Is the Southern Baptist Convention In a Golden Era of Theological Education?

Jason Allen
Jason Allen

Since the Southern Baptist Convention’s founding in 1845, the SBC’s primary — and most unifying — effort has been collaborative missionary efforts. That was our raison d’etre in 1845 and it remains so today.

Yet, even during the SBC’s earliest years, theological education was an accompanying concern. Early SBC luminaries such as R.B.C. Howell, W.B. Johnson, Basil Manly Sr., Basil Manly Jr. and, most especially, James P. Boyce called for a common theological institution in the South.

A seminary is founded

By the mid- to late 1850s, Boyce had arisen as the effort’s most prominent and successful leader. Boyce’s “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” delivered as his inaugural faculty address at Furman University in 1856, called for a dramatic reconceptualization of theological education that would produce a clergy abundant in number, well learned and doctrinally sound. Boyce’s vision was realized in three short years with the founding of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859.

For nearly 50 years Southern Seminary enjoyed sole status within the SBC. Given its uniqueness as the only Southern Baptist seminary and the celebrated status of its faculty, it is difficult to overestimate Southern Seminary’s influence on the SBC during the first 50 years of its existence.

Yet, even in the early decades an uneasy relationship existed between Southern Baptist churches and their seminary.

An intuitive suspicion of higher education in general — common in the 19th-century agrarian South — intensified when concerns related to higher criticism, Baptist origins and, into the 20th century, the fundamentalist/modernist controversy arose. By the early decades of the 20th century, modern biblical criticism had moved from occasional occurrence to more common acceptance by Southern Seminary’s faculty.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Jason Allen

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