Special offering for Seminaries is a good idea
Don HinklePathway Editor
May 20, 2003
JEFFERSON CITY – Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminaries need financial help and Chuck Kelley seems to have a solution.
This subject ought to be of interest to Southern Baptists and particularly to Missouri Baptists because of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. After all it is from the six SBC seminaries that we get many of our pastors, missionaries, seminary/university professors, Sunday School literature authors, and in some cases, state newspaper editors. From such a perspective, it is easy to see why the future of the SBC and MBC are at stake on this matter.
In order to meet the financial challenges of the future, Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, has suggested five ways to increase giving to the seminaries in a white paper titled, "Roots of Dilemma: SBC Entities and the Cooperative Program" published in New Orleans Seminary’s Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.
Kelley notes that Cooperative Program (CP) giving remains robust, yet it has not kept up with inflation in recent years. He says this has forced seminaries to simply "tread water" with little or no money for future initiatives. This should be troubling to us all.
We must not leave our seminaries to beg for money. Without our financial backing they cannot attract the quality, doctrinally sound scholars needed to educate a new generation of leaders, nor build and maintain the facilities needed to ensure learning. If we forget our recent past we do so at great peril where are seminaries are concerned, risking slippage back into the abyss of liberalism whence they were rescued.
Let us not doom them to the same fate that has befallen too many other so-called Baptist schools like Wake Forest, where its hiring policy affirms homosexuality and its chapel doors are opened for same-sex "wedding-like" ceremonies, or at Mercer University in Georgia, where the president denies the inerrancy, infallibility and authority of Scripture.
It is imperative SBC seminaries continue to be "built upon an indestructible foundation of the absolute truth of God’s Word," as R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, said recently. "There are currently two models of theological education: one that holds to the inspiration and authority of Scripture and one that rejects it in deference to the wisdom of the world," he said. Mohler is right.
Which brings us back to Kelley and the five options outlined in his white paper:
- Change the CP distribution formula. (Seminaries annually receive a small percentage of total CP dollars. In 2000-01 the seminaries received about $34 million out of the $8.3 billion given through the CP. Under the current distribution formula each seminary received a percentage of that $34 million based upon enrollment. For example, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, had the highest enrollment and received about $10 million. Midwestern had the second-lowest enrollment and got about $3 million.)
- Allow seminaries more input into the selection of trustees so that a large number of wealthy donors are on the boards.
- Encourage additional fund-raising efforts by the seminaries.
- Reinstate the SBC capital-needs budget. (This was excess money after all SBC agencies had received their cut of CP funds. The seminaries had been the sole recipients of this budget until 1997 when all SBC agencies started getting a portion.)
- Establish a special offering for the seminaries.
- Let’s briefly examine each of Kelley’s suggestions:
Increasing the percentage of CP funds earmarked for the seminaries seems unlikely at a time when other SBC agencies like the International Mission Board (IMB) are looking for additional funds. The IMB recently announced that it has more missionaries than it has the money needed to send them onto the foreign mission field. The problem with increasing the amount of CP giving for the seminaries is that it will shrink the amount targeted for other SBC agencies and their ministries.
Allowing more fund raising by the seminaries may be viable, but institutions must guard against money-raising becoming their focus instead of providing a doctrinally sound theological education. CP support allows the seminaries to stay focused on theological training instead of raising money.
Permitting seminaries more input into trustee selection so there will be more wealthy donors on the trustee boards seems problematic. It might mean more money, but it would likely erode the seminaries’ accountability to SBC churches. The schools would risk becoming more beholden to the deep-pocketed donor/trustees than to the churches they are pledged to serve. Just because someone has money does not necessarily mean someone is wise or theologically sound to serve as a trustee.
Reinstating the SBC capital-needs budget seems unlikely. Reinstating the capital-needs budget in its original form would hurt other SBC agencies that have come to rely on such funding.
Create a special offering for the seminaries. There is precedence for this sort of thing. Special offerings are received annually for mission work through the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings. Why not for the seminaries?
I like the idea and I like Kelley’s suggestion for the name of such an offering: The W.A. Criswell Offering for Southern Baptist Seminaries.
What a fitting tribute to the late pastor/master theologian of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, a giant among Southern Baptists and a staunch believer in doctrinally sound teaching at our seminaries and colleges.
Said Criswell on the matter of theological education at the height of the conservative resurgence in the SBC:
"When a teacher avows that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are mythological and legendary, when a teacher will teach that Jesus did not rise from the dead physically, that it is a spiritual resurrection, and when a teacher avows that the Bible is full of contradiction and mistakes and errors, I do not understand. I cannot enter into it.
"When professors in the university and when preachers in the pulpits avow those things … I have a sadness of heart that is almost indescribable."
Perhaps the second Sunday of every September (about the time the seminaries are beginning a new school year) would be an appropriate time for Southern Baptists around the world to pray for our seminaries and to support them with such an offering.
Given our recent past, I think that would be a wonderful – and wise – thing to do.