At third annual McCall Lecture, Dockery offers case-studies in leadership from Southern Seminary’s presidents
A helpful way to learn about leadership is to examine leaders from the past, said David S. Dockery during The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s third annual Duke K. McCall Lecture on Christian Leadership, Sept. 24.
Dockery, long-time president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., spoke about Southern Seminary’s nine presidents, using each as a case-study in leadership qualities. He focused particularly on the seminary’s current president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. and his convictional leadership as the essential and foundational trait.
Drawing from leadership principles from each of the presidents, Dockery said that each of the lessons — the necessity of vision, teamwork, change agency, wise risk-taking, encouragement, good managing, strategic planning, relational skills and convictional leadership — must be grounded in the Bible and theological direction.
“Without such commitments these efforts lose shape and become disconnected from the Christ- centered mission,” Dockery said. “A leader’s life is not primarily about an organization or about success, but a leader’s life is primarily about being characterized by the worship of God, authentic discipleship, by spiritual and ministry formation — a life that God uses for his purposes.”
Dockery, who served as the dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary from 1992-1996, began with the founder of the seminary, James Petigru Boyce as an example of leadership as vision. Boyce, president from 1859-1888, dreamed of a Baptist seminary for the South and the Southern Baptist Convention, and in Greenville, S.C., in 1859 this dream began to turn into a reality.
Leaders can learn about the necessity of vision from Boyce, Dockery said. Boyce saw a vision of an established, confessional seminary. He persevered through post-Civil War hardships to see the vision realized.
“Vision has the ability to see the end of the plan from the beginning,” Dockery said. “It was Boyce’s vision that served as the source of energy and direction for the seminary from 1859 until his death in 1888.”
Dockery then talked about John A. Broadus, an example of team leadership, who not only succeeded Boyce as president (1888-1895), but worked closely with Boyce from the early days of the seminary.
“In many ways, the Boyce-Broadus leadership was a duet, not a solo,” Dockery said.
Broadus stood beside Boyce in the difficult economic days of the seminary when it moved from Greenville to Louisville, Ky. He refused to take a salary while he raised funds for Southern, and he worked with Boyce to help accomplish his vision for the school. Dockery said that Broadus exemplified team leadership throughout his professorship and presidency at Southern Seminary.
After Broadus came William Heth Whitsett (1895-1899). Whitsett, the third seminary president and a member of the faculty and historian, challenged prevailing views about Baptist origins, resulting in controversy and crisis for the seminary. It eventually cost him his job.
Dockery said the lesson of Whitsett’s presidency is risk-taking at the right time and understanding context. He said that timing is key in leadership. Leaders who make mistakes need to admit it and move on, he said.
“The right thing done at the wrong time, or the right thing done for the wrong reason is the wrong decision,” Dockery said. “Risk-taking is good at the right time and right place. And godly leaders must be willing to do so.”
Southern’s fourth president, Edgar Young Mullins (1899-1928), is an example of leadership as change agent. Mullins provided lasting leadership through his persuasive work as an administrator and denominational statesman who adapted to his time, Dockery said.
“Not only did he influence the campus and the denomination, but he influenced far beyond Baptist life through his statesman-like leadership,” Dockery said. “He demonstrated the power of persuasion. For almost 30 years, E.Y Mullins’ giant sized abilities touched Baptists everywhere and pointed the seminary forward in the changing world of the 20th century.”
After Mullins died, John Richard Sampey became president (1929-1942). Sampey inherited not only the seminary but substantial debt. “He was a model of courage in difficult days,” Dockery said, stating that leadership as encourager is important.
Sampey began to implement plans for paying the debt and the school’s enrollment grew as time progressed.
Ellis Adams Fuller, Southern Seminary’s sixth president (1942-1950), was a leader as manager, Dockery said. Fuller knew business well and had good managerial skills. He adequately managed the seminary and Dockery said that leaders can learn that timing is key for implementation from Fuller.
“Managers like Fuller make wise and prayerful decisions. They know when and how to ask for help,” Dockery said.
Duke K. McCall, the leader who the lecture honors, was Southern Seminary’s seventh and longest serving president (1950-1982). Dockery cited McCall as Southern Seminary’s strategic leader.
