I’m an alumnus of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and I’m embarrassed by recent actions of my beloved alma mater.
I arrived at the seminary in 1978 and, after three full years including one full and fun summer of Hebrew, I received my MDiv. I haven’t been on the campus in quite some time and am not connected in any way. MABTS was a great seminary in my day. I would think that it is still a good place to get a solid theological education with an emphasis on practical missions and evangelism.
The seminary is the chosen “partner” school of the upstart Conservative Baptist Network which officially supports the Cooperative Program just not any of six seminaries the CP funds. It seems accurate to say that MABTS is the headquarters of the CBN, since the school hosts meetings, movies and such. Two prominent individuals that were associated with Paige Patterson are staff at MABTS. Scott Colter, formerly Patterson’s chief-of-staff at Southwestern Seminary is Director of Strategic Initiatives and Candi Finch, who formerly held the Dorothy Patterson Chair of Women’s Studies at SWBTS, is an Associate Professor at MABTS. All of that is fine with me. MABTS is a private institution, receives no Cooperative Program dollars, and may hire whomever they wish. I wish the seminary well.
Dave Miller wrote a few weeks ago that It May Be Time for the SBC to Break All Ties to MABTS. I don’t know that many ties exist. The SBC doesn’t fund MABTS. Messengers do not elect trustees for MABTS. The school does have a booth at the SBC annual meeting which requires the approval of the SBC Executive Committee. I suppose IMB and NAMB may come to the MABTS campus to meet and recruit students.
MABTS has never wanted to be hard wired to the SBC. Gray Allison, founder and longtime president, always said that the seminary did not want any Cooperative Program funding although in my day a CP offering was taken at the seminary each year. The school selects their own trustees, raises their own funding and such. It has always been an SBC seminary in the sense that all the faculty are members of SBC churches and support comes primarily from SBC churches and individuals. It’s just not “officially” an SBC seminary.
So, should the SBC expend energy in finding ways to disassociate from MABTS and punish its graduates? No. The SBC has already tried that. It didn’t work. That was once the atmosphere in which MABTS existed. I lived through it.
One example is that until sometime in the mid-1980s if a Mid-America graduate wanted to be appointed by the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) it was required that the MABTS guy spend at least one year at one of the six SBC seminaries. Leave your home and church and haul your family and MABTS sheepskin to Louisville, New Orleans, or Ft. Worth, or wherever else and get it stamped “official SBC approval” then get back with the FMB candidate consultant. The official explanation was that such would make the prospective FMB appointee sufficiently Southern Baptist. Some MABTS grads who were called to missions did exactly that. Dr. Gray would often say, “If you’re called to serve through the FMB, the Lord will work it out for you.”
That was a ridiculous requirement and was punitive, not remedial. I once wrote former FMB head Keith Parks about it. He sent a cordial and lengthy response (I’ve got it around here somewhere) with an explanation. Once the Conservative Resurgence put sufficient numbers of trustees on the FMB the requirement was dropped. As best I can tell, MABTS grads make great missionaries and the organization hasn’t suffered because MABTS grads have been appointed to overseas service.
SBC leaders and trustees can be quite petty, territorial, and tribal. I don’t want to see us go down that road again.
I’m less certain about exhibit space at the SBCAMs. I’ve never understood why Liberty is sold great square footage of exhibit space to the point where they dominate the exhibit hall. Current policies permit that, the same policies that permit MABTS to rent exhibit space. Let the EC reexamine their SBCAM policies and see if any changes are needed. A lot of people would be watching that.
I don’t like the current direction of the seminary. That’s my official if valueless opinion but I’m not in favor of any effort to punish them. Frankly, I don’t think any SBC decision would affect MABTS. Punitive action might actually benefit the seminary. The SBC can do stupid stuff. They’ve done it before.
Besides, by now there are around 3,000 MABTS graduates and they are an integral part of the SBC fabric. Try and rip them out and the entire SBC will suffer. My state convention CEO has a degree from MABTS as do other state executives, entity executives, and trustees.
The current First Vice President, Lee Brand, is an MABTS VP and is often referred to as a Conservative Baptist Network guy. I’d expect that he would run for SBC president next year. Save your money and go to Anaheim and cast your vote.
2022 will be an interesting year.