By / Apr 21

Perhaps more than any other New Testament verse, 1 Timothy 4:16 arrives with both warning and promise for the ministry. The warning is more implicit; the promise is unmistakably explicit. Paul writes to Timothy: “Pay close attention to yourself and to the teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

Note carefully the truth contained here. Implicitly, if we are careless with our doctrine or our living, our soul – and the souls of those to whom we minister – are endangered. How is this the case? If our lives or doctrine are off, we will prove an untrue guide for the sheep. We will invariably point them off course, leading them away from the Chief Shepherd.

Yet this warning is also pregnant with promise. As we guard our lives and doctrine, we ensure salvation for ourselves and those to whom we minister. Sound doctrine and sound living indicate we are authentic followers of Christ. They indicate a steady guide who leads the sheep toward, not away from, Him. 

While in seminary, much time will be devoted to your doctrine. It is a time of doctrinal formation – and that is a good thing. A seminary that does not prioritize your theological formation is not worthy of your tuition.

If you are not careful, though, an imbalance can develop. Books commenting on Scripture can replace the reading of Scripture itself. Paper writing can dry up your prayer life. Exercises for ministry formation can supplant actual, hands-on ministry. In other words, your doctrine can flourish wile your spiritual life flounders.

In his must-read book Exegetical Fallacies, D.A. Carson comments on this phenomenon by telling the story of one “Ernest Christian.” Ernest was converted in high school, was deeply involved in his college ministry, was growing immensely in Bible study and prayer, and sensed a call to vocational ministry. After being affirmed by his church, he moved off to be trained at seminary. Carson continues:

After Ernest has been six months in seminary, the picture is very different. Ernest is spending many hours a day memorizing Greek morphology and learning the details of the itinerary of Paul’s second missionary journey. Ernest has also begun to write exegetical papers; but by the time he has finished his lexical study, his syntactical diagram, his survey of critical opinions, and his evaluation of conflicting evidence, somehow the Bible does not feel as alive to him as it once did. Ernest is troubled by this; he finds it more difficult to pray and witness than he did before he came to seminary.

Anyone familiar with seminary life knows this story is too often true. Students arrive “bright eyed and bushy tailed,” ready to conquer the world for Jesus. They get immersed in academic work and theological debate – only to one day realize they have left their first love (Rev. 2:1-7) and forgotten why they are even at seminary to begin with.

This doesn’t have to be the case! There is a better way. Remember the apostle’s dual emphasis in 1 Timothy 4:16, and stubbornly guard both life and doctrine as you learn and grow. 

In truth, we must not choose between love of God and love of doctrine; it is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.” How do you truly love someone you don’t really know? The great Presbyterian theologian B.B. Warfield underscores this point:

Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response. “Than ten hours over your books on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology.

The heart posture with which you pursue your education will make all the difference in the world. Reject a dry, stuffy faith built on knowledge alone; choose instead a thoughtful, deepening faith built on truth and love. 

Keys to guarding your life in seminary

In light of this danger, here is some practical wisdom that has proved helpful to me over the years. Consider five keys by which you can guard your life in seminary:

  1. Cultivate the spiritual disciplines. The spiritual disciplines remain the lifeblood for every believer. Prayer, worship, Bible intake, journaling, and others are essential for a growing follower of Christ – regardless of age or season of life. Forge these in seminary and prioritize them day by day. They will carry you through seminary and propel you forward for a lifetime of ministry.
  2. Establish healthy habits. Habits are easy to make and hard to break – bad habits at least. Good habits, meanwhile, require intentionality on the front end but can provide a lifetime of structure and reinforcing practices. Set your rhythms accordingly: awaken early, read your Bible before textbooks, commune with God before conversing with others, integrate fasting, pray with your spouse before going to bed, and so on.
  3. Prioritize prayer. As a nonquantifiable discipline, prayer is easy to gloss over. We know when we’ve read three chapters of Scripture; we may not be as aware when we’ve rushed through our prayer time. So keep a prayer list and a prayer journal. Tracking what you need to pray for will bring added motivation. Documenting God’s answers will inspire you all the more.
  4. Think devotionally about your studies. While some professors will draw the lines from their lectures to your spiritual formation, others will not. But you can draw them. Ask yourself questions like, What can I apply from their reading to my spiritual life? What sin does this lecture prompt me to confess? How will this assignment strengthen me for ministry in the local church? What new truth about God did I learn today? As you learn to ask the right questions, you will find yourself getting more out of seminary, spiritually speaking, than you ever imagined.
  5. Look for Jesus in all. Jesus is the apex of Scripture; therefore He should be the apex of your studies. Listen for Him in every lecture. Look for Him in every reading. Ask your professor how a given biblical passage connects to Him. For additional reading on this topic, I recommend How to Stay Christian in Seminary by David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell.

