Every Sunday, when I finish preaching and come back to my seat in the second row, my ten-year-old daughter gives me two thumbs up. She probably knows that I need the encouragement because of how often she has heard me get in the car and say, “That was terrible.”
Every pastor is prone to self-loathing and exaggeration about how poorly he preached on Sunday. Sometimes, we are telling the truth and the sermon really was that bad. Every pastor will preach a “bad” sermon from time to time.
The issue we must wrestle with is what we do after preaching a bad sermon. Do we stay up all night on Sunday night replaying it in our heads or do we do something a little more productive?
Before we talk about how we should respond after we have preached poorly, we first need to define what a “bad” sermon is.
What Constitutes a “Bad” Sermon?
For the average Christian, a “bad” sermon usually means one that was boring or that went ten minutes too long. However, those of us who preach God’s Word every week need to have a more developed understanding than that. We need to know the aim of a sermon so we can know when we have missed the mark.
For the purposes of this post, I need to lay my cards on the table. I believe in what has been called “expositional preaching.” The best short definition of this type of preaching I have seen is that the main point of the passage under consideration is the main point of the message. In other words, whether you are in a topical series or preaching through a book of the Bible, an expositional sermon seeks to open God’s Word and explain what it says rather than imposing a meaning upon the text.
With that in mind, there are six characteristics of a bad sermon.1. You didn’t explain the passage well
If the point of the text is to be the point of the message, then it follows that our first task is to explain the passage of Scripture. You can’t explain what you don’t understand. My college preaching professor used to say “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew. If you don’t grasp the text, the people aren’t likely to understand it either.2. Your application was shallow
In expositional preaching, you don’t just explain what the passage means. You also press the truth of God’s Word into the hearts and lives of your listeners by making relevant and pointed application. Sometimes your sermons fall flat because your application missed the mark. Sometimes this happens because you didn’t think through your application or you applied the passage to internet debates rather than the people in the room.3. You lacked passion
I hesitate to bring up the issue of passion in preaching because passion can be faked. It is not hard to manufacture excitement, but week-in and week-out, people will be able to tell when passion is genuine and when it is fake. If your heart has not resonated with the message you are preaching, it is going to be hard for people in the pew to care as well.4. You didn’t try to make the sermon interesting
In a perfect world, you don’t have to work on an introduction to get people interested in the sermon, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We dwell in a world where people often go an entire week without thinking about anything related to the things of God. While you don’t want to resort to theatrics to get out the message of the Gospel, you do need to craft sermons that will pique people’s interest and make them want to hear a word from Scripture.5. You didn’t preach the gospel
You don’t preach every sermon like it’s a tent revival, but every sermon must point to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every passage of Scripture helps people understand the work of Christ, so every sermon must point to him as their only hope as well. Look back over yesterday’s sermon. Did you tell people about Jesus’ death and resurrection and call them to faith in him?6. You preached too long
I know that in a perfect world you should be able to preach for two hours and people should hang on every word. However, we live in a world where people struggle to listen to one person talk for a long period of time and very few of us have the ability to be interesting for that long. It is possible — actually, it is probable — that your sermons are at least five minutes too long.
Now that we have seen what defines a bad sermon, here are five steps you need to take when you preach a bad sermon.Trust the Spirit’s work
We never want to become the guys who use the Holy Spirit to excuse a lack of preparation or sloppiness in the pulpit. At the same time, we do need to remember that the Spirit uses even a kernel of truth to impact people’s heart with the gospel message. God’s Word does not return void, so if you preached the truth, even if the sermon fell flat in many ways, the Spirit will use that word in people’s hearts. Trust that he will work. Sometimes unexpected fruit comes from poor sermons.Rest in the gospel
Praise God that we are justified by faith alone and not by good preaching. Pastor, you are a Christian first. If you did not carry out your calling effectively, rest in the finished work of Christ and in the knowledge that you are a child of God by faith alone. Don’t look at next week’s sermon as a chance to redeem yourself, but as an opportunity to proclaim the grace you basked in all week long.Diagnose what went wrong
Look through the characteristics of a bad sermon and figure out if any of them apply to your most recent sermon. Think through your preparation and your delivery. Did you understand the passage? Did you apply it faithfully or superficially? Did you apply it to an internet debate or the people you preached to? Look at the current state of your walk with the Lord and try to remember what time you went to bed Saturday night. Is your walk with the Lord stagnant or vibrant? Was your delivery off on Sunday morning because you did not get enough sleep to be sharp on Sunday?Determine how to address it
Considering what went wrong, how are you going to address the problem? If the problem was with your explanation of the passage, what are you going to do differently in preparation this week? Do you need to tweak the way you study? Should you spend some time discussing the passage with people in your church so that your more faithfully apply the passage? Think about how you are going to preach the gospel from the text this week.
If the issue is with your spiritual life, how are you going to spend more time with the Lord this week? What sins do you need to repent of and how do you need to grow this week? Whatever the issue, come up with a plan of action so that you approach the problem constructively rather than wallowing in self-pity.Rest well next Saturday night
Sometimes we forget that we are whole people. If you do not sleep well on Saturday night, you will not feel well on Sunday morning. It will influence the way you preach. Your mind will not be as sharp and you will have a tired delivery. Cut out caffeine after 5:00 PM and determine that you are going to get in bed a little bit earlier than usual. Don’t start watching a movie at 9 p.m. and avoid the late-night football game. It will be worth it.
By God’s grace, pastor, you have a few days before you stand to preach again. Work hard at study and don’t get up until you understand the passage you are preaching. Think and pray about how to best apply the text to apply the passage to your hearer’s hearts and how to point them to Christ. Then, pray that God’s Spirit will take the words that come from your mouth and use them to change hearts for the Father’s glory.
The post What is a bad sermon and how do I recover from preaching one? appeared first on Southern Equip.
Talk to faculty and students from 1998 about Boyce College, and they’ll probably say the word “small” at some point, because it was — in its first year as an accredited, four-year undergraduate institution, Boyce had just 89 bachelor’s-level students and 23 graduates. Two decades later, 1,199 students are enrolled in the college’s programs, and 150 students walked across the stage in Alumni Memorial Chapel to receive their degrees.
This landmark moment happened the same year that the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported a decrease in nationwide undergraduate enrollment for the sixth straight year. Yet at Boyce, enrollment has increased six of the last seven academic years, dating back to 2011. The growth has been regular and significant.
David DeKlavon, associate dean for academic administration, who had been hired in 1997 to serve in that role for Boyce Bible School, remembers the undergraduate school’s earliest days. There were only two degree programs, only one of which was a bachelor’s degree. In 1999, more degree programs were added — along with more students who were migrants from other Christian colleges that had recently closed their doors.
But the classes themselves were still small. DeKlavon’s first two classes were no more than 17 students, and some classes had even fewer. The enrollment increased gradually, giving administration enough time to build up the faculty and academic catalog gradually.
“The good thing is that back then, we didn’t look at this as eventually becoming over 1,000 students 20 years later. The main question was: How do we get through this semester?” DeKlavon said. “Because it grew incrementally, it never seemed overwhelming. Because it was semester-by-semester, in a sense we got to kind of start over again [each term].”
The faculty and students at Boyce were a tight-knit group, almost like entrepreneurs in a startup, said Matthew J. Hall, the school’s current dean.
“With alumni from that era, there is a remarkable loyalty and fondness for that season in Boyce’s history, because it was kind of a risk,” he said.
Within a year of its transition, the school — which had existed since 1974 but only started offering associate of arts degrees in 1994 — was accredited by the Southern Associate of Colleges and Schools to offer a bachelor of arts degree. And a bona fide four-year college was born.
One of the first faculty members was DeKlavon. During the Boyce Bible College days, the minimum permitted student age was 25 so the school wouldn’t compete with local colleges for enrollment. So once it became a four-year college, the student body was much older; the average student age in DeKlavon’s first class was 30.
At the time of R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s hiring as president, the responsibility for undergraduate and graduate education had been split between state Baptist conventions and the SBC, respectively. But in the mid-90’s, state conventions began breaking off from the Southern Baptist Convention, leaving a shortage of confessional and orthodox undergraduate Baptist institutions. The SBC changed its official mission statement around this time, allowing seminaries to include undergraduate education. In 1998, Mohler — who had been dedicated to making the seminary a thriving graduate school committed to the service of the SBC — turned his attention to a younger generation and led the Bible school to become a four-year college.
“For all kinds of reasons, it became clear to me that the great opportunity was to bring on this campus 18 to 22-year-olds,” Mohler said in a recent interview. “I’m as proud of Boyce College as of anything I can see on this campus over the last 25 years.”Thinking like missiologists
Today, the college has grown in more than student and faculty numbers. A major 2014 renovation to the Mullins Complex gave Boyce students access to state-of-the-art facilities and made them more integral members of the Southern Seminary community. But the mission, according to Matt Hall, dean of Boyce College, remains the same: to increase the kingdom of God and fulfill the Great Commission.
“When we sit on that platform at graduation or commencement, every one of those students represents remarkable potential for the fulfillment of the Great Commission in ministry and service to the local church,” Hall said. “We don’t have a broad institutional mission like a secular university or a generically Christian college. We have a focused confessional identity. From the moment they show up here for orientation all the way to commencement, we’re consistently reiterating our greatest hopes and dreams for these students: that they would give themselves to Christ and his kingdom.”
Boyce College now offers 18 different degrees or certificates under five different academic programs: the bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, bachelor of science in biblical studies, associate of arts, and three different certificate programs — including the Worldview Certificate and the Seminary Wives’ Institute. The three most recent bachelor of science degrees — Business Administration, Teacher Education, and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) — provide “strategic opportunities” to continue that original mission, according to Hall. These programs provide platforms and vocational avenues for students to serve outside strictly ministry contexts, he said.
