The Internet Monk
A Webjournal edited by Michael Spencer
And There's More Where That Came From
Why Liberal Kentucky Baptists Think Four Seminaries Aren't Enough
by Michael Spencer
OK, a few facts and a little history. Southern Baptist liberals call themselves moderates. I suppose many of them are moderate liberals, as compared to liberals in the mainline denominations who are praying to Sophia and Christia, but they are liberals nonetheless. I know because I once was once encamped among them, and when you get down to issues and specifics, they are standing on the liberal side of the room.
Over the last twenty plus years, Southern Baptists have experienced a resurgence of conservative control of the denomination. It's unprecedented in American history for conservatives to regain control of a denomination once they had lost it. So liberal Southern Baptists have suffered through the loss of control of the denomination's agencies and seminaries. It's been painful and messy, but necessary. When I attended Southern Seminary in the early 80's, I had some good teachers, but I also had to wade through universalism, ridicule of the pro-life position, modernist theology, the denigration of Biblical authority, feminist Biblical interpretation, higher criticism, the denial of eternal punishment, the social gospel, the tyranny of psychology, political liberalism, endorsement of homosexuality and the whole mess.
How bad was it? Francis Schaefer came to campus, and they wouldn't let him speak in chapel. He had a brown bag meeting with the few students who were interested. It was bad. Really bad. So when conservatives took over, they insisted professors actually believe the school's confession of faith when they signed it, they sold the school of social work, said good bye to a bus full of liberal professors, started a school of missions and evangelism and put historic orthodoxy back at the center of the program. For this, Al Mohler has been threatened with several acts of violence by homosexual students and vilified in the liberal Baptist press as a disease. This from the champions of tolerance.
Now liberals are striking back. They are starting their own seminary in Kentucky. It opens this fall in a church in Lexington. This isn't surprising, as liberal Southern Baptists have started schools around the country in an attempt to direct students and financial resources to their cause and away from the large denominational seminaries controlled by those mean conservatives. Only one of these schools has gained moderately significant numbers, and the denomination's seminaries have prospered numerically and financially. Could it be, that Southern Baptists don't want to be rescued from their conservatism?
Kentucky Baptists need another seminary like I need another donut. In addition to Southern, there are Louisville Presbyterian, Lexington Theological Seminary and (for those Baptists with a fear of Calvinism) Asbury Theological Seminary, one of the great schools in the country. What does the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky intend to offer that these don't offer? Not much- unless you are a liberal Southern Baptist who wants to hear your favorite songs played frequently. Those songs include: The Bible must take second place to our idea of Jesus in the scheme of revelation; priesthood of the believer means no confessions, no creeds, no statements of faith for institutions; absolutely separation of religion and government; avoidance of all things "fundamentalist"; the freedom of the local church to do whatever it wants and still remain in cooperative fellowship with other Baptists, feminism, etc. Is it really necessary to start a new school to preserve these "Baptist Distinctives?" Given that 99% of a good seminary education is now available at the other schools, why drive all those financial resources your way just so you can learn to lead hymns in a "moderate Baptist style?"
A particular irony to me is that conservatives in Kentucky didn't start a new seminary during the wilderness years at Southern. When conservative pastor Adrian Rogers started a seminary in Memphis we didn't go down there to school. We went to Southern and put up with it. (I know- I did it!) And frankly, though a good bit of my time was wasted, I do not regret that journey, and the interaction with liberals was beneficial for me in becoming a conservative. So what is the problem with my moderate brethren? Are conservatism and Calvinism so terrible that any risk of exposure is potentially lethal? I once witnessed Professor Lewis Drummond heckled by liberal students in an evangelism class. I will predict that Southern is a better school than that today.
No one likes to lose, and liberals lost the battle for the SBC. They lost it at the grass roots. The liberal wing of the SBC represents at best 15% of the denomination. Jimmy Carter and crew are not typical Southern Baptists, and building a seminary in the image of that 15% is not a reflection of the real world, but a reflection of what liberals desperately want: Women pastors, absolutely no confessionalism, a downgrading of Biblical truthfulness and authority, liberal politics and an eventual accommodation of homosexual marriage and ordination. Yeah, sooner or later, that will be the show, no matter what the program says.
When you have lost, rebuilding is good work. But in a great denomination like the SBC, the work of rebuilding always starts in the churches. Liberals know the churches aren't in their corner, so they are back to what worked before: training liberal pastors in their own seminary to go into churches and change things from the top. Liberalism is always a top-down program, and the establishment of an unneeded seminary in Kentucky is an example of that subversive strategy. I doubt if conservatives will have much to say about it, and that is just as well. The quality of the pastors turned out by Southern and the other conservative SBC seminaries will make the case for historic orthodoxy. Meanwhile, the whining of SBC liberals will sound like the kid who didn't make the team so he had daddy buy him his own ballpark. Nice ballpark, but even with his nice new uniform and his friends in stands, you still know he's a crybaby.