At the beginning of this chapter, I mentioned our move to Louisville for seminary training. That was early August 2001. Thankfully, for the three years prior, I served under Dr. Steve Lawson at Dauphin Way Baptist Church. Dr. Lawson was a pivotal influence on my life. He became not only a mentor but a dear friend and remains one to this day.

Dr. Lawson always took interest in young men called to ministry, and there were a number of them in our church. But I sensed he took a particular interest in me. One day I asked why. He reflected, “If a man has $100 to invest in a business, he wants to invest it in the business that will bring the greatest return. I am investing in you because I believe you will bring a return for the kingdom. Make sure you do just that.”

Dr. Lawson’s words inspired me then – and they still do. They convicted me then – and they still do. Such words remind me that my ministry is a stewardship – and so is yours. 

Many have invested much in you. God has called you. Christ has strengthened you. The Holy Spirit has gifted you. Churches have supported you. Pastors have mentored you. Family members have sacrificed for you. Benefactors have invested in you. Professors have taught you. Fellow students have encouraged you. 

You are a steward of a precious call, and so many others are invested in it with you. Therefore, you must guard your life and your doctrine. And seminary is one of the best places to establish healthy patterns to enable you to do just that. 


Excerpted from Succeeding at Seminary: 12 Keys to Getting the Most Out of Your Theological Education by Jason K. Allen (© 2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission. 

By / Mar 1

The Southern Baptist Convention is a large and dynamic family of churches. Together the roughly 46,000 churches that make up the SBC also fund and operate a number of entities that serve our denomination and advance the gospel in the world. This includes two missions agencies, six seminaries, Lifeway and the ERLC, among several others. As the moral and public policy arm of the convention, the ERLC exists to equip Christians to apply the moral demands of the gospel to every area of life and to be the voice of our churches in the public square. In pursuing this task, our partnerships with other SBC entities are critical, and this is particularly true of our seminaries.

Partnerships

The ERLC is able to partner with our seminaries in many different ways. Some of these partnerships are formalized, such as the ERLC Academy and our Research Institute, while others are less formal. Through our Research Institute, the ERLC is able to bring together professors from each of the six seminaries, along with a number of other Southern Baptist experts and practitioners from a range of disciplines, to produce scholarship and resources to equip the church to address difficult topics and issues of concern. Likewise, through the ERLC academy we are able to offer course credit to students attending our SBC seminaries (and several colleges) for participating in our Christian ethics training led by Dr. Moore.

The ERLC could not do the work we do without the assistance of our seminary partners. The SBC is fortunate to have six of the very best Christian institutions in higher education serving our family of churches. The training and equipping that takes place through these institutions is second to none, and the ERLC benefits immeasurably from their assistance with our work and co-labor in the gospel.

ERLC Academy

Whether you are a college or seminary student, pastor or professional, you can join us in Nashville on May 17-18 for the ERLC Academy. Dr. Moore will be teaching an “Introduction to Christian Ethics” course across those two days. And through the course, you will be equipped to answer important questions including:

  • How does the gospel shape an evangelical approach to ethics?
  • How can I understand the world around me and its approach to cultural engagement?
  • How do I navigate complicated ethical decisions that come up in my daily life?
  • How should I understand essential ethical issues like bioethics, marriage, sanctity of life, religious liberty, sexuality, decision making?