While other Christian colleges take pride in their Bible courses, Boyce tries to take it one step further: a core Bible program of nearly 40 hours — even for business, education, and PPE majors. This gives teachers the chance to influence a broad array of Christians headed to the marketplace, classroom, or statehouse — not just the pulpit.
“That’s particularly strategic given the cultural moment and context we’re in where we’re going to need to do more and more. We’re going to think more and more like global missiologists about our own backyard,” Hall said. “Many of our students will go teach in an overtly missiological context, but every one of our graduates is a missionary. ”
That cultural moment affects more than the classroom. Boyce, like Southern Seminary, is part of a small number of accredited institutions of higher learning in the United States that forgo federal and state financial aid programs. This is primarily because the Southern Baptist Convention has a policy that its institutions should not accept federal student aid. But that independence is also related to Boyce’s commitment to its theological and confessional convictions, Hall said. Although that comes with a short-term cost, it prepares the school for whatever the future holds.
“In the coming years, we’ll have to be clearer than ever about our biblical and theological conviction,” he said. “It will be increasingly untenable for confessional Christian colleges to take for granted that people know where we stand.”Family matters
Every college faces the challenge of sustaining residential education in the 21st century when online education is more readily available than ever before. Boyce does offer three degrees fully online (A.A. and B.A. in biblical and theological studies, along with a B.S. in business administration), but that programming is the outer layer in three concentric circles of emphasis, according to Hall. The next circle is students who commute to on-campus courses while living off campus, while the central circle is the full residential experience. While the quality of online education is improving at a rapid pace, Hall said, the residential degree program is the “gold standard.”
“There’s a maximizing effect for learning that happens when you not only study on the campus, but you live on the campus because learning is happening 24/7 as you are involved in this community.”
This emphasis on the residential experience engenders a rich, multi-generational community, as 18-year-old Boyce students interact on a daily basis with 28-year-old graduate students with spouses and children. For Hall, this reflects a common refrain in the New Testament — that older men should disciple younger men and older women should disciple younger women. Mohler called the dynamic “nothing less than spectacular” for both the 18-year-old and the 28-year-old.
“You’ve got 18-year-olds who are just leaving home, and they have a quintessential college experience at Boyce,” Mohler said. “But they’re surrounded by 20-somethings hand-in-hand, pushing strollers filled with babies. There’s just something incredibly healthy about that.”
DeKlavon noted that the school is starting to see second-generation Boyce College students, as graduates from the late-90s are now sending their children to Boyce. That’s another sign of the effective growth of the school, he said.
“One advantage when you’ve been here for 20 years is to see where the students who have come before have gone,” he said. “We get to find out from them how their parents have been faithful throughout the years. To me, that’s the exciting part — not only did we think in theory that this was going to work, but now we can look back over 20 years and see it really has.”
Despite the significant numeric growth at Boyce during the last 20 years, Hall said higher enrollment numbers should never be the primary focus of a Christian institution. Watchwords like “faithfulness,” “quality,” and “excellence” ought to mark institutions like Boyce, he said, with the ultimate goal of making disciples across the globe. And that metric will take much longer than 20 years to be finalized.
Andrew J.W. Smith is news manager at Southern Seminary and an M.Div. graduate.
Mohler poses with doctoral graduate Chris Byrley after winter commencement.
Mohler talks with students after the inaugural Ask Anything Tour event at the University of Louisville.
Left: Mohler speaks at the University of Louisville Ask Anything Tour event.
Right: Mohler sits in Southern Seminary chapel with his wife, Mary, seated behind him.
Mohler waits to speak at the 2018 Together for the Gospel conference.
Right: Mohler browses the shelves at the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles before his Ask Anything Tour event at UCLA.
Left: Mohler and Colby Adams after a long day on February 21 — the day evangelist Billy Graham died.
Mohler records The Briefing in his on-campus studio.
Mohler prepares to record an episode of The Briefing in a hotel room in Providence, Rhode Island.
Left: Mohler talks on the phone the day of the UCLA Ask Anything Tour event.
Left: Mohler preps to record an episode of The Briefing.
Mohler stands in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in America in Providence, Rhode Island.
Left: Mohler stands his grandson, Benjamin, on the pulpit of Alumni Memorial Chapel.
Right: Mohler interrupts a class of the Seminary Wives Institute to greet his wife.
Right: Mohler with deans Hershael W. York and Adam W. Greenway after convocation.
Left: Mohler and Boyce College dean Matthew J. Hall walk to chapel before spring convocation.
In early 1992, Mary Mohler finally had her dream job: wife and mom. But her life was about to take an unexpected turn. Her husband, R. Albert Mohler Jr., had just been nominated to be the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“I’ve finally got these two precious kids. We’re living on a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood in suburban Atlanta. Things are going along pretty well,” she said in an recent interview in her home, recalling her guardedness upon learning of his nomination.
“He’s only 33 years old. Does this happen?” she remembers asking herself. “I was also a little bit leery of what that would mean — living in a big glass house.”
The two married a decade earlier after a long-distance courtship that started at Samford University in Alabama. She was a pre-med freshman when they started dating; he, a senior. She stayed in Birmingham to finish her biology degree while he settled in Louisville to work toward a master of divinity degree at Southern.
“The summer of 1983 was epic,” she says. “I graduated one week, he graduated the next with his master’s, and we married six weeks later and set up our first home in Fuller Hall.”
She worked in local doctors’ offices for the next six years to help put him through the doctor of philosophy program at the seminary. But acclimating to Louisville was not easy. Her husband already knew people from his M.Div. years, but she was an outsider, and the other seminary wives she met did not share her ideas about what it looked like to be a pastor’s wife. In fact, within the seminary at that time, the prevailing attitude about gender roles was egalitarian: Most students believed men and women should hold the same roles in the home and in the church, including the offices of pastor and elder. This translated to what Mrs. Mohler calls a general disdain for the idea of being identified as a “wife.”
“There were women who were clearly not interested in being identified as anybody’s wife,” she recalls, explaining the mindset she repeatedly encountered. “‘Don’t call me a pastor’s wife,’ was the attitude. ‘I’m not going to let them get two for one. My separate role must be recognized and compensated too.’ That was all foreign to me.”
On top of feeling like an outsider, she and her husband shared an unmet longing for children.
“We were ready to start a family, and it just wasn’t happening,” Mrs. Mohler said. “It seemed everybody around us was having babies. I would host baby showers for people, and then everybody would go home, and we’d be surrounded with the stuffed animal decorations. It was just painful.”
But babies did come. Less than a month before Dr. Mohler graduated with his Ph.D. in 1989, Mrs. Mohler gave birth to their daughter, Katie. They then moved to Georgia for Dr. Mohler to take a job as editor of the Georgia Baptist state newspaper, the historic Christian Index, and, while there, welcomed their son, Christopher, in 1992.
I really had no idea just how challenging it would be and that turned out to be the Lord’s providence. It would have been overwhelming otherwise.
By 1992, Mrs. Mohler had the life she longed for, and they were about to pack up and relocate. For her husband to accept the presidency, the family would move back to Louisville, the city they’d left only four years earlier.
“At first it’s just talk, you know? Then he’s one of the final three, and then, when he was the presidential nominee, it all just became surreal,” she said. “I had no doubt that he was up for it — I realized early on what an unusually gifted and brilliant man he is — but we both knew this was going to be a challenge. To be honest, I really had no idea just how challenging it would be, and that turned out to be the Lord’s providence. It would have been overwhelming otherwise.”Conflict at Southern Seminary
When Dr. Mohler was elected, Southern Seminary was at the center of a high-stakes, theological tug-of-war between generally conservative trustees and generally liberal faculty. The trustees saw Dr. Mohler as the man with the conviction necessary to return the school to its founders’ vision. The faculty and students, however, saw him as a threat to the seminary’s progressive course.
Much of the controversy centered around the school’s Abstract of Principles. Once the guidepost for hiring orthodox faculty, it had come to be seen as a relic of the past, not to be interpreted literally — something professors could sign with their fingers crossed. Dr. Mohler didn’t see it that way. To him, signing the Abstract was a non-negotiable confessional statement, a promise to the Southern Baptist Convention to whom the school answered. But this stance cost him the support of many at the school.
“His election was clearly not what the faculty wanted to happen, not what the students wanted,” Mrs. Mohler said. “It didn’t take long for things to start exploding.”
And when they exploded, she was there, in the President’s Home just across the street from campus, to provide support to her husband. She was there during professors’ public resignations, critical student demonstrations — which included the burning of effigies — and the faculty’s vote to censure Dr. Mohler. She was there to listen, to cry, to pray, and encourage — to create a stable family life in a situation that was far from the norm for most young couples.
“Some days he’d come in the door with a certain look on his face, and I would know something was up yet again,” she said. “So we’d have dinner, try to have some sense of normalcy with preschoolers, go to the playroom, give the kids baths, and put them to bed. And then I would debrief with him. I didn’t demand a play-by-play, but I wanted to ask good questions. I well remember wanting to make sure he knew he had my unconditional support. And I’d assure him that he had my specific prayers — at 2 o’clock, if there was a 2 o’clock meeting the next day. Remember, there was no texting or emailing then so I would either have to wait for a quick phone call or wait until he got home. That was hard.”
Their children, said Mrs. Mohler, were a bright spot for them during these trying years.
“We took seriously our responsibility to be godly parents. We did the best we could to prioritize the kids, realizing how short that season is. No regrets there whatsoever!”Redemption and return to orthodoxy
The trustees were also a bright spot. When faculty members rebuked Dr. Mohler, the trustees adopted a statement in support of his actions. With their backing and through the providence of God, Dr. Mohler managed to steer the seminary back on course. The faculty who disagreed either resigned or took early retirement, and new faculty — world-class scholars who affirmed the Abstract — were brought on board.
