Texas Baptists what they believe.
Third, the 2000 revision is even more Christologically focused than the 1963 statement, and its Christological hermeneutic is stronger, not weaker. In keeping with historic evangelical and Baptist theology, we understand that every single passage of the Bible, in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, is a testimony to Christ. Every word is true, every word is fulfilled in Christ, and Christ affirmed every word of Scripture as fully authoritative.
Further, the BGCT committee claims that the SBC has turned the BF&M into a creed by affirming in the preamble that Baptists have used confessions of faith as "instruments of accountability." This is an undeniable historic fact—and a fact well established even by the history of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which in 1895 voted to seat only messengers from churches that affirmed its articles of faith. The BGCT committee must at least admit that it is their leadership that has moved away from theological accountability—not the SBC.
Without a confession of faith there is no legal or disciplinary procedure for accountability. This was a point frustratingly lost on the committee in our discussions. A faculty member can be removed only for cause, and that cause must be established by an objective document that is signed by the professor as a condition of employment. Following the BGCT committee's advice, it would be impossible to remove any professor for any theological reason, regardless of what he or she may teach.
The Southern Baptist Convention enthusiastically adopted the 2000 revisions. We gladly serve our churches by joining them in this statement of faith. This is the common ground on which we stand, and the common platform for our shared work.
4. The BGCT committee makes false accusations against the Seminary's administration and trustees.
The BGCT report states that "Faculty members with deep roots in Southern Baptist life were released because they held traditional Baptist views that have recently become unacceptable to narrow theologies and philosophies of presidents and trustees." This is so irresponsible that it cannot be taken seriously. The BGCT report cannot stand theological scrutiny. Southern Seminary will be glad to put its case before the Baptists of Texas. Those removed from our faculty were removed for just cause. If the BGCT committee wants to associate itself with the teachings of those former faculty members it cites, it should have the courage to do so. Clearly, it does not.
The report cites former Professor Molly Marshall as an example of a faculty member who "resigned rather than face unspecified charges against which she could not prepare a defense." This is just not the case. The BGCT committee must decide whether it will accuse Southern Seminary of not following due process or accuse us of following the same. Southern Seminary's personnel manual and disciplinary process were followed precisely in this case. This procedure was in place long before the current administration was elected. According to the policy, formal charges must be sent to the trustees and the faculty member. This step begins the formal disciplinary process. According to the procedure, the faculty member has both time and opportunity to prepare a formal defense, and may even employ legal counsel to respond to the charges. At the same time, a faculty member may resign rather than face the entire process. This is the faculty member's decision. The BGCT accusation is untrue and against the facts of the case.
In other accusations the committee alleges that persons have been dismissed without due cause. This is not true, and in these cases the Seminary is in the same position faced by any other employer. We cannot discuss the particulars of personnel issues. The same is true for the BGCT and any other employer.
5. The BGCT report misrepresents Southern Seminary faculty as "non-Southern Baptist" in background.
Now, as always, the vast majority of Southern Seminary professors are long-time Southern Baptists. Most, in fact, have never known any other denominational home. At the same time, as a premier Baptist seminary, Southern Seminary also attracts a limited number of Baptists from other Baptist bodies and selectively brings them into the SBC through faculty appointment.
The BGCT committee construed faculty members with degrees from non-Southern Baptist schools as non-Southern Baptist in identity. This is not always the case. In fact, several of the individuals who would be included on such a list are life-long participants in Southern Baptist life.
If the presence of faculty members from non-Southern Baptist backgrounds is really a vital concern of the BGCT committee, it must be honest about the presence of faculty members from the same backgrounds teaching in BGCT schools.
6. The BGCT report falsely accuses Southern Seminary and President R. Albert Mohler, Jr. of forcing a Calvinist theological agenda upon the institution.
All Southern Baptists are Calvinists of one sort or another. Anyone who believes in the perseverance of the saints or the security of the believer has Calvinist elements in his or her theology. Those who established the SBC were Calvinists, as were early leaders of the BGCT. Southern Seminary's Abstract of Principles reflects that Calvinist influence, as does the Baptist Faith and Message (and the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, on which it is based).
In the modern era, as in the founding generation, Southern Baptists have included those who were more Calvinistic, and those who were less Calvinistic. Nevertheless, strong Calvinist elements have been present in the Southern Baptist mainstream throughout our history.
The Abstract of Principles requires all professors to believe in total depravity, unconditional election, and perseverance. The Seminary does not require professors to hold a specific view of the extent of the atonement or effectual calling. Southern Seminary's faculty hold differing positions on these questions, as do Southern Baptists at large.
The President is not forcing a Calvinist agenda other than faithful adherence to the Abstract of Principles. The BGCT report claims that "Calvinism influence is enormous with students being mentored in this narrow theological persuasion." The committee reached this assessment, apparently without a single interview with a student.
If Calvinism is not to be tolerated by BGCT leadership, then they should make clear their own theological convictions in a responsible manner. Further, they must apologize to BGCT titans such as B. H. Carroll and J. B. Gambrell, who were clear about their own Calvinist convictions.
In a letter printed in the October 23, 2000 edition of the Baptist Standard, the chairman of the BGCT committee, Bob Campbell of Houston, stated: "The Calvinism issue continues and is more prominent at Southern than ever. Baptist Press recently (Oct. 11) announced the hiring of a Presbyterian professor." This is another evidence of the superficial and farcical approach of the BGCT committee. Baptist Press did indeed announce that SBTS trustees had approved a Presbyterian professor to teach for a limited assignment. Had Mr. Campbell asked for information, he would have discovered that the Presbyterian professor was approved to teach a specialized course in church music—hardly an example of a Calvinist infusion into the Seminary. Men who expect to be taken seriously must act seriously. This is an example of the "research" on which the BGCT report is based.
7. The BGCT report must be seen for what it is—a propaganda effort to divide Texas Baptists from the Southern Baptist Convention.
The defunding of the SBC seminaries by the BGCT is a tragedy for the SBC, for it represents the rupture of a long-standing relationship. But it is a far greater tragedy for the BGCT, for it puts that body of Baptists on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the Cooperative Program, and the wrong side of the Great Commission. No longer will Texas Baptists be a part of theological education from coast to coast. No longer will Texas Baptists contribute to the theological education and future ministries of young men and women from across our nation. From now on, should the BGCT proposal be adopted, the BGCT will invest only in Texas students and Texas institutions.
This retrenchment speaks volumes about the true intention of BGCT leadership. They are determined to keep Texas money in Texas hands under Texas control for Texas purposes. That is not the kind of Great Commission vision that brought the BGCT into being.
The offerings made by Texas Baptists are God's moneys to be used for God's purposes. God will take care of Southern Seminary and our sister SBC schools. The loss of BGCT funding will hurt, but we are not for sale, and we will not be moved.
Eventually, Texas Baptists will find a way to fund our work. We are confident that God will supply our needs. We are ready at any time to present our case to Texas Baptists, and we are certain they will support the quality and conviction represented by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.