You can get more information or register to attend the ERLC Academy here.

By / Mar 5

Better Together captures our desire to partner together as men and women in the church and beyond to advance the kingdom with mutual support and care. Better Together will address a wide range of topics from sexual abuse, leadership, women and work, women’s ministry, and more. Today’s podcast features Lilly Park, assistant professor of biblical counseling for Southern Seminary. Dr. Park shares about training women in the seminary context and beyond. 

By / Feb 18

The six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention are committed to partnering with the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group to equip our campuses to engage the issue of abuse with compassion and care. Our desire is for the next generation to lead churches and ministries that are safe for survivors and safe from abuse. We also want to become compassionate campus communities that care well. To this end, the six SBC seminaries collectively commit to the following shared statement of principles:

Principles to Protect our Campus Communities

  • Process: Our seminaries will have clear processes that we will follow to strive to prevent abuse on campus and care well for survivors who experience abuse
  • Personnel: Our seminaries will identify and equip staff members and external ministry partners who are responsible for leading our processes related to abuse
  • Awareness: Our seminaries will regularly promote awareness of our processes and personnel to the campus community to enhance understanding

Principles to Prepare our Campus Communities

  • Share: Our seminaries will share about abuse by educating our students, staff, and faculty to understand the issues through relevant resources and training
  • Care: Our seminaries encourage the effort of the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group to develop the resource Becoming a Church that Cares Well for Abuse and will integrate training on how to care for abuse survivors as a mandatory aspect of the curriculum
  • Prepare: Our seminaries will integrate training on abuse prevention as a mandatory aspect of the curriculum
By / Feb 1

Christians in the United States face a challenging and unwelcoming cultural context. As we set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, how do we prepare to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus? How do we rightly approach questioners and skeptics? How do we offer an apologetic for the Christian faith and life that remains faithful to the gospel while also attentive to the cultural changes that confront true belief, challenge the validity of Christian teachings, and complicate reasoned communication?

In Apologetics at the Cross, Joshua Chatraw and Mark D. Allen offer answers to these kinds of questions, presenting a gospel-centered introduction for Christian witness. Chatraw, the executive director of the Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement and associate professor of theology and apologetics at Liberty University, and Allen, chair of biblical studies at Liberty, draw from Scripture, history, philosophy, theology, and practical experience to build a comprehensive and integrative apologetic measured by the climatic event in the biblical narrative and human history—Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (61). Defining apologetics as both an appeal for and defense of the Christian faith, Chatraw and Allen construct an apologetic house that is built to withstand the winds and waters of cultural trends in late modernity (17).

The authors divide Apologetics at the Cross into three parts. Part one lays a foundation using the Bible and significant people, movements, and apologetic approaches in Christian history. Part two builds on the foundation a methodological structure for apologetics, and part three decorates and furnishes the structure with the authors’ own apologetic touch—an “inside-out” approach that engages the cultural challenges, skeptical objections, and earnest questions of people living in late modernity (24).

Laying a foundation

In part one, Chatraw and Allen use an inductive approach to biblical texts to glean 15 apologetic performances, thus demonstrating how the Bible does apologetics. These biblical performances include, for example, general revelation in creation, polemics against idolatry, miracles, eyewitness accounts, personal testimony, raising questions to disarm false belief, addressing the problem of suffering, and so forth (27-61). Vital to each of these apologetic approaches, however, is the grand story that culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The cross remains central to apologetic appeals and for shaping the way Christians practice apologetics. For Chatraw and Allen any “apologetic should be measured by the degree of clarity with which it points to and functions in light of the most important event in human history,” the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (61, italics original).

Moving from a biblical foundation, the authors trace in broad sweeps a history of Christian apologetics. Along the way, Chatraw and Allen note challenges to the faith and provide portraits of notable defenders such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustine, Origen, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Pascal, Butler, Leibniz, Schleiermacher, Kuyper, Warfield, Lewis, Barth, and Newbigin. The historical survey is more than informative. It reveals both positive and negative examples: “Positively, the church has a rich history of developing biblical concepts to create different kinds of apologetic appeals appropriate for the need of the day. Negatively, history warns us of the danger of allowing extra biblical frameworks and a desire for relevancy to rule over Scripture” (105). Chatraw and Allen apply these lessons and warnings to their methodological construction.

