Maybe We Shouldn’t Stack Them Up At All?

by Bart Barber on May 13, 2014 · 43 comments

Editor’s Note: A separate post called “Seminary Infographics” has been posted that demonstrates some of the data that William and Bart have been discussing. 

As a contributor to this site and an unrepentant SWBTS booster, how ought I to respond to William Thornton’s latest post, Just How Are Our Seminaries Stacking Up These Days? It’s a hard question.

“Quickly,” must constitute at least a portion of the answer, since I’m about to board an airplane for Africa.

“Not at all” was an option—perhaps the best one—when considering that a reply probably has as little chance to make any worthwhile contribution as had the original post. The statistics are important. It is a part of my job as a SWBTS trustee to review them, and review them I do. But I review them with a purpose larger than schoolyard bragging and taunting.

“With evidentiary rebuttal” captured my attention briefly. There are many other metrics, all of them available to anyone who wants to look. The CP allocation formula is based upon FTEs, which is pretty much the gold standard in academic measurement. Look at those numbers and you get a different result. But I’m sitting in an airport gate area and it’s just not in the cards for me to put together a substantive reply at this point, nor do I know what that would really serve, other than to further an objective that I do not support: Talking about our seminaries the way that CB Scott talks about football.

But perhaps the best response of all would be “PRAISE THE LORD!”

  • If the allegation is that SWBTS has “declined,” well…if you’re the largest seminary in the world, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to “decline” from there. It’s a petty and small person who takes anything other than the top slot as evidence of the last gasps of a corpse, especially when new enrollment at SWBTS is up dramatically, with enrollment in the School of Theology alone up 30% over last year.
  • Shouldn’t we rejoice that our overall system of seminaries is so much healthier today? Should we pit them against one another, or acknowledge that they are all—all six of them—ours. People who try to exacerbate rivalries between members of the same team are generally members of another team.
  • The fact remains that I’d rather have a seminary education from ANY of our six SBC seminaries than from any other seminary in the world.

Several years ago, while I was in Santiago de Cuba on a mission trip, a young Cuban Christian asked me, “Why do your American churches name themselves the way that they do?”

“Huh?” I responded. “I don’t understand.”

“You have a lot of ‘First Baptist Churches, but then it’s ‘Trinity,’ ‘Calvary,’ ‘Harmony,’ etc.”

I pondered what he was saying, contemplating the Cuban manner of having First, Second, Third, Fourth…that is, Primera, Segunda, etc.—the whole numeric chain down to the last Baptist church in town.

I said, “I guess Americans like to be first, and are uncomfortable being anything else.”

“In being this way, you are wrong,” he accused. And I was left with nothing to say.

1 William Thornton May 13, 2014 at 6:22 pm

I figured that Dave would find a way to get Bart to respond. The guy will do anything for page views.

A few points in regard to Bart’s short post:

1. Maybe we shouldn’t “stack” up the seminaries but it will be done. It’s like expectorating in the wind to decry any SBCer who uses numbers to make points. Numbers are in our DNA, including SWBTS’. That said, I made no qualitative point about SWBTS but did offer a playful reference to its former place, one incessantly touted, as the world’s, the galaxy’s, the universe’s largest seminary.

2. I don’t think Bart will find the FTEs will change anything. If possible I’ll put the FTEs in a graph the next day or so.

3. Facts are supposed to be our friends, right? But unfriendly facts? We would rather treat them as a crazy uncle in the attic – don’t deny that he exists but keep him out of sight. SWBTS is factually a declining seminary by this measure and some others. Seminary promotion, funding, enrollment, programs are in a time of flux, I gather. SWBTS perhaps has been slower to adjust than the others.

SWBTS grads tell me they are surprised at the numbers. It’s interesting. It isn’t a crime to talk about it.

One of our failures as a denomination is, in my hacker and plodder view, the extreme reluctance to talk openly about issues and problems. Were I a trustee for SWBTS and a declining enrollment, FTEs, and graduates were a trend, I would expect it to be discussed. In an indirect fashion, we all “own” the six seminaries and their successes are our successes but their problems are our problems. We shouldn’t have to tiptoe around the reality on the ground because folks might be sensitive about it.

