Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mea Culpa: The Heart Confession of a Systematic Theologian

Norm Miller, the highly capable and effective editor of SBC Today, asked me to share with you the process by which I came to write the piece entitled, “The Evangelistic Seminary” (published here, herehere, and here; mentioned at the Southern Baptist Convention and in Baptist Press here) and some subsequent reflections. Perhaps a rehearsal of my own past, a confession of this particular systematic theologian's heart, will be helpful in delineating the logic behind that essay.
A Responsible Faith
            First, the distant past. I was led to salvation in Christ Jesus through the evangelistic preaching and teaching of a traditional Southern Baptist church in Louisiana. After being born again through faith in Jesus, and a short time in financial services as an adult, the Lord called me into full-time Christian service as a teacher and preacher. I have always understood that the calling to be a preacher of the Word of God was the greater privilege, while that of the teacher was to serve the task of preaching.
            Providentially, God gave me preachers like Wayne L. DuBose to shepherd me. Brother Wayne had and still retains a passion for God's Word and the application of that Word to the human soul. His desire to see the lost won to Christ and the saved grow deeper in commitment to the Lord is matched only by the incredible integrity with which Brother Wayne has always conducted his ministry. Next, God led me, providentially, to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where such teachers as James Leo Garrett, Jr., and Roy J. Fish also filled my heart and mind with God’s Word and a passion for lost souls.
            Part of the faith I received was that God freely gives salvation to sinners through faith in His Son. Another part of the faith I received was that this gift entails a responsibility for a surrendered life to God in Christ as led by the Spirit through His Word. Through the careful reading and preaching of the Bible, it continues to be my conviction that while salvation is a work of divine grace, it compels a human response. And this is what we must expect and encourage of ourselves and others as we preach the gospel.
            Part of our faith response is found in the immediate reception of salvation, but the Spirit also opens our minds to the lifelong vocation that God has placed upon each of our lives. We are called to respond in faith to the preaching of the divine writ, and we are called to respond in faithful living to the particular application of His will to our lives. I have taken the exemplary lives of my mentors and followed them therein to the best of my ability. One of the things I learned through these preachers and teachers is that while the movement of the Spirit through the biblical text is palpable in the instrumental work of biblical proclamation, there are also times when that proclamation may be written, so as to remind future generations of the Spirit's movement in the past and the hope of perhaps similar movements of grace in the future.
A Seminary's Legacy
            Second, the intermediate past. Over the past several years, I have watched and been amazed at the work that God has done and is doing in and through Southwestern Seminary. To join the faculty of my alma mater has been the career highlight of my Christian life. This has afforded opportunity to reflect upon the direction of our beloved seminary both historically and contemporaneously. The parallels that I have sensed between Southwestern past and Southwestern present began to coalesce around the time of our centennial celebrations. Those parallels have been subsequently reinforced in so many ways.
            Conversations with retired faculty such as James Leo Garrett, Jr., Roy J. Fish, Malcolm McDow, and Jack Terry, who retained their love for the seminary; collaborations with scholars such as Thomas White, Jason Duesing, and Madison Grace in researching the history of our fine institution; observations of fellow faculty members such as David Allen, Keith Eitel, and Matt Queen, who have embodied and exemplified the proclamatory, evangelistic, and missionary ethos of our school; and most importantly, the uncanny resemblances between the biblical, evangelistic, and Baptist passions of the first two presidents when placed alongside our current leader, Paige Patterson—these have fed into a growing sense that while the names had changed on the doors at Southwestern Seminary, the nature of the institution remains the same.
A Heresy of the Heart
            Third, our denomination's immediate past. Because of the necessary refocusing of our Southern Baptist seminaries on doctrinal orthodoxy during and after the Conservative Resurgence, we have become a convention concerned with doctrines. This is a good thing, and one that I began to advocate even back when I was a pastor active in local, state, and national Southern Baptist meetings. It is also a focus that I have personally benefitted from as a systematic theologian at one of our leading seminaries. In light of my role as a systematic theologian—a thinker who lives and breathes to engage with Scripture, historical exegesis, and contemporary concerns—what I will say next may seem counterintuitive. However, it must be said, and I hope it is well received.
