Gospel Light Shines Bright on My Old Eastern Kentucky Home September 14, 2022

Most people know by now that on July 27, 2022, historic levels of rain fell on Southeastern Kentucky taking the lives, homes, and livelihoods of many.

As an Eastern Kentucky native, born and raised in Red Fox, Kentucky, my heart continues to ache with much grief as I witness the magnitude of the loss and trauma that so many image bearers in the region continue to experience because of the flood.

Adding to this grief is the fact that some of the hardest hit areas in the region were in my native Knott County where businesses, homes, churches, and entire communities are badly damaged or destroyed, and where the loss of life was the highest. Adding insult to injury is the fact that I personally know people who suffered some degree of loss. As I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the flood, the financial, material, physical, and spiritual needs in Eastern Kentucky are immense.

Firsthand Witness

Since writing that article, I traveled with SBTS colleague Justin Irving to Knott County and witnessed the devastation firsthand. We also had the privilege and honor to take a financial gift from our church, Sojourn Midtown, as well as gift cards from many colleagues at Boyce College and Southern Seminary. We also took select items to help meet some of the material needs in the community.

We were able to partner with my home church, Hindman First Baptist Church (HFBC), to help restore the flood-damaged home of my mother in the faith, Ms. Ella Prater. During our short time there, we saw both the heartbreaking devastation in the community and the amazing and faithful work HFBC is doing to meet both the material and the spiritual needs in the community under the leadership of both Dr. Mike Caudill, senior pastor of HFBC—affectionately known by his parishioners and the community as Brother Mike—and with his wife, Alice Caudill. I was a member of HFBC from 1996 to 2001.

Brother Mike, an MDiv graduate of SBTS, has faithfully served HFBC for 34 years. During his ministry there, the gospel of Jesus Christ has spread like wildfire throughout many parts of Knott County, across Eastern Kentucky, and beyond as they have produced many disciples of Jesus Christ, disciples who have, by God’s grace, reproduced themselves across the region and across the globe.

In the flood’s immediate aftermath, HFBC—which averages around 150 to 200 in attendance each Sunday—served more than 9,000 meals to local residents, many of whom had lost everything. With the help of generosity from church members and volunteers across the state, HFBC served around 1,500 meals a day for several days following the flood.

In addition to working tirelessly to lead HFBC to meet the community’s physical needs, Brother Mike and Mrs. Caudill continue to serve alongside fellow members to take material goods to community residents who are unable to come to the church to receive them. Members of HFBC have also taken the love of Jesus and the light of the gospel message to specific communities in the area.

Preaching the gospel, teaching the gospel, applying the gospel, obeying the gospel, and serving the community in practical ways in the name of Christ because of a love for the gospel is nothing new for HFBC—as I have personally experienced.

Personal Journey: Grace Germinates Among the Weeds of Tragedy

Since its inception, fervent gospel ministry has been the church’s mission and witness in the community. I experienced this ministry firsthand both before and after I became a Christian as a 17-year-old. Like many family members in my childhood and early teenage years, Brother Mike, Mrs. Caudill, the Prater family, and many of the saints at HFBC played a major role in saving my life.

As I was coming to the end of my senior year of high school in the spring of 1996, I had no direction, no purpose, no realistic goals. Worse, I didn’t know Jesus. Our community experienced a tragedy that changed the direction of my life forever and changed the lives of many young people and adults. A dear high school friend, Merri Kathryn Prater, a fellow senior and fellow athlete, was involved in a terrible car crash and suffered a severe brain injury. Merri Kathryn was a Christian, and her mother, Ella Prater, my senior English teacher, and Merri Kathryn’s father, Willie Prater (now with the Lord), were also Christians. The Praters were members at HFBC.

During her stay in the hospital after her accident at what was then known as the University of Kentucky Medical Center, several of her classmates and members from HFBC visited Merri Kathryn and sought to comfort and support the family. Brother Mike and numerous church members were a constant presence at the hospital. They showed their faith by loving, caring for, comforting, and weeping with the family. They also loved, comforted, and wept with many of us young people, who ranged in age from early teens to late teens; we quite simply couldn’t understand or handle the trauma of seeing a classmate and dear friend whom we loved and a family whom we loved going through this pain and potential loss.