“His dream had always been not just to return the institution to orthodoxy but also to fill the faculty with people who shared the same theological convictions, to make this place what it once was and could be again,” said Mrs. Mohler.
But she witnessed the redemption of more than just the conflict at the seminary. She saw also the redemption of her own struggles from their early years of marriage. The infertility they’d faced, the loneliness she’d felt without like-minded friends, the challenges of supporting a husband in ministry — she was able to funnel what she’d learned from these forms of suffering into a program that would help seminary wives prepare to minister alongside their husbands.Mrs. Mary Mohler teaching at the Seminary Wives Institute.
The Seminary Wives Institute, founded in 1997, grew out of Mrs. Mohler’s attendance with another faculty wife at a meeting with sister seminaries about women’s programs.
“We got home, and we were so excited,” she said. “We called together faculty wives because this could not be a one- or two-woman operation. By God’s grace, the new faculty my husband was assembling came here with amazingly gifted wives. I’ll never forget that I completely lost my voice — I had so much I wanted to say. We had 100 student wives register that fall, and the rest is history.”
Since that time, more than 3,000 seminary wives have taken at least one of SWI’s classes, which include both practical ministry courses taught by faculty wives and biblical studies courses taught by professors.
“It’s a team effort. The faculty wives who teach with me come from different backgrounds and have different areas of expertise, but together, we present a united mindset about the exciting calling to be a ministry wife,” she said. These classes provide not only teaching but also discipleship, community, and support.
Another way Mrs. Mohler ministers to the campus is through her work with The Southern Exchange, a donation-based resource on campus that enables students and their families to choose from clothing, furniture, books, and toys that others within the community have donated.Southern’s past and future
In discussing her time with both SWI and The Southern Exchange, Mrs. Mohler is quick to credit the volunteers who work alongside her — and to point out God’s faithfulness. She also sees his hand in the changed atmosphere on campus.
“When we were here in student housing, there was Levering Gym with a pool in the basement and a really old cafeteria in Sampey Hall. Now we have the spacious Honeycutt Campus Center, which houses so many wonderful amenities. There is the Legacy Hotel — which was transformed from tiny student apartments. And what a difference Boyce College has made! It has infused the campus with so much youth and energy and excitement,” she said. “I would hope and pray that when you walk on this campus, it has a completely different feel to it. The Lord is at work.”
Twenty-five years has changed more than just the seminary. It’s also changed the Mohler family, who’ve had many milestones take place right on campus.
“From a personal standpoint, our story of 25 years is the story of our children, who were 1 and 4 when we arrived and are now 26 and 29. That’s sobering for me to think about,” she says. “It’s the only life they have ever known. Katie and Riley (Barnes’) wedding in Alumni Chapel in 2013 was a huge milestone. Riley is the answer to all of our prayers for a godly husband for Katie and is a wonderful addition to our family. Christopher walking across that same stage in 2015 as a graduate of Boyce College was another thrilling milestone. In the entire 159-year history of the seminary, there had never been a president’s child to graduate.”
She lights up when she talks about her kids and, now, grandkids.
“During this 25th anniversary, we’ll be welcoming not one but two grandsons to celebrate with us. We will be a blubbering mess, I promise you, having those little boys here to join in the fun as we make more memories. We give God all the glory for the privilege of being both parents and grandparents,” she said. “Anyone who knows us or has seen the myriad of social media posts knows that we are delighting in this joyful stage as Grammie and Papa. In fact, we likely border on being obnoxious.”
It is clear that giving God the glory is the theme of Mrs. Mohler’s life. In all her reflection on the past 25 years, she exhibits gratitude and humility.
“The Lord’s not looking for superstars,” she said. “He’s not looking for people who know all the answers. But he is looking for wives who are willing to stand beside their husbands and to follow wherever they lead and remember that they’re a team. We bring unique gifts to that team. Husbands are dependent on us as wives for support and encouragement in all circumstances. It’s impossible to overemphasize how vital that is.”
Her husband speaks glowingly of this support over the years — both that which she’s given him and that which she’s given the seminary.
“Every moment of my life is lived in constant thankfulness that this woman recklessly agreed to marry me,” Dr. Mohler said. “She is behind the scenes making so many things happen. Where any need is, there you find Mary. You find her in the Seminary Wives Institute, throwing her energy into The Southern Exchange, helping students in so many different ways. I’ve come home, and there’s been a wonderful meal, and I’ve found out she’s getting ready to pack it up and take it to the family of a student who’s had surgery. I just marvel at what she pulls off while being a mom and a daughter and a wife and a grandmother.”
To be a wife and mom was, of course, always Mary Mohler’s dream job, and that commitment to family translated into her support for thousands of other seminary families. As is often the case for wives and mothers, much of her work has been behind the scenes, but its effects are far-reaching, trickling down to future generations, demonstrating what a high calling women truly have.
She is, like her husband, a person of foresight and biblical convictions, full of hope for the future of Southern Seminary. “Our prayer is that those who come behind us — and we’re not leaving yet, we’re still here and eager to work, by God’s grace — that they will hold fast to the truth once for all delivered to the saints,” she said, balancing vigilance with gratitude. “As we reflect on the difficult early years we must also be quick to reflect on the many happy memories from the past 25 years. The Lord has blessed us beyond measure, and we give him all the glory.”
Kate Brannen Smith is a writer who lives in
New Albany, Indiana.
On a sweltering July day in 1856, an up-and-coming professor at Furman University stood before his faculty colleagues and delivered his inaugural address.
In his presentation, the 29-year-old James Petigru Boyce set forth a comprehensive vision for theological education in what he called “Three Changes in Theological Institutions.” Its seismic impact upon the Southern Baptist Convention, and the seminary he went on to start, could have hardly been imagined that day 162 years ago.
A robust theological education, Boyce argued, must consist of three things: (1) It must be open to all men who are duly called to and gifted for ministry without a prerequisite course of study; (2) it must produce the best-trained men in the world; and (3) it must be lashed to a clear, fulsome confession of faith.
Boyce founded The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina, upon those “three changes.” His tripartite vision continues to reverberate through the halls of Southern Seminary in 2018, thanks in large part to its recovery by the school’s ninth president, R. Albert Mohler Jr.The loss of the confession
Southern remained faithful to Boyce’s vision until the early 20th century, when theological liberalism — the trickle down from German higher criticism — gradually replaced the school’s confessional fidelity and held sway until Mohler’s election as president in 1993.
In his opening convocation on August 31, 1993, Mohler began the difficult work of restoring the founder’s vision with an historic address titled “Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There!,” calling for institutional faithfulness to the seminary’s confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles (the third change).
Profound controversy followed, but by the late 1990s, much of the liberal faculty had resigned and professors who held to the orthodoxy of Boyce, Broadus, Manly, Williams, and the Abstract replaced them.
While some made dire predictions that such a vision would drive students away in droves, by the dawn of the new millennium, the restoration of Boyce’s confessional vision was complete and Southern was growing exponentially. It was a remarkable reversal accomplished in a relatively short time, one that only God could bring about, Mohler said during the 10th anniversary of his election in 2003.
“This runs contrary to the wisdom of the world, which says that even to attempt such a change risks scaring many persons away,” Mohler said in 2003. “Still, God’s truth as revealed in Scripture overcomes the risk and draws many to an institution that stands faithfully upon its authority.
“You (do) scare many people away. But you look on this campus and at this faculty and the students and the trustees and the others who are gathered here, and you will see how God’s truth is like a magnet pulling persons who love God and his truth to a place.”1 : Accessible theological education
The ideas of making theological education accessible for any God-called minister is part of Boyce’s vision that doesn’t receive as much attention, but it is nonetheless a consistent emphasis for Mohler.
Boyce College is the most immediate expression of Boyce’s first “change.” The school originally launched in 1974 as Boyce Bible School, a non-degree granting program for pastors who didn’t necessarily have previous education. Mohler expanded the scope in 1998, relaunching the school as a four-year, undergraduate institution, and the school still accommodates students with non-traditional academic backgrounds.
In 2015, Mohler introduced the Southern Seminary Global Campus, a multi-pronged initiative to make theological education accessible around the United States and the rest of the world through online and hybrid (online with on-campus components) courses, along with conference-based courses and the seminary’s local-church based Ministry Apprenticeship Program.
These represent a global expansion of Boyce’s first change. And unlike many programs across higher education, these initiatives aren’t based only around convenience, but on Boyce’s driving conviction that all Southern Baptist pastors need access to theological education.2 : The highest level of excellence
Boyce argued that Southern Baptist ministers need access to the kind of Christian scholarship not, at the time, available in North America. He held the conviction that the deeper aspects theology and biblical studies weren’t reserved for ivory towers but should be available to preachers in churches. This led directly to deep investment in finding the kind of faculty members Boyce wanted and in 1892, to the establishment of Southern Seminary’s doctoral program, the first of its kind.
“Dr. Mohler has taken seriously every point of Dr. Boyce’s vision” – Thomas J. Nettles.
This, too, is an area Mohler has taken as central to his mandate as president. Within five years of Mohler’s election, the seminary added to its faculty celebrated evangelical scholars like Robert Stein, Daniel Block, Tom Nettles, Thomas R. Schreiner, and Bruce A. Ware.
Under Mohler, Southern Seminary’s doctoral program has achieved global recognition. A 2015 report from the Association of Theological Schools ranked the Baptist seminary fourth among peer institutions for producing “faculty doctorates” in the accreditation agency’s member schools. This means not only do Southern Baptists have access to the highest levels of scholarship, but the scholars produced from Southern Seminary now spans to schools around the country.
Today, Southern is strong with nearly 1,000 students matriculating at Boyce College, its undergraduate school, and more than 4,000 at the seminary, most of whom are pursuing a master of divinity, the clearest sign of a seminary’s health and faithfulness to its mission. Having faculty members who truly teach in accord with the Abstract as conviction and not merely as lip service has attracted students from across America and the globe. Today, Southern Seminary is the largest Association Theological Schools-accredited seminary in the world.
