Boyce’s Vision, Mohler’s Report, and My Reflection on Reform

Tim Brister —  May 2, 2007 — 18 Comments

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?

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  • Nathan Moore

    Like yourself Timmy I am also taking Dr. Nettles class on J.P. Boyce and Charles Spurgeon. I would hate to add another requirement to receiving a degree from Southern but I would encourage every student to read “A Gentleman and a Scholar” by Boyce’s dear friend and colleague John Broadus. The class has had a profound effect on me. Learning of a man with the intellect and giftedness to be successful in so many areas yet dedicating himself to training ministers is very humbling. Boyce dedicated his life to seeing SBTS get off of the ground. By God’s grace he continued in spite of poor health, loss of personal fortune, much criticism and not to mention the Civil War. He was incredibly savvy with money and his wisdom in requiring professors to sign the Abstract of Principles proved to be just the lighthouse Dr. Mohler would need to bring the school ashore amidst a sea of theological heterodoxy. (The imagery is the Spurgeon half of the semester kicking in.) After reading the book you will be much more appreciative of the education you receive at Southern even if you are enduring extreme climates.

  • Greg Alford


    As far as helping local Pastors in teaching Theology to their congregations the greatest need I see is for resources… perhaps a four year program of classes with material could be put together. But remember it would have to start with the very bare basics of doctrine and slowly progress… I took my congregation through a workbook on the Westminster confession…(it was great to see the real growth)… I would love to do the same on the BFM200 except I cannot find the material in a workbook format…

    Also, I think the Local Association Office is a good place to extend and supplement the Theological Education that or Seminaries are already doing… In my area of North West Florida I know the vast majority of our small church Pastors are bi-vocational and have never had much of a real opportunity to receive Seminary level study… The Local Association Office would seem to be a natural choice for meeting this need…

    Grace to all,

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  • I really enjoyed this post Timmy.

    I remember hearing Dr. Mohler say that. It was probably the first time I had given thought to the fact that the only reason we have seminaries is because the church might not be doing its job (I’d enjoy thoughts on that statement if you have time). If the men in seminary took their education here seriously and learned – as opposed to regurgitated – what they are being taught, then churches would be capable of turning into some serious theological training grounds; thus giving the church more stable ground to stand on in a culture that is tossed to and fro by the ways of the world.

    I have a question for you on this as well: Are there any churches putting this into practice currently? (i.e. – offering classes, seminars, etc. for members). I know Bethlehem has TBI and Captiol Hill offers various classes for their people. But are they the exception, or are they a growing trend?

  • bill freeman

    Maybe an initial reaction, but are you implying something about the BGS considering your comment that we could 1600 little SBTS. Not trying to twist your words and aware that I maybe a little sensitive on this issue.

  • Bill,
    I’m sure Timmy will speak for himself, but here is how I read what he was saying.
    I’m guessing that he is assuming the Theology School guys will mostly be going to local churches in America, and could therefore lead churches to train up ministers. While he also may be assuming many or most Billy Graham school guys are headed to the mission field, and will therefore not be leading American churches.

    While I doubt Timmy thinks this, it may be helpful for not BGS guys to know that there are many future pastors in the Billy Graham School. Some assume guys who want to study missions and evangelism are going to the mission field. Some, including me, thought extra study in missions and evangelism and church growth would help equip me for local church ministry in America. Plus, they had the flex track when I came, and the THeology School didn’t.

  • G. F. McDowell

    For the record, Timmy is in the BGS of EMCG

  • No love for the LEAD school?

    Great post. I think your reflections are the logical and necessary next step in the Baptist Reformation. The recovery of God’s Word must continue in every corner of our churches and society. This will mean many churches training pastors and church planters without seminary degrees. What you’re calling for is a comprehensive reform of Christian Education in the local churches.

  • Nathan,

    I agree with you sentiments completely. It would be a shame to graduate from SBTS without an understanding of and appreciation for J. P. Boyce and the Founders.


    I appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Indeed, the pace and depth of study would be much different in a local church environment. For example, when I was a student minister, I was teaching students biblical hermeneutics on Monday afternoons and went very slow. From there, I was hoping to develop a basic Greek curriculum for beginners. Back in the day, as Boyce mentioned, it was expected that you know Latin, Greek, and Hebrew before entering seminary. I am going to begin thinking about how the vision I expressed can be hashed out in the local church context. I would love to hear more of what you’re thinking in the meantime.


    Thanks for the comment man. As far as churches go, I know of two in Alabama that are doing it: Lakeview Baptist in Auburn, AL and First Baptist Muscle Shoals (where I will be for the next four days). It would be great for me to get in touch with the leadership of these ministries and find out more specifically how they are doing it. I know that Lakeview has an internship program, similar to Capitol Hill, which is now considered an SBTS extension; however it is only available for Lakeview interns, and you cannot have another job while enrolled (you raise support). I will be looking around to see if I can find any other churches leading the way in taking up the call to educate and train their people for ministry. Let me know if you find anything out on your end.


