It doesn’t seem possible, but I enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Seminary fifty years ago. In August 1972 I drove to Fort Worth and began my seminary studies. I went to Southwestern because my pastor recommended it, and I’ve never regretted that decision. When I enrolled, I had two goals in mind—to qualify for missionary appointment by the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) and to learn to preach. My wife and I had written the FMB and informed them of our call to missionary service. The Personnel Department said, “Great, now go to seminary.” So, off we went to Fort Worth.
I had two college buddies who started at Southwestern the year before, and they coached me on which professors to take. So, I filled out my course request form carefully. The seminary’s mainframe computer, the only computer on campus, spit out my request form. I didn’t get a single course that I requested. I kept submitting forms until I finally had a schedule. Seminary students today probably can’t believe that we paid no tuition in those days. We paid a $100 per semester “matriculation fee.”
At the first chapel service in Truett Auditorium, we sang the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” and Dr. Robert Naylor, the president, pronounced us “Southwesterners.” I felt proud and apprehensive at the same time.
Like most seminary students then and now, my wife and I scraped by financially. Most days, I brought a brown bag lunch to campus. I enjoyed eating lunch with my friends, and I learned a lot of theology sitting in the Student Center. Most days, Dr. Roy Fish, the Professor of Evangelism, came to eat with the students. He would sit at a different table each day, and I always appreciated that gesture. Once a week, my friends and I would go to McDonalds. My lunch allowance was two dollars, and I calculated how I could get the most food for my money. If I remember correctly, I could buy two hamburgers and a small Coke for two dollars. (Well, it was fifty years ago.)
My first semester, I took Introduction to Missions, and it was team-taught by Cal Guy and Jack Gray. Dr. Gray taught the spiritual foundation for missions. I chafed at that. I wanted to learn about missions strategy and methods. Later, on the mission field, I learned the importance of the Holy Spirit’s power in missions. Dr. Guy did teach us missions strategy, and most days he would read a letter from a missionary. Once a year, we had Missions Day in chapel, and always some students would commit to missionary service.
As I mentioned above, I was eager to learn to preach. I had preached a few times, but I realized that I didn’t know what I was doing. Thankfully, I ended up in Al Fasol’s preaching class. He taught us expository preaching, and I still preach the way he taught us. Dr. Fasol had studied speech and broadcasting in college, and he paid his way through seminary by working as a broadcaster for WBAP radio and television. So, he was strict about diction and pronunciation. In sermon delivery class, our sermons were videotaped, and Dr. Fasol would sit with us and critique our delivery. In my case, he corrected my pronunciation. Like all folks from Arkansas, I dropped my final Gs and said “goin’” instead of “going.” I also said “jist” instead of “just.” When I protested that “Everybody where I come from talks like that,” he replied, “You are not where you came from.” So, if you hear me preach today, you’ll hear lots of final Gs and “just” instead of “jist.”
The last year of my Master of Divinity studies I enjoyed taking Dr. Huber Drumwright’s course on the book of Hebrews. You had to be a graduating senior to get a seat in the class. Dr. Drumwright always began the class with prayer, but one day there was some conversation in the classroom. Dr. Drumwright stopped and declared, “Men, if we don’t take this prayer seriously, it is a blasphemy.” I’ve told that to my students several times over the years. Another time, he told us, “Boys, there is a heartache in every pew.” I believed that when he said it, but now I know the reality of that statement.
I could go on, but I’ve probably exhausted your patience. I look back at my seminary training with fond memories and great appreciation. Most of my professors have gone on to be with the Lord, but I’ve not forgotten the lessons they taught me. For my part, I’ve tried to pass on to my students what I learned from them.