Even as a non-Christian, I was amazed by the consistency with which Brother Mike, his wife, and the saints at HFBC shared the love of Jesus with the hundreds of young people at the hospital and with other supporters from the community who were there. I was taken by the compassion and love they showed the Prater family and concerned friends. I was also filled with wonder by the deep faith they demonstrated as they encouraged us young people to place our faith in Christ and to pray fervently for Merri Kathryn. In the foyer of the UK Medical Center in 1996 I, still an unbeliever, gathered in circles of intense prayer for my friend, sang hymns, and heard for the first time the famous hymn “Amazing Grace” as members of HFBC led in worship there in the foyer.

Those moments shook me to the core of my being in deep and meaningful ways, and they changed me forever.

To my dismay, however, Merri Kathryn never gained consciousness, and she never left the hospital. On April 3, 1996, she went to be with Jesus. The funeral was held at HFBC. I was a pallbearer. Brother Mike preached a sermon called “Three Cheers and a Savior”—Merri Kathryn was both a Christian and a cheerleader.

That sermon and the entire service changed my life direction in every possible way.

Brother Mike preached the gospel clearly and beautifully celebrated Merri Kathryn’s life. Many friends, family members, and teammates spoke of Merri Kathryn with beauty and grace. Mrs. Prater eulogized her daughter with profound eloquence, supernatural strength, deep faith, and with the joy of the Lord in a manner that left us completely mesmerized.

Merri Kathryn’s funeral was filled with sorrowful joy and with lament, but not with despair as the Prater family and HFBC’s saints grieved with gospel hope. I encountered the greatness of God for the first time at that funeral, as I heard Brother Mike preach the gospel with stunning clarity, and as I heard for the first time those words of the famous Rich Mullins song, now forever engraved on my soul as the choir and congregation sang, “Our God is an awesome God, who reigns in heaven above, with wisdom, power, and love, our God is an awesome God.” Merri Kathryn’s life—one so well lived, her friendship, her church (which eventually became my church), and her family (which eventually became my adopted spiritual family) truly saved my life.

The night Merri Kathryn died I received the sad news along with my baseball teammates after a game. My teammates and I, many of whom were not Christians, erupted with loud cries of lament, shock, devastation, and anger—at God. A teacher at my high school, also a member of HFBC, had attended the game. She came onto the field, placed her hand on my shoulder as I groveled in the dirt near first base with anger, confusion, and uncontrollable pain, and she exhorted me: “Jarvis, you must put your hope and your faith in God.” Several of us heard that HFBC was open. Someone told us Brother Mike and other church members were willing to talk to us.

I joined a few teammates and some parents for the short drive from the baseball field to the church. There, one of my teammates, an underclassman and HFBC member, sat down beside me in a church pew, opened John 3:16, and read it aloud; he explained, “Jarvis, this is what life is all about.” Brother Mike likewise explained the gospel with great clarity to the young people and parents who had gathered there.

That night, one of my teammates, Mark Combs, gave his life to Jesus. He and I were good friends in high school, eventually became college roommates, and we attended Southern Seminary together. Pastor Mark is a two-time Southern Seminary graduate, and he currently serves as pastor of Summit Church in Hazard, Kentucky, a congregation he and his wife planted. Pastor Mark and Summit Church are likewise doing great work to help flood survivors in the region.

Grace Breaks Through

I didn’t give my life to Christ on the night Merri Kathryn died. But, on April 22, 1996, during a baseball game, I asked Brother Mike’s son, Casey, a teammate, if he would ask his father to give me a call because I wanted to talk to him about becoming a Christian. After our game that night, Brother Mike called, explained the gospel with great power, and led me to personal faith in Jesus Christ. Approximately two years later, Casey went to be with the Lord.

Shortly after my conversion, Brother Mike baptized me, and I became a member of HFBC. In the ensuing years, the body of HFBC walked with me through Christian discipleship and helped me discern a call to ministry. That body licensed me into the ministry, ordained me into the ministry, supported me financially so that I would be able to attend college and seminary, supported me spiritually, and they walked with me in numerous joys and trials of life.

Brother Mike and HFBC ministered to and loved my family well, and multiple family members gave their lives to Christ because of the direct impact of Merri Kathryn, her family, Brother Mike, Mrs. Caudill, and the saints at HFBC. Brother Mike and Mrs. Caudill, the Prater family, and so many others at HFBC adopted me as their spiritual son.

I say it again: That body truly played a major role in saving my life!

The Light Still Burns Bright in Eastern Kentucky

So, as I have heard, read in the news, and have seen firsthand how Brother Mike, Mrs. Caudill, and the saints at HFBC are responding with grace, love, compassion, mercy, and with the hope of the gospel during this time of crisis in the region, I’m reminded that the gospel’s light continues to shine bright on my old Eastern Kentucky home through the ministry of HFBC and through the kindness and generosity of so many residents there.

