SBTS Honors Schreiner and York—Teachers of Joy—for 25 Years of Faithfulness
Twenty-five years ago, Southern Seminary was, to put it mildly, a radically different place than it is in 2022.
Albert Mohler had been president for only four years and though a theological reformation was underway, it was far from complete. Moderate faculty members were leaving, and turmoil filled the air on campus and the newspapers off it. An atmosphere of uncertainty and change forced Mohler to wrestle with a giant question: Will any stalwart evangelical scholar be willing to leave his current—presumably peaceful—place of service and enter the “white-knuckle” struggle for the theological soul of Southern Seminary?
To join Southern Seminary’s faculty with the ground trembling so violently beneath the institution was to take an epic risk.
“I understood we had to get an entirely new faculty; it was do or die,” said Mohler, whom the trustees elected as Southern’s ninth president in 1993, and tasked him with
leading the school out of the Egypt of liberalism into the Canaan of its orthodox confessional heritage.
“The big question was who was going to come and teach here. I knew what I believed the Lord would do here, but it took other people who would leave other good places to come and take a risk.”
Tom Schreiner and Hershael York were willing to take the risk; they were willing to help the seminary recover the theological and ministry vision of its founding faculty.
Schreiner is one of the most highly regarded New Testament scholars in the evangelical world. Schreiner left the faculty of Bethel Theological Seminary, where he had served for a number of years, to link arms with the burgeoning reformation at Southern.
York is a faithful longtime pastor and noted homiletician. He has written several books on preaching, teaching, and homiletics.
Last week, the two marked 25 years of faithful service at Southern Seminary during a faculty luncheon honoring professors with five, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years of service. With the dust from that early theological controversy having long ago settled, both Schreiner and York continue going strong as leaders of Southern’s faculty. Schreiner serves as the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and York is the Dean of the School of Theology and the Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching.
“In our life spans, 25 years is a remarkable investment of an adult life,” Mohler said. “You look back and you recognize the biblical conception of life as a vapor really does make sense. Twenty-five years is the kind of commitment that builds an institution like this.”
Tom Schreiner: A Master Teacher
Punch the words “Thomas R. Schreiner” and “books” into Amazon’s search engine and page after page of books on Bible and theology flow forth like a stream.
During his years at Southern, Schreiner has written numerous New Testament commentaries, a biblical theology of the Old and New Testaments, a New Testament theology, and a Pauline theology. He has written or edited books on the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith, the biblical covenants, law and gospel, the warning passages in Hebrews, the spiritual gifts, the doctrines of grace, and numerous others. Schreiner was also the New Testament editor of the ESV Study Bible and is co-chairman of the Christian Standard Bible’s Translation Oversight Committee.
Schreiner’s prolific output in pedagogy and publishing has been matched by his service in the local church; for many years, he served as preaching pastor at Clifton Baptist Church, where he remains an elder and Sunday school teacher. He has also written hundreds of popular and scholarly articles and has sons who are active in evangelical scholarship, missions, and local church ministries. Students have flocked to his classes and outside events that have featured his teaching and preaching.
Mohler aptly described Schreiner as “a master teaching and a mind openly at work.” By any estimation, he is a beloved figure both inside and outside the seminary with hundreds of his former students filling pulpits, classrooms, and mission fields across the globe.
Inviting Schreiner as one of the first major faculty hires in the mid-90s was a no-brainer at the time, Mohler said, and the fruit that decision continues to bear is profound.
“Just about anywhere I go, if they know anything about the faculty at Southern Seminary, they know about Tom Schreiner,” Mohler said. “There are people channeling Tom Schreiner in pulpits all over the world. And Tom has been doing this long enough that there are people who don’t know they are channeling Tom Schreiner; it’s the students and the students of Tom’s students.
“It was so clear that the Lord had sent Tom to this faculty. And the infectiousness of his teaching, of the joy of his heart, the pastoral dimension of all that he does, I can say that 25 years later one of the greatest moments in the history of Southern Seminary was when Tom Schreiner accepted the invitation to come and teach on the faculty at Southern Seminary. I don’t know where Southern Seminary, in this generation, would be without him.”
Hershael York: A Born Leader
Mohler first met York in the early 90s while the former was wrapping up his work as editor of the Christian Index in Georgia, not long after trustees elected him as Southern Seminary’s president. At the time, York was serving as senior pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, a prominent SBC church in Lexington, Kentucky.
York phoned Southern’s president elect; the conversation delivered both friendly news and ill news: York was on Mohler’s corner. Other Kentucky Baptist pastors? Not so much. In those days, conservative evangelicals were not nearly as numerous or as warmly welcomed in Kentucky SBC pulpits as they are today.
“I cannot exaggerate how awkward a period of life that was,” Mohler said. “That’s when I discovered that being the conservative president elect of an institution under the circumstance meant that I was all threat; it was like a great white shark swimming behind plate glass.
“Everyone was talking about what would happen when I became president. And the denominational media in the hands of the more liberal wing was going at it tooth and nail. I had very few friendly phone calls.
“But I heard from this pastor in Kentucky named Hershael York. Hershael more or less said, ‘I want you to know you have a pastor friend in Kentucky—a pastor friend.’ I got to know Hershael and got to know the ministry the Lord had brought him to at Ashland Avenue. I got to know Hershael’s infectious personality.”
Thus, York’s invitation for the new president to preach at Ashland Avenue in Mohler’s early days at Southern raised eyebrows around the area.
“He had me over to preach at Ashland Avenue and that was a freakish thing in the history of the SBC. . . . The idea that a president of Southern Seminary would speak at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church (in those days) was apocalyptic, but Hershael had me come.”
By 1997, it became clear to Mohler and other SBTS leaders that York was the right pastor to join the faculty to help the seminary recover its roots in an area of primary ministry priority: expository preaching.
Presently, York is in his 19th year as senior pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. He has led the 200-year-old church during a period of growth that necessitated relocation to a 100-acre campus and new facilities. The son of a missionary to Brazil, York has spent much time preaching and teaching internationally.
York has become nationally known as an expositor of God’s Word, being featured in Preaching Today as among North America’s best expository preachers. Twice he has preached at the International Congress on preaching in Cambridge, England.
Over the years, York has written dozens of articles for numerous publications and blogs on preaching and pastoral leadership. He has written or co-written several books, including Preaching with Bold Assurance: A Solid and Enduring Approach to Engaging Exposition and Speaking with Bold Assurance: How to Become a Persuasive Communicator in the same series.
A native of Julien, Kentucky, York was also a key figure in the conservative evangelical recovery of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He was elected KBC president in 2004 and helped the state denomination regain solid orthodox footing. York also helped restore a friendly relationship between the KBC and the seminary.
“One thing you’ll notice about Hershael is he is always surrounded by people, and he’s born to mentor, born to influence, and born to lead,” Mohler said.
Men of Joy
Mohler also honored both professor’s wives, Diane Schreiner and Tanya York, both of whom have played major roles in mentoring and ministering to women and seminary wives in their respective churches as well as at the seminary.
Above all, both Schreiner and York bring joy to the classroom, joy to the ministry, and a clear love for students and teaching, Mohler said.
“After many, many years of being in this kind of role, and specifically in this mother institution, the people who I want to spend time with are the people who show joy,” Mohler said. “I also believe that’s deeply biblical, and I can assure you students want to study under professors who exude joy.
“And that joy comes hand-in-hand with conviction—the assurance of things unseen, the affirmation of doctrines clear. That’s not a joy-killer, that’s a joy-giver. And both Dr. Schreiner and Dr. York represent that.”