The Preamble to the 2000 report states that "Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability." Those last five words have been a focus of controversy. To whom are we accountable? The answer for Southern Seminary is simple—accountable to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Nothing is more dangerous than a theological seminary that is not held accountable. The decay and decline of mainline Protestantism is largely due to the influence of liberal seminaries that undermined the faith of future ministers. Such schools produced generations of preachers and ministers that looked to the gospel with hostility and rejected the historic Christian faith as out of date and out of style.
Theological seminaries do not exist for themselves, but for the churches. These churches entrust the training and education of their ministers to seminaries in order that pastors and other servants will be grounded in the truth, equipped for the task, and encouraged in the faith. This is an incredible stewardship. Unfortunately, many seminaries see themselves as superior to the churches, and accountable only to the academic culture and the scholarly guilds.
The issue of doctrinal integrity is paramount for a theological seminary. An age that holds truth in antipathy will look at confessions of faith as antiquarian holdovers from an oppressive past. On the other hand, an institution determined to remain true to biblical truth must be honest about its boundaries. We must state clearly what we believe, and what we teach.
For nearly 2000 years, Christians have expressed their faith and doctrine through confessions of faith. In many cases, the confession or creed emerged out of the defense of the faith against heresy and error. The believing church said "no" to doctrinal error and "yes" to the truth of the Gospel. This responsibility falls to every generation.
The major revision of the Baptist Faith and Message adopted this year by the Southern Baptist Convention demonstrates that Southern Baptists remain serious about their confessional identity. I pray that the experience of this revision process will help us to learn even more about what it means to be a confessional people against anti-confessional pressure of the age.
There are few threats more perilous for the evangelical church than theological seminaries set adrift from theological accountability. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is unembarrassed in our commitment to require all professors to teach "in accordance with and not contrary to" our Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message.
Furthermore, we expect our professors to hold these convictions as personal beliefs and commitments, not merely as contractual obligations for teaching. This model of robust confessionalism is a critical dimension of our accountability to the churches. Our confession represents a living tradition and it is the structure of our theological integrity. We do not force anyone to accept the confession of faith, but those who accept employment here do so under these terms.
The churches hold the seminary accountable through a Board of Trustees, elected by the Southern Baptist Convention. We are proud to belong to the Southern Baptist Convention, and proud to be The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We stand together with our churches in the gospel, in our doctrinal heritage, and in the living faith of biblical Christianity.
We have the wonderful privilege of introducing a new generation of young Christians to the full rush of biblical truth and to the full power of the authentic Gospel. I am thankful for an outstanding faculty of world-class scholars who joyfully teach the doctrines we hold precious.
In the midst of theological confusion all around us, our prayerful determination is that The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary remain firmly established upon the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ — boundaries we dare not trespass.