It’s deeply gratifying to see the work that the Lord is doing through HFBC and to see the impact of the generosity and sacrifices of so many people from different parts of the country. However, neither they nor other churches in the area can do this work alone.

The path ahead for Knott County and for the rest of the Southeastern Kentucky region so devastated by the flood is long and difficult. Residents there will need help for many days, months, and years to come. There are myriad needs in the area because the devastation is so widespread. There are financial needs, educational needs, material needs, mental health needs, and a need for able-bodied people to help with physical labor. Two of the most important material needs are money and workers to help with cleanup. There are also many spiritual needs.

Want to Help?

For members of our the SBTS and Boyce College community who may be interested in helping, there are abundant opportunities to share the love of Christ as you show the love of Christ in the communities which the flood waters ravaged.

I respectfully ask members of our seminary community to consider prayerfully creative ways you and your churches can help the region over the long term. We can partner with trusted pastors in the region and travel to the area to help these pastors and their churches on the ground in the work of loving our neighbors as ourselves and sharing the love of Jesus. We can join with the many faithful churches there who continue to shine the bright light of the gospel on my old Eastern Kentucky home.

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“Treasure the Old Testament,” Betts Tells Faculty and Students in Annual Faculty Address September 7, 2022

While many Christians wonder how the Old Testament remains relevant, believers should study, teach, and preach it because it is God’s Word and is vital for the Christian life, professor T. J. Betts urged in Southern Seminary’s annual Faculty Address held August 31 in Broadus Chapel.

“My hope is for my students to see the treasure that is the Old Testament and experience the joy of teaching and preaching it,” Betts said. “There’s one God, one Savior, one Bible, and one faith. The Old and New Testament testify to this truth.”

Betts offered six reasons for New Testament believers to study, teach, and preach the Old Testament. Betts serves as professor of Old Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

1. The Old Testament is the Word of God.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and carries divine authority. Betts noted that Jesus and the New Testament authors expanded on—rather than replacing—the inspired message of the law and prophets.

“The unbroken testimony of the apostles is that the books of both testaments are special revelation in their entirety—the inspired word of God,” he said.

2. The Old Testament is God’s revelation of himself.

From cover to cover, the Bible teaches that God wants us to know him through his Word, Betts pointed out.

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SBTS Installs New Provost and Graham School Dean September 2, 2022

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary installed new leaders in two of the school’s most important offices this week in separate ceremonies in Alumni Memorial Chapel, with the provost appointment making Southern Baptist history.

Jeremy Pierre was installed as dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry in a chapel service on Aug. 30 and Paul Akin was installed as provost and senior vice president for academic administration of the seminary on Thursday morning.

Paul Akin’s appointment is historic: he follows in the footsteps of his father, Daniel L. Akin, who served as provost at Southern Seminary from 1996 to 2004. They are the first father-son tandem in Southern Baptist Convention history to serve as provost of the same institution. Today, Daniel L Akin is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, an office for which he left Southern Seminary in 2004.

Seminary President Albert Mohler called it a “blessed continuity.”

“There is nothing like this in Southern Baptist history,” Mohler said. “The only parallel to this I know is in the 18thand 19th centuries at Princeton Theological Seminary where there were fathers and sons that were serving in such similar capacities with names like Alexander and Hodge. This is glorious.

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Annual Golf Tourney Raises $232,000 for SBTS and Boyce College Students August 29, 2022

More than 110 golfers raised $232,000 for Southern Seminary and Boyce students at the 19th Annual Heritage Golf Classic Tournament on August 22 at Big Spring Country Club.

Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler voiced his gratitude for the tournament and the excellent day for it. Temperatures were mild in the low-80s and weather the entire day was perfect for a golf tournament.

“What a spectacular day,” he said. “Golf is something I greatly admire, and I especially admire the fact that today you have transformed golf into a way of helping students at Southern Seminary prepare for ministry.

“We are living in times of incredible moral revolt and one of the glad tasks of Southern Seminary is to press back against that revolt with the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. People like you, who love what the Lord is doing at SBTS and Boyce College, make this task possible.”

Edward Heinze, vice president of Institutional Advancement, was thrilled with the number of participants—there were 112 golfers and numerous sponsors. The tournament raises money to help offset tuition for students at the seminary and Boyce College.

“Every year our donors turn out with big hearts and generous hands to help us keep our degree programs affordable for all of our students,” Heinze said. “Probably the most encouraging aspect of this tournament is the joy that accentuates the entire day—our donors are genuinely happy to participate.”