Building a theological structure

Chatraw and Allen begin part two by building a theological structure for apologetics at the cross, using four common approaches—classical, evidential, presuppositional, and experiential-narratival. The authors propose that context should determine methodology. In other words, anchored on the biblical and historical foundation, contextual information gleaned from the situation and cultural setting should disclose which particular form of apologetic to use. Practitioners should be students of not only the craft but also the context in which they practice the craft. They should hold biblical, time-tested methods “softly” and charitably, apply methods holistically to “concrete individuals,” and practice apologetics with humility before God and toward others (106). Above all, the goal is to take people from where they are to the gospel through both words and deeds, speaking and acting as individuals embedded in local churches and shaped by the Word of God

Putting apologetics into practice

In part three, with the foundation and structure completed, Chatraw and Allen put into practice an apologetic at the cross. Relying on the insights of philosopher Charles Taylor, they first describe characteristics of the current cultural context—late modernism. The characteristics of late modernism most significant for the apologetic task are the autonomy of the individual and personal freedom, an imminent frame of reference suspicious of the supernatural, and a skepticism and distrust for any opposing viewpoints. An effective apologetic should avoid “spinning” the content of the gospel message and should take people where they are, starting with their assumptions, to create opportunities to call false beliefs into question and invite people to consider the plausibility of Christianity (ch. 10).

This inside-out apologetic begins with an attempt to discern people’s understanding of reality, affirm some aspects of their position, and ask a series of diagnostic questions to locate points of transition to the claims of Christianity: What can we affirm, and what do we need to challenge? Where do their assumptions and beliefs lead? How are their beliefs consistent? How are they inconsistent? In some ways, the inside-out method is similar to how Francis Schaffer takes false beliefs to their logical conclusions, or how Greg Koukl utilizes questions in his Columbo tactic to enhance and manage conversations with unbelievers about the Christian faith. The means is to get people to think about their own beliefs, and then the goal is to get them to consider the claims of Christianity and to hear and respond to the gospel.

To demonstrate the inside-out method, Chatraw and Allen set aside one chapter (ch. 11) to survey four significant features of late modernism that open the door for apologetic engagement. Modern pluralism, self-authorizing morality, religious lethargy, and the therapeutic turn provide opportunities and challenges to the Christian witness. If these cultural assumptions are understood, the Christian can work from inside an individual’s framework and help that person see how the strange message of the gospel makes sense of the world, fulfills the deepest human longings, and is more consistent and livable than any competing options (250). When moving the conversation to Christian convictions, however, the witness must be prepared to address tough questions about Christianity, what Chatraw and Allen call “defeaters.”

In perhaps the most practical chapter in the book, Chatraw and Allen address eight defeaters commonly used in conversations about Christianity (ch.12). Using the inside-out method, they address questions about individual freedom, sexuality, hypocrisy, reason and science, the problem of evil, God’s judgment and wrath, reliability of the Bible, and the doctrine of the Trinity. For each of these defeaters, the authors show how apologists can engage questioners graciously and craft responses. Their goal is not, however, to provide wooden answers to memorize and recite for every question in every circumstance; rather, the goal is for the apologist to keep the inside-out approach as the broader backdrop and to personalize answers to a particular set of challenges to Christianity. In other words, an apologist should know answers to questions but also discern the best strategy to answer questions within particular circumstances so that the conversation moves naturally to the gospel.

In the final chapter, Chatraw and Allen make a turn to the gospel by offering a survey of reasons why Christianity makes sense. They do not offer “coercive ‘proofs’ for God, stating that Christianity cannot be proven in that sense, though it can be justified. It can and should be trusted. Instead of ‘proof,’” Chatraw and Allen provide “signposts” for which the Christian faith “provides the deepest, richest, and most coherent view of reality” (292-93). Signposts include why can we make sense of the universe; why the universe appears to be fine-tuned for life; what makes the best sense of the consensus that the universe had a beginning; how moral realism can be grounded; and what is the best explanation for the numerous eyewitness accounts of miracles. True to form, in the end they turn to a defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the goal of all apologetics.