    Guillaume is correct in that I am a student in the Graham school, so I am certainly not playing favorites with the school of Theology. There is the idea among some perhaps that the BGS is less scholarly or praiseworthy as the School of Theology, but those of us in the BGSME know that indeed is not the case. Moreover, our professors have extensive theological training not just in the disciplines of missiology, evangelism, or church growth, but also are competent to teach Greek, Hebrew, OT, NT, and the like. The point in using that statistic was merely to make a suggestion and case point. There were no secondary or ulterior intentions in my thought. Furthermore, as Mark rightly points out, there are many in the Graham school who are training to be pastors and church planters (where I fit in the equation). Essentially, there is not much difference between the schools other than the Graham School emphasizes application and more practical aspects of the theological discplines whereas the School of Theology would require more languages and theological development. Personally, I want both, so I am trying to get the best of both worlds.

    There is much more I would like to say on this matter, but due to time constraints and the upcoming conference, the conversation might have to be postponed. I hope to continue talking about developing churches who are passionate about truth, passionate about the mission, and passionate about reaching the world–all for Jesus. In the meantime, feel free to continue sharing your thoughts. I know I could learn a lot from you guys.

  • Tony,

    Exactly. The reformation does not end with the highest seminary enrollment in our school’s history. All this is preparatory. It is time to take it to the Church. Christ promised to build His Church, not the seminary, and when the seminary fufills its telos, we will find Churches doing the work of the seminary.

  • Our church is utilizing the Seminary Extension program to do such training. Our senior pastor teaches these classes. The goal is to provide training to Deaf ministry workers and pastors across Kentucky, and to facilitate this we hold our classes in various locations around the state throughout the semester rather than keeping them in one static location. I would love to develop a Greek curriculum for this, but my pastor feels it would be too much for most Deaf.

    There are also a couple of people in our “church community” who our pastor strongly feels may have a calling to ministry. We’ve discussed teaching them here rather than sending them to the seminary or Boyce, since both of us have seminary degrees and have a love for teaching. No plans as of yet, but the very idea is exciting to us.

  • Mark Prince

    As a simple layman with no seminary education who teaches adult Sunday School, I wish the(or a) Seminary would consider having each year a week long “teaching camp” for laypeople and each year it could be a different theological topic. Maybe something between semesters would be feasible.

    I do as much reading as I can but would benefit greatly by a classroom setting where questions can be asked not to mention the benefit of the encouragement of being with fellow brothers who desire to teach God’s word with the care it deserves.

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  • Mark,

    Thank you for your perspective and suggestion. I think it is a rather good one. In the near future, I hope to write more on this, providing some rationale as well as some practical ways to begin implementing theological education and training from the local church. I pray that more laypeople will share the conviction and heart you have for God’s Word with the desire to edify and build one another in the most holy faith. God bless you man.

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  • Dana

    Timmy, since I have had a great number of friends go to Southern, and since Dr. Mohler’s revolution raided many of our seminary’s very finest professors, don’t forget that not all of those students are SBC! There are other flavors of Baptist out there, such as the BGC, historically the Swedish baptists, which is the fellowship of Bethlehem/Minneapolis and from which Drs. Stein, Schreiner, Magnuson, Ware, and Block came.

    Question: are the students at Boyce College undergraduate or seminary students? Is there a difference?

    I want to point you SBCers to a wonderful church and training ministry which has a powerful vision for reaching New England and the world. It is NETS, the New England Theological Seminary, and Christ Memorial Church. The pastor, and founder of NETS and its President, is Wes Pastor. The ministry of NETS is now aligned with both the SBC and BGC. They have a comprehensive vision for church planting and leader training including biblical training for lay leaders. NETS is now also a satellite site for Southern Seminary. NETS and Christ Memorial Church are located in Williston, VT. Dr. Schreiner has spoken there and is on the Board of Reference.

    The church also has unique, reformed views on such matters as weekly communion, all church training and discipleship, church discipline, preaching Christ from the whole Bible, etc. It is truly a wonderful ministry that has now planted two daughter churches in New England (one adjacent to the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH), with exciting plans for another in Cambridge, MA, near Harvard, as well as a plant in Cameroon which will be the home of NETS West Africa, and now new plans for a NETS center in Wales.

    If you Southern students have any inclination toward church planting, and want to cast your biblical, gospel seed in some of the most challenging soil in America, and to be part of a truly thrilling work of God, consider talking with Wes Pastor and exploring NETS. (Disclaimer: I also serve on the Board of Reference for NETS.) The website is

  • Dana,

    You are correct to remind us that not at students who attend are SBC. I simply was attempting to provide a hypothetical scenario to make a point.

    The students at Boyce are undergraduate, not seminary students; however, many Boyce students take seminary level classes as electives.

    About a month ago, I met Wes Pastor at a NETS luncheon held on campus. Needless to say, I was really impressed with what is going on there. Having talked to a couple of students in the program, I cand definitely see the benefits of having a ministry that instills biblical hermeneutics, practical church planting skills, and general financial and spiritual oversight. I hope to highlight their ministry in the near future.

  • I like the idea of seeing theological education tied to local churches. I’ve often wondered how to make this happen and we’re even currently experimenting with ideas in our church plant.

    It seems the big gap is that in a seminary experience you are being trained by “experts” in their field. A pastor, or even a team of pastors, taking theological education seriously in their local context will never have the same expertise as the seminary experience.

    But even with that, I wonder if what we would gain in seeing theological education tied to churches more directly will be a greater benefit.

    Anyway, good thoughts. thanks for the post.