My observations about The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
I have been asked to write this article to share my thoughts/observations regarding my recent visit to the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I currently attend a fundamental Baptist seminary that is much smaller compared to SBTS. My thoughts and observations are not intended in any way to impugn or malign either institution, but rather to show some of the advantages/disadvantages of both types of seminaries (large and small). I have divided my observations into categories to make it easier for the reader and for me to organize my thoughts into some logical order.
Recently from April 2-6, 2008, I had the opportunity to visit the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. The Lord has definitely blessed this fine institution with a wonderful array of facilities coupled with a first-rate faculty all dedicated for the purpose of training the future generations to serve Christ in multiple and varied capacities.
My visit was in conjunction with a conference held by Don Whitney and The Center for Biblical Spirituality on campus April 4-5, 2008. However, in order for me to save some money on airfare and to get a look at the campus from a prospective student perspective, I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, April 2nd.
Facilities – Southern occupies approximately 40 acres in the St. Mathews area of Louisville. Situated on Lexington Road in a nice neighborhood, this sprawling campus is a testimony of God’s providence and blessing. Facilities are an important part of any institution. They can either make or break the institution. Location is also important as well. One could have first-class facilities but are located in a declining or bad neighborhood and it will be hard to attract students.
What other seminaries have a health-club complete with a gymnasium, swimming pool, indoor walking track, and workout facilities? This shows a commitment on the part of the seminary not to just “feed the mind” but rather also to provide a balance where students can keep their physical bodies in shape to have the ability to serve the Lord. The health-club is a great asset.
The seminary also enjoys two dining facilities, a cafeteria and the Founders Café. The cafeteria is rather small for the size of the institution, but adequately meets the needs of the seminary community. The prices are reasonable and the food is excellent for institutional food. The Founders Café is an informal setting with overflow seating found directly across the hall. The menu consists of sandwiches, wraps, burgers, desserts and beverages. Cost is reasonable and the hours of the café are longer than those of the cafeteria. Students have a choice of where they wish to eat instead of being confined to one location within a certain time frame.
The Legacy Center is a unique facility. It is a conference center and a hotel-type facility on campus located across from the Honeycutt Center and adjacent to the Alumni Chapel. The rooms are spacious and very well-maintained. The front desk is staffed 24 hours a day. The staff at the Legacy Center is there to meet your needs and they are first rate. The cost for lodging here is very affordable and reasonable. It is great to be able to stay right on campus in a safe environment and being able to be involved with the goings on within a seminary community during my stay. Staying at an off-campus facility would have been detrimental as well as inconvenient. Having the experience of being a frequent traveler in the past, the Legacy Center was nicer than most of the hotels and motels that I have stayed in.
The Alumni Chapel building sits adjacent to the Legacy Center and can be seen from Lexington Road. This facility was built in the 1950’s and was patterned after the First Baptist Church in Atlanta. The seminary community meets here twice a week for chapel services.
The James P Boyce Centennial Library sits directly across the lawn from the Honeycutt Student Center. A daunting structure in its own right, it houses close to one million volumes and is one of the noted theological libraries in the world. I had the opportunity to use these facilities while on campus. I have never been in a seminary library that was this large and occupied many floors. I also enjoyed the use of the wireless network while in the library since I had to complete a couple of assignments while on campus. I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Roberts who is the Patron Librarian and I appreciated his hospitality towards me as well as his assistance in making sure I was able to complete and email my assignments while on campus. Any researcher should have the ability to make full use of this library and appreciate the value that a library provides to a seminary.
Norton Hall is where the classrooms, faculty office and administrative offices are located. It is located a short distance from the Alumni chapel and also houses the Broadus chapel, which is a smaller chapel used for more intimate settings. Norton Hall is found on many of the seminary publications and is a well recognized building as it faces Lexington Road. Currently the seminary is undergoing a facelift in preparation for the 2009 SBC Annual Meeting to be held in Louisville and the seminary’s 150th anniversary. Norton Hall is undergoing some substantial renovation right now, but was still accessible. While on the official seminary tour on Friday, I was able to see where Dr. Mohler does his radio show. This was of special interest to me because I have an interest in radio!
Faculty – When considering an institution, facilities are important, but the faculty is also just as important. Southern Seminary is no exception. Under the leadership of Dr. Mohler, men like Don Whitney, Thomas Schreiner, Bruce Ware and others have joined the faculty of Southern Seminary. The faculty is world-class and the recognized leaders in their respective areas and disciplines. I think that the page in the prospective student workbook summarizes the faculty by stating the following on page 9, “Most seminaries will have you read important books. At Southern Seminary, you will sit in classes taught by the authors.” This is it! How many times have we read a book and said, Boy I wish I could understand what they meant by that statement or what their motivation was to write this book, or how do you find the time to write a book and get it published. At Southern, you can ask those questions and get answers! Having a top-notch faculty is especially important when dealing with post-graduate issues, you want to be able to study with the best possible faculty in your area of interest and the opportunity is there at Southern.