            Our focus on doctrinal orthodoxy becomes unhealthy the moment it begins to detract from the primary task of actually proclaiming the gospel. While theology is important, even fundamental to the Christian task, it is, nevertheless, a third-order activity. The tertiary activity of theological reflection follows upon the primary Christian activities of worship and witness. Theology functions as a servant to worship and witness, providing a necessary critique of those activities according to the standard of Scripture. And when theology leaves its service role behind to demand primary attention, it has risen above its station and grasped for a glory that it may not possess.
            When Southwestern Seminary was recently queried regarding its overarching concern for evangelizing the lost, I really wanted to ignore it. I was and am very tired after years without a break, capped off with an especially grueling teaching year; the semester was ending and the grades were due; Masters-level students required last minute details and Doctoral-level students required guidance into the summer; preparations for the Oxford program demanded my administrative attention; and, personally, I just wanted to finish all of that and go home and sleep for a few days, then begin to write what I had long delayed. However, the approach of a beloved mentor on a different matter reminded me of the need to wait upon the Lord, submitting my every moment to Him, and so I did.
            But that mentor's request actually needed to be put on the back burner, because something more critical had arisen. The critical issue that came to my mind was not about the presence of one PhD student in our archaeology program, nor was it about the policies of the seminary. The critical issue that came to my mind, and stays there, is that we Southern Baptists have allowed ourselves to be subtly side-tracked from remembering what the main thing is regarding our theological institutions. The main thing for the churches is worship and witness, and the seminaries were founded to serve the churches in fulfilling their Christ-given commission.
            The seminaries' primary mission is not the teaching of archaeology, nor is it philosophy, history, languages, commentary, nor theology, music, educational theory. And yet, each of those things may be and often are helpful in meeting the primary mission. The Southern Baptist seminaries' primary mission is not the formation of academic teachers, nor is it the production of cultural commentators and book editors. And yet, each of those people may be helpful in fulfilling what is primary. Our primary mission is the formation of Christian ministers to serve the churches so that the churches may faithfully proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.
            Our primary mission, moreover, must be driven through our primary passion. When our passion becomes cultural commentary, political activism, or academic excellence, we seminarians have made a major mistake. When the subsidiary, the secondary, the tertiary replace the primary in the place where it really matters, in our hearts, we have a problem. When the cravings for doctrinal definition and cultural conflict supplant the passion for biblical proclamation through preaching, evangelism, and missions, then we have embraced a heresy of the heart.
            Do not misread me—remember, this is a systematic theologian writing this. I am not arguing for the acceptance of heresy or error. I despise heresy and lament error. Remember who this is—Malcolm Yarnell has been, and hopefully will remain throughout his life, a fervent advocate of a Christian orthodoxy that is evangelical and Baptist to the core. Rather, I am arguing about subtle and sometimes deceptive relations between the head and the heart. I am arguing that human doctrine must serve the proclamation of the Word of God and not rule over it. Dogmatics has a necessary role in reflecting upon our proclamation, with Scripture as the norm, in order to aid preachers, evangelists, and missionaries in their primary task of proclamation. But dogmatics is not what preachers, evangelists, and missionaries should be preaching. The gospel of Jesus Christ—the incarnate Son of God who became a man, died on the cross, and arose from the dead, so that whosoever will believe may be saved, and the heartfelt desire for all to hear and believe—yes, that gospel! That is what we should be preaching!
            When preachers, evangelists, and missionaries lose the imagination of the people and systematic theologians, philosophers, and culture warriors rise up to become their exemplars instead, we may have a heart problem. When a seminary president is questioned, even attacked, regarding his overarching passion to win people to Christ, we have a heart problem. And when a systematic theologian like this author, who knows better and whose entire life has been providentially guided to remind him that the ministry of the Word is primary—when that systematic theologian has allowed secondary reflection on proclamation to replace the primacy of proclamation through public sermon and private counsel, we have a heart problem. Southern Baptists, we have a heart problem.
            As a result of this concern for our mission and our passion about it, one evening I brought some essays by Southwestern’s heroes home and read them carefully. As I read their powerful thoughts, my heart was lifted up to remember who we are as teachers of preachers, and my heart was brought low by the realization that too many of us, including me, have been forgetting who we are. The next morning, I was led in conscience to the office very early, and I stayed incommunicado therein for eight hours without even the basics of life. The flesh cried out for sustenance, but there was a palpable sense of God-given direction that this cannot be delayed—here are the books you need and there is the idea that needs to be elucidated. By 3:00 that afternoon, the work was done. I daresay that I have never written anything that required so few self-corrections.
