Central Seminary’s woes instructive to Southern Baptists
Don HinklePathway Editor
November 18, 2003
It is doubtful many Southern Baptists in Missouri noticed, but trustees at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City voted at their Nov. 6-7 meeting not to close the 102-year-old institution. The fact that such a vote was taken speaks volumes about the health of the seminary. Central, known for its more liberal theological approach to seminary education, is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA (ABC) and is supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). One may ask, why should Southern Baptists have interest in Central at a time when the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are experiencing exponential growth and unprecedented financial support?
History shows there are some loose ties between Central and the SBC that go back 50 years. Some of it can be traced to liberal professors, who once taught at SBC seminaries before moving to Central where their teachings were more palatable following the conservative resurgence in the SBC. Interestingly SBC leaders entered into serious discussions from 1950-1955 about the SBC’s relationship with Central. Ultimately, the SBC withdrew support from Central in 1956, opting to start it own seminary in the Kansas City area. That became a reality with the establishment of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in May 1957. Central then aligned with the American Baptist Convention and in 1995 trustees voted to revise the school’s mission statement to include full support of the CBF.
At one point in the 1920s, Central’s enrollment was said to be more than 600. Today it is thought to be less than 200. Such is case when an institution strays from Biblical fidelity and moves toward a more pluralistic view of religion. Counted among its current faculty are professors who have taught that explicit faith in Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation.
Central has also served as the headquarters for another CBF-supported ministry: Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM). BWIM created a firestorm at the 2002 CBF General Assembly. Allegations of plagiarism, by CBF Resource Coordinator Reba Cobb, of a 1970s-era sermon rocked the meeting and only intensified when it was revealed that the source of her sermon, The Wisdom of Daughters: Two Decades of the Voice of Christian Feminism, was on sale in the CBF exhibit hall and was characterized by some in attendance as a “full-orbed defense of the far-left of American religious feminism.” It included essays advocating goddess worship, lesbianism, abortion rights and integration of some elements of witchcraft into Christian spirituality. The book was commended and distributed at the CBF meeting by BWIM.
The fact that Central would affirm women in the role of pastor is no surprise. The ABC in 1971 chose women leaders and was pro-abortion long before Roe v. Wade in 1973. According to his magnificent study of Protestant mainline denominations, Professor Thomas C. Reeves, in his book, The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity, the ABC, along with other mainline denominations, joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in defeating a Constitutional amendment in mid-1973 that would have restricted the availability of abortions. ABC was also among the Christian and Jewish religious organizations that helped form the National Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. The ABC has also been rocked by pro-homosexual congregations in its midst – and it has proven costly. In 1994, ABC membership stood at 1.5 million, while today is stands at 1.44 million, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches published annually by the National Council of Churches.
Central’s affinity for more theologically liberal views can also be seen in the organizations linked by its Web site. In addition to the CBF and BWIM, the site provides links to William Jewell College , the Missouri CBF and the Mainstream Baptists Network, the political mouthpiece of the CBF funded by anti-SBC moderates within the Baptist General Convention of Texas .
It will be interesting to see to what extent ABC and CBF leaders will go to save Central. You can bet they do not want it to close, leaving the theologically conservative Midwestern Seminary as the only Baptist seminary in the region. How can a denomination grow churches and plant new ones if there are no pastors to fill their pulpits?
Missouri Baptists should be thankful that Midwestern Seminary is growing and remains committed to confessional integrity and ministerial preparation for the seminary’s parish of the Midwest and Great Plains . The seminary just launched a $2.1 million capital campaign, while President Phil Roberts announced in August that admissions are up in 2003. The number of students taking full-time classes has increased in each of the last two years. The school will soon offer an associate of arts degree beginning in February and a new bachelor’s of art degree with a major in Christian ministries soon. The school just got its accreditation approved once again from the North Central Association of Higher Education and the association of theological schools.
Praise be to God that Southern Baptists have demanded from its seminaries the highest level of Biblical fidelity. They have responded superbly and are committed to aligning their instruction and teaching with Southern Baptist doctrine and heritage. Today, Southern Baptists can send their children to any one of the SBC’s six seminaries and not worry about them being exposed to the heresy and rank liberalism characteristic of today’s mainline Protestant institutions.