Apologetics at the Cross would be a welcomed addition to any Christian’s library, especially for those interested in understanding and defending the faith. It is a comprehensive, readable, and honest look at challenges to the Christian faith. Designed to equip believers, this book does not merely deliver information to regurgitate but teaches a strategy for living as a gospel witness.

Apologetics at the Cross is an introduction, so it is not designed to say everything. It is, however, an excellent introduction, in part because it creates a desire in the reader to know more and then points to where more can be found. Throughout the book, Chatraw and Allen reference and cite sources. The practical chapters consistently include text boxes of resources for further reading. Curious readers undoubtedly will get the urge to make a wish list of other books to add to their stack of items waiting to be read. For these reasons, Apologetics at the Cross can be read for individual edification, used to equip witnesses in the local church, or adopted as a textbook for an introductory class in apologetics. In short, my recommendation is that you get a copy and read it, and then start working on that wish list.

By / Dec 14

The story of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is filled with paradoxes. That is the major finding of the recently released “Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.” The same faculty who supported slavery later taught Greek to freed African-Americans in their offices and homes. The same seminary that criticized the actions of the civil rights movement invited Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at a chapel service. In the letter from the president at the beginning of the report, Albert Mohler admits that “we have been guilty of a sinful absence of historical curiosity.” This report is an attempt to begin to rekindle that historical curiosity and examine the institution’s history. Here are six of the most important claims and findings of the report which can be read in full here.

1. The founding faculty of SBTS were slaveholders and supporters of the cause of the Confederacy.

Any account of SBTS must begin with the fact that the four founding faculty members (James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, Basil Manly Jr., and William Williams) were all slaveholders. An honest reckoning of these men and the oldest institution of the SBC must acknowledge that no matter their contributions, in this, they supported a wicked and immoral system. As Dr. Mohler acknowledges in his letter to open the report, “We must repent of our own sins. We cannot repent for the dead. We must, however, offer full lament for a legacy we inherit, and a story that is now ours.” Any accounting of the history of SBTS must deal with this legacy and all of its downstream effects.

2. The same faculty who argued for slavery, also argued for ministry among enslaved persons.

Here lies one of the most paradoxical findings of the report. The same faculty that upheld slavery as either morally permissible or a divine good, also taught the equal humanity of enslaved African-Americans. Broadus argued that Christian slave owners had a duty to provide instruction and teaching to their slaves. To be able to admit the humanity of the person while also upholding the dehumanization of the same person to the level of property is an option only to a conscience seared by sin and numbed by willful ignorance. In this, the faculty joined a long line of those who would have the soul of a person cared for, while neglecting physical needs and rights. The false dichotomy of evangelism or social justice was as strong over 150 years ago as it is today.

3. Though the faculty could not legally teach African-Americans because of segregation laws, they did so privately in offices, homes, and historically nonwhite colleges.

Some of the same faculty present at the founding would also eventually teach some of the later African-Americans who wished to be trained for the ministry. They were not opposed to education of African-Americans, “as long as it was racially segregated.” In this, they worked to help establish Louisville Simmons University in Louisville, Kentucky, and the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. Though it would be many years before they would consider admitting anyone to SBTS who was not white, the faculty and trustees helped to set up spaces which would prove beneficial to African-Americans. Though created out of a wicked belief in white supremacy, the two institutions would train, and in the case of ABTS still train, African-Americans for service as pastors and ministers.

4. The first African-American graduate of SBTS was Garland Offutt, who received a Th.M. in 1944. The seminary would fully integrate on March 13, 1951.