McCall, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, had already been the executive secretary of the SBC Executive Committee, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville before he came to Southern Seminary. He was also named president of the Baptist World Alliance after his time at Southern.
Dockery said that McCall’s presidency teaches leaders that they will not be able to move forward without strategic planning.
“He remarkably placed his stamp on the campus of Southern Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention like few others in Southern Baptist history,” Dockery said. “His strategic, thoughtful leadership reached far beyond this campus.”
Dockery said that Roy Lee Honeycutt, Southern’s eighth president (1982-1993), was a relational leader. Relationships are essential for those in leadership, Dockery said. Honeycutt worked through difficult opposition from the progressive faculty, and he built consensus with a covenant statement, written in the midst of denominational controversy.
Dockery finished his leadership case studies with Mohler, who marks 20 years as president of Southern Seminary this semester. He told students that the lesson to learn from Mohler is convictional leadership and commitment to sound biblical teaching.
When Mohler began his presidency, the seminary was at the center of controversy in the SBC. Mohler, through his convictional and committed leadership, turned the seminary back to biblical fidelity and theological orthodoxy.
“President Mohler has brought about a remarkable transformation by convictional leadership which is both theologically informed and theologically shaped,” Dockery said. “President Mohler has reclaimed the vision of James P. Boyce and the tradition that provided the framework for the early decades of this seminary.”
Audio and video from Dockery’s message are available at sbts.edu/resources.
Copeland, pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Rockford, Ill., for the last 12 years, spoke to students about the importance of beliefs that are in agreement with Scripture and are applied to the student’s life before ministry begins.
He preached from 1 Timothy 4:16 where Paul instructs Timothy to pay careful attention to himself and the instruction he receives. From this passage, Copeland urged students to verify against Scripture what they learn in and out of class, and allow it to inform their character and way of living.
“Sometimes you can be so focused on your learning that you forget about your burning,” he said. “You can be so focused on knowledge that you forget about the fact that it isn't just about what you know but Who you know. And Who you know comes out in your deportment, your conduct and conversation.”
Copeland told the students that the goal of an education is character transformation. Education is necessary, but he said that students need to prepare for the “front lines” of ministry. Copeland said that a seminary student should not study Scripture and its meaning just to tell someone else. But, he said, what is learned should be applied to the pastor first.
“You can’t have the impact that God intends for you to have without having your doctrine straight,” Copeland said. “Study yourself like you study the Book.” Students need to live in a way that helps others know what is right, he said.
Copeland, a council member on The Gospel Coalition — a coalition of evangelical leaders, most popularly known for its blog and biennial conference — closed his message warning students to attend to their convictions and character, especially while in seminary when the temptation to be prideful is prevalent.
Copeland illustrated this by saying that there should not be a gap between what someone is learning and how they are living.
“It’s possible to know the right things, but if you’re not living it right, you don’t have the seasoning that you need in order to help other people know what’s right,” Copeland said.
“As you grow older, you will recognize that you are constantly changing and therefore you need more and more of God’s grace and you need to practice these disciplines in a greater fashion.”
Copeland is the author of Riding in the Second Chariot: A Guide for Associate Ministers, and he is also an attorney.
Audio and video from Copeland’s sermon are available at sbts.edu/resources.
Nunez, senior pastor of the International Baptist Church in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, preached from Mark 6:14-29, a passage that reports on King Herod's beheading of John the Baptist, illustrating the cost of being faithful to the cause of Christ.
Before he preached, Nunez spoke about his background and ministry. He told about how he left the Dominican Republic to pursue a successful medical career in the United States before God called him to ministry and back to Latin America.
Nunez, the author of two books, Jesus: the Man that Challenged the World and Confronts Your Life and A Church After God’s Own Heart, said that he believes what is happening in the Dominican Republic is the “beginning of a reformation in Latin America.”
“God is doing something fresh in Latin America that perhaps you should be aware of and maybe even be a part of it,” he said. “And I suspect that is part of the reason that God has me here today.”
As a part of growing Spanish-language initiatives, Southern Seminary recently began live translation of chapel services and on-campus conferences into Spanish, for both in person and for online viewers.
Turning to his sermon, Nunez described John the Baptist from the Mark passage as an example of the cost of discipleship.
“What John the Baptist lived in private he preached in public. And we need God’s people like that today,” Nunez said, who is also the founding president of Wisdom and Integrity Ministries.
