The first Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) Academy surpassed even the lofty anticipation of at least one seminary student.
After participating in the ethics training May 18-19 in Nashville, Ronni Kurtz acknowledged he “had high expectations going into the seminar, and all of them were not only met but completely exceeded.”
“I came into the seminar looking forward to hearing Dr. [Russell] Moore’s position on each particular issue,” Kurtz told Baptist Press in email comments. “I walked away having a clear framework of how and why one should pursue Christian ethics.”
Kurtz, a master of divinity student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MWBTS), was one of 125 participants in the inaugural ERLC Academy. Most were students from Southern Baptist seminaries, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), in addition to Midwestern.
For two days, ERLC president Moore lectured on ethics and responded to questions – many on issues students reportedly were confronting. He spoke to the participants gathered in the auditorium of the Southern Baptist Convention building and to an online, live-streaming audience.
The lectures covered such general topics as the kingdom of God and Christian ethics, and establishing a framework for Christian ethics. Moore also addressed such issues as religious liberty, marriage, gender identity, the sanctity of human life, contraception, artificial reproductive technology, capital punishment, environmental stewardship and poverty.
He enjoyed “thinking through these important questions” with the seminary students, Moore said.
“Ethics isn’t about abstract theory,” he told BP in a written statement. “Ethics is central to the Christian life, because it is the outworking of the Gospel in our lives and in that of the church.
“In preaching, we have to define what repentance is, and what should be repented of,” Moore said, “and in discipleship, we apply the Bible to how we live in families, in communities, in nations.”
ERLC followed the two-day training with a seminar for doctoral students May 20-22. Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC’s executive vice president, and Barrett Duke, its vice president for public policy and research, assisted Moore in leading the seminar.
The next ERLC Academy will address Christianity in the public square and will be held May 2016 in Washington. The ERLC plans to hold the training each year in May, Bethancourt said.
The ERLC will continue to invite the SBC seminaries to take part in future academies and hopes to include several Baptist colleges and possibly some other evangelical schools, Bethancourt said.
For Kurtz, the primary benefit this year was likely being able to hear from someone with “a wonderfully Gospel-saturated, Jesus-exulting, church-edifying understanding of the issues.”
“With each ethical issue dealt with, Dr. Moore brought a unique balance of political savvy, rich theology and Christian wisdom that was refreshing to say the least,” Kurtz said.
He especially was impressed with the question-and-answer session after Moore’s lecture on each issue, Kurtz told BP. Moore presented a solution to each question that was “faithful to the Bible, theology, Christianity,” Kurtz said. “I couldn’t recommend the seminar any stronger than I do.”
Seminary officials expressed delight with their schools’ partnerships with the ERLC and its academy.
“I can think of no better, healthier or more natural partnership for educating the next generation of Southern Baptist ministers and leaders than the one Southern Seminary enjoys with the [ERLC],” said Matthew Hall, Southern’s vice president of academic services, in email comments. “Pastors in our time are facing ethical dilemmas unimaginable a generation prior. The [academy] is the right idea at the right time, providing our students with a tremendous opportunity to be taught by proven leaders in the field like [Moore].”
SEBTS provost Bruce Ashford expressed his seminary’s gratitude to the ERLC for the academy. “The ERLC Academy, under [Moore’s] leadership, has brokered the type of partnership with other entities that Southern Baptists can be proud of,” he said in an email. “The ERLC Academy is helping equip a generation of Baptist young people who are willing to work out the implications of the Gospel in the public square, even as the public square is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity.”
In an email to BP, MWBTS provost Jason Duesing described the academy as “a wonderful opportunity for our students not only to fulfill their Christian ethics course requirement but also to do so in a frontline environment by one of the nation’s leading thinkers and voices of discerning wisdom in [Moore].
“We could not be more grateful for our cooperative partnership with the ERLC,” Duesing said.