If we wish to talk about inter-SBC seminary competition, I’d put SBTS at the top of that list with their students, alumni, and faculty all playing the frat-boy cheerleader card, “THE Southern Baptist Seminary.” Ah, institutional pride. Is that one of the deadly sins.

Hope you have a nice trip to Africa. You can lower the boom on me when you return. I’ll still be around.

2 Dave Miller May 13, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Here at SBC Voices every dog has his day.

3 Chris Roberts May 13, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Bow wow

4 dr. james willingham May 14, 2014 at 1:56 pm

:). Sorry Dave, but I just simply could not resist it.

5 Tarheel May 13, 2014 at 7:13 pm

“Shouldn’t we rejoice that our overall system of seminaries is so much healthier today? ”

yes!

“Should we pit them against one another, or acknowledge that they are all—all six of them—ours.”

Acknowledge they are ALL ours!

” People who try to exacerbate rivalries between members of the same team are generally members of another team. ”

that’s right.

6 Dave Miller May 13, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I have published a set of seminary infographics in a separate post. I fiddled with the time stamps so that this would remain our latest post – didn’t want to step on Bart’s post.

But the readers might find the infographics informative.

If I read Bart right, the most significant number there should be that over 22,600 people have graduated from seminaries that proclaim Christ and have a high view of Scripture. For that we all rejoice.

At the same time, as William has pointed out, these number are numbers, and as the Goateed One is apt to say, “facts are our friends.” Honest evaluation of the facts is a good thing.

7 Dave Miller May 13, 2014 at 7:21 pm

And, if enrollment is up at SWBTS as has been reported, the graduation numbers will rise and for that, we can all rejoice.

8 John Wylie May 13, 2014 at 7:33 pm

As I said on the other stream, I think that if we are trying to assess the lull in graduation numbers for SWBTS we ought to look at what role competition played in it. If one is Southern Baptist there are way more options on the Non Cal side than there are on the Calvinist side. Also, much to everyone’s surprise I think that a person who is dedicated to Reformed theology is not likely to go to SW, and you really can’t blame them for that.

9 Dan Barnes May 13, 2014 at 7:36 pm

I am pretty happy that I got my MAEL from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, the Western Seminary of the SBC, doing Education in the Mission Field.

10 Dale Pugh May 14, 2014 at 7:12 am

I loved my time at Golden Gate. I loved the campus. I loved the Bay area. I’m sad to see the location change, but I honestly believe that the current administration is leading the seminary with strategic vision. I wouldn’t trade my time there for any other seminary.

11 Louis Cook May 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

My church in the East Bay has been truly blessed by our relative proximity to Golden Gate. In our time without a pastor, which continues to this day, we have had Dr Iorg preach twice, Dr Melick a few times, several of the professors have preached once and then Adam Groza and Ben Skaug both preached multiple times.
They hosted Fred Luter in the Fall and I was able to take my oldest son and my Mom. It was a great day.
They have to have the best view of any SBC seminary. It is sad for NorCal to lose their main campus but heartening that they are aiming to fulfill their mission and not focus on land management.

12 Greg Harvey May 19, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Dale and Louis: thanks for the heads-up on the sale of the Marin County campus. For those who might not have seen this–people like me that live outside the mainstream of information–I’ll offer a GGBTS article on the subject:

http://www.ggbts.edu/news.aspx?item=169

13 William Thornton May 20, 2014 at 9:50 am

I’ve been waiting on the sale price to be made public.

14 Dale Pugh May 20, 2014 at 10:36 am

So hae I. Should be substantial, given the location, the view, etc. Of course, I don’t know how the buildings could ever be put to use by anything other than an educational institution. GGBTS has the greatest location of any of our seminaries, hands down. The view is priceless.

15 Louis Cook May 20, 2014 at 1:36 pm

The sale price can not be revealed unto the summer. They are doing due diligence right now. They have almost 150 acres with a location that can’t be beat. The spot was originally slated to be the home of the United Nations. The UN Charter was signed in nearby Muir Woods. Of course, New York City beat out Marin for the role of playing host to the UN.