Nunez noted the power of God’s call on a man, illustrating this with John’s conviction about honoring God. He pointed out the power of resentment, which led to Herod’s daughter asking for the head of John the Baptist on a platter at her mother’s advising. Nunez said that people are blind to their sin because of resentment.
He talked about the power of integrity, citing Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate and the people could not find fault with Jesus because of the way he lived his life in integrity.
He lastly talked about the power of sin in a person’s life. He said that the power of sin weakens a person’s sinful nature, which is what led to Herod not safeguarding John the Baptist even though he knew he was a righteous man.
Nunez said that John the Baptist was committed to the advancement of the truth even when it cost him his life. He pointed out that the prophet acted as a moral compass for the people around him who lived in sin because he didn’t compromise the truth.
He said that voices like John’s, who speak up for the truth, are not only important for the nations, but especially important for the church of God, citing William Wilberforce, who fought for 26 years to abolish slavery in England.
Nunez compared Herod and John the Baptist to Pilate and Christ. Pilate succumbed to the pressure of the people, which resulted in the crucifixion of Christ. Pilate had power, but no character, he said.
“Sin has a monumental influence on you and me. It has the potential to little by little make us into mere puppets of our impulses and desires. And that’s where Herod ended up,” Nunez said.
He closed his sermon by reading an anonymous letter from a pastor in Africa. The letter, written before the author was beheaded, emphasized that the high cost of following Christ.
Nunez hosts the For His Cause Conference, a gathering that ministers to thousands of Spanish- speaking people from many different countries. In the spring of 2013, Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. spoke at the conference, and plans to return next year to speak again.
Audio and video from Nunez’s message, “The Cause of Christ has a Price,” are available at sbts.edu/resources.
Rick Bordas, Southern Seminary Foundation Board member and long-time friend of the school, died Sept. 18 from gallbladder cancer. He was 65.
“A giant has fallen in Louisville,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary. “Rick Bordas was a dear friend to me, to Southern Seminary, and to the cause of Christ. He was a devoted churchman, a mentor and evangelist, and a friend to a small army of friends and fellow disciples. He was a model husband and father, whose love for his wife and family was evident to all. He mentored young men for Christ and his influence will endure through the lives he shaped and through the Rick Bordas Fund for Christian Discipleship at Southern Seminary.
“Our prayers are with Lori Bordas and the Bordas family, even as we rejoice in the triumph of Christ in the life and legacy of Rick Bordas.”
Bordas, a believer for 25 years, served on the foundation board for seven years. According to a family obituary, he loved the seminary and its students, which lead him to serve on the board. He attended chapel services often.
When Bordas was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer earlier in 2013, he simply asked people to pray and continued to work and volunteer. He and his wife, Lori, faithfully attended Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., where Bordas mentored young men, served as a deacon and greeter.
Bordas, a Vietnam War veteran, was known for saying that the most important things in life are God, family and friends. He has three sons and one stepson.
Friends of Bordas recently honored him with a student discipleship fund in his honor at Southern Seminary. When these friends invited Bordas and his wife, Lori, to a dinner on June 17, the two did not know that 100 friends and family gathered at the seminary to unveil the Rick Bordas Fund for Student Discipleship.
The fund recently co-sponsored a conference at the seminary about personal and family vigilance while in seminary.
He leaves behind his wife, Lori, three sons and their wives, Drew and Kennington, Matt and Karen, Josh and Jessica; one stepson, Jeffrey Peterson; six grandchildren; his parents, Margaret Anne and Jim Bordas; and seven siblings. He is preceded in death by his brother, Joe.
The family hosted a visitation service on Sept. 22 and a funeral service at Southeast Christian Church on Sept. 23.
The Bordas family requests that gifts be given to the seminary fund in lieu of flowers. Gifts may be sent to: Southern Seminary c/o Rick Bordas Fund for Student Discipleship, Office of Institutional Advancement, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, introduced Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, expressing thankfulness for Rainer’s friendship and ministry as the founding dean of the seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.
“It was very clear to me that God had created one man for that job, and his name was Thom Rainer,” Mohler said. “It was a great joy when Thom Rainer came, and the growth and development of that school under his leadership was remarkable. The lengthened shadow of his legacy here continues. ... He is also a dear friend.”