            What I rediscovered for myself that evening and day was that most of us theologians, especially among the academics but also among the pastoral theologians, have walked away from the older Southern Baptist view of the seminary's purpose. We have forgotten how our fathers treated and even spoke of the seminary as a military bunker for training soldiers to engage in spiritual warfare through biblical proclamation. We have forgotten our fathers' purpose for the seminaries and have convinced ourselves that the seminary is an ivory tower intended primarily to defend orthodox Christianity against the encroachment of a depraved culture.
            We have traded a view of the seminary as an offensive organization for a defensive view of the purpose of the seminary. In our hearts, we have made our educational institutions, both colleges and seminaries, an increasingly remote fortified tower on a hill rather than a light set on a hill that is constantly finding ways to help the churches shine light into the culture. We have transitioned the seminaries, in our attitudes regarding their purpose, from being exemplars of evangelistic outreach to being havens from the harrowing of heresy. Yes, the exposure of heresy and error in home, church, and culture is part of our role, but it is not the purpose of our existence.
            Again, theology serves proclamation. There is a reason that W.T. Conner, the systematic theologian, receives third place in any proper historiography of Southwestern Seminary. The systematic theologian rightly has a place of honor alongside the preacher and the evangelist, but problems arise when the philosophical commentator upon God and culture overtakes and supplants the place of the pastor and the missionary. The theologian Conner is third; the preacher Carroll and the evangelist Scarborough are first.
            It apparently takes the example of a president like Paige Patterson, who is as adept as any sophisticated systematic theologian yet who has the heart of a country evangelist and the legacy of a preaching pastor, to remind us that the Great Commission ought to remain our passion. Why are Patterson's moves in this regard controversial? Not because he is wrong in wanting the seminary to be a shining city set on a hill, but because most of the rest of us have forgotten what Patterson has, by divine grace, remembered.
A Confession
            Fourth, the present. When I was a pastor responsible to proclaim the divine writ, there were moments in the life of a church that prompted a real spiritual struggle. Those moments have continued into my ministry as a theologian in the employ of the churches through Southwestern Seminary. On the one hand, I am speaking of the spiritual struggles that occur within a preacher or teacher. These internal conflicts of the heart are very real and very necessary. I have been intimating to you my own struggles. On the other hand, the greater vocational purpose for the preacher concerns his utility as a divine instrument of spiritual growth, which ought to grow out of his own experience as the object of divine grace.
            I am speaking, latterly, of that sense that God has led you to see that this moment in the life of the congregation demands this sermon from His Word be directed gently but unfailingly to address that crisis. These are typically not immediate crises, but long-term communal crises that have reached a watershed and now demand the preacher to surrender His every thought, every word, every desire to the direction of the Holy Spirit as He illumines the Word through this preacher, who remains His unworthy instrument. Such events in my own experience include the peaceful understanding of being compelled by the Spirit, along with the knowledge that there is a God-given rebuke of the adversary, and the draining of every last vestige of strength from the preacher’s personal being. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, there are times that the preacher or teacher must simply hold on to God and be thrown about like a rag doll, learning to surrender to the divine will, learning to respond faithfully to the God who is living, loving, guiding, and using the unworthy instrument before Him. And God provides a message from His Word through His servant. After such an event, there is elation (God has deigned to speak to me and through me!), awe (I have survived an encounter with the almighty and holy God!), and pain (What He has shown me demands change not only in our people but in me!). There is also the interesting phenomenon that such an encounter can lead me to be exhausted physically.
            But the greatest sense of exhaustion is not physical—it is spiritual. It is the knowledge that, while you know that this is the ideal for the preacher and teacher of God's Word, you have not always met that ideal. And this is where Norm's request is really bothersome to me, personally, for now I must confess. Mea culpa: this is my problem. Yes, I am a systematic theologian in my passion, which is not bad, but I ought to be even more passionate about going with the Lord Jesus Christ (and L. Rutland Scarborough and L. Paige Patterson) after the lost. Being a systematic theologian is a good and necessary thing, but being a preacher, evangelist, and missionary is the better part. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, repeating His words to the lost around me—this is the better part.