16 Eric May 13, 2014 at 7:54 pm

SWBTS has made some very questionable decisions in the past few years that has affected its enrollment and one can only wonder where the trustees have been in these decisions. The latest was doing away with the Marriae and Family Counseling Program that lead to state licensure This program was one of the largest programs at SWBTS and provided great Christian Counsellors ( a few of which we have used). We have one of these individuals on staff at our church, he is an invaluable asset to our pastor.

The school of Religious Education has been devalued in general, and i would venture to guess that the number of women attending has plummeted

Question, what would the FTE be without the College. Are the numbers being reported including the College which was not in existence in the Dilday and Hemphill years? I never thought it was a good idea for seminaries to compete with our state Baptist schools. Full disclosure, I have a child at Dallas Baptist – go Patriots!

17 William Thornton May 13, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Neither do state executives like the idea of seminaries competing with state baptist colleges…significant question for a future day.

18 Rick Patrick May 13, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Then again, many of the colleges started Divinity Schools as well, so that’s a two-way street.

19 William Thornton May 14, 2014 at 5:46 am

One of Our GBC colleges just started a grad level theology program. Other than places like Baylor, are there many like you say? I don’t see much response from baptist colleges to the seminaries’ undergrad programs.

20 Thomas Magers II May 14, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Sanford University in Alabama has Beeson Divinity School. Additionally, Lousiana College has the Caskey School of Divinity. Those are just two that I can think of, I think Union University has a graduate program too.

21 Doug Hibbard May 14, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Well, Mercer added one but that was while they jumped ship, so guess that doesn’t count.

Union has a grad program in theology but does not offer an M.Div.

I thought Palm Beach Atlantic was a Baptist school, but it’s not–though they have a new grad program. (What is Florida’s Baptist school? Anybody?) Baptist College of Florida has an MA in Christian Studies.

OkBU has grad studies but not in theology.

Neither Arkansas school as a grad program…but some people are agitating for one (including me).

It may be that it’s known from the high-profile ones like Samford/Beeson, Baylor/Truett, and even Mercer/McAfee (though they ain’t quite with us) more than it is a major problem.

A similar situation arises when Baptist College faculty members are teaching part-time with distance schools–I know a few OBU professors are also teaching with some graduate distance programs. So, that ends up feeding a few of their students straight onto those programs.

22 D. L. Payton May 13, 2014 at 8:19 pm

I graduated SWBTS in 1969. During those years the seminaries had a distinctiveness about them. SWBTS had as strong missions emphasis. Southern had a stronger pastoral care department. Some were more conservative than others. Three seminaries were closer to my home in St. Louis, but I choose SWBTS because of what I perceived to be a distinctive.

Post CR changed all of that. All of the seminaries share a conservative theology.
My point: geography plays a much larger role than it did pre CR. I would not today bypass Midwestern as I did in 1966 because of theology. Other than the Cal issue the distinctness are not as pronounced as they were.

Many students choose a school because of a professor with who they want to study. Because of Southern’s leadership popularity this would play a part in school selection

Sub Point: The declining enrollment at SWBTS is not a panic point and maybe not even a high concern point. The spread is simply more even. I am not a Patterson fan, however, I am not sure a lot can be laid at his feet.

23 dr. james willingham May 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I agree, D.L. (oops, I almost wrote another name). In fact, Dr. Patterson wrote an item on election to which I responded on another blog which I shall not name as they booted me and several others off just for being Calvinists….which was strange after we had already written for them…and we had not been insulting, offensive, or anything like that. Dull, repetitive, perhaps. Anyway, Dr. Patterson along with the rest of our Seminary presidents as well as the other institutions of the SBC are likely beginning to experience the squeeze of a shrinking job market for our multitudes of church members. Workers are not much needed anymore, not if one considers that robotics, computerization, and automation had made the worker a supernumerary, a useless, unprofitable employee like the useless part in an old machine. Not even fast foods needs many workers. About 25 years ago a Burger King somewhere in New York (the state I think) was a 24/7 operation with 400 employees. They automated, hired a German Lazar cooker operator for $90/hr. and his Japanese female assistant for $60/hr. The rest of the crew were clean up people, all of 18. With the decline of jobs we will see less and less students at all of our schools. We will also find the peachy jobs in medicine, research, computers taken by folks trained to do so, and our people will be scrambling to play catch up. Like the frogs in water slowly being brought to a boil, we will find that we cannot leap out. Our answer to the threats are: Prayer for a great awakening for the whole earth, the development of new jobs and provisions for learning and living, provisions for new methods of transportation, the opening of new sciences which can and will and, perhaps, already has taken us to the stars, these will be, in part, the answers we need to face a terrible challenge for our future and that of our descendants and especially our faith as there are those who are making use of this crisis to remove the props that enabled us to maintain the greatest mission force in history. God has other plans, and that is our hope.