Rainer, a two time Southern Seminary graduate, preached from 1 Timothy 3:7, warning students about the traps that Satan sets for all Christians, and especially ministers of the gospel.
“No one puts a trap up accidentally,” Rainer said. “Satan is setting intentional traps for you now.”
He described five characteristics of these traps: Traps are powerful, intentional, they aim at a person’s vulnerability, they catch you unaware and they bring sudden and sometimes perilous consequences to a Christian’s life.
Rainer told students about a season in his life when ministry and education took precedence over his family. He said that he realized this problem when his five year old son had not seen him in several weeks because of work and ministry. He said that this was a turning point. Rainer warned students to heed this passage and not fall into the same sin.
“Please don’t think that you’re invincible,” Rainer said. “Don’t think it can’t happen to you because it’s those who say ‘never’ who end up in the trap. We don’t have to fall into the trap, but we need to know that we can,” he said.
Rainer closed the sermon with a final warning for students to walk closely with God in order to prevent a fall.
“Please, for the sake of the glory of God, stay close to him because the devil is waiting to devour.”
Before his sermon, Rainer reflected on his early ministry at Southern Seminary when Mohler first became president.
“What took place in the early and mid-90s for several years was convictional leadership at its best,” Rainer said, referring to Mohler’s stewardship of the institution through theological transition. “What took place at Southern Seminary many said could not be done. And because God worked through a man named Albert Mohler, this school turned around as the denomination began to turn. I was an eyewitness to that history and I saw that convictional leadership. I saw it then and I see it now.”
Earlier this year, Southern Seminary named Rainer as its distinguished alumnus of the year during the school’s alumni luncheon at the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Houston, Texas.
Audio and video of the sermon are available at sbts.edu/resources.
Faithful Christian scholars must be prepared to accept the scandal of the gospel, even at the cost of academic reputation, said Gregory A. Wills in a Sept. 3 installation service at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“It is right to step back and hear from the one who will take this office about what he sees in the future of the school and the reason it was established,” seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr., said, introducing Wills as the new dean of the seminary’s School of Theology.
Wills preached from 2 Corinthians 4:1-12 about the scandal of the gospel and its relation to Christian scholarship.
Wills, professor of church history and the author of several books, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009, called the seminary community to suffer the scandal of humility in the service of the gospel.
“I want us to reflect upon this message and its role in our scholarship and in our study of Scripture, the truth of Scripture and all things that belong unto the study of Scripture,” Wills said. “The scandal is inescapable. The scandal of the gospel is that we must repudiate our confidence in glorious human knowledge. We must acknowledge Christ’s righteousness and abandon our own. We must die if we would live.”
Wills applied this scandal to scholarship, specifically in seminary training. He said that no scholarly evidence can compel sinners to repent and trust in Christ, but only the gospel.
“It is crucifixion above all that scandalizes sinners. Christ crucified, Paul says, was ‘a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). It is the cross itself that offends the heart and the conscience of man,” Wills said.
Wills said that in 1879 the seminary faced the “momentous” question of whether it would stand committed when professor Crawford Toy challenged the seminary’s commitment to divine truth. Southern dismissed Toy as an “act of gospel fidelity and courage that has bolstered Southern Baptist commitment to Scripture to this day,” Wills said.
“Southern Baptists rightly established this seminary for the promotion of divine truth,” Wills said. “And we must never relinquish this task, though at great cost of labor, at great inconvenience and great grief. We must never relent in our determination to promote and defend gospel truth. And so we repudiate tampering with the Word of God.”
The historian noted, however, that the gospel is not about scholarship, but Jesus Christ.
“We are content that our scholarship is employed in the statement of open, divine truth. This means, among other things, that we do not long for the recognition of the academy, but for the ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’ We are trophies of grace, not learning,” Wills said.
Scholarship must serve the gospel, he said, and the purpose of God’s truth is to produce love, resulting in godly living and godly dying. Wills said that students are accountable to knowing the truth and that the aim of truth is love.
Wills also laid out a vision for how Southern Seminary desires to train ministers.
“We are seeking to produce theologians whose theology makes them evangelists,” he said.
Wills charged seminarians to be relentless in their commitment to the task, citing Southern’s founders who, in the aftermath of the Civil War, resolved that they would die before they allowed the seminary to die.