            Oh, Lord, forgive me! I am a systematic theologian with misdirected passion, and in this way an unclean heart, and I live amongst a group of seminaries with professors and administrators with unclean hearts. Send your messenger with your coal to cleanse our lips and make us worthy to speak your Word to the lost and dying sinners of this world. Grant us not the idea that proclamation is our secondary role but grant us an eager knowledge that proclamation is our primary role. Lord, help our seminaries and colleges not only to be intentionally biblical and Baptist, and evangelical, all of which we claim, but help us to be evangelistic, too. Perhaps, then, when our hearts are right, we theologians may help the churches and their beloved pastors, our beloved pastors, properly see that all of us need to be more committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

(Originally published at SBC Today, 12 June 2014)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Evangelistic Seminary

 And he said unto them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Matthew 4:19

            Christianity is perhaps best described as a twofold following after the Lord Jesus Christ. On the one hand, Jesus' first and foremost rallying cry was, "Come, follow me!" On the other hand, our Lord taught His disciples to extend that call to the world. Likewise, expressing the theme of both the Lord's premiere sermon (Mark 1:14-15 and parallels) and His final sermon, now known as the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20), the final chapter in the New Testament tells us that the Spirit and the church must entreat, "Come and drink freely of the water of life!" (Rev 22:17). From beginning to end, there is a twofold determination in the heart of the New Testament that ought not be quenched: it includes, first, a desire to follow Christ; it includes, second, a necessarily correlative passion to call other people to follow Christ.
            In establishing His roving school of wannabe theologians, Jesus called the disciples to quit their prior vocation of fishing for fish and to learn, instead, to fish for human beings. The first Christian seminary, the seminary of the Apostles, presided over by Jesus Christ, was thus dedicated to evangelism. And, oh, some of those disciples were not at first what they would become when Christ had completely ushered them through His curriculum. This was a motley student body: their leader, appointed by the Lord Himself, was an ill-educated, impetuous loudmouth who went on to deny his Lord in His hour of greatest human need; another was committed to armed rebellion, though his Master identified a different way; yet a third, a betrayer, was providentially allowed by Christ to enroll. When you can see inside and properly evaluate each human heart, as the Lord can, yet you still allow such students to enroll, perhaps you are seeing not who people currently are, but who they may become through the preaching and teaching of His Word.
            The Seminary of the Apostles was an evangelistic seminary that was itself the subject of the Lord's evangelism. That a seminary should be evangelistic, primarily outwardly but also inwardly, is a fact that was not lost upon the founders of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; it is a fact that is still evident in the president and faculty of Southwestern Seminary; and it is a fact that must challenge any seminary that dares to claim that it follows the Lord's commandments and example. That a seminary, literally a "seedbed," should include seed bearers whose broadcast of the Word would yield a worldwide harvest was part of the Lord's plan. That a seminary might include the odd student who was not committed to the Lord's ways was also apparently part of the Lord's plan.
            Please allow me a moment of your time to explain why and how Southwestern Seminary became and remains, shall we say, "The Evangelistic Seminary."

1. Southwestern Seminary Was Founded with an Evangelistic Purpose

            When Texas Baptists began their cooperative pilgrimage, the first problem they faced was a controversy over missions and evangelism. The missionary Baptists who formed the Union Association in 1840 were opposed on the one side by the Predestinarian Baptists under Daniel Parker and on the other side by Arminian Campbellite-influenced Baptists under T.W. Cox. Both of these extremes opposed "the promissionary, proeducation, and proeffort leaders" among the eventually victorious traditional Baptists.[1] When the founding president of Southwestern Seminary, the esteemed Benajah Harvey Carroll, began to promote the idea of a Texas institution entirely dedicated to theological education, he emphasized the intended result as first the "stimulation" of "evangelism," followed by missions, then the harmony of the churches.[2] During the 1906 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Carroll successfully proposed a new policy for the Home Mission Board, crying out, "Brethren, give me evangelists."[3]
            Soon after, before the Texas state convention, Carroll famously proposed, "There is great need to create and endow a chair of evangelism." His argument was based on the fact that this was "the mind and spirit of Jesus." According to Carroll, Jesus Christ's "school of the prophets was intensely practical. The wisdom he inculcated was the winning of souls."[4] This chair of evangelism, the first chair that Carroll wanted to be endowed,[5] and the first such chair in the United States, became known as the "Chair of Fire," and its first occupant was also Carroll's chosen successor as president of the seminary, Lee Rutland Scarborough. Indeed, Carroll was so passionate about evangelism that when he discovered that faculty leaders sought to diminish evangelism as a requirement and turn the school in a primarily academic direction, he summarily fired two of the very men he had hired.[6] Robert A. Baker noted that Carroll's godly character was so impressive that other leaders simply accepted such decisions as Carroll directed.[7]