Though legally prevented from teaching integrated classrooms, the faculty at SBTS began to teach to segregated classrooms in 1940. The first African-American student to graduate was Garland Offut in 1944 with the degree Master of Theology (He was not allowed to participate in graduation services because of segregation laws. To circumvent these laws, the faculty awarded his degree during the final chapel of the year). In 1950, Ellis Fuller began the work of calling the seminary to fully integrate its African-American and white students. Though he would die later that year, his call to action would be approved by an almost unanimous vote on March 13, 1951. Students were admitted to all levels of the seminary in the fall of 1951 and would participate in graduation services the following spring in 1952.

5. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon during a chapel service on April 19, 1961, brought both praise and criticism to the seminary.

The seminary was emblematic of the white moderate position during the civil rights era. They were supportive of the goal of racial equality, but were uneasy about the tactics employed by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). King criticized the position of white moderates in his Letter from Birmingham Jail as being more dangerous than outright racism. The faculty of SBTS invited King to speak at a chapel service on April 19, 1961 where he advocated for church support in racial desegregation. King called those gathered at SBTS to actively engage in the work of racial equality for “the churches had a moral duty to tell the truth” about African-Americans. Some 1400 people attended the chapel and gave him a standing ovation. Another 500 students listened to King speak later with seminary faculty on civil rights issues. However, many churches, especially in the deep, rural South chose to withhold their tithes from the seminary after learning of the event. Over the next several years, other noted civil rights activists and leaders would be invited to speak in the same lecture series including D. E. King, Garner C. Taylor, and John Perkins.

6. If the church gets the question of racism wrong , then it gets the gospel wrong.

The most important claim that the report makes is found in a quote from Dr. Mohler’s 2015 convocation message: “If the church gets this wrong, it’s not just getting race and ethnic difference wrong. It’s getting the gospel wrong.” The question of race is not, as some believed because of pseudo-scientific theories, the result of superior and inferior classes of human beings. Racial diversity is “a sign of God’s providence and promise.” Theologies that create hierarchies based on race or flawed exegesis of passages such as Genesis 9 and the curse of Ham are not just the result of bad interpretation. They are a wicked attack on the diversity and plan of God. The future of the cosmos is not one of racial superiority or a mythologized Dixie. It is a kingdom where all will bow before the throne of Jesus with members of every nation, tribe, tongue, and yes, race.

By / Mar 21

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention will host its second ERLC Academy on “Introduction to Christian Ethics,” May 22-23 in Nashville, Tenn., in effort to equip pastors and students to apply the gospel to complex moral and ethical issues of the day.

The ERLC Ethics Academy is an academic initiative of the ERLC and this year’s course is designed for Christians who want to strengthen their understanding of ethics.

Russell Moore, ERLC president, comments on the academy.

Ethics is not just an academic philosophy,” said Moore. “It is central to the Bible’s command to become more like Jesus and to submit all of life to his lordship. These are important issues that matter not just to theologians and students but to pastors and to church members. I am excited for this ERLC Academy and for the men and women who will be joining us to talk about what faithfulness to Jesus looks like in our daily lives.”

ERLC Academy participants will be equipped to answer important questions including:

  • How does the gospel shape an evangelical approach to ethics?
  • How can I understand the world around me and its approach to cultural engagement?
  • How do I navigate complicated ethical decisions that come up in my daily life?
  • How should I understand essential ethical issues like bioethics, marriage, sanctity of life, religious liberty, sexuality and decision making?

The ERLC Academy offers those in seminary and/or college the opportunity to earn course credit. There will also be a Public Theology Ph.D. and D.Min. seminar taught by Moore later in the week.

Partner schools include the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and others to be added.

For complete details and registration information on the Academy, visit the website.

By / Jun 12

Robed in caps and gowns over their white prison uniforms, 33 inmates in Texas’ maximum security Darrington Prison Unit made history May 9 as they received bachelor’s degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, becoming the inaugural graduating class of the state’s first seminary prison program.

“I’m overwhelmed at what God has done,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said during the ceremony inside the prison’s chapel. “Only God could do this.”

Patrick served on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee prior to being elected Lt. Gov. last fall. He and Senator John Whitmire, who chairs the committee, were the legislative heads behind the creation of the program, which began in fall 2011. Each year since, a new class of 40 students has been added to the program, and the current number of enrolled students stands at 114.