“May we do our duty and change history. Until Christ returns we must attend zealously to theological scholarship for teaching biblically sound and courageous ministers of the gospel,” Wills said. “The church will always need such faithfully trained ministers who are trained in the scandalous scholarship of the gospel. We believe theological education is an obligation. As long as God sustains us, we will never give up.”
Wills is the second of three new senior academic leaders to present inaugural addresses to begin the 2013-14 academic year. The seminary installed Randy Stinson as senior vice president for academic administration and provost, Aug. 29, and will install Adam W. Greenway as the new dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, Oct. 1.
Mohler presented Wills with a framed certificate commemorating the installation service, and a Bible.
Audio and video of Wills’ message are available at sbts.edu/resources.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary must prepare students not only in academics, but hardships in future ministry, said Randy Stinson in his Aug. 29 installation address.
Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr., introduced Stinson, who became senior vice president for academic administration and provost earlier in the year, thanking God for his provision and looking forward to the coming years at the seminary.
“This is a special and historic day in the life of the seminary,” Mohler said. “This is a responsibility of tremendous importance and a position that requires much stewardship of the entire seminary. As we think about how God has provided for us in the future we come with great gratitude. It’s one of those moments that needs to be solemnized in a certain way.”
Preaching from 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, where Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to commend themselves to God through endurance of trials, Stinson told students at Southern Seminary to expect and be prepared to face challenges in life and ministry.
“We're expecting that the students who come to us will have more personal challenges, not less,” Stinson said.
Stinson, who served for eight previous years as the dean of the School of Leadership and Christian Ministry and founding dean of the School of Church Ministries, talked about young ministers who leave churches because they think that the congregation will not endure sound doctrine. He emphasized the importance of biblical expectations of pastoral leadership, and how the people accept his leadership.
“It's all about expectations,” said Stinson. “What do you expect? It's easy to say that they wouldn't endure sound doctrine, but it's hard to look in the mirror and see that they won't endure you.”
Stinson called students and pastors to endure the difficult situations of ministry that make the temptation to run appealing. He said that pastors need to commend themselves to the people that they serve.
“The thing that will commend you to the people you are serving is how you endure in Christ with patience, kindness and love,” he said.
Life isn’t only about academics or how many people fill the church pews each week, he said. Rather, the Christian life is about living according to what they know and believe, patiently and in a godly manner.
“You're learning things here that are important that will serve you well if you live according to what you know,” Stinson said. “Patience ruled the day for Paul.”
He said that Southern Seminary will always be vigilant about the content that is taught in the classroom because administrators want students to be prepared for ministry in a sinful world.
“I want our students to be a certain way and have a certain ministry,” he said. “There’s a type of minister of the gospel that we’re trying to create here to send out — a minister of great endurance and great expectation of trial and difficulty who will face those in God.”
Stinson called the patient endurance of trials “true grit,” but not the Hollywood, John Wayne kind.
“True grit is rooted in the eternal God and his eternal reward,” Stinson said. “What commended Paul is his endurance.”
Stinson exhorted students to endure difficult circumstances by purity.
“There's a way to walk through challenges and hardships and that's by living a life that is above reproach,” Stinson said.
Ministers, students and laymen will experience tests of faith and strength in life, but Stinson said God brings hardships because they are part of God’s plan to sanctify his people
“The will of God is your sanctification, or God making you more Christ-like, because there’s something on the other side of this hardship that you need to know about,” he said.
At the conclusion of Stinson’s address, Mohler presented him with a certificate and Bible commemorating his installation.
Audio and video of the service are available at sbts.edu/resources.
Jeremy Pierre, who recently became the dean of students at Southern Seminary, introduced the all-day Personal and Family Vigilance conference, explaining the importance of students taking care of their spiritual life — even while in seminary.
“Following Christ first in your personal life and in your family is not automatic,” said Pierre, who is also assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary. “It takes effort and it takes vigilance, grace enabled effort and vigilance, but vigilance nonetheless. We don't want any of our students to shipwreck their faith through the negligence of their soul, because following Jesus while studying him is not automatic.”
Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. led the first plenary session, exhorting students about the health of their private and spiritual lives. Mohler preached from 1 Timothy 4:12-16, warning about the dangers of ministry and the tragedy when someone leaves ministry because of poor personal and spiritual vigilance.