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“The Bible Is the Curriculum,” Mohler Says in Annual Fall Convocation Address August 26, 2022

The curriculum at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College is not about the Bible or things related to the Bible, it is the Bible, seminary president Albert Mohler told students and faculty Tuesday morning in the school’s annual fall convocation at Alumni Memorial Chapel.

Preaching from 2 Peter 1, focusing on verse 19 where Peter, having spoken in previous verses of the transfiguration of Jesus which he witnessed, said of Scripture, “we have something more sure to which you do well to pay attention,” Mohler said God’s Word must saturate the curriculum at a faithful seminary.

“This is a call to attentiveness to Scripture in all of life,” Mohler said in his 30th fall convocation address. “But let’s face it, as much as it is about all of life, here we are in this hour, in this place, asking God’s blessing upon the task of Christian higher education and theological education. We are playing with fire, brothers and sisters. We are walking right up to the edge of the precipice and looking down.

“The stakes we know are so high, and if it’s true for all Christians in all places, in all times until Jesus comes, it must especially be true of us that we do well to pay attention to it.”

Mohler said that if the Bible is the authority of all authorities for the follower of Christ, if it is, as Martin Luther put it, “the norm above norms that can’t be normed,” then the subject matter that Southern Seminary and Boyce College are called to build everything upon rings clear.

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SBTS Names Jeremy Pierre as Sixth Dean of Billy Graham School August 2, 2022

Jeremy Pierre has seen Southern Seminary from virtually every side.

Pierre moved to Louisville from his native Cleveland, Ohio, in 2002 and enrolled as a Master of Divinity student. Soon, the seminary hired Pierre to establish a new writing center and in the two decades since, he has compiled a vast and varied ministry resume, one that reflects faithfulness to God’s call; after finishing his MDiv, Pierre completed a PhD in biblical counseling and systematic theology and served as instructor of English composition and instructor of literature and culture at Boyce College.

Since 2011, Pierre has been the Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Biblical Counseling at the seminary, and from 2013 to 2018, he was dean of students for the seminary.

Now, he is stepping into another important role at Southern: President Albert Mohler this week announced the appointment of Pierre as the sixth dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry. He replaces Paul Akin, who was named SBTS provost in June.

“Jeremy Pierre is simply outstanding,” Mohler said. “He is a man of great strengths, clear conviction, and tremendous pastoral experience. He is among the most influential figures in biblical counseling and a colleague greatly admired by this faculty. I am incredibly pleased that he will serve the Billy Graham School as dean.”

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Longtime Pastor and SBTS Alum Joins Faculty July 14, 2022

Southern Seminary has named accomplished pastor, speaker, and author, Jimmy Scroggins as professor of Christian Ministry in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry.

“I’m very grateful for the investment that Southern has made in me, as a pastor, as a leader, and as a scholar. It’s a tremendous joy to continue this relationship through the ministry of teaching,” Scroggins said. “I place a tremendous value on training new generations of leaders for the churches of the world and there’s no place I’d rather do it than SBTS.”

Paul Akin, provost at Southern Seminary and dean of the Graham School, said Scroggins displays a heart for the local church and will contribute a wealth of practical ministry experience to the Southern faculty. Akin believes Scroggins represents the highest values of Southern and is a perfect addition to the faculty.

“Jimmy Scroggins is a quintessential alum of the Billy Graham School,” Akin said. “He exemplifies what we desire in all of our graduates: a love for the Bible, the local church, and evangelism and missions. I am thrilled that he is joining our faculty and eager for our students to learn from him.”

Scroggins will continue as lead pastor of Family Church—a network of neighborhood churches in South Florida. While Scroggins has proven himself in the fields of pastoral ministry and evangelism, he has experience in academia and higher education.

Scroggins has a decades-long history with Southern Seminary, having received his PhD and MDiv from SBTS after first coming to the seminary as a student in the mid-1990s. He served as dean of Boyce College from 2004–2008 and is the author or co-author of multiple books including, Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations and Full Circle Parenting.

His combination of zeal for the classroom and local church makes Scroggins precisely the type of faculty member Southern seeks to serve its students, SBTS President Albert Mohler said.

“Jimmy Scroggins is a remarkable pastor of a thriving church in West Palm Beach, where for years he has demonstrated vision, conviction, passion, and joy in ministry.”

Said Mohler, “I have known Jimmy Scroggins since he came to Southern Seminary as a young student. I know his heart, and I look forward to his contributions in the classroom, as well as in the fields of ministry. Of course, I know the leadership of Jimmy Scroggins through his years as dean at Boyce College and as a member of this faculty, so this is just another way of continuing an influence that began long ago. To know Jimmy is to know a pastor's heart that beats for evangelism.”

