Pathway Editor Don Hinkle and Associate Editor Allen Palmeri conducted a 45-minute interview recently with new Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason Allen in his on-campus office. Allen, 35, succeeds R. Philip Roberts as Midwestern’s fifth president. Midwestern’s Board of Trustees voted overwhelmingly in October to call Allen who had previously served as vice president for institutional advancement at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Pathway: Tell us about your vision for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
JA: “My vision is both full and simple. It’s full in that there’s so much I hope to do here by God’s grace, and so much God is calling us to do. The simplicity resides in what is our most urgent and expected task to undertake, and that is unquestionably to train pastors and ministers for the local church. Southern Baptists expect this institution to be an institution for the Church. The Church has owned this institution. We serve the Churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, not vice versa. Therefore everything we do here, every class we offer, will be evaluated based upon how well we serve the Church. That includes personnel hires and curricula revision. The very tenor and culture of this institution will be driven by serving the Church. I want this institution to be known preeminently for its role in supporting and serving the local church even in contradistinction to other seminaries or institutions or divinity schools in our day that do not have that same priority. We are especially committed to training pastors for the local church. With that comes an emphasis on teaching and instruction in the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, a true love for the flock of God, a sense that God’s current work right now is in the local church, and the singular, important office within the local church is the pastor. So we intend to bring renewed emphasis on training ministers for the Church—most especially pastors, both domestic and international, for the local church.”
Pathway: You came to Midwestern from Southern Seminary, where you served as a member of the Executive Cabinet, a vice president, the executive assistant to the president, and the executive director of the Foundation. How did that prepare you to become a seminary president?
JA: “I look at my life, especially the previous decade, and God has woven several tributaries in me to this point, I believe, to make me rightly gauged and experienced for the position. Most especially I spent more than a decade pastoring churches in either senior pastor, interim pastor, or teaching pastor roles. I love the local church. I also have completed a Ph.D. degree which is the basic academic threshold to be seminary president or the chief academic officer at an institution. I have taught for the past six years every year classes on practice of ministry, preaching, local church leadership and personal spiritual disciplines, so I have demonstrated a commitment to the classroom.
In addition to these things, at the macro level, I’ve been involved at every level of Southern Seminary’s institutional life. In the president’s office for more than three years, I had my hand in, and was involved with, basically everything that went on at the seminary—from academics, to revising and thinking through our master plan, to matters of business and budget, to academic emphases to building a campus community. So that really gave me a broad set of experiences. I also was privileged to work in the admissions office when I was a student and, most recently, to lead our advancement efforts.”
Pathway: You spoke Oct. 16 in your first chapel message about “a sense of urgency in my bones and gravity in my soul.” How would you describe your gifts, talents, and personality, and how might your approach here to scholarship, theological education, and biblical education be built for the long run?
JA: “I am Southern Baptist to the bone. I believe in this denomination. I believe in the churches of this denomination. When we’re taking a family road trip, I will often pull over when I see a little Southern Baptist church in the middle of nowhere and get out and just walk around, introduce myself to the pastor, because I love Southern Baptist churches.
I understand Southern Baptists only have six seminaries. We have paid a great price to build these seminaries. We have paid a great price to recover these seminaries. I intend to be faithful to Southern Baptists in the letter and the spirit of that intent. We will be theologically faithful. We will be missiologically faithful. We will handle all of our affairs with integrity and uprightness. So I wake up every morning with a profound sense of stewardship that Southern Baptists have entrusted Jason Allen with the leadership of this school. That stewardship is coupled with a profound sense of urgency because if we believe the things we say we believe, that the gospel is true, it is man’s only hope, that the Bible indeed is the Word of God, that the local church is indeed God’s primary vehicle for accomplishing His work on this planet, if we believe these things, and we juxtapose these beliefs alongside a culture that is dashing headlong into secularism, with churches that too often are too empty, with pulpits that too often are too timid, this generation must have preachers and missionaries and ministers that will stand in that gap.
Therefore they must have seminaries that will stand in that gap and prepare them to stand in that gap. I take this stuff seriously because this is serious stuff.”
Pathway: American society is becoming increasingly secular. If you agree with that statement, what types of challenges does that present for theological education?
J A:“I think theological education faces a whole host of challenges.
First, from a business model, the bare feasibility, the constriction of the offering plate dollar, the soaring costs of our education – be it secular or Christian – often driven by personnel expenses, the fundamental questioning by some of the need for a seminary degree, the proliferation and transformation of the vehicle of delivering theological education online or extension center (are some of the factors). So the ground is moving very quickly and even abruptly, you might say, underneath our feet.
To find out where our future is, save God’s intervention through revival, we just look across the Atlantic to see where Western Europe is. Not only is the spirit of the age secular, but I think we’ll see it further codified and established in the laws of the land. We have been the beneficiaries in the United States of America. Although our nation and our government hasn’t been necessarily Christian, we have had kind of the residue of a Christian country and the residue of a Christian influence. All that is changing and evaporating before our eyes.
I have to be able to train servants of Christ here who will preach a message of the gospel with confidence and with belief, who will preach God’s Word with assurance because it’s true, and will do so with a sense of confidence, boldness, and authority, not merely because the recipients are less and less inclined to receive. Added to that is the fact that we have a government, evidently, and a society, evidently, that is moving towards greater and greater hostility, not just in sentiment but in law, to that message. Even with the health care mandate, where churches can meet, what prayers can and cannot be uttered, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can find refuge in the fact that we’re a theological institution training ministers. Will the government tolerate in 20 years an institution that says we do not recognize gay marriage? I don’t know, but I’ll die before this institution does as president.”
Pathway: How might Midwestern play a role in executing the coordinated church plant strategy along the Heartland Highway, Interstate 29/49?
J A : “Midwestern Seminary
is pleased to partner with Southern
Baptists at every level—national, state,
and local—to plant churches and reach
nations for the cause of Christ. The form
and function of that will vary, event to
event, opportunity to opportunity, but
my desire is that Midwestern Seminary
be a lighthouse for the gospel and a
place that supports the Church.”
Pathway: What can you tell us about your inauguration and a new chapel in 2013?
JA: We’re thrilled with the
progress of the chapel. In October we
voted to authorize what is a relatively
small amount of money to finish the
construction. We envision that being
done very early in the spring, with my
inauguration and spring graduation
taking place in the new chapel. We look
forward to a formal chapel dedication
in conjunction with our fall trustee
meeting in October 2013.
Pathway: What other message would you like to share with Missouri Southern Baptists in particular?
JA: “Midwestern Seminary is committed to Southern Baptists 110 percent. We find a special pleasure being able to serve Missouri Baptists who are our neighbors. My prayer is that Missouri Baptist churches will unhesitatingly look to the seminary with confidence, believing they can find quality graduates to fulfill the needs of their churches. I want Missouri Baptists to know they have partners, friends, and co-laborers here. We stand ready not only to lead but to serve, and we look forward to this relationship nurturing and maturing in the years ahead.