Nettles, who is now senior professor of church history, says Boyce’s first two changes — accessible and scholarly — are inextricably linked to the third — confessional integrity.
“He has taken seriously every point of Dr. Boyce’s vision,” he said. “Boyce College represents an expansion of the first point enunciated by the founder. A vigorous graduate program that includes several types of degrees in a variety of academic and practical areas continues to fulfill the second. His care to develop a faculty that values and teaches in accordance with the Abstract confirms the wisdom of Dr. Boyce in insisting that the school be founded on such principles.”
The three changes are each essential — but the first two hinge on the third. And it’s that one — confessional fidelity — on which Mohler staked his presidency.
Twenty-five years after beginning, Mohler has guided Southern to a place of strength and it again stands firmly on Boyce’s “three changes.” The key foundational building block for Boyce’s three changes is the third — that faculty members teach “in accordance with and not contrary to” Southern’s confession of faith: the Abstract of Principles.
At the time Mohler preached his inaugural convocation address, Southern Seminary was confessionally ambiguous: Faculty members had been signing the Abstract with fingers crossed behind their backs.
“When Dr. Mohler was elected president in 1993, most professors signed the Abstract of Principles in accordance with their private understanding of what the document actually taught — an understanding that contradicted its original intent,” said Gregory A. Wills, professor of church history at Southern Seminary and author of the definitive history of the school, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009.
“One progressive professor told me that when he was hired, he asked a colleague whether he could sign the Abstract when he disagreed with it,” Wills said. “The colleague told him to do what everyone did: Sign it and forget about it.”
Nettles said the climate into which Mohler stepped was so far out of step with Boyce’s vision that the condition was critical. Confessional integrity had disappeared. Like progressive theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, professors used the language of orthodox Protestant theology, but their words meant something entirely different.
“The governing status of the Abstract when Mohler arrived was laughable in that the school violated virtually every aspect of its confessional status with the exception of continuing to sign it,” Nettles said.
Mohler determined to change that.
Said Wills, “Mohler required professors to sign the Abstract as an indication that they agreed with it ex animo. Their signature did not reflect a private interpretation of any of its doctrines. It did not indicate a mere willingness to teach in accordance with it. It indicated that the professor agreed with its doctrines and would joyfully teach in accordance with them.
“This is precisely what Boyce intended, what [co-founders] Manly, Broadus, and Williams intended, and what Southern Baptists intended when they established the seminary. The seminary was accountable to the churches for teaching the faith without admixture of error to the pastors who would teach the faith in the churches.
“That accountability rested on the commitment of the faculty to the doctrines set forth in Scripture and agreed upon by Southern Baptist churches, which were set forth in the Abstract of Principles. To sign the Abstract with private interpretations was an admission that professors no longer believed it and would no longer teach in accordance with it. To require faculty to interpret the Abstract faithfully and affirm it wholeheartedly was a necessary and effective step toward restoring the faithful teaching of the Bible at Southern Seminary.”Three Changes and the future
Many liberal seminaries — both in America and across the globe — were once bastions of biblical orthodoxy. Such schools first drifted from Scripture’s teaching subtly and embraced theological liberalism quickly, and never returned to orthodoxy. Southern’s departure from orthodoxy happened in one generation. Wills points out that guarding the good deposit of Boyce’s confessional vision is crucial for Southern’s administration and faculty now and in the decades to come.
“Employing the Abstract of Principles in its intended function and interpreting it according to its intended meaning is critical to this task,” Wills said. “Error arises in the churches almost daily. Teachers of error have ever insinuated themselves upon the churches by deceiving, or by being self-deceived, or by falling into error after establishing a good reputation as faithful teachers.”
If the Lord tarries, Mohler hopes the seminary will continue to stand firm upon the foundation of biblical truth and through it, God will be pleased to raise up a vast army of — as the Basil Manly-written seminary hymn calls them, “Soldiers of Christ in Truth Arrayed,” over the next 150 years.
Southern Seminary built a new pavilion in 2009 to commemorate the seminary’s sesquicentennial anniversary. A time capsule was concealed within it where Mohler included a letter to the next president, to be opened in 2059.
“What I basically did was write in such a way that if this institution isn’t theologically where it needs to be whenever that thing is opened, they’re going to know it,” he said. “It’s going to be the most embarrassing letter ever read if indeed this institution is not preserved in that way. That is our prayer — that it will be.”
C. Jeffrey Robinson is a senior editor for
The Gospel Coalition, pastor-teacher of Christ Fellowship in Louisville, and a two-time alumnus of Southern Seminary.
The post Three Changes in Theological Education: Then and Now appeared first on Southern Equip.
When I came here as a student, I definitely came wanting to do a Ph.D. I wanted to be, and felt called to be, a theologian and a preacher of the Word. I wanted to be deeply involved in apologetics. And I assumed that would be in the pastorate. But I knew that it could have meant service in higher education, mostly in the theological academy.”
Sitting in his office on the second floor of the historic Norton Hall, R. Albert Mohler Jr. made this comment during a recent, wide-ranging interview about theological education, the Southern Baptist Convention, and his 25-year tenure as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He described how, when he began as a student at the seminary in 1980, he dived immediately into the life of the school at every available level. And this brought him a growing awareness of “the role of institutions in serving the church and in shaping the theological future.”
The years that followed — years during which Mohler graduated with both master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees, were pivotal for the Southern Baptist Convention. The theological recovery of the convention was largely decided, but the future of the denomination remained in question.
“I cannot separate myself from the context,” he said. “It’s in the context of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s in the context of big definitional moments within evangelicalism. I think this is a basic principle of God’s call: God’s will is also revealed in specific moments and urgent needs.”
Thirteen years after he first arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, Mohler became a central figure in the life of that same institution and, by extension, a shaper of the theological future not only for Southern Seminary but also for the wider evangelical world. As the ninth president of Southern Seminary, Mohler has spent the last quarter-century guiding the school out of theological crisis, through fast-paced cultural changes, and amid large-scale demographic shifts.
In the August 2018 interview, Mohler discusses these issues and more.
I think many people alive today, and in particular younger people, fail to understand the important role played by institutions. One of the greatest roles of institutions is to accomplish the transfer of stewardship and conviction and mission from one generation to the next.
One of the greatest roles of institutions is to accomplish the transfer of stewardship and conviction and mission from one generation to the next.
The history of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the history of Christianity, points to the endurance of such institutions. For example, Clark Kerr, who was chancellor of the University of California system, pointed out over a generation ago that if you were to go back to the 11th century, there are only three kinds of institutions that have existed from that period to now: the Catholic Church, the British Parliament, and a handful of universities. If you look at the Southern Baptist Convention, you really can’t explain many of our churches without the support of institutions that have trained the pastors and provided much of the content of those ministries — and helped churches together both internally and in cooperation through almost 175 years.What does that relationship look like, between an institution like Southern Seminary and a local church?
We exist for the churches. Churches have turned to us for ministers. They’ve turned to us for theological assistance. They continue to turn to us for a deeper understanding of their own stewardship. Jesus Christ established the church, and as Baptists, we mean most importantly the local church. It’s to the church Christ promised, “Upon this rock I’ll build my church and the gates of hell shall prevail against it.”
It is really clear that if you look at the history of Christianity, you can’t tell that story without the important role played by institutions — which by the way can be a role for good or for ill, for health or unhealth, which raises the stakes and makes this kind of stewardship all the more important.Your presidency roughly coincides with the internet boom, which represents only one of several seismic societal changes. Can you talk about some of those big changes that unfolded during the past 25 years?
The changes are very fundamental and you can see this wherever you look. If you look at the Fortune 500, there are names there that didn’t exist 25 years ago. The driving economic energy in this country is no longer automobile makers but high technology. We talk about life today, and that high-tech revolution is now taken for granted.
Southern Seminary may have had — at least we’ve been told — the very first website for a theological seminary. When a technology like that arrives, it means you’re in one of those few generations, like the Gutenberg generation, that sees the world change before its eyes. We’ve sought to use that kind of technology in the extension of our mission. The internet, for example, is so much a part of what we do now that we can’t imagine life without it.
Gains and losses, dangers and opportunities all are a part of this.
The global world has changed. When I arrived in 1993, it was in the glow of believing that democracy was in worldwide advance — the Soviet Union had broken apart, and we were entering a new age of peace and prosperity. American global leadership appeared unassailable. In higher education, there was a sense that we were experiencing the golden moment. Rising prosperity meant that almost anyone in America had access to some level of college education. Just about everywhere you looked, colleges and universities were building buildings, adding faculty, and expanding programs. It’s a different world today.
When I came here as president in 1993, we were still in the age of the megachurch as the dominant model of aspiration and influence in American evangelicalism. Of course, many of those churches continue to have that influence. But the world has changed. The megachurch was particularly situated at a missiological moment for a culture that was in many ways at peak Christianity, peak church attendance, and peak evangelical interest. But we’re in a situation now where the gospel-believing, Bible preaching churches are on the other side of whiplash in the culture.
So you put all that together, and you look at the incredible changes generation by generation in expectations and identity, it is as if 25 years later we are in a fundamentally different world.What have these changes meant for Southern Seminary?
What has surprised me is that my job continually seems to get harder. Our mission as a seminary is more complex and more difficult to accomplish. I think it’s likely to get more that way with every passing year. This seminary and its denomination really came of age in the great day of denominational expansion. This is not that same age.
The denomination whose name we proudly bear has undergone, and is still undergoing, its own crisis of identity and generational change.
I am convinced that in God’s providence, one of the reasons why Southern Seminary is so strong in the present is because, just as all of these things were happening, we had to go through a great theological crisis that served to remind us why we exist and to clarify our convictions at just the right time. So while everyone else is having identity crises, that’s the one crisis we won’t have. Our identity and conviction questions, our mission as an institution — all that is settled.
