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How did you become president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary?

I was elected president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary by a board of trustees. That board is elected by the Southern Baptist Convention and holds the institution in trust as the governing board. Thus, you could really say I was elected by the Southern Baptist Convention, but through a board of trustees. This happened in the midst of a tremendous denominational controversy in which conservatives, advocating for the full trustworthiness and truthfulness of Scripture, were pressing to recover all the institutions of the Southern Baptist Convention. The seminaries were at the center of this controversy, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as the mother seminary and flagship institution of the Southern Baptist Convention, was at the epicenter. I am very thankful for the stewardship invested in me twenty-five years ago. It has been the great honor of my life.

 

What has changed at SBTS over the past twenty-five years?

The most important change is theological, and that change came very early. My stewardship was to return SBTS to its founding vision and fundamental convictions. Thankfully, the school was founded as a confessional institution. That confession of faith was intact, ready to be reasserted. Recovering the confessional fidelity of the school and the faith once for all delivered to the saints was the biggest change. It is a transformation for which I am most thankful. At the same time, over last twenty-five years, the world has changed in terms of technology, morality, and education. I am glad to say, however, that the mission of SBTS is the very same as it was in 1859: to train, educate, and prepare ministers of the gospel for more faithful service. Our model of education goes back to Jesus and the disciples, to the Apostles and the early church, to the Reformers and the Puritans.

 

What do you think will be the most pressing issue the church faces over the next twenty-five years?

Among the many challenges the church will face in the present and coming generations, few will equal the challenge of maintaining a steadfast commitment to biblical Christianity in the midst of an increasingly hostile environment. Cultural hostility takes more than one form and can pose as seduction rather than as coercion. This challenge also includes our responsibility to transmit the Christian faith intact and in full integrity from generation to generation. That was a challenge in ancient Israel. It was a challenge in every age of the church, but it is a particular challenge for Christians today. The generational transfer of the faith becomes a particularly acute challenge when we look, for example, at Western Europe. Recent research indicates that the rate of young Europeans with no religious identity has risen so quickly that biblical Christianity threatens to disappear in any institutional form from throughout much of Europe. Christian parents, congregations, and schools should look at this research with a sense of urgent responsibility. Young Christians today and in the future will need more doctrine, more theology, greater grounding in the Christian faith, a more comprehensive biblical theology, and a greater understanding of how to translate biblical truth into everyday life. Otherwise, we will see the pattern already apparent in Europe manifesting itself here in the United States as well.

If we understand the ministry rightly, it will be because we understand the ministry as revealed in the New Testament.
Why are seminaries still important today?

Seminaries are still important in the same sense that law schools and medical schools are still important, only more so. It’s safe to say that any one of us needing surgery wants to place our confidence only in a surgeon who represents the highest level of study and training. Beyond the education itself, this points to the seriousness with which that physician assumes that stewardship. One who would teach and preach the Word of God bears an even higher responsibility. Throughout Christian history, where we find lasting faithfulness, we find a learned clergy. For this reason, seminaries still have a vitally important task in behalf of the church. In one sense, seminaries are a recent development. The institutional model of seminaries has only been around for about two hundred years. Before seminaries, the education of ministers was entrusted to colleges and universities, which are based on an even more ancient model. The point is that the training of ministers of the gospel, servants of the Word, has always been seen as demanding the highest standards of learning, scholarship, and education. In the same way that medical schools, law schools, and other professional schools train people in the modern world, seminaries serve the similar but far more important function of training ministers in behalf of the church.

 

How has your view of ministry changed over the past twenty-five years?

In the deepest sense, my understanding of ministry hasn’t changed much over the past twenty-five years. In fact, it hasn’t changed much since my own ordination in 1982. At the same time, however, my view of ministry has become richer. I think the biggest transformation in ministry over the past half-century has been the shift away from the view of many Christians that their pastor is something like a religious professional. That view has changed to a far more biblical understanding of the pastor as the primary teacher and preacher of God’s Word, the expositor of Scripture, the shepherd of souls, and the one who bears the primary responsibility, as the Apostle Paul makes clear in Colossians 1, to conduct a biblical ministry in order to present the congregation as mature in Christ. I am glad that I had the great blessing of good pastoral models and good teaching in order to see this biblical model so early in life. Over the past several decades, my love for the Christian ministry has grown immensely, even as the challenges appear to be far more pressing. To put the matter bluntly, today’s minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ must be ready to stand as a countercultural ambassador of Christ and a godly shepherd of the flock. If we understand the ministry rightly, it will be because we understand the ministry as revealed in the New Testament.

