KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jason Allen, in his first chapel message as president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS), shared his vision about the role of the seminary in theological education, within the Southern Baptist Convention and in serving its constituencies, particularly the local church.
With the new president’s election the previous day (Oct. 15), the mood of the packed chapel audience was celebratory as Allen, his wife Karen and their children were formally welcomed into the seminary family by Bill Bowyer, chairman of the trustees’ presidential search team.
Allen said he and his family had felt the moving of the Holy Spirit throughout the search process.
“If ever I’ve been convinced of the certainty of God’s will in my life, it has been unto this,” Allen said. “Karen and I have prayed for months … and as we’ve sensed every step of the way the Lord’s leading us down this road, it has brought with it such a sweet assurance. God has already developed in our hearts a love for a people we are really yet to know and a desire for community we are yet to even fully be in. We’re so overjoyed to be here!”
Turning to his sermon, titled, “What hath the Seminary to do with the Church?” from 1 Timothy 3:14-16, Allen said his initial chapel message wasn’t intended to be a manifesto for the seminary. Rather, he intended to share from God’s Word about theological education, what the seminary is and how it relates to the local church.
Southern Baptists have often had an uneasy relationship with the seminaries, Allen said, pointing to such questions as: “What is a seminary to be?” “Is it to be a divinity school or built and pointed at serving the local church?” “Does it serve a convention or is it built to change and prod a convention?”
Answering these questions, Allen said, “We are committed to serve the local church and not to point our attention or affections toward approval from the secular academy. We are called to serve a denomination, not to prod or push it. We are called to minister and teach in a context of confessional integrity.
“How you answer these questions determines everything about the faculty you seek to build, the curriculum you seek to structure, the graduates you hope to produce, the pastors you hope to equip, the ministers you intend to send, and the missionaries you intend to launch,” he said.
The new president then underscored where the seminary’s chief accountability lies. “Our commitment in the years forward, as in years past, is to our churches and our denomination, to train men and women for the nations for the glory of Christ,” he said.
“The urgent role of the church is to be the place where truth can be found,” Allen said, referencing verse 15, that the church is to be the “pillar and support of the truth.” The central role of the seminary, he said, is to come alongside the church in accomplishing the task.
“We are called as a seminary to equip men and women to be defenders of truth,” Allen said. “We are to be proclaimers of the truth of God’s Word and of Jesus Christ…. If there is one other place on the planet where people who will defend the truth will be found … it will be this place.”
The president then asked what he called a dangerous question. “Where in the New Testament is a seminary? It’s nowhere, but there’s a sense in which it’s everywhere. We get no clear command to have a seminary as we’ve so ordered it, but we see the mandate for theological education and biblical training in the Scriptures everywhere.
“Given the urgency of this and the way God is calling out individuals to serve His church, theological education is not child’s play,” Allen continued. “It’s deadly serious … and I have a sense of urgency in my bones and gravity in my soul because I think I understand something of what God is seeking to accomplish through a people dedicated to His work.”
The focal point of this urgency is the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ, Allen said, describing the presentation of the simple message of Jesus as first priority.
The preached Word confronts fallen man, he said. “If our presentation of the gospel isn’t challenging and confronting to modern man, I’d question whether or not we presented the gospel in the first place,” he said. “The gospel is a frontal assault on the assumptions and convictions of fallen man.”
In closing, Allen asked the question, “What does all this mean for a Southern Baptist seminary?” The answer, he said, entails a commitment to: keeping trust with the Southern Baptist Convention in both the letter and spirit of its expectations; having a servant’s mindset in serving the churches of the convention; the Great Commission; a holistic ministry training experience for students geared toward renewing the mind, enriching the soul and impacting the heart; and a resolve to proclaim and herald the name of Jesus.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – T. Patrick Hudson is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To see Jason Allen’s message in its entirety, go to www.mbts.edu.)