That’s given us enormous strength going into this challenging age.
On one level, I cannot not do this. I do this when I’m on vacation. I do this wherever I’m traveling in the world. I was doing this in high school and college, and as editor of the Christian Index. I’m seeking to define, to teach, and to defend the inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of the gospel, the nature of confessional Christianity, and the truthfulness and the comprehensiveness of the Christian truth claim, applied to every dimension of life. That’s what I was doing. And when the trustees at Southern Seminary interviewed me, I remember one of the most gratifying aspects was when they said, “Don’t stop doing that.” And with every technological mechanism, I’ve tried to do that.
I do think we should challenge people’s intellects and try to inspire them and treat them like they are image bearers of the world’s Creator. At the same time, I’m trying to speak to them where they are.
On another level, I had a rare opportunity when I was a young man to be invited by some of the most powerful conservative institutions in the United States into leadership development programs that allowed me to see first-hand what Peter Drucker defined as a massive, constant, multiphasic communication culture. The world is dotted with schools and seminaries and universities and institutions and institutes, and the school with the best argument wins. And that school has to make that argument loudly, constantly, multiphasically in every way possible.
The same thing was true in his own day for [Southern Seminary’s fourth president] E.Y. Mullins. James P. Boyce in his own day, too, but particularly E.Y. Mullins. And I think public argument is an essential part of the leadership and historic role of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: The presidents of this institution have often fulfilled, in their own generation, that kind of role. And when I understood the responsibility I was asked to take on, I was determined to try to represent, to the best of my ability, the very best of that tradition at Southern Seminary.In terms of theological education, what do you see coming? What might the future look like?
Wherever you find Christ’s church growing and thriving, you’re going to find the need for people to have more ministers, you’re going to find the need for more churches. A big challenge for us is that higher education has become so much more expensive. We’re in a culture that’s in open opposition to what we believe and what we teach. We’re in a day of declining institutional commitment on the part of many Christians. And we’re in a time of denominational transition. All that goes together to mean that our job is a lot more complicated than it was 25 years ago.
The great news is I don’t have to wake up in the morning and try to figure out what Southern Seminary’s mission is. The big story is continuity.Can you tease out what you mean by ‘denominational transition’?
We’re undergoing the greatest period of transition in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s quantifiable and real. There are big questions about, who will lead where, what the future’s going to look like, what kind of character the Southern Baptist Convention is going to have, and how we are going to define our cooperative work together. There’s no way around those questions. There’s no minimizing how difficult some of these questions are going to be.
We should be thankful to be part of a denomination that’s still alive and kicking and convictional enough to ask and deal with these questions. We also can’t abstract that from the fact that the entire nation is in a very difficult and complicated identity moment. Both major political parties are trying to figure out who they are and in either case are markedly different than they were just five to 10 years ago.
I’m thankful we’re not in that kind of moment. Southern Baptists have regained a great opportunity and stewardship for the future. Our core theological convictions are settled. But what we’re also discovering is that beyond those core theological convictions, there are some questions that have to be answered.You said recently that, amid all these cultural challenges and transitions, you want the seminary to be characterized not by outrage, by a confidence. What does that look like?
I hope to lead as president in a way that helps the Christians and the churches around us more joyously and confidently address real challenges to the gospel, to build Christianity to moral faithfulness. I hope that we operate without fear of confronting the enemy but also that we avoid making constant warfare our own aim. That means we operate with a minimum degree of outrage and a maximum degree of faithfulness.
These were the first words I ever heard about R. Albert Mohler Jr.: “He’s a dandy! You will love him! He’s your age!” Evangelist David Miller, a dear friend of mine, was a trustee officer for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a foot soldier in the denominational struggle now known as the Conservative Resurgence. He had called me that day in 1993 to tell me the news that the 33-year-old had just been announced as the Board of Trustees’ choice to serve as the ninth president of the oldest — and most notoriously liberal — seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.
David gleefully emphasized the president-elect’s astounding youth but also his astonishing brilliance. He was a graduate of Southern, he explained, but one who, shockingly, actually believed the Abstract of Principles, “including,” he added with special delight, “Article V on ‘election.’”
The news was as difficult to believe as it was welcome. I was pastoring the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, a church that had withdrawn from participation in Southern Baptist life in the 1970’s, largely due to the neo-orthodox views promulgated by the professors of Southern Seminary. I, on the other hand, had been influenced and shaped by the great grizzled conservative warriors of the convention, men like W. A. Criswell, Jerry Vines, and Adrian Rogers. I very badly wanted to coax my church back into the SBC to shoulder part of the vital burden of denominational reclamation, but the effects of Southern Seminary on Kentucky churches presented an impossibly high obstacle for my leadership. Stories of fresh-faced young preachers matriculating at Southern Seminary only to have their confidence in the Bible eroded and the cherished doctrines of the people who sent them assailed were commonplace. The Bible-believing people of my church would never join a denomination that tolerated, let alone supported, so persistent an assault on orthodoxy.
The moderates despised him because he had come through their system, yet he ultimately refused to become like them.
Still, David had filled me with hope that things might actually change, so I got the phone number at the Christian Index where he was editor and called Dr. Mohler. I can only imagine the apprehension he felt as he took my call. Hardly anyone in Kentucky was happy at his election. The moderates despised him because he had come through their system, sitting under their most elite teachers, yet he ultimately refused to become like them. Conservatives were doubtful that it was even possible to come through Southern unscathed and doctrinally pure. Professors had so routinely signed the Abstract without sincerely believing or teaching it, that it cast a pall of suspicion on Dr. Mohler, too, and he knew it. He could only have answered my call with some reservations.
I quickly explained who I was, where I pastored, and a bit about my background, then I said, “I wanted you to know that at least one pastor in Kentucky is glad you are coming.”
The genuine kindness and warmth of his answer immediately impressed me. The ensuing conversation was the first of many times he shocked me with his knowledge of things one could not reasonably expect him to know. He was very familiar with my church’s, Ashland Avenue’s, history and completely appreciated the strange no-man’s land we occupied, neither a part of the Independent Baptist movement nor welcome in the SBC in the state whose pulpits were dominated by Southern graduates.
Neither of us could have imagined the way our lives would intertwine for the next 25 years. We did not meet in person until June of 1996, three years into his tenure. David Miller introduced us in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I knew the tremendous personal price he was paying. He had faced faculty revolt, student protests, media assault, and general hatred. The Louisville Courier-Journal and the Kentucky Baptist paper, Western Recorder, had reported on the turmoil at the seminary and the subsequent decline in enrollment. A 1995 documentary, Battle for the Minds, won numerous awards as it accused Dr. Mohler of being an opportunistic autocrat with an insatiable appetite for power.
Paradoxically, all of these spasms of denominational schism laid the groundwork for me to convince Ashland Avenue to re-engage with the Southern Baptist Convention. I would regularly inform them about what changes this stalwart and faithful seminary president was making. These battles were tangible evidence that the denomination was changing, that the liberalism that had precipitated our exit was quickly disappearing.
When Mohler shook my hand in New Orleans, he told me that he wanted me to preach in chapel. After the convention, he issued the formal invitation to come preach and to have lunch with him in October. The irony of the pastor of Ashland Avenue and a graduate of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary preaching in the chapel of Southern Seminary was lost neither on me nor on the members of Ashland Avenue.
At lunch that day, joined by Dr. George Martin, one of the first conservative professors to throw his lot in with Dr. Mohler and teach at Southern Seminary, I asked Dr. Mohler a question: “Who are you going to get to teach preaching?” I shared my opinion that whoever he hired to teach preaching would define his presidency perhaps more than any single faculty position. (I’m not sure that’s true, but I thought it then and said so.) I told him that making expository preaching the norm at Southern was essential.
As I shared this opinion, nothing in me thought that I should be that person. It was unthinkable for several reasons: My church was growing wildly. We were currently in a legal battle with the city of Lexington for the right to relocate to a 47-acre campus we were purchasing. I had no thought of leaving the church I loved and in which I was enjoying the blessings of God’s favor. Furthermore, my training and doctorate was in Greek and New Testament, not preaching. Though preaching was my first love and the reason I had studied language and exegesis, I had never even thought about teaching preaching professionally.
I invited Dr. Mohler to come to Lexington and preach for me at Ashland Avenue the following Sunday night. It was spur of the moment, but I wanted the church to meet the man whom God had used to move the church back into SBC life.
At lunch I invited Dr. Mohler to come to Lexington and preach for me at Ashland Avenue the following Sunday night. It was spur of the moment, but I wanted the church to meet the man whom God had used to move the church back into SBC life. When Dr. Mohler arrived that evening, he was delighted to find a church packed out on a Sunday night and filled with vibrant worship. On behalf of the church, I presented him with a portion of a Spurgeon sermon manuscript as a gift to thank him for all that he was doing — a manuscript still proudly displayed in his study. My wife Tanya and I took him out to a restaurant after and enjoyed his company immensely. He and I had grown up in two very different branches of the Baptist family but found ourselves providentially thrown together in a unique moment in denominational history. I liked this guy and believed he could be one of the most important evangelical figures in our generation.
I began to pray for him, and as I began to pray for him, I began to share his vision and burden. As I felt the burden, I had a thought that seemed terribly out of place: “What if I went to Southern and taught preaching?” In addition to my lack of an academic degree in preaching, the most obvious obstacle was that Dr. Mohler had not asked me or even hinted at such a thing. I couldn’t invite myself to join the faculty at Southern, and I was loath to leave a church that loved me and where so many good things were happening.
After months of this unsettled feeling, I dared to send Dr. Mohler an email on the day after Christmas, 1996. I explained that I knew how strange this was, that I was neither making a commitment nor was I asking him for one, but I asked the simple question, “What do you think about the possibility of my coming to Southern to teach preaching?”
