Record 467 degrees awarded at Southern’s commencement
Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS
May 22, 2017

Record 467 degrees awarded at Southern’s commencement

Record 467 degrees awarded at Southern’s commencement
Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS
May 22, 2017

Ministers of the gospel are not partakers in a career, but recipients of a divine calling, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said in his commencement address May 19 to the 2017 graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).

Photo by Emil Handke, SBTS

Raymond Johnson, lead pastor at The Journey Church in West Chester, Pa., received his Ph.D. in New Testament at Southern Seminary’s May 19 commencement. The seminary’s doctoral graduates have reached the 2,000 mark in the 125-year history of the program.

During 219th commencement exercises on the seminary lawn, 318 master’s and doctoral students received degrees. A week earlier, 149 Boyce College students graduated, with the combined 467 degrees representing the largest commencement in Southern Seminary’s history.

“At every Southern Seminary graduation we remind one another of the great and essential fact that the Christian ministry is not a mere profession – it is a divine calling,” Mohler, SBTS president, said. “The ministry is one of Christ’s gifts to His church. It is among the most serious – and indeed the most serious – and joyous of all callings.”

In an address titled “As It Had Been the Face of an Angel,” from Acts 6:8-15, Mohler encouraged the graduates to be encouraged by Stephen’s example, who remained steadfast in the face of false accusations, his face shining like an angel’s.

The contemporary depiction of angels in popular culture often misses the point, Mohler said, as angles in the Bible are messengers of God who inspire awe and fear.

“That is the ministry of the Word of God – the ministry we celebrate in these graduates today,” Mohler said. “We dare to pray that when they preach, when they bring the message from God’s Word, in this sense their faces look like the faces of angels – not cute, never harmless, not ready to jump off of a greeting card, but fearless, faithful, forceful to the end.”

The work facing Southern Seminary graduates is inherited from a previous generation, Mohler noted, and commencement provides an opportunity to reflect on the faithfulness of spiritual forebears and to anticipate new ministries for newly trained gospel workers in the years ahead.

Photo by Emil Handke, SBTS

Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, offers the New Testament reading during Southern Seminary’s May 19 commencement. His daughter and son-in-law both received master’s degrees.

Just as the prophet Joel foretold that old men would dream and young men would see visions, so too seminary graduates are driven into the world with powerful dreams and visions for how they can be used for the Kingdom.

“These graduates go out now to build upon what others have already built. We will all build on the foundation someone else has laid,” Mohler said. “Even as the Lord grants opportunity to sow seed, we will spend much of our lives and ministries watering what others have planted, even as we plant what others will water. … In the church age, ministry is handed from generation to generation. Our humble determination and our heart’s desire must be to receive this charge and to serve faithfully – planting and watering in the fields of ministry and taking care how we build upon the foundation laid before us.”

During graduation, Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and chairman of the board for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., read a portion from the New Testament. His daughter Lauren and son-in-law Michael McAfee both were among this year’s graduates. Michael, an M.Div. graduate in the school of theology, is director of Bible engagement for the Museum of the Bible.

The 2017 graduating class also featured the 2,000th recipient of a doctor of philosophy degree in the 125-year history of Southern Seminary’s doctoral program.

David Casas, of Lawrenceville, Ga., earned his Ph.D. from the school of theology; his dissertation was titled “A Defense of the Spiritual Interpretation of the Image of God.” Casas is a member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Ga., and teaches Old Testament at Luther Rice University.

The terminal research degree was established at Southern Seminary in 1892 as a doctor of theology, making SBTS one of the early free-standing institutions to offer such a degree. Trustees approved a change to the Ph.D. in 1974.

Also during graduation, Mohler presented the annual Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence to Jeremy P. Pierre, associate professor of biblical counseling and the seminary’s dean of students. Pierre has taught at Southern since 2011 and is the author of “The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life” and co-author of “The Pastor and Biblical Counseling.” Pierre also is a pastor at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He and his wife Sarah have five children.

The recipient of the 2017 Josephine S. and James L. Baggott Outstanding Graduate Award was Elias Coye Still IV, a master of divinity graduate from North Carolina.

Mohler’s entire address will be available in audio and video at equip.sbts.edu. A complete manuscript of the address is available at albertmohler.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith writes for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)