2. Education Without Evangelism Is a Betrayal of Our Calling

            Carroll's decisive leadership in an evangelistic direction was furthered with the choice of the next president, L.R. Scarborough. Scarborough's foundational influence was as great upon Southwestern Seminary, if not greater, prompting the faculty to refer to him with reverence as their seminary's "father" and with fondness as their "brother." They also characterized Scarborough as "a flaming evangelist and a compassionate soul-winner."[8] This was, of course, part of Carroll's plan. He had written Scarborough to leave the pastorate and come to the seminary when it was first founded; he had appointed Scarborough to lead the committee that built the Fort Worth campus; and, after firing the errant faculty, he had requested the trustees to appoint Scarborough as his assistant. He had also given a discipleship-oriented deathbed commission to Scarborough to "keep the Seminary lashed to the cross," according to W.W. Barnes, the church historian who witnessed this event.[9] For Carroll, Scarborough was his necessary successor.
            When Scarborough took the reins of Southwestern's presidency, he delivered a masterful inaugural address entitled, "The Primal Test of Theological Education." In that address, delivered in May 1915, he declared, "Christian education in all lands finds its earliest motive and supreme passion in a desire to train men to be efficient preachers of the gospel."[10] By "efficient," Scarborough meant that Baptists need, more than anything, men who will make the winning of the lost the goal of their greatest and most effective efforts. And by "supreme passion," Scarborough meant that Baptist preachers must be fervent soul winners, in the public pulpit and in private conversations.
            Scarborough offered five marks for the type of preacher that Southwestern must generate, including character, spirituality, scholarship, doctrinal conviction, and denominational sympathy and co-operation. It is in his comments on the second mark that he becomes most pointed. By "spirituality," Scarborough did not mean some type of inward, quietist devotionalism. No, by "spirituality," he meant a white-hot passion for souls. For a minister to be truly "spiritual," he must be "evangelistic." Anything less is a false ministerial spirituality. Listen to Scarborough:
 Too many of our evangelists are unlearned, and too many of our scholars are unevangelistic. We will never win the world by the evangelists alone. We must train a strong group of scholarly pastors, who will go into the church with the soul-winning spirit and power and build evangelistic churches, and from them as centers win the regions round about. A seminary should not put a premium on ministerial stiffness, dryness, and starchiness, and turn out stilted clergymen. An unspiritual, unevangelistic ministry will never be an efficient ministry. The soul-winning spirit and compassion for lost men in our seminaries will enlarge their popularity and favor with the people, contribute to their spiritual life, keep them in vital touch with God and with the unseen realities of religion, and thus preserve our teachers and students from theological drift in doctrines and life, keep them close to the common suffering heart of a lost and ruined world, turn their energies constantly out of the uplifting movements among men, build in them the constructive spirit of missions, and thus make them power-plants, pulsating with the life of God. The final test of a preacher's efficiency is not found in what he knows about the deep things of God's Word, but in what he does with what he knows in bringing in Christ's kingdom among men.[11]
            There are so many passages in Scarborough's works that ring with such power. Was he interested in proper theology? Absolutely, and to read his declarations about orthodox dogma will encourage the heart of every biblicist. But even more, this "father" of Southwestern Seminary was interested in theology being demonstrated in the winning of the lost. For any Christian to refuse to go "with Christ after the lost" is unthinkable. Moreover, the "spiritual life and atmosphere of Christian schools should be kept distinctly and continuously evangelistic."[12] The profoundly appreciated Roy J. Fish summarized Scarborough's legacy, noting that our seminary's father held the line against the social gospel that was so prevalent in his day; that he was "passionate" about the lost; that he started the whole movement toward state evangelism conferences through the first such meeting in Cowden Hall on Southwestern's campus in 1936; that he defined the church as "a group of baptized believers going with Christ after the lost"; that he described personal evangelism as a "fine art," "the finest of fine arts." In summary, "One cannot understand L.R. Scarborough without seeing him primarily as a person of great passion for people who are lost. He not only preached it but he lived it."[13]