Five minutes after sending the email, my phone rang, and Dr. Mohler was telling me, “You aren’t going to believe this, but I have been thinking exactly the same thing.” We agreed to pray about it and talk further. Over the next three months, I would speak to Dr. Mohler and to dean Danny Akin. History professor Tom Nettles had been my professor at Mid-America and had stayed in touch, and we discovered that both of us were talking to Dr. Mohler about joining the faculty at Southern.
On March 4, 1997, Dr. Mohler, Danny Akin, and I ate at an Italian restaurant in Louisville and talked specifics. Afterward, we went to Cave Hill Cemetery and visited the graves of the seminary’s founders, and Dr. Mohler told me he wanted me to help him restore John Broadus’ view of preaching to Southern. To say I was emotional is a profound understatement.
I came to Southern Seminary to join the great vision of biblical fidelity and doctrinal integrity that the ninth president was casting. He had been largely alone in those early years, but the 1997 class of new professors included Greg Wills, Tom Schreiner, Tom Nettles, Robert Stein, and myself. It was the largest class of new professors in Mohler’s tenure to date and also, as it turned out, one of the longest serving. I always enjoy pointing out that enrollment at Southern had been in decline from 1993 until the trend reversed in 1997. I know correlation is not causation, but … .
I look back at Dr. Mohler’s tenure at Southern with nothing less than awe at what God has done to his glory. Because God uniquely prepared and placed this stalwart, gospel-focused man in this place, because God gave him a backbone of steel and a clear vision of truth, faithful missionaries are serving around the world; pastors are boldly preaching the inerrant Word of God weekly from their pulpits; counselors confident in the sufficiency of Scripture are caring for souls; believing professors serving in colleges, universities, and seminaries are shaping the next generation for Christ.
I am honored to have served beside him for most of his tenure. I hope that I have blessed and multiplied his labors, but the last quarter-century of my life has been shaped by the influence of one man more than any other. I thank God for the life and legacy of my friend and leader, R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Hershael W. York is dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary and senior pastor at Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.
The organgey, stone-laced landscape of the southwest already screams that you’re somewhere different from the dense green of the Bible Belt. For Nate Millican, the desert of Arizona represents a mission field. His family, he says, is thriving in their new home of Phoenix. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s 1,700 miles away from his native Kentucky, two timezones away from extended family and his home church.
The church Millican leads provides rich community, and that’s been a saving grace for his family.
“Our community is life-giving to me,” he said, talking about his own participation in a community group. This is important for him and his family, because God’s call to Phoenix was clear — but that doesn’t make it easy.
“What makes it hard for me personally is being removed from family and friends,” he said. “I’m 1,717 miles away.”A Call to the Desert
To call Millican a Kentucky native isn’t quite accurate. And in many ways, he was born to live wherever God leads. “My dad was a pilot, so I was nomadic,” he said. “Where am I from? It’s a great question.”
By the time Millican was 16 years old, he’d already lived in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Delaware, Rhode Island, Washington state, Delaware again, and finally Kentucky.
By the end of his high school years, the Millicans lived in Louisville. Despite initial plans to go to the Air Force Academy and join the family business, Millican enrolled to study marketing at the state’s Big Blue university. He liked that Lexington is fully 70 miles away from Louisville, and he liked that it is only 70 miles away from home.
He explained, “I could have my own life, I could come home when I needed to.”
Plus, he was “getting really involved” at his Louisville church, Highview Baptist. The student pastor there, a seminary student named Jimmy Scroggins, discipled and mentored Millican. And even after he moved to Lexington, he drove back to Highview almost every weekend. By the time he came to the end of college, Millican knew his future lay neither in a military plane nor a marketing firm. The relationship with Scroggins and experience of the ministry at Highview fostered in Millican a sense of God’s call toward ministry; he wanted to replicate for others the kind of hands-on mentorship he received.
During his senior year, Millican did manage to stay in Lexington one weekend. He attended a surprise birthday party, where he met a girl named Lauren. He enrolled in the master of divinity degree program at Southern Seminary immediately after college and, in April of 2003, Millican used his first spring break to take a honeymoon.
Though Millican said it didn’t feel this way at the time, the life of ministry began to move quickly for the newlyweds.
Before long, Millican worked on staff at Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington and then at Highview as a college pastor. And before he graduated from the seminary, Millican got in contact with a church in Orlando, Florida, and soon after accepted a job as a discipleship pastor at the megachurch Aloma Baptist. After three years there, he came back to the Louisville area, taking a senior pastor role at Oak Park Baptist Church in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana.
The church grew steadily, from about 150 members to almost 350. Then Kevin Ezell, who had been Millican’s pastor at Highview and by then was the president of the North American Mission Board, sent him a text message: “Hey, would you be interested in pastoring in Phoenix?”The Pre-Christian Valley
The Phoenix metro area houses around 4 million people. You’ve heard that western society is post-Christian. If you talk to Millican about it, he’ll tell you the western United States isn’t — but not because of revival or some gospel preservation or lasting, cultural Christian appeal. No, Millican will tell you the west isn’t post-Christian because it was never “Christian” to begin with: The American west is a pre-Christian society.
“There’s never really been a Christian presence in the West,” he said, not like in the American South or the Northeast.
So when Ezell reached out, Millican said, “Phoenix, wow. That sounds kind of exciting. If Kevin is taking the time to text me about it, I’m intrigued.”
The church Ezell talked about was Foothills Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church nestled in the neighborhood of Ahwatukee, an upwardly mobile community full of families, just southwest of the Phoenix city center. After Millican preached in-view of a call, the members of Foothills voted 300 to 1 to call Millican as senior pastor.
Millican, Lauren, and their then-three kids — Luciann (9), Lydia Grace (8), and Samuel (6) — moved west. (Their 17-month old, Laureleigh Joy, was born in Phoenix.)
“We live in a very affluent area,” he described. “People have very little margin with their money or with their time. … We have M.D.s and Ph.D.s and people who are entrepreneurs — that’s the demographic at Foothills.”
Because of that, he says, many of the people with whom he interacts have no space for faith at all, much less Christianity. And, what’s more, they don’t see the value of making space for spiritual things. It’s a hyper-individualistic culture, one where sports like hiking and kayaking get more traction than team sports — a massive collection of people devoid of community.
That’s what Millican is doing at Foothills: He’s trying to build a church culture that compels the people in Ahwatukee looking for connection, and a church that connects them to the gospel. When he arrived, Millican led the church through a year-long process of discovering and shaping the church’s mission: Engage people to put Jesus first for the sake of others.Foothills Baptist Church in Ahwatukee, Arizona.
And the congregation is buying in. Millican says moving the culture in this direction isn’t happening fast, but it is happening. And he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s a beneficiary.The Lessons of Emergency Surgery
Millican’s mom, back in 2009, was at an audition for a church choir special when she collapsed. She’d suffered an aneurysm that “leaked,” and doctors rushed her into emergency brain surgery. In the realm of brain issues, what Mrs. Millican went through was considered mild, and she recovered well.
Then in 2013, Millican’s father also suffered an aneurysm rupture in the same part of his brain, a much more severe condition. After being rushed to the hospital and undergoing his own emergency brain surgery for between five and six hours, he too recovered.
Both of the elder Millicans joined the 50 percent of those who suffer aneurysms and survive. The odds, Millican said, of two people each having the same brain problem in the same lobe are wildly low.
Doctors and specialists warned the Millican children that this increased their own risk of bleeding on the brain. Millican, along with his brother and sister, each got checked.
One of them indeed had a brain problem: Nate.
“I was found to have a small, like one-to-two-millimeter aneurysm,” he said. “It was just there; they don’t know how it happened.”
Doctors told him the issue seemed manageable and he should just make sure to have a scan every five years to monitor it.
Nate MillicanFast forward to 2017, seven years later, and Millican went in to get his brain scanned. A neurologist in Phoenix said basically the same thing as the doctors in Louisville. But as a final check, the doctor referred him to an aneurysm specialist.
The specialist who looked at Millican confirmed: “You do have an aneurysm; it’s one to two millimeters.” But his diagnosis of the problem was life-changingly different: “But given your parents history, I’m quite certain we’re going to [take action]. … The only way to treat an aneurysm is brain surgery.”
Another specialist, who happened to be one of the world’s most prominent brain surgeons, explained: “If you had an aneurysm and they found it today, they would say, You’re at a one percent chance it’ll rupture or bleed.” But because both of his parents suffered aneurysms in the same lobe, the doctor explained he was actually sitting at more like a 20 percent probability of a “rupture or bleed.”
“It would be medical malpractice for us not to do brain surgery,” he said.
“I was stunned,” Millican said. “I got in my car and I wept.”
He had a craniotomy — a surgical opening of the skull — two weeks later to fix his aneurysm. Millican now says this surgery taught him perhaps more than anything else in his life. He is quick to list four main lessons.
“I learned gratitude and compassion,” he explained. “I think I’m more apt to listen, to be empathetic and sympathetic to sufferers.
“I learned finiteness,” he said. “I couldn’t walk from here to the other side of the room without being completely exhausted; I didn’t have the energy. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t even pray. I stuttered and had a hard time collecting my thoughts.
“I had a work ethic that wasn’t sustainable, and, worse than that, I don’t think it honored Jesus. I learned rest. ”
The lessons of Millican’s brain surgery have made a lasting impression on him and on his ministry, according to him. He can point to myriad ways those four main things he learned have shaped who he is on the other side of the craniotomy. It also helped form community in Phoenix, as people he’d only been pastoring for about a year rallied to support him and his family.
It also made him more grateful for the community he has spread around the country.
“Dr. Mohler has a saying: I’m not going to get it exactly right, but basically it’s ‘Do ministry with a band of brothers’,” Millican said. “And Southern Seminary was formative in that it gave me a group of guys; I have a band of brothers who have made an indelible impression on me.”