 

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Mohler’s New Book Unveils the Explosive Power of Jesus’ Parables June 29, 2022

When Jesus’ disciples asked him why he sometimes taught in pithy stories known as parables, the Lord gave them a surprising, if not slightly shocking answer: he taught in parables so that some would have their spiritual eyes opened to the truth of God’s kingdom and that others would have their hearts and minds blinded to it.

Such is the nature of those stories Jesus tells, which is, of course the outcome of engaging all of Scripture—some hearts are softened toward the kingdom, others are hardened.

In his new book, Tell Me the Stories of Jesus: The Explosive Power of Jesus’ Parables (Nelson), Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. says in this way the parables “sneak up on Jesus’ hearers” with incredible power that makes clear truths about the kingdom of God.

In a little over 200 pages, Mohler examines many of the parables—most of which are found in the first three books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, and Luke—showing how they announce the arrival of God’s kingdom in all its glory, communicating both God’s grace in salvation to the found and his wrath in judgment to the lost.

“To be human is to be a storied creature in a way no other creature is,” Mohler said. “Dogs don’t know stories, they don’t tell stories; human beings tell stories—it’s a part of understanding who we are. Parents tell stories to their children and then those stories get repeated about the identity of a family. Churches and other organizations have stories.

“To be human is to have a story. To be human is to understand ultimate truth in terms of a story. The Bible is much more than a story, but it’s never less than a story. There is a storyline that goes from Genesis to Revelation and there are stories in the Old Testament. Jesus perfected the use of parables in teaching, and they are particular kinds of stories; they are stories that sneak up on us, they are stories that explode and disclose truth in an unbelievable way.”

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SBTS Adds Will Bishop to Department of Biblical Worship June 27, 2022

SBTS has named Will Bishop as associate professor of church music and worship. Bishop brings
a background of local church ministry and advanced training in theology to Southern’s
Department of Biblical Worship.

“I love the curriculum at Southern that is designed to equip students with the musical,
theological, and ministerial needs of today's churches.” Bishop said. “My background is in local
church ministry, and my passion is preparing students for a lifetime of faithful and fruitful
service to our churches.”

Bishop has served as Assistant Professor of Worship Leadership at Mississippi College since
2017. He currently serves as the interim worship pastor at Parkway Baptist Church in Clinton,
Mississippi. Bishop also earned his Doctor of Musical Arts from New Orleans Baptist Theological
Seminary in 2015.

A major reason he decided to join the mission at Southern is his respect for the faculty at SBTS
and its commitment to training ministers for the church.

“I admire the faculty at Southern.” Bishop said. “I love that the faculty here are both scholars
and active leaders in local churches. I believe it is vital that our students are taught by faculty
who are modeling faithful gospel ministry by serving in their churches.”

Churches need theologically rich worship ministries and Southern is committed to training their
leaders. Hiring Bishop is a good step in ensuring that worship leaders who train at Southern
receive the highest quality instruction in musical, theological, and ministerial needs.

Paul Akin, Provost of SBTS, is thrilled to see Bishop take on this new role.

“Will Bishop brings a strong Southern Baptist pedigree and proven experience as a college
professor and leader in local church.” Akin said. “He has a heart to train and equip the next
generation of worship leaders for the local church.”

The Bishops will relocate to Louisville. Bishop, his wife Jamie, and his four children; Caroline, Jackson, Carter, and Julianne.

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Pastor and Author J. T. English Joining Faculty at Southern Seminary June 24, 2022

Pastor, author, and noted podcast co-host J. T. English has been named associate professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary.

An alumnus of SBTS, English currently serves as lead pastor of Storyline Church in Arvada, Colorado, a role he will continue while teaching at the seminary.  English formerly served as chief of staff to seminary President Albert Mohler.

English possesses a significant background in theological education in service of the local church, having previously served as an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and as founder of the Village Church Institute, which offers discipleship and theological training through the local church.

“J. T. English combines a deep theological scholarship with a very keen understanding of the culture and contemporary challenges of ministry,” Mohler said. “He is a leader in shaping thought and in influencing pastors in his generation.

“J. T. is a proud son of Southern Seminary, and we are very proud to welcome him to the Southern Seminary faculty. It was my honor to work with J. T. when he served as chief of staff in my office, and it will be a joy to be teaching colleagues together.”

English is thrilled to join the work of SBTS in equipping the next generation of graduates to love and serve local churches.

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