Ideally, churches and seminaries work together in a mutually beneficial way. Like minded churches start a seminary. In turn they send their ministers to that seminary so that their future pastors receive rigorous theological education. When this relationship works, churches thrive. But when a schism cuts between a seminary and its churches, the churches wither.
This unfortunately happened in the 1960s when liberal theology cut a schism between the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and the Southern Baptist Convention. While the convention stayed its conservative course, its flagship seminary drowned in Liberalism. SBTS had abandoned its confessional roots, which date back to its founding in 1859. This meant that it had also shirked its ties to the churches who founded and supported SBTS.
During this liberal domination of SBTS, teachers disavowed the bodily resurrection of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, and other key tenets of the faith. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, anecdotally remembers that there was a vivid opposition against the Gospel at Southern.
However, an opportunity arose to reverse the seminary’s course. In 1993 Roy L. Honeycutt retired from his presidency of the seminary. This gave the board of trustees a chance to choose a new president, who could steer the seminary back to its confessional roots. The board all agreed that Albert Mohler was just the man for the job.
This new and young president declared war against the seminary’s liberal theology, teachers and students. He did so by upholding the Seminary’s original confessional statement called the Abstract of Principles.
This all came to a head in 1995 when Dr. Mohler pressed the issue. He required all professors to sign with good conscience the Abstract of Principles. By doing so, he both returned the school to its biblical convictions and ousted liberal faculty members who could not sign it.
The opposition was furious. Dr. Mohler even recounted a time when a student spit on him out of disgust. But the trustees believed in Mohler and his vision for the seminary. Eventually, Mohler’s grit paid off. Liberal students graduated and left, while liberal faculty moved on to browner pastures. (I’d summarize how the battle went down, but the video at the bottom of the post does a way better job!)
Over the past twenty years, Albert Mohler has continued to lead the SBTS. SBTS used be known for denying the resurrection and disavowing the inerrancy of Scripture. Now, SBTS is known for its passion for the glory of God and its concern to edify the local church.
Actually, beginning in the spring of 2014, I will pursue my Ph.D at Southern Seminary. I do so with confidence, because I know where Southern has come from, gone to, and returned again.
I have purposely left many details of the story of Mohler’s battle with the liberal faculty at Southern, because SBTS released a video chronicling just that. Check it out. You won’t be sorry.