He talks about guys leading ministries all around the world and how the bonds they formed at Southern Seminary still hold them together. He speaks just as fluidly about how some of the professors gave him a vision for Scripture that he still holds onto, particularly New Testament professor Brian Vickers.
“I remember Brian Vickers’ talking about where Jesus says, “believe in me and streams of eternal life are going to swell up in you,” Millican remembers. “His imagery and how he walked through that with so much passion was contagious, and I’ll never forget it.”
For the whole Millican family, Southern Seminary holds a special place.
The elder Millican, General Nat Millican, has been on the seminary’s Foundation Board, and is this year starting a term on the Board of Trustees. The family relationship with Southern goes back to a connection with the Mohlers.
“My mom and Mary Mohler are close friends,” he explained. “Dr. Mohler was teaching pastor at Highview when we came, and my dad has been involved in leadership at Highview since then. The Mohlers have just been friends of the family. My family legitimately loves the Mohlers.”
The kind of community Millican experienced in Kentucky, at Highview and at Southern Seminary, inform the very reason he moved his family those 1,700 miles away: Because he owns a vision for how the gospel shapes the lives of believers and how compelling that kind of “life-giving” community can be to a culture that has never experienced it.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is the director of news and information at Southern Seminary.
When you attend Southern Seminary, you expect a lot of things: top-notch theological education, thriving church life, deep relationships with others called to ministry. And all these can be found. But students usually graduate from Southern Seminary having also fallen in love with the community beyond the beech trees on the front lawn of our historic campus.
Surrounding the campus are numerous rich and diverse neighborhoods. This issue of Towers will give you a sampling of those neighborhoods … along with a few nudges to minister while you’re here.Old Louisville
Founded in 1925, the Speed Art Museum (known colloquially simply as “Speed”) is the oldest museum of art in the state of Kentucky.
Old Louisville is an official historic district — the third-largest in the United States — and its architecture will take you to a different time. It also boasts the largest collection of Victorian-era homes in the United States. It is a diverse and densely populated urban community now, but when it was originally built in the 1870s, it was suburban. In the 20th century, many of the extravagant old homes were divided into apartments for college students, bringing a younger demographic to the area.
The historic St. James Court hosts a free, public annual art show that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each fall.
Crescent Hill is lined by 19th century railroad tracks that once were a vital connection between Louisville and Frankfort, the Kentucky state capital. They now provide a central feature of a thriving urban neighborhood just a short walk from the seminary. The Crescent Hill Reservoir, pictured above, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features some unique Gothic architecture. It’s a popular spot for runners.
Founded in 2009, Comfy Cow is one of Louisville’s most popular ice cream shops.
Get away from seminary studies for a little while and check out a book or movie from one of nine different branches of the Louisville Free Public Library.
Germantown & Shelby Park
Founded by Southern Seminary grads who liked home coffee roasting, Sunergos is a favorite coffee shop for locals. It is located in Germantown.
Settled by German immigrants in the 1800s not long after the city’s founding, Germantown is now lined with shotgun houses and is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Louisville. Neighboring Shelby Park was built in 1907 and is home to the Scarlet Hope ministry.
Directly across the street from Sojourn Church Midtown in the Shelby Park neighborhood, Scarlet’s Bakery is a business connected with Scarlet Hope, a ministry that offers women trapped in the sex industry a fresh start. Several female students and student wives have volunteered for the ministry.
Next to “The Beeches” itself, there is perhaps no more historically meaningful location for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary than Cave Hill Cemetery. Beautiful trees and very old gravestones mark this cemetery. Trustee-elected professors at Southern Seminary have the option of being buried here, and many have: James Boyce, John Broadus, A.T. Robertson, Duke McCall, and many other SBTS luminaries are here.
Populated by wealthy suburbanites until the 1960s, Highlands has since been known as an artsy and eclectic community surrounded by classic, Victorian-era homes. One of the hallmarks of the Highlands neighborhood is the many local restaurants and shops lining Bardstown Road. You are likely to find just about any local eats you’re looking for in this foodie hub.
While it’s still warm, get away from your dorm or library cubicle and find a quiet spot at Cherokee Park, one of the original Louisville public parks. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also laid out the grounds for New York City’s Central Park. The 2.5-mile Scenic Loop at Cherokee is a popular running location.
Ask someone who has never been to Louisville what they associate the city with, and they will almost certainly refer to something downtown. The Muhammad Ali Center and Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory are at the top of most people’s to-do list when they visit, and the KFC Yum! Center is the home of the Louisville Cardinals basketball team. Founded in the late 1700s when the city was first developed on the banks of the Ohio River (you’ll notice it’s actually older than the so-called “Old Louisville”), Downtown Louisville is a diverse place where old meets new.
Recuerdo que hace algún tiempo un profesor amigo, excelente académico en su área, fue invitado a dar ciertas conferencias en el seminario donde yo trabajaba en Latinoamérica. Como era su amigo y profesor allí me ofrecí a ayudarlo en la traducción del material que traía para compartir. El se había adelantado, y queriendo ayudarme, había pasado todo el contenido de su conferencia a través de google. Me escribió emocionado, pensando que me había hecho un favor. Era mi primera vez en tratar de ¨retraducir¨ a google, luche con la traducción como nunca. Entre frases mal elaboradas, algunas peligrosamente cómicas y otras tantas que no hacían ningún sentido, después de una lucha desesperada y llena de frustración me tuve que dar por rendido. ¡No quiero ni imaginarme qué hubiera pasado si esa traducción se hubiera leído tal como estaba!
¡Cuánta necesidad tenemos de aprender de verdad otros idiomas! Las máquinas por sofisticadas que sean nunca podrán remplazar a las personas, especialmente en el proceso de comunicar el evangelio. Es triste que muchos de aquellos que están en el ministerio cristiano y que están en contacto con otras culturas simplemente no quieren o piensan que es innecesario conocer el idioma del otro. ¡Al fin de cuenta siempre habrá google!
La Escritura siempre debe ser nuestro modelo para hacer ministerio inclusive en este sentido. Existen suficientes trazos en los escritos del Nuevo Testamento, por ejemplo, que revelan que sus autores era políglotas. No cabe duda de que el griego era la lengua franca del tiempo, pero además de ella, ellos podían comunicarse en la lengua del pueblo de la gran palestina, el arameo. Sabían hablar y leer el lenguaje de la sinagoga, el hebreo. De la misma forma, en el AT encontramos grandes ejemplos de hombres y mujeres usados por Dios por su habilidad de comunicarse en varios idiomas (Moisés, José, Daniel, etc.). De acuerdo con muchos historiadores, Jesús mismo hablaba varios idiomas. ¡No hay sorpresa en esto! El es la palabra de Dios que comunica esa palabra dentro de contextos humanos, sociales, y lingüísticos específicos. (Juan 1:14-18).
Por otro lado, hace muchos años cuando llegué al seminario, me enseñaron que era necesario que yo estudiara el griego, el hebreo y el arameo para poder entender mejor los escritos bíblicos. Nadie ponía o pone en duda, creo yo, que hacerlo es necesario a fin de que no dependamos solamente de lo que otros han traducido. Algunos, sin embargo, aun haciendo todo este trabajo, terminan distorsionando el mensaje bíblico al estar satisfechos con que se haga una traducción mediocre o descuidada de su enseñanza. Hace apenas unos días alguien me pasó un librito de evangelismo que estaba siendo traducido al español, me bastó leer un par de párrafos iniciales para darme cuenta de que ¡no hacía sentido! ¡Y cuando les pregunté por qué no esperábamos a corregirlo, me contestaron que había prisa pues lo tenían que entregar en sólo unos días! ¡Si comunicaba mal o no comunicaba parecía no ser importante!
Dice don Samuel Escobar que la gran bendición de la revelación bíblica es que sea traducible y que eso significa, por un lado, que todo lenguaje humano ha sido dignificado y desacralizado al mismo tiempo (The New Global Mission, IVP 2013, p.12). Ningún lenguaje es más sagrado que otro y todos los lenguajes deben tratarse con el mismo respeto, especialmente cuando comunicamos el evangelio.
Existe algo que google o cualquier otro traductor mecánico le sería muy difícil, si no imposible, corregir. Esto es la sensibilidad cultural con la que normalmente un idioma va asociado. La traducción mecánica de modismos, por ejemplo, produce un horrible resultado en la traducción. ¿Cómo puede una traducción a otra cultura traducir lo que significa “meterse en camisa de once varas” en español? El asunto no es sencillo porque no se trata de comunicar sólo el concepto significado sino también la fuerza íntima y familiar que frases como éstas comunican a la mente del oyente, y también a sus sentimientos e identidad. Ayer mismo, un pastor de una iglesia hispana importante en Dallas Fort Worth me compartió cómo algunos de sus predicadores invitados han creído que traducir es solo una cosa de transliterar a la google: “¡No problemo! ““¿Está buena hermana?” ¡Muchos y horrorosos ejemplos para compartir aquí!
¡Y todavía hay algunos que no creen que haya necesidad de buenas traducciones, y no sólo de estas, si no de artículos y libros cristianos escritos en el idioma vernáculo del lector! ¡Todas estas cosas son sumamente necesarias cuando comunicas el evangelio del Señor!
Mucho del retraso y literario y misional de América Latina en los círculos evangélicos se debe, entre otras cosas, a que hemos estado acostumbrados a leer literatura superficial, ¡traducida de otros contextos, y muchas veces mal traducida!
Tratar de leer a Shakespeare en español obviamente es posible. ¡Pero, no es igual a poder leerlo en inglés! Existe un “algo” que se pierde, algo que yo sospecho es “mucho.” Es como creer que no se pierde nada al leer el Quijote en inglés. Lo he leído y parece tan insípido como “papas sin sal.”