24 Lynn Gray May 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Can’t argue that productivity increases have always impacted labor demand nor that our labor force participation rates are down.

However we are seeing increases in the number of jobs and we are certainly seeing it in the fast food sector. In Oklahoma, employment is up 5.3% in the “limited-service eating place” sector over the last 12 months and has added a net of 13,600 jobs over the past decade.

Lynn

25 Robert Vaughn May 13, 2014 at 8:21 pm

“In being this way, you are wrong.” Amen.

26 D. L. Payton May 13, 2014 at 8:24 pm

QUESTION: With the change is worship style etc. can anyone fill me in on what is happening in the Music schools at the seminaries. How does enrollment stack up there? Does any school seem to have a corner on the market in that area? Is distance learning available?

27 andy May 13, 2014 at 10:24 pm

SBTS has gone from very traditional to very worship band centered very fast…Id say from 2006 to 2010 it was done….cant speak to the rest…

28 Andy May 14, 2014 at 7:40 am

To Elaborate a bit more, SBTS has also gone from having a very traditional music school ( with perhaps 12 or more full-time music professors) to a much smaller (4 full-time faculty) worship department within another school. I don’t know for sure how the number of students within the new program compares to the number in the old program.

29 Tarheel May 14, 2014 at 9:22 am

Doesn’t Al Mohler personally favor the traditional approach to church music over the the worship band trend?

30 Stephen May 13, 2014 at 11:52 pm

SEBTS is transitioning from more traditional music education to focusing on theological and philosophical training for worship pastors.

31 Robert Vaughn May 14, 2014 at 10:13 am

D. L., I can’t directly answer your question. I attend an event once a year at the SWBTS music department and I can say I have noticed a lot of personnel changes over the years since Dr. Reynolds retired and David Music went to Baylor. I would guess that different people mean some differences in philosophy, but that is only a guess.

32 D. L. Payton May 14, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Robert

In all probability, I would think, a pretty accurate guess. New people usually bring change. Add to that the cultural and stylistic change in style I would think equal change.

Thanks for responding to my question

33 Dave Miller May 13, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Now, let me anger some folks.

If, because of theological rivalries over the years, you find yourself gloating at SWBTS’ struggles, or if the numerical success of other seminaries bothers you, then you are too wrapped up in our internecine debates and need some personal spiritual renewal.

Okay. Rant over.

34 Dave Miller May 13, 2014 at 9:43 pm

And that was a more general rant, not directed at any particular person.

35 John Wylie May 13, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Dave,

Thanks for being man enough to say that, I know I need that from time to time.

36 Dave Miller May 14, 2014 at 2:08 am

May I say a word of response to the core question Bart asks here. Why even publish these figures at all?

Well, I won’t speak for William, though I think he likely shares my feelings here. I get no joy out of muckraking or hammering our institutions. There are a lot of guys who seem to think that fanning the flames of outrage is a noble task and that you simply aren’t serving God unless you are blasting somebody. That’s just not me.

But, this is information. Unfortunately, Baptist Press, which does a great job as a public relations arm for the SBC, is not an independent press source. They tend to ignore anything that is negative or controversial.

That is the role of blogs. If there is information about our entities, our role is to get it out there. “Facts are our friends” you know.

And, yes, I plead guilty to contacting Bart and letting him know that this article was going to appear and giving him an opportunity to give another side of things before he left the country.

So, I have no desire for SBC Voices to become another Baptist scandal-mongering, muck-raking site. But when significant information like this comes to us, even if it is uncomfortable and undesirable, we need to get that out there.