3. We Assume Lost People Are in Our Classrooms

            Southwestern Seminary has a legacy of winning lost people to Christ in the classroom. When B.H. Carroll was a young man, he first confessed Christ, but he soon denied our Lord and asked to be removed from his church's membership. He was "an avowed infidel" when he sought entrance to Baylor, but was nevertheless admitted by its president, Rufus C. Burleson, on the basis of Carroll's obvious intellectual attainments and debating skills.[14] Years later, after several crises, upon hearing an evangelistic sermon he went down the aisle to the front of a church, "casting myself unreservedly and for all time at Christ's feet, and in a moment the rest came, indescribable and unspeakable, and it has remained from that day until now."[15] He was subsequently baptized at the hands of W.W. "Spurgeon" Harris, a former Baylor schoolmate. Six years earlier, Harris had been an eloquent opponent of the infidel whom he was now baptizing. That infidel admitted by Burleson into Baylor would become the founder of Southwestern Seminary.
            Another young man was admitted into Baylor, this time in 1888, and he was not a baptized believer. His father sent him to the school with the understanding that the young man would attend all of Carroll's sermons at the First Baptist Church of Waco and send his father a summary. That young man's letters to his father started short but eventually reached sometimes fifty pages in length as he absorbed Carroll's preaching. That young man was baptized at the hands of B.H. Carroll during his first year as a student at Baylor. That young man would later go on to win thousands of people to Christ as a pastor. That young man would then receive letters from Carroll begging him to hear God's call to take up the chair of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That young man was Lee Rutland Scarborough, the "father" of Southwestern Seminary.[16]
            One of the surprises that many new faculty at Southwestern Seminary have when they come on board is that Paige Patterson, our current president, regularly proclaims the gospel evangelistically, not only as part of his public sermons outside the seminary and not only as a regular personal soul winner, but also in chapel. Patterson has consistently presented the gospel in his sermons and has issued altar calls and other invitations during the most public gatherings of the seminary, during both Convocation and Commencement.
            Paige Patterson once explained to me that he does not want to waste any opportunity to lead a lost person to salvation. With a gentle but firm spirit, after proclaiming the Word of God, after explaining about human sinfulness, divine wrath, and the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, Patterson will invite any students at Convocation to come forward and receive counseling from professors who are ready and willing to lead them to a sure salvation in Christ. At the Commencement ceremony, which typically has people from all over and from every walk of life, many who may never otherwise hear the gospel, he will invite everybody to bow their heads and lift their hands if they wish to receive Christ. Then he will lead in a sinner's prayer of salvation, appealing to the Word of God externally and to the movement of the Spirit internally. President Patterson assumes that there are lost people at Southwestern Seminary and he issues invitations to all sinners to believe and be saved. And many are.
            I have discovered the same phenomenon in my own classroom. My systematic theology lectures are grounded in hours of consistent biblical exegesis and begin with a detailed and passionate scriptural exposition before proceeding to historical examples and concluding with systematic concerns. As a result of this teaching method, learned in part from my own mentor at Southwestern Seminary, James Leo Garrett, Jr., primary emphasis is placed upon biblical proclamation. Because I preach the Word when I teach systematic theology, students may be convicted, even converted. One day, to my surprise, a student stood in class and thanked me publicly for leading him to be born again during one of our systematic theology lectures. He explained that he could not keep silent. My first thought was not to expel the young man and ask him to reapply to seminary for admission, but to praise the Lord and help this man to complete his degree. That young man, formerly a Presbyterian, is now a successful Baptist pastor of a dynamic and growing large church in Texas. I no longer assume that every person in my classroom is truly born again. Indeed, I hope that some are not, for there is no greater privilege on this planet than being used by God to midwife a rebirth. Professors ought to be preachers, too.
            When I remember the history of Southwestern and how its founders made so much of evangelism, perhaps because school administrators and pastors had made so much of it in their lives, I am emboldened to make more of evangelism in my own life. Indeed, while L.R. Scarborough assumed most of his students would be believers (after all, this is a Southern Baptist seminary), he was under no illusions all his students would be. In his famous work, With Christ After the Lost, he has a chapter devoted to "Educational Evangelism." Therein, he discusses how students in Christian schools should meet together "to pray for their college friends" and thus "they have become burdened for those who are lost." "This burden has caused them to go out under the leadership of the Holy Spirit to witness personally to the lost and to lead them to the Lord."[17]
            In the same chapter, on "Educational Evangelism," he discusses "imperatives for denominational schools." Therein, he argues that the administration and trustees must be responsible to the churches and that the faculty must be faithful Christians and that it is best if they are also faithful to their denomination. What Scarborough never argues is that students themselves must subscribe to the denomination's confession, nor even that they must be Christians.[18] Similarly, when directly addressing the fundamentals of Southwestern Seminary, he again puts the emphasis on the fidelity of the faculty, by subscription, and of the trustees to their Christian and Baptist confession. Again, he does not presume to make such a requirement for students. To the contrary, he states bluntly, "No such requirement is made for students."[19] Why would the father of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary make such a claim? Perhaps Scarborough understood by personal experience that the Christian school itself is a place for lost people to be evangelized and not a disconnected ivory tower for starched shirts. The seminary is a place where evangelism should be practiced by professors and students alike towards everybody they encounter, whether in the school or outside it.