Looking at the graduates, most of whom will be deployed in groups of four or five to assist chaplains and minister in six other state prison units, Patrick called them “prison apostles” and charged them to “be models and examples of what Christ can do in [people's lives] if they will give their [lives] to him.”

This summer, approximately two-thirds of the graduates will be transferred to six maximum security facilities in Huntsville and Tennessee Colony to reproduce the ministries—and the radical changes—that have been witnessed in Darrington. The rest will remain at Darrington to mentor underclassemen in the program.

In a press conference, May 7, Whitmire described the remarkable change in culture at the Darrington Unit over the past four years as a result of the program. “When we started this, (Darrington) was one of our toughest, problematic units, and I'm here today to announce that it's now one of our best.”

During the graduation, Whitmire, who has served in the Texas Senate for 30 years, recounted the history of the program. “I have scores of programs that I've worked in,” he said, citing drug and alcohol programs, procedures for pregnant female inmates and other major initiatives to clean up the prison system and rehabilitate inmates. “But … nothing is more impressive and moving than to be a part of this program. … I'm a better man, a better senator, and a better Christian because I'm here participating in this program.”

Whitmire said the seminary program demonstrates that Texas is “tough on crime” but also “smart on crime.” He told graduates that he plans to use their success in changing prison culture to argue for changes in the state's guidelines regarding consideration of parole, which is largely based on the nature of the crime committed.

“I know up to this point that you are demonstrating that you are a good risk for society,” Whitmire told graduates. “You're going to leave here and minister at the other units and turn lives around and save lives from crimes. I'm going to make your case that in a few years, if you continue to turn people around and behave like I know you will, work with the wardens where you are sent, and are responsible for your families, I'm going to continue to work in Austin and say, 'Okay, the nature of the crime is important, but there are other factors. You've got to give my ministers the chance after they've saved souls in other prisons to save souls on the streets of Houston.'”

Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) Executive Director Brad Livingston challenged graduates to take what they have learned and apply it to the ministries they will have in the prison.

“What you've accomplished is extraordinary, but it's just the beginning,” Livingston said. “As you go out into these units, rely on each other, support each other, but rely ultimately on God. You will be an inspiration to others. You will allow God to work through you to reach hundreds and thousands of others.

“Before you know it, you will have peers in every one of our units across the state. Imagine the profound impact that God will have through you and others that follow you. I couldn't be more proud of you.”

Just before graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson gave a final charge to “his children” from Micah 6:8. Patterson pointed to the graduates' academic achievements in the strenuous, 125-hour degree and said their education could be a “stepping stone to greatness,” but it would only be so if they were “agents of mercy … (who) walk humbly with God.”

“You have done a great deal to educate the mind,” Patterson said, “but this program is a little different, isn't it? Because the program has not just been about the mind; it's been about the heart. And, oh, how you've done so unbelievably [well]. I thank God for every one of you today.”

Brandon Warren, who has served as the program’s administrative assistant from its beginning in 2011, is also a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern’s Houston campus. Warren is not unfamiliar with prison, having served eight years at a different facility before his release a number of years ago. Like many of the men in the Darrington program, he found faith in Christ while in prison. Before serving at the Darrington program, he wrote theologically rich correspondence courses on basic Christian doctrines for use in prisons across the state. At Darrington, Warren oversees students' coursework, grades papers, assists professors and serves as a liaison between the school and the prison.

As a way to honor the men in the Darrington program, with whom he has built strong friendships, Warren delayed his graduation from Southwestern and received permission to receive his master’s degree at the prison graduation ceremony. As he walked across the stage, the chapel erupted in applause.

Attended by state dignitaries, friends and family of the graduates, seminary faculty, and friends of the Heart of Texas Foundation, the graduation was a celebration of what many described as a miracle. The vision for such a program came from Grove Norwood, executive director of the Heart of Texas Foundation, who had experienced a similar program by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisiana’s Angola Prison. He gained the support of Senators Patrick and Whitmire, who visited Angola to see if it could be reproduced in Texas.                                                                                           

Norwood and the Heart of Texas Foundation have been the primary fundraisers of the entirely privately funded program, which uses no tax payer dollars. The funds raised have gone to support educational materials, computers, books for the prison’s seminary library and other program needs. Other major contributors to the budget have been Southwestern Seminary and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, who initially gave a $116,200 grant in 2011 to provide library books, classroom furniture, technology and half of the ongoing costs for professors’ salaries and travel expenses for the first two years.

