Pastor-scholar Hershael York appointed dean of Southern Seminary’s School of Theology
The preaching professor replaces historian Gregory A. Wills, who completed five-year term.
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (SBTS) — Long-time pastor and New Testament scholar Hershael York will become the new dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary effective August 1, seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. announced last week at the annual alumni and friends luncheon during the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Texas. York will replace Gregory A. Wills, who completed a five-year term as dean.
“Hershael York will serve superbly as dean,” Mohler said in an interview ahead of the announcement. “He has all the gifts, and will bring his own mix of personality and ministry and passion to this role. I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Greg Wills as dean, and I’m really looking forward to having Hershael York serve as dean. And in different times and in different seasons, the Lord gives us just exactly what we need.”
The School of Theology at Southern Seminary is the school’s oldest and central school, made up of what Mohler called a “classic theology faculty.” The school houses scholars and practitioners in the Old and New Testaments, biblical, historical, and systematic theology, church history, philosophy, ethics, and preaching.
“To be a part of the history of Southern Seminary has been an incredible joy of my life, and now to be a part of that particular position with those that have filled that role before,” said York, referencing the deans of School of Theology who came before him. “To be able to be a part of that tradition is an incredible blessing and joy. I really do believe that Southern Seminary has the greatest evangelical faculty in history … I see myself as just serving them and being a cheerleader-in-chief, exhorting and encouraging them as they do all that God is using them to accomplish.”
The provost of Southern Seminary, Randy L. Stinson, who leads the seminary’s three schools at an executive level, said York’s decades-long commitment to the school positions him to lead the School of Theology into the future.
“I look forward to Dr. York’s installation as dean for the School of Theology,” Stinson said. “His commitment to Southern Seminary for over 20 years gives me confidence in the future for the school. He will undoubtedly lead the faculty with conviction and a pastor’s heart.”
York becomes the 11th dean of the School of Theology since its formation in 1954.
Mohler said: “The School of Theology represents the original purpose of the seminary and a classic theology faculty that has existed since 1859, in a succession of teachers and academic leaders. The School of Theology is the very heart of Southern Seminary and has represented one of the most respected theology faculties for more than 150 years.”
Previous deans include Russell D. Moore, now-president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Danny Akin, now-president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wills, the outgoing dean, will return to scholarly pursuits teaching and writing. In the next year, Wills intends to finish writing a history of Southern Baptists. He is also under contract to write a two-volume history of Christianity.
“Greg Wills has been outstanding as dean of the School of Theology,” Mohler said. “He represents a return to the model of dean that was established at Southern Seminary in a previous generation: an academic proven in the classroom and scholarship who can serve as a model for others — and who could serve for a time and season as dean.
“Being dean of the School of Theology requires a sacrifice of time and something of a sabbatical from some of the scholarship that a professor like Greg Wills both wants and needs to undertake. And so especially with some major developments to come like the 175th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention, I wanted to be certain we give Greg Wills relief from the responsibilities as dean to turn his attention to some scholarly projects that we all need him to do.”
Added Stinson: “I am incredibly grateful for Dr. Wills’ past five years of service as dean for the School of Theology. He has proven himself to be a faithful leader to the faculty. I look forward to seeing the fruits of his increased labor in scholarship and writing.”
Mohler noted that Wills not only served as a model scholar, but his tenure as dean will serve as a model for the future of the role. Mohler explained that deans of the School of Theology will ideally be unable to set aside publishing and teaching indefinitely — because those characteristics make candidates ideal in the first place. This led Mohler to change the nature of the deanship of the School of Theology.
“We are looking for a model scholar already on our faculty, already serving on the faculty of the School of Theology to take on the responsibility of dean for a term: As we look to the future, we’re going to be asking deans to serve for five years,” Mohler said, adding that a dean could serve longer, but he wants to ensure deans are not forced to choose between scholarly and administrative careers. “I do not ever anticipate hiring a dean from outside of our own faculty, because the very point is to hire someone who has already served as a model on faculty of scholarship and teaching.”
Wills believes York fits this model.
“I have known Hershael York for over 20 years,” said Wills ahead of the announcement. “I have immense respect for him as a man of God, as a theologian, and as a leader in theological education. He is committed utterly to the full inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, and to the power of the Word of God, to evangelism, and to the worldwide mission of the church. In his teaching, he has modeled the way that theological education should be done. I have full confidence in him.”
York’s relationship with Southern Seminary began 25 years ago, when Mohler became the ninth president of the seminary. York, then the 33-year-old pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. He said he had long given up on the theological trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship seminary.
“I had literally no thought that it would be possible for the seminary [to return to its theological roots],” York said. “Southern was just so far gone. I didn’t picture Southern ever being what it is today, and I certainly didn’t picture myself on the faculty. In all of history, there’s never been the dramatic change in the theological direction of a seminary like there has been here. It is unparalleled.”
When Mohler was announced as president in early 1993, York called Mohler and said, “You don’t know me, but I want you to know that there’s at least one pastor in Kentucky who is glad you’re coming.”
Mohler hired York in 1997 as one of his first preaching professors. Two years later, in 1999, the seminary’s trustees elected York to an endowed position as Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching. It's a position York considers one of the most important at a confessional evangelical seminary. The preaching professorship defines a seminary, according to York, since students are taught the Scriptures and theology in order to faithfully proclaim it, he said.
During the hiring process in March 1997, Mohler and Akin, who was the School of Theology dean at the time, took York to Cave Hill Cemetery and the grave of John A. Broadus, the seminary’s first preaching professor and second president. Mohler told York he wanted him to join the faculty at Southern and teach preaching where Broadus taught it, and to teach the same view of preaching he had.
York’s educational background includes bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in classical languages from the University of Kentucky, as well as master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees in New Testament and Greek from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Tonya, have two sons, both of whom work in ministry positions.
An installation service for York is planned for the fall, as well as a celebration of Wills’ tenure as dean. The dates for the events will be announced later this summer.