4. Evangelism Suffuses Our Teaching

            Robert Baker writes movingly about how Southwestern Seminary has several ingredients that constitute its spirit. One of those concerns "the nature of a theological seminary." "Carroll, Scarborough, and the faculty did not conceive of Southwestern Seminary as an academic ivory tower in which to retire from the world for study but saw it as a front-line bunker where students participated in the contemporary spiritual battles." And the first example that Baker offered concerned evangelism: "The weekly memorization of many Scripture verses in the evangelism class of L.R. Scarborough was not an academic exercise; it was the loading of the students' weapons for regular use in winning people to Christ, after the example of their teacher."[20] As a student of Scarborough's successor in the Chair of Fire, Roy J. Fish, I can attest that the practice continued into the late twentieth century.
            The second example that Baker offered concerning the evangelistic ethos of Southwestern regards Walter Thomas Conner. In the historical hierarchy of Southwestern Seminary, Conner receives the honor of third place, after Carroll and Scarborough, as indicated in an authoritative collection of essays on the legacy of Southwestern.[21] When Carroll was putting together his plans for the future of the seminary during the seminal years of 1906 through 1908, the founder indicated to the young Conner that he "would be offered the position of teacher of theology in the seminary" if he "would make proper preparation."[22] Conner went on to study with A.H. Strong and Walter Rauschenbusch at Rochester Seminary and E.Y. Mullins at Southern Seminary. He was subsequently appointed as professor of theology at Southwestern in 1910 and retired in 1949. His theology shaped generations of preachers and his influence was profound among Southern Baptists. He declined a professorship at Baylor and the presidency of the Kansas City seminary in order to become the leading theologian at Southwestern Seminary during the first half of the twentieth century. It is said that his "recommendation of young men for the Southwestern faculty was tantamount to their election."[23] Providentially, Conner's student, James Leo Garrett, Jr., became Southwestern's leading theologian during the second half of the twentieth century.
            One of Conner's greatest contributions concerned his understanding of theology as a practical discipline. He argued, "the purpose of theology is to furnish us with a knowledge that is practical in its aim. It is not meant to give us a speculative knowledge that is all-comprehensive and logically complete. It aims rather to give us truth by which we are to live."[24] Through a series of brilliant responses to the acidic trends in his day, Conner concluded thus:
 Properly speaking, Christian theology is the statement of the meaning of the Gospel. A man does not have to have a complete philosophy of the whole universe in order to grasp and state the meaning of the Gospel of Christ. This is not to say that we should not, so far as we can, relate the truth of the Gospel to every other truth. But it is to say that one does need a theology that he can preach. And a theology that is not preachable is not good theology; there is something wrong with it. A good way to test your theology is on a sinner. The Gospel is good news. It is good news because it announces spiritual redemption for the whole world of lost sinners. Theology is the statement of the meaning of this good news in terms that will appeal to the people of our day. This is the thing that makes Christianity a preaching religion. When Christianity ceases to be a preaching religion, you may know that it has lost the passion that grows out of the experience of redemption; that is, it has ceased to be Christianity.[25]
With appreciation, James Leo Garrett, Jr., started his wonderful two-volume systematic theology by summarizing Conner's argument that theology must be evangelistic to be good theology.[26]
            In my own teaching and preaching, I have taken the assertion of Conner and the affirmation of Garrett to heart, both as a pastor and as a professor. (To be honest, I cannot teach without preaching, nor can I preach without teaching, just as I cannot evangelize without preaching, nor can I preach without evangelizing.) At the end of the second semester of the required course in systematic theology at Southwestern Seminary, I require my students to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a lost person. Their job is to be faithful to the Word of God and proclaim it to lost people. During the final examination, they are given an opportunity to reflect theologically on the witnessing event itself. This practice of correlating systematic theology with evangelism has yielded both evangelistic and disciplinary fruit.
            With regard to the first issue, of evangelistic impact, for example, during this last year alone, 146 of my 151 systematic students shared the gospel with a lost person to meet their class requirement. Of those 146 testimonies to Christ, 19 souls were won to profess personal faith in Jesus Christ![27] Nineteen new converts to Jesus from a systematic theology assignment at Southwestern Seminary: I cannot help but get excited about my students having the privilege of leading lost people to an eternal relationship with the living Triune God!
            With regard to the second issue, of personal discipline, the students benefit in profound ways. Some students have sheepishly admitted that their Reformed theology previously stood in the way of their witnessing, but now they were so happy that their systematic theology professor had "forced" them to overcome that. Others have talked about ingenious ways they have brought the gospel into a public classroom, or have been compelled to learn or relearn their Spanish in order to testify better to the growing Hispanic population, or have corrected a heretical teaching about the Trinity, or have led a Hindu to faith in the one true God, or have been led to become a fulltime missionary to Mormons, or have learned that the Holy Spirit is responsible for salvation while we are responsible for speaking the Word, and the list goes on.
            Moreover, systematic theology is not the only discipline that is suffused with evangelism. A New Testament professor, Dr. Terry Wilder, regularly joins Southwestern Seminary's students in order to reach the area around Seminary Hill. When asked why and how he incorporates evangelism into the New Testament course, he writes, "I incorporate evangelism into my discipline largely because (1) God commands us to evangelize/make disciples (Matt 28:19-20; 2 Tim 2:2), and (2) he wants everyone to be saved (2 Pet 3:9)." He accomplishes this goal "primarily by teaching it from biblical texts and by requiring my NT students to share their faith a certain number of times each semester, always being sure not to ask them to do something that I myself am not willing to do or model for them."[28] We have Old Testament, Missions, and Education professors and administrators who are just as adamant about evangelism as our New Testament and Theology professors, and we have not even mentioned the dynamic and vivacious current occupant of the Chair of Fire, Dr. Matthew Queen.
            Similarly, a professor in our Preaching and Pastoral Studies division, Dr. Thomas Kiker, writes, "If we don't train our pastors to be intentional evangelists we will continue to have plateaued and declining churches. The main role of the pastor is to make disciples and equip the saints to make disciples. Evangelism has got to be at the forefront if we are to do what God has called us to do."[29] In a day when our Southern Baptist Convention is forming task forces to examine why baptisms have been in decline, while other task forces seek to dampen arguments over divisive theological speculations, Dr. Kiker's words are especially convicting.
            Finally, Dr. Keith Eitel writes, "Theology without evangelism/missions is like a body without a soul. The one needs the other for human existence in this world. The soul lives on either in heaven or hell. Hence evangelism is the only basis to alter the destiny of anyone who is lost."[30] In a time when our seminary comes under scrutiny for making so much of evangelism, Dr. Wilder's claims about Scripture's demands upon Christians and Dr. Eitel's reminder about the eternal destinies of the human beings who are at stake—these take on even more relevance.

