During their fall meeting Oct. 15-16, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Board of Visitors and Trustees heard reports of record enrollment, new staff and future plans for the seminary and its college.
This semester Southeastern has a record enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, reported Daniel Akin, the seminary’s president. If growth continues, he said, the seminary could see nearly 5,000 students by 2017.
“We believe that kind of growth is very attainable for the future of Southeastern Seminary, so we’re very thankful for that,” said Akin, during his presidential address Oct. 15 to the seminary’s Board of Visitors and Trustees.
New faces, new structure
To prepare to meet future needs and growth at Southeastern, trustees approved changes to its structure and elected new personnel.
Chuck Lawless will become dean of Southeastern’s graduate school and professor of evangelism and missions. He will leave his position as vice president of global advance with the International Mission Board (IMB). Before taking his role at IMB, Lawless was dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
James Dew Jr., associate professor of history of ideas and philosophy, will become the new dean of the College at Southeastern. Dew received his B.S. degree from Toccoa Falls College, his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southeastern.
Kenneth Keathley, professor of theology and dean of the faculty, transitioned from his administrative position as senior vice president for academic administration to lead the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture.
Trustees also elected Bruce Ashford as the seminary’s provost. Ashford, associate professor of theology and culture, is the former dean of the College at Southeastern, and Fellow for the Bush Center for Faith and Culture. Ashford received his B.A. from Campbell University, and his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southeastern.
Equipping the church
Akin also shared about a new effort where Southeastern is partnering with nearly 150 churches to help provide theological education on church campuses. Through the help of trained pastoral staff and online classes, Southeastern can provide theological training for those with a desire to stay on staff at the church they are serving.
One of those partner churches includes The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. The seminary and Brook Hills will jointly support Jim Shaddix, who will serve on staff at Brook Hills as pastor for teaching and training, while also serving as a professor of preaching for the seminary.
“Which means theoretically a person could come to Brook Hills and get their master of divinity degree and never have to move from Brook Hills to here,” Akin said.
“I’ve said for a long time … seminaries cannot teach everything [pastors] need to know,” he said. “Some of the things can only be learned in the furnace of the local church.”
No Calvinist agenda
During his report, Akin also addressed concerns by some critics of Southeastern, who contend the seminary has a “Calvinist agenda.”
“Calvinism is not an issue on this campus,” said Akin, who was invited earlier this year to serve on a 16-member Calvinism advisory team headed up by Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page. The team met in August and will meet again in November to discuss the development of a strategy “whereby people of various theological persuasions can work together in missions and evangelism.”
“The Great Commission is [an issue at Southeastern], but Calvinism isn’t,” Akin said. “I have no intention of building a Calvinistic school. It would be over my dead body.”
With that said, Akin added, “If there is a Calvinist who has a warm evangelist missionary heart who loves the Word of God … I’m more than happy to have those type of people on our faculty, and we do. … Though we may differ on certain points of theology, we are in lockstep agreement on the major issues that hold us together within the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”
“I think most Southern Baptists believe [Southeastern has] the right vision and the right mission.”
On Monday evening (Oct. 15) during Southeastern’s banquet, the seminary hosted Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist and panelist on the “Fox News Watch” show. Thomas has worked for NBC News in Washington, D.C., and hosted his own program on CNBC that was nominated for a Cable ACE Award in 1995.
Thomas asked banquet attendees, “What makes America unique in relationship to other nations and countries? American government says that rights and freedom are God-given and ideally, the government’s role is to protect these two things for the nation’s well-being.”
“My hope is not in the next election, but in the blood and death of Jesus Christ,” Thomas added.
True change, he said, would not come through a legislation of morality via the government. “True transformation is through God’s way and that is His gospel.”