Así como les pido a mis estudiantes que aprendan inglés para poder leer obras teológicas y comentarios bíblicos que puedan ayudarlos aun más en su fe evangélica, así invito a aquellos que leen sólo inglés a que aprendan a leer y comunicarse en otro lenguaje, especialmente con el que están en más contacto. Hacerlo amplía nuestros horizontes y nos libera del provincialismo que nos impide ser fieles comunicadores del evangelio.
Quiero alabar a Dios por la oportunidad de poder escribir estas líneas en español y espero que los lectores de “Theological Matters” puedan disfrutar de estos “Asuntos Teológicos” en el lenguaje de Gabriel García Márquez, de Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz y Sallarue. Quiera Dios usar todos los artículos escritos en español de este blog para comunicar mejor el mensaje eterno del evangelio.
Muchas gracias google, pero prefiero aprender el idioma original, prefiero escribir en español… ¿o en inglés?
I remember that some time ago a friend of mine, an excellent scholar in his area, was invited to give certain lectures at the seminary where I used to work in Latin America. Since I was his friend and professor there, I volunteered to help him in the translation of the material he would share and read with the students. Wanting to help me, he had gone ahead and translated all the content of his conference with Google. He wrote to me excited, thinking that he had done me a big favor. It was my first time trying to “re-translate” Google. I struggled with that translation like never before. Between badly elaborated phrases, some dangerously comical ones and many others that did not make any sense at all, after a desperate fight in full frustration, I gave up. I do not even want to imagine what would have happened if that translation had been read as it was!
How much need do we have to really learn other languages! Engines, as sophisticated as they may be, can never replace people, especially in the process of communicating the Gospel. However, it is sad that many of those who are in Christian ministry and who are in contact with other cultures simply do not want to know the language of their neighbors; or simply put, they do not think it is important enough. At the end of the day, there is always Google!
The Scriptures should always be our model for ministry even in this regard. There are enough traces in the New Testament writings, for example, revealing that their authors were polyglots. There is no doubt that Greek was the lingua franca of the time, but in addition to it, they could communicate in the language of the people of the great Palestinian region, Aramaic. They also knew how to read and speak the language of the synagogue, Hebrew. In the same way, in the Old Testament we find great examples of men and women used by God for their ability to communicate in several languages (Moses, Joseph, Daniel, etc.). According to some historians, Jesus Himself was fluent in several languages. No surprise! He is the Word of God that communicates God´s Word within specific human, social and linguistic contexts (John 1:14-18).
Many years ago, when I arrived at the seminary, I was taught that it was necessary for me to study Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic in order to better understand the biblical writings. Nobody doubts, I believe, that doing so is necessary so that we do not depend only on someone else’s translations. Some, however, even doing all this work, end up distorting the biblical message when they are happy with a mediocre or careless translation of their teaching. Just a few days ago, someone handed me a booklet of evangelism that was being translated into Spanish; it was enough for me to read a couple of initial paragraphs to realize that it did not make sense! And when I asked them why we did not wait to correct it, they replied that they were in a hurry–they had to deliver it in just a few days! That the booklet communicated badly or not at all was not important!
Don Samuel Escobar says that the great blessing of biblical revelation is that it is translatable, and that this means all human languages have been dignified and desacralized at the same time (The New Global Mission, IVP 2013, p.12). No language is more sacred than another, and all languages must be treated with the same respect, especially when we communicate the Gospel.
There is something that for Google or for any other mechanical translator would be very difficult, if not impossible, to correct. This is the cultural sensitivity with which a language is normally associated. The mechanical translation of idioms, for example, produces a horrible result in translation. How can another culture understand what it means to “meterse en camisa de once varas” if Google just translates it, “get into an eleven-yard shirt,” from the Spanish? The issue is a complex one, for communicating is more than handing over memorized formulas. Also, it has to do with doing it with intimate and familiar energy that only those phrases are able to convey. In them, the listener finds not only familiar feelings but the identity to which he can relate.
Yesterday, a pastor of a major Hispanic church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area shared with me illustrations of how some of his guest preachers have committed all kinds of mistakes when simply thinking that the issue of translation is just transliteration. “No problemo” “¿Está buena hermana?” Too many, too horrible to share here!
Much of Latin America’s literary and missional incompetence in evangelical circles is due, among other things, to the fact that we have been accustomed to reading superficial literature, translated from other contexts, and often poorly!
Trying to read Shakespeare in Spanish is obviously possible. But it’s not the same as being able to read it in English! There is a “something” that is lost, something I suspect is “a lot.” It is like believing that nothing is lost when reading Don Quixote in English. I’ve read it, and it seems as insipid as potatoes without salt.
I ask my students to learn English in order to read solid theological works and biblical commentaries that can help them even more in their evangelical faith. Most evangelical translations, with few exceptions, are poor translations of superficial works. Most of our good books come from other contexts via Spaniard Roman Catholic translators using an esoteric Spanish and translating works that are ideologically attune with them.
In the same way, I invite those who read only English to learn to read and communicate in another language, especially with the one with which they are in more contact. Doing so expands our horizons and frees us from the provincialism and ethnocentrism that prevent us from being faithful communicators of the Gospel.
I want to praise God for the opportunity to write these lines in Spanish, and I hope that the readers of “Theological Matters” can enjoy these “Asuntos Teológicos” in the language of Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz and Sallarue. May God use all the articles written in Spanish on this blog to better communicate the eternal message of the Gospel.
Muchas gracias, Google, but I´d rather learn English… ¿o Español?
“Pray ye for the peace and increase of the church, they shall prosper that love her.”
On October 2, 1792, fourteen Baptist ministers gathered in the home of Martha Wallis and committed their lives and resources to spreading the gospel among the unreached people of the world. It was a small beginning that, in the eyes of those present, could hardly have foretold the wide-ranging impact their fellowship would have. A year later, the Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen sent out their first missionary — their dear friend, fellow pastor and founding member, William Carey.Carey was the spark
At a gathering of ministers in 1791, Carey had disputed the prevailing idea that only a Pentecost-like outpouring of the Holy Spirit could usher in the salvation of the unreached peoples of the world. In May of 1792, Carey powerfully argued that the clear teaching of the New Testament was that Christ had accomplished everything necessary for the ingathering of the nations — and that Christians, therefore, ought to “expect great things from God” and “attempt great things for God.”
The gathered ministers were overwhelmed by the strength of his argument, as Carey’s close friend, John Ryland Jr., wrote, “so clearly did he prove the criminality of our supineness in the cause of God.” The ministers immediately agreed to meet again in October to form a society dedicated to such an effort. These shared convictions were clearly displayed in the letter sent by the Society to fellow Baptists at the end of 1792:
Do we, indeed, believe the gospel? Do we receive it in reality not as the word of man, but of God? Do we admit into our minds the representations therein given of the state of man? Have we experienced the remedy in any measure, and can we be willing this remedy for perishing souls should remain so very much unknown to the greater part of the world? Or rather, if we have experienced its healing influence, shall we not be concerned that this gospel, with all its treasures and consolations, should be universally known?Intelligence was the fuel
The rapid expansion of global trade in the eighteenth century coupled with the publication of popular travel journals like those of James Cook, provided new intelligence about the progress of the gospel among foreign cultures. Carey began keeping a detailed account of global population and the state of churches in foreign lands—notes which he used to inspire his fellow ministers to form a society dedicated to global missions.
The Society understood that they were neither the first nor the only Protestants to care about global evangelism. Their letter recognized the remarkable work God seemed to be doing among the nations in their own day—Danish missionaries in the East Indies, the Dutch in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Presbyterian ministers like John Brainerd building on the legacy of John Eliot among Native Americans in the United States, the Moravians in remote Greenland and Labrador, the Wesleyans in the Caribbean and West Indies, and Baptist African-American George Liele’s work in Jamaica. In fact, it was “the success of our worthy brethren, who have thus hazarded their lives for the sake of the Lord Jesus,” the Society wrote, that “may serve at once as a reproof to our indolence.” Thus, they concluded, “Let, then, every Christian who loves the gospel and to whom the souls of men are dear come forward in this noble cause.”Prayer catalyzed and sustained the vision
But it was prayer, not evangelistic zeal or humanistic pity, that prepared the ground and fanned the cause into flame.
Some years earlier, in 1784, Ryland had received a package from a Scottish pastor containing New England Congregationalist Jonathan Edwards’s An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer. Edwards had published the Attempt nearly four decades earlier, urging congregations in the British Empire to engage in monthly concerted prayer for worldwide revival. Ryland eagerly shared the pamphlet among fellow pastors with the result that Baptist churches across Northamptonshire began meeting on the first Monday of every month to pray for revival at home and “the spread of the gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe.” The effect among the churches was astonishing. By the following year, the pattern of monthly prayer meetings was well established. Soon churches throughout England began to take part.
And it was at one of these prayer meetings in 1784, as believers earnestly sought the face of God for the salvation of the lost, that William Carey was first arrested by the gospel’s urgent call. “As to the immediate origin of a Baptist mission,” Ryland later wrote, “I believe God himself infused into the mind of Carey that solicitude for the salvation of the heathen, which cannot fairly be traced to any other source.”Pray Ye for the Increase
Just as it was with the earliest church (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:31), prayer was the catalyst in the eighteenth century for an evangelical missionary movement which reached more people with the gospel than all previous centuries, combined. Might God be pleased to bring about another bold, missionary effort in our own day? Let us heed the Baptist Missionary Society’s 1792 exhortation:
Many Christian societies have, for some years back, united in extraordinary prayer for the enlargement of the Redeemer’s kingdom—and may not this be considered as a certain harbinger of success? Let us persist and we shall prevail. Pray ye for the peace and increase of the church, they shall prosper that love her. Ye that mention the name of the Lord keep not silence yourselves, nor let him rest in silence, until he establish and until he render Jerusalem a praise in the earth.