 

What are a couple of things that you do to train leaders for the next generation?

The most obvious answer to that question would be the classroom teaching and the leadership of SBTS and Boyce College. But beyond the classroom and formal educational program, I invest a good deal of my life in speaking to pastors, speaking at conferences, and carrying out responsibilities such as serving as a teaching fellow with Ligonier Ministries. I host a podcast and have hundreds of other media engagements in any given year. I write constantly, both in books and in other forms of the written word, in order to do everything I can to equip ministers and to encourage them. One of the most important aspects of education is an emphasis on what are often called the classical disciplines. While so many institutions are turning to more pragmatic and managerial models, the glory of faithful theological education is the unembarrassed and unapologetic concentration of studies in the Bible; the original languages; systematic, historical and biblical theology; the interpretation of Scripture; and other classical disciplines. The minister of the gospel needs to know everything he can possibly know in order to minister, teach, and preach from the whole counsel of God.

The greatest assurance of any man called to the gospel ministry is not that he is competent, but that Christ is sufficient.
What is something you’d like every pastor to know, understand, and apply?

This is a question easy to answer but challenging to explain. I would want every pastor to know that he is incompetent in the most fundamental sense. Oddly enough, medical schools believe that they produce competent physicians, and law schools tell us that they produce competent lawyers. But, a faithful seminary would never claim to produce competent ministers—at least, not in the sense that I mean. Let me be clear: We believe that only God can call, equip, and gift a minister for all that is required for ministry. Only the Holy Spirit can empower the Christian ministry. The triune God displays divine glory in taking those described by the Apostle Paul as earthen vessels—jars of clay—and transforming those jars of clay into vessels worthy to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the unsearchable riches of God’s Word. The most dangerous presumption of any Christian pastor is to believe that he is competent. Seminaries must train men to the utmost of their ability, but only God calls the minister. The greatest assurance of any man called to the gospel ministry is that Christ is sufficient—not that he is competent.

 

Why is it important for churches to grasp Reformed theology?

If Reformed theology is just one of many “flavors” of Christian theology, then grasping Reformed theology is not all that important. It’s just another flavor. If, on the other hand, Reformed theology refers to the very theology revealed in the Holy Scripture, then it is of the utmost importance that churches come to understand its theological foundations and framework. Christian faithfulness depends on the understanding and the embracing of the doctrines of the Bible. It requires adopting the comprehensive theological structure of biblical Christianity. I believe that Reformed theology is the theology of Jesus and the Apostles, of the faithful church throughout the centuries, of the Reformers and the Puritans, and of the faithful confessional church. Reformed refers to the Reformation, and the Reformation centered on the reassertion and reaffirmation of the faith once delivered to the saints. The Reformers were in no way seeking to establish a new theological brand. They were, however, determined to lead true gospel churches, reformed by the Word of God. Ironically, but instructively, the churches and denominations that have, over the last two centuries, sought to minimize their theology and content in the name of maintaining their cultural positions are the very same churches that have been vacated by their own members. The churches that have advocated doctrinal minimalism in order to attract young people are almost empty of young people. To the contrary, it is the churches that preach biblical theology, a faithful gospel, and an inerrant and infallible Scripture that are filled with growing Christians and especially young Christians. It is no accident that so many of those churches identify as holding to Reformed theology. Again, not as a brand, but as a confession and as a statement of continuity with the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

 

Why is Christian education important for the local church?

As we look at the Old Testament, we understand that God instructed Israel to constantly be about the task of education. Parents were to teach their children and prophets and teachers were to teach the people. God’s Word was to be learned, memorized, and preached. The early church, following the command of Christ, understood its educational ministry as central and nonnegotiable. In the Great Commission, Jesus not only sent His disciples into the world, but He called them to make disciples and to teach them all that He had commanded. The Apostle Paul and his fellow Apostles understood teaching to be at the very center of their calling. They instructed the Christian church to be about the task of teaching the Word of God. Education is central to the life of the church because discipleship is the definition of what it means to be a Christian. A disciple is, by definition, one who is taught.

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