Leadership - Someone once said, “Everything rises and falls on Leadership.” That is a true statement! Dr. Mohler has surrounded himself with some of the most gifted men who are there to help him carry the load with regard to the administration of the seminary. While on the unofficial student tour with Terry Delaney, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Mohler while we were walking through Norton Hall. This was a goal of mine while I was in town, was to be able to meet Dr Mohler and the Lord answered my prayer! He is a kind and gracious gentlemen and has a real servant’s heart for the seminary community. Men like Dr. Russell Moore and Dr. Don Whitney along with others who serve an administrative capacity go a long way in making Southern Seminary what it is today. I am not a Southern Baptist, but I recognize that it is by the leadership of Dr. Mohler that Southern Seminary is enjoying a “resurgence of conservatism” and it shows in the dramatic increase in the student body since he arrived in 1993 to assume the presidency.
Ministry Opportunities – One of the things that struck me was that Southern Seminary has an office to help students with potential ministry opportunities that exist within the greater Louisville area. This is an unbelievable resource where a student can submit his resume and complete a form which provides more detailed information regarding his particular interest in ministry as well as other pertinent information that will allow the Ministry Referral Office help get the searching student and the prospective ministry in contact with each other. The Ministry Referral office does not promise any opportunities or give any guarantees, but they are there to assist the student and alumni with ministry placement opportunities. It is great to see something like this when other institutions have either minimal or nothing in this areas to assist students and alumni. Local church involvement is crucial to have a balanced seminary experience and the Ministry Referral Office seeks to make that happen.
Bureaucracy – Every institution has a degree of this, it is natural and normal. How this is dealt with is another matter. I did not experience very much of this while on campus and for a large institution this is a positive factor.
Communication – This is extremely important. How does the seminary communicate within the seminary community? How do they communicate with prospective students? How do they communicate with the public? How do they communicate with potential donors? I found that the communication that I was a part of was clear and concise and professional in nature. In addition, the seminary utilizes closed-circuit television monitors in strategic areas within the building to communicate important announcements and events within the seminary community.
Chapel – Chapel meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 am. Chapel is taken very seriously around here, so much so, that everything is closed during the chapel hour to allow everyone to attend. I found this to be a great policy and one that other seminaries could emulate. The chapel service is similar to a worship service in a Baptist church minus the offering time. Preaching from some of the best preachers in America along with appropriate special music complement the chapel hour. The chapel services are also broadcast on a local cable channel in the Louisville area to allow others within the local community to enjoy the chapel services even if they are unable to attend in person.
Shepherding Groups – These are informal groups of approximately 5 students that meet periodically with a professor in a smaller more intimate setting that provide accountability and fellowship for the students and professors. These groups are purely voluntary. I am currently involved in what is called a Small-Group Fellowship at my current seminary and I feel that our group is a great success because our faculty leader is an SBTS alumnus and has probably drawn on his experiences from his days at SBTS.
Garrett Fellows – these are PhD students who assist a particular professor with administrative issues as well as grading. We would commonly know them as graduate assistants. This is a great opportunity for those individuals who serve as Garrett Fellows to gain meaningful experience as well as a great mentoring and learning opportunity for both parties. I am not sure about all of the particulars about being a Garrett Fellow, but I do see this as a great asset/opportunity since I am from a seminary that is much smaller and has nothing in this regard.
Biblical Spirituality and Personal Spiritual Disciplines/Spiritual Formation – The recent additions of Dr. Don Whitney and Dr. Michael Haykin to the faculty only bring greater opportunities in these areas. SBTS has a DMin. Degree available in the area of Biblical Spirituality. Personal Spiritual Disciplines is a course taught by Dr. Don Whitney and other faculty members. I had the opportunity to sit in on a class session on Thursday afternoon, April 3, 2008. This is a required class and one that is definitely needed within a seminary context, where it can be very easy to get caught up with the academic aspects and neglecting one’s spiritual walk with God. I think that this course needs to be offered at every seminary and it needs to be a required first year class on the graduate and post-graduate levels.
Overall, I find that Southern Seminary is a great seminary and it has a lot to offer the prospective student in both the graduate and post-graduate areas. I am not implying that everything is perfect and that the institution is not without faults, but I find that an institution of this size and caliber coupled with its rich history provides a great deal of unparalleled opportunities for training, ministry and service in the Lord’s work.