Frankly, I’ve been pleased at the tone of this discussion, even with the somewhat incendiary information.

Six or seven years ago, information like this would have incited a verbal riot! Slowly, but surely!

37 William Thornton May 14, 2014 at 5:52 am

Agreed. It is up to nontraditional outlets to make public and foster analysis and discussion of things considered to be negative in SBC life. BP will mostly avoid most things.

Take the case of the XComm’s proposed change in the SBC constitution. BP has a couple of sterile pieces on it but the only substantive discussion has occurred here.

38 Tim Rogers (@Timothy_Rogers) May 14, 2014 at 6:41 am

Bart,

With you being a SWBTS grad and now Trustee does that mean you are now hindered to using your computer until you can clean the white-out off the screen?

Sorry, I had to create a tone that would keep Dave from being pleased.

39 Jim Pemberton May 14, 2014 at 11:34 am

I said, “I guess Americans like to be first, and are uncomfortable being anything else.”

“In being this way, you are wrong,” he accused. And I was left with nothing to say.

It’s not just Americans who are this way, but we Americans have it in spades. Competition can be a good thing, but it can also be a great opportunity for working out our sinful nature. I go back to Matthew 20:25-28. I see way too many Christian leaders today acting like the Gentiles in Jesus’ teaching here. I see Christian leaders (from deacons and pastors all they way down to the custodian) who dominate, posture, and even become paranoid when they fear that someone else could be seen as better than they. I have seen them destroy churches and ministries because they would rather let their ministry die than lose power. Apparently they haven’t appropriated Jesus’ admonition for their own ministry.

I see cultural expectations at work against us in this. People who are domineering are typically seen as strong leaders among Americans. People who are humble servants are seen as weak leaders. We interpret a dominant personality combined with a surface profession of faith as strong spiritual leadership. However, we fail to see an attitude of submission to the needs of others in ministry out of obedience to the outworking of the gospel as a prerequisite for spiritually mature leadership. Such a one will not “get the vote” among spiritually immature Christians. So a congregation filled with spiritually immature Christians will not seek spiritually mature Christians to lead them because they don’t know what a spiritually mature Christian is.

So if our interest in statistics comes from a spiritually immature need to compete by demonstrating dominance, then it is wrong. But if our interest in statistics like these stems from a desire to understand how we can best serve churches by continually improving our seminaries, then it is good. If our pet programs are found to not serve churches well, it is spiritually mature to agree that these programs need to be changed in some way. But if the pride of our leadership is at stake and we are spiritually immature, we can be expected to fight against changing the programs that define our leadership.

40 Mark Terry May 14, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I attended Southwestern Seminary in the 1970s. Many of my MDiv classmates came from Georgia and South Carolina and Alabama. They came to SWBTS because of its reputation for being conservative. Since the Conservative Resurgence all of our Southern Baptist seminaries are conservative; therefore, students choose a seminary based on geography or their pastor’s recommendation or quality of life issues (SEBTS is in a small town). I know this from interviewing prospective students when I was the associate dean at Southern Seminary. The prospective students would ask me–Why should I come here instead of New Orleans or Southeastern?

41 Dave Miller May 14, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Not to go all “kumbaya” on everyone, but is the real story here the amazing fact that our seminaries have done as well as they’ve done in an era where online ed is garnering a greater market share and there are so many other options to our 6 seminaries.

Obviously, it would be foolish to completely ignore the numbers at SWBTS but as this discussion has gone on, I’ve grown to see some things in a different light.

42 D. L. Payton May 14, 2014 at 5:09 pm

I do not get concerned if one seminary grows while another declines. We are all SB. One cause for decline seems to be the fact that less men are entering the ministry. This is my biggest concern.

43 Jason G. May 14, 2014 at 8:07 pm

I am surprised that no one has mentioned the impact of Criswell College on SWBTS. They started a MDiv and I have run in to quite a few guys here in Texas that did undergrad and now MDiv stuff through them. You factor that with DTS growing, and smaller Baptist colleges (liberal as they may be) offering seminary degrees, and it is a unique situation that faces SWBTS geographically that other seminaries do not face.

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