Mohler said that people learn much about an institution by how it begins its semester. He gave an example of a secular school that recently began its semester with a mandatory meeting about “safe sex” among the students. In contrast, Southern Seminary began its new year by focusing on the soul care of its students.
“We need to train ourselves for the pattern of sound steps and the pattern of a sound life,” Mohler said. “If we fail in terms of the private life, then we fail utterly.”
Mohler stressed that people are always watching those in ministry to see how they live. He said that wherever the minister or leader goes, eyes follow to watch if his words match his actions.
He read an open letter from a former student who, instead of graduating, signed divorce papers. The letter, which appeared in a 2011 issue of the seminary’s news magazine, Towers, illustrated the importance of the conference and its message of personal and family watchfulness while in seminary, Mohler said.
“All of us together, whatever our age, need to be determined to right now feed the virtues and starve the vices by God’s grace,” he said. “It’s in the mirror that doctrine and character meet. The defense of the truth requires the same virtues as the defense of character.”
Heath Lambert, associate professor of biblical counseling at Boyce College, the seminary’s undergraduate school, led a plenary session directed toward men about the dangers of pornography. Lambert’s recent book, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, addresses the issue of pornography within today’s Christian culture. The seminary gave attendees a free copy of the book. (A question and answer about Lambert’s new book is available here.)
Lambert, who is also the executive director of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, said that he believes this is a time of crisis. “Pornography is the most significant problem in the church. … Today people in our churches have to be vigilant against a phantom,” he said, talking about pornography’s anonymous, ease of access on the Internet.
Purity in the churches begins with the pastor, he said.
“God has raised you up to be leaders in your home and church,” Lambert said. “If our homes and churches are to be pure, they are going to be led by men who are pure.”
Lambert preached from Romans 6, telling students that the necessary power to be pure is found in the passage, which addresses a believer’s deadness to sin and life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
He noted three truths that empower men struggling with pornography, saying that a Christian cannot confess Christ’s resurrection and not fight for holiness; the power for purity is found in the fight against sin; and the fight against sin includes the need for Christians to stop resenting sin and to present themselves to God as raised-to-life believers.
Lambert told students to protect themselves by putting protective systems on computers, cell phones and even television in order to avoid temptations to sin.
Men should begin to present themselves to God as instruments of righteousness by service to others and the church, said Lambert. Fighting for purity requires spending time with Jesus.
He also encouraged the attendees to sing gospel-centered music when tempted to sin.
“God has wired us that there’s something about singing that ignites our affections,” Lambert said.
His final call to action encouraged men to find someone and tell them the truth, emphasizing the importance of grace and honesty in the effort to fight sin.
The conference also featured four breakout sessions led by seminary professors. Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality, led a session about vigilance in soul care; Pierre led a session about ministering to those who need to confess sin; Bruce A. Ware, professor of Christian theology, spoke to students about how couples can pursue purity together; and Brian J. Vickers, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, led a session about moving past guilt and the step toward grace
The conference is the first to be co-sponsored by the Rick Bordas Fund for Student Discipleship, established June, 2013, and the John and Debbie Bethancourt Lectures for Ministerial Ethics.
Audio and video from the conference are available at sbts.edu/resources.
At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, SBTS remembers MLK visit; Williams writes about ongoing need for racial reconciliation
August 28 is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the 1963 large-scale rally that advocated for civil and economic rights of American-Americans in the United States.
Fifty-two years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. visited Southern Seminary to give the 1961 Julius Brown Gay Lecture on Christian Ethics. Audio from King's visit is available at the James P. Boyce Archives and Special Collections website: King’s address, “The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension,” pronounced a call for church leaders to accept the responsibility of confronting the moral evil of segregation in the South and take the lead in moving American society toward integration. He also lectured in an ethics class. Archives also includes an article from the Review & Expositor by former Southern Seminary professor Henlee Barnette reflecting on King's visit. Baptist Press recently referenced the visit in an article about Southern Baptists and reconciliation. And, two years ago, Towers published a special edition about the 50th anniversary of King's visit to the seminary.
Jarvis Williams, associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary, recently wrote about the March on Washinton, issuing a call for gospel-centered racial reconciliation, available here.
