Last year marked the 150th anniversary of James P. Boyce’s landmark address, “Three Changes in Theological Institutions” (July 31, 1856) which preceded the founding of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The first of his changes, perhaps the most significant, was his vision to provide theological education to the masses who otherwise could not attend seminary.  Of the pervading thought of theological education, Boyce wrote, 

The idea, which is prominent as the basis of this action, is that the work of the ministry should be entrusted only to those who have been classically educated–an assumption which singularly enough is made for no other profession. It is in vain to say that such is not the theory or the practice of our denomination. It is the theory and the practice of by far the larger portion of those who have controlled our institutions and have succeeded in engrafting this idea upon them, contrary to the spirit which prevails among the churches. They have done this without doubt in the exercise of their best judgment, but have failed because they neglected the better plan pointed out by the providence and Word of God.

Boyce was right to note that a better plan needed to be forged to broaden the opportunities to those who might not have a classical education.   Later in his address he asks, 

Who is the minister here–the man of the schools or the man of the Scriptures? Who bears the insignia of an ambassador for Christ? Whom does God own? Whom would the church hear? In whose power would she put forth her strength? . . . The qualification God lays down is the only one He permits us to demand, and the instruction of our theological schools must be based upon such a plan as shall afford this amount of education to those who actually constitute the mass of our ministry and who cannot obtain more.

Through the new proposal, Boyce envisioned that “the theological school will meet the wants of a large class of those who now enter the ministry without the advantages of such instruction–a class equally with their more learned associates burning with earnest zeal for the glory of God and deep convictions of the value of immortal souls, one possessed of natural gifts, capable even with limited knowledge of enchaining the attention, affecting the hearts and enlightening the minds of many who surround them.”  The vision Boyce had for Southern Seminary had arrested him to the point where he devoted the rest of his life to making theological education possible for Southern Baptists, of which I am a grateful heir.

Now let’s turn to today.

This morning, Dr. Mohler addressed the administration, faculty, and student body with much of the same report he provided to the Board of Trustees.  I don’t want to bore you with all the statistics I wrote down, but I would like to share a few with you. 

  • Currently, there are 4,156 students enrolled at SBTS making it the largest seminary in the SBC and like the largest in the evangelical world.
  • Of the 4,156 students, there are 1,589 in the School of Theology, 890 in the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Mission and Church Growth, and 1,108 in Boyce College (there are other schools as well).
  • According to the statistics, 1 out of every 4 SBC seminary students are enrolled at SBTS. 
  • And finally, probably the most significant statistic is the peer student fees according to the 2005-2006 ATS Report.  Here’s how the SBTS lines up in yearly student costs compared to other seminaries.

Fuller Theological Seminary – $13,146.00
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School – $12,207.00
Reformed Theological Seminary – $10,907.00
Denver Seminary – $10,650.00
Bethel Seminary – $9,210.00
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary $3,750.00

The closest comparable school is nearly three times the cost to attend Southern (that assuming you are a member of a Southern Baptist Church).  From what I could delineate, the income is divided something like 30% Cooperative Program, roughly 45% student fees, 15% non-CP gifts, 8% endowment, and 2% other. 

The last half of Dr. Mohler’s presentation was an opportunity for students to ask questions directly related to the school.  I began thinking about what all this means, and what, if anything, I could ask worthwhile.  Towards the end of this morning’s session, my mind was turned back 150 years to the vision of our founding president James P. Boyce.

So here’s what I am thinking.

Currently, we are developing the largest group of theologically trained pastors, missionaries, and church leaders in the world.  Our slogan is

“For the Truth.  For the Church. 
For the World.  For the Glory of God.”

I like that slogan. A lot.  So much that I have been thinking if Boyce were here today, what would he be envisioning for theological education?  What makes our SBC seminaries unique is that they are owned by the churches and exist to serve the churches.  Dr. Mohler recently mentioned that he would love to see the churches put the seminary out of business.  I like that idea too.  A lot. 

So going back to the stats for a second, I want to point something out.  Currently we have some 1600 students in the School of Theology, presumably preparing for the pastorate or some form of church leadership in the SBC.  Now, imagine if those 1600 students go into their churches with a vision like Boyce to bring theological education to more of God’s people by making their respective churches the primary place for theological education and training in ministry.  That would be 1600 mini-SBTS’s in the SBC! 

Putting that out there, here’s the question running through my head right now as I type this post.  “Given that we are ‘For the Church’, owned by the churches, exist to serve the churches, and have some 1,600 future alumni going back to the churches, what can we do as a theological institution to help these future pastors and leaders start their own theological education and training centers for their people in the local church so that the reform we have seen in our school over the past decade become multiplied 1,600 times?  Would not the ultimate success of our seminary be it’s needless existence?  Now that would be a revival and a reform for the ages.

Boyce’s vision 150 years ago came with great sacrifice and difficult challenges to overcome.  I don’t know what lies ahead for theological education in the SBC, but perhaps we could use a vision as big as Boyce’s for the 21st century.  Don’t misunderstand me.  What God has done through SBTS and especially in recent years under Dr. Mohler is nothing short of phenomenal.  But could there be a way where theological education could make a direction and multiplying impact on our local churches when we have not only trained ministers but have also taken the training center with them?  4,200 students is great, but I wonder if it is possible we can take the reform to the streets and see 4,200 turn into 42,000.   

Any thoughts?