A Final Word

            Evangelism permeates the lives of the presidents, professors, and students of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We exist to help the churches fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. Evangelism is, from a practical theological perspective, our raison d'être. If I may paraphrase W.T. Conner, our seminary's founding theologian, applying his words to the nature of our school, as revealed in its historical and contemporary character, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is "The Evangelistic Seminary," and the day it ceases to be such is the day it ceases to be a Christian seminary. We are fishers of men making fishers of men and may nothing ever stand in the way of that overriding dominical policy.

Malcolm B. Yarnell III
Director, Center for Theological Research
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas
Written on the 487th Anniversary of the Anabaptist
Margarita Sattler's Drowning for Testifying to Christ





[1] Robert A. Baker, Tell the Generations Following: A History of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary 1908-1983 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1983), 33.
[2] Baptist Standard (May 11, 1905), cited in Baker, Tell the Generations Following, 120.
[3] Carroll Papers, File 22, cited in ibid., 125.
[4] Proceedings, BGCT, 1906, cited in ibid., 125-26.
[5] Alan J. Lefever, Fighting the Good Fight: The Life and Work of Benajah Harvey Carroll (Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1994), 101.
[6] Baker, Tell the Generations Following, 166.
[7] Ibid., 168.
[8] Faculty Minutes (May 14, 1942), cited in ibid., 278.
[9] James Spivey, "Benajah Harvey Carroll," in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, ed. Timothy George and David S. Dockery (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 169.
[10] L.R. Scarborough, A Modern School of the Prophets: A History of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, A Project of Christ, A Product of Prayer and Faith, Its First Thirty Years—1907-1937 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1939), 165.
[11] Ibid., 176-77.
[12] Note the title of his most popular work. L.R. Scarborough, With Christ After the Lost: A Search for Souls (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1952), 98.
[13] Roy J. Fish, "Lee Rutland Scarborough, Evangelism," in The Legacy of Southwestern: Writings that Shaped a Tradition, ed. James Leo Garrett, Jr. (North Richland Hills, TX: Smithfield Press, 2002), 24-27.
[14] It is said that Carroll was such a profound debater as a young infidel that he could argue that the Campbellite doctrines were correct and win the debate, then he could turn around and argue the opposite and win again. Baker, Tell the Generations Following, 56-57.
[15] J.B. Cranfill, Sermons and Life Sketch of B.H. Carroll D.D. (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1908), 13-23.
[16] Baker, Tell the Generations Following, 139-40. H.E. Dana provides more detail regarding the drawn out process in Scarborough’s conversion, including his premature baptism, subsequent conversion, and proper baptism. H.E. Dana, Lee Rutland Scarborough: A Life of Service (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1942), 52-57. Cf. L.R. Scarborough, Prepare to Meet God: The Way Made Plain (Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1922), 88-89.
[17] Scarborough, With Christ After the Lost, 98.
[18] Ibid., 97.
[19] Scarborough, A Modern School of the Prophets, 169.
[20] Baker, Tell the Generations Following, 286.
[21] Garrett, "Walter Thomas Conner, Theology," in The Legacy of Southwestern, ch. 3.
[22] Conner, "My Religious Experiences," 12, cited in James Leo Garrett, Jr., "Walter Thomas Conner," in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, 205.
[23] Ibid., 207.
[24] W.T. Conner, "Theology, a Practical Discipline," Review & Expositor 41 (1944): 350.
[25] Ibid., 360.
[26] James Leo Garrett, Jr., Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, 2 vols (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000-2001), 1:8.
[27] These were tallied by my graduate assistant, John Mann. Email, May 9, 2014.
[28] Email, May 21, 2014.
[29] Email, May 21, 2014.
[30] Email, May 22, 2014.