For more information on the Darrington seminary program, visit swbts.edu/darrington.

This was originally published here.

By / Aug 19

With the new seminary semester kicking off at schools all across the country, my plea for student is: don’t be “that guy!”

Over the last eight years at Southern Seminary as a student turned staffer turned professor turned administrator, I noticed several trends among some students that troubled me. Often, people could intuitively recognize these patterns and would refer to the student as “that guy.”

So, let’s think through five ways every seminary student should avoid this infamous title:

  1. Don’t be the overzealous question-asker: This is the most commonly visible example of a student who is “that guy.” You know the type: They give two minute preambles before they ask a question; they make a statement rather than asking a question; they ask a question to try to show off how smart they are; they often claim they are “just playing devil’s advocate.” Instead, your questions should be intentional for learning and proportional to the size of the class. Save the rest for after the period ends.
  2. Don’t be the awkward girl-pursuer: Many people meet and marry while they are in seminary, but that doesn’t give you license to awkwardly pursue every girl on campus until you finally have success. No awkward pick up lines: “You must’ve fallen from heaven because you look like an angel!” No awkward semi-stalking: “Isn’t it crazy, we keep bumping into each other at the cafeteria? Maybe that’s showing us God’s will!” No awkward get-to-know you questions: “How many points of Calvinism do you hold to? What’s God teaching you in your devotional time?”
  3. Don’t be the social media surfer: If you find yourself paying more attention in class to Facebook and Twitter than the Bible and your professor, you might be “that guy.” You get one shot to get a seminary education to prepare you for a lifetime of ministry effectiveness. What if staying current on the latest celebrity news and Instragrams of what your second cousin ate for lunch is robbing you of the preparation you need to face a future ministry crisis?
  4. Don’t be the Greek Bible snob: One of the most valuable things you can do at seminary is learn the Bible in the original languages. But you shouldn’t deliberately brandish your Greek text everywhere you go. As my friend and ERLC president Russell Moore says, “Want to know if you should bring your Greek New Testament to church? If you are living in a Greek speaking country, then yes. Otherwise, no.” Most of the time, people wield their Greek Bible in order to show off their superior knowledge and intellect, which isn’t helpful to the church.
  5. Don’t be the closet porn addict: There is an unspoken crisis among some seminary students—they have all the outward appearances of a thriving student, but behind closed doors, they can’t take their gaze off the digital prostitutes of pornography. What does it profit a man (or woman) if he spends thousands of dollars and countless years to make all A's and attain the highest level of ministry training yet is captive to pornography in a way that may wreck his ministry and spiritual life in the future?

“That guy” can take on many forms as a seminary student. But in each case, it is a manifestation of pride:

  • The pride of the overzealous question-asker is shown through his efforts to prove his intelligence to his class
  • The pride of the awkward girl-pursuer is shown through his overconfident quest to find a wife
  • The pride of the social media surfer is shown through his belief he can still drink deeply of the truths of God while addicted to online status updates
  • The pride of the Greek Bible snob is shown through his desire to demonstrate his spiritual superiority
  • The pride of the closet porn addict is shown through his belief he can manage his sin rather than destroy it.

So, how do you avoid this pride?

First, you must look to Christ, not your circumstances. If each of these versions of “that guy” is a manifestation of pride, the way to conquer pride in your life is by humbling yourself at the foot of the cross.

Second, watch and learn, especially if you are a new student. Observe others who you think are doing seminary well, and learn from their lifestyle patterns.

Third, find a mentor. Whether it is a local church pastor or a professor, find someone who you can serve and who will invest in your life to help you identify and root out sin.

Be it resolved, seminary students: don’t be “that guy!”