What the March on Washington couldn’t accomplish: 50 years later, a call for gospel-centered racial reconciliation
The Civil Rights movement in the second half of the 20th century worked ferociously to fight for the equal rights of people of color, especially for the equal rights of African-Americans. Many women and men, both black and white, sacrificed time, money, and the high price of their own lives in order to end racial discrimination by means of boycotts, rallies, freedom rides and impassioned speeches against the sin and evil of racism.
The March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, was one of the largest civil liberties rallies in the history of the United States and featured Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a Dream” speech in which the civil rights leader movingly argued for equal rights and racial harmony for all people. Both the march and King’s speech certainly impacted the culture’s attitude toward race and racial harmony.
However, as the following days and months after King’s speech demonstrated and as our nation’s current racial tensions illustrate, the March on Washington was unable to eradicate racism, and it was incapable of universally accomplishing racial equality. The reason is quite simple: the March on Washington, as significant as it was, could not change the human heart inclined toward sin.
To the contrary, when faithfully lived, preached, and taught, the gospel of Jesus Christ can in fact eradicate all forms of racial hostility. As I suggested in my book on racial reconciliation, One New Man, the Bible confirms that sin is the reason why racism exists, Jesus’ death and resurrection are God’s provision for racial reconciliation, Jesus actually accomplished racial reconciliation for believers, and racial reconciliation must be intentionally pursued and can be experienced by those within the Christian community who believe, love, and live for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Reason for Racial Enmity and God’s Provision for Racial Reconciliation
In Genesis 1-2, Moses states that God created a perfect world without sin. In its original pristine form prior to sin entering creation, humanity was reconciled both to God and to one another. But, after Adam and Eve violated God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17), sin devastated God’s original creation. The hostility between humanity as a result of sin envisages the universal power of sin over human relationships.
Prior to the fall, humanity was in perfect harmony with its creator, with creation, and with one another (Gen 1-2). Unfortunately, after the fall, Cain murdered his brother, Abel (Gen 4:8), a direct consequence of Adam’s sin in the garden (Gen 3:15). Furthermore, because of the sin of idolatry, God confused humanity’s one speech into different dialects with the result that humanity became more alienated from one another due to dialectical confusion (Gen 11:1-9).
A key New Testament passage by Paul discusses the division between different dialects and different people groups and God’s solution to the division (Eph 2:11-22). When speaking of Jews and Gentiles (i.e. a Gentile is a non-Jewish person), Paul asserts that the Gentiles were separated from all of God’s promises to Israel (Eph 2:11-12). However, he asserts that Jesus’ death incorporates Gentile Christians into God’s family along with Jewish Christians by means of faith (Eph 2:13). Further, Paul declares that Jesus’ death makes believing Jews and believing Gentiles into one new humanity by killing the enmity between them, namely the law (Eph 2:14-16). Finally, Paul asserts that Jesus’ death grants both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians access to the one and true living God, access to the same Holy Spirit, and made them citizens within the same household, whose foundation is the apostles, the prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 2:18-22).
Of course, the ethno-racial problems between Jews and Gentiles are not the same as ethno-racial problems that are still prevalent on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. For example, the racial harmony that Paul discusses in Ephesians 2 has nothing to do with skin color.
Nevertheless, Paul’s words in Ephesians precisely speak to us today. For example, he reminds us that the division between humanity is not only a black and white problem, because sin is a universal power that enslaves every ethnicity and that causes divisions between them (see Rom 1:18-32; 6:1-23; Gal 2:11-14). Jews and Gentiles (all ethnic groups) are alienated from one another.
In addition, Paul reminds us that the provision for racial harmony is not Civil Rights rallies and well-attended marches, as helpful as they can be, because he promulgates that Jesus Christ himself actually accomplished racial reconciliation for followers of Jesus.
The Bible emphasizes the universal power of sin over humanity, the universal effects of sin over humanity, the alienation of humanity because of sin, and Paul presents the only solution to this massive problem of racial alienation as the gospel of Jesus Christ. May the churches, therefore, be vigilant to promote and preach a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, and gospel-centered message of racial harmony, and may they be intentional to achieve this in the church, in the academy, and in the world.
Jarvis Williams is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He has written and spoken widely on the subject of biblical racial reconciliation and is the author of One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology (Broadman and Holman Academic Press, 2010).