EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jason Allen was elected president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City on Oct. 15, 2012. In this first, of a two-part interview at The Pathway offices Dec. 9 with Editor Don Hinkle, Allen discusses the current state – and future – of the seminary. The second part can be found here.
What makes you happy when you look at what God has done at Midwestern under your presidency?
That’s a very kind way to frame the question Don. I’m profoundly thankful for what all God has done. I mean, comprehensively, when I look at the work that’s taken place there, since 2012, I just rejoice in the Lord’s favor. What I’m most appreciative for is the three words: “For the church” and the way the Lord has taken that vision for the seminary and blessed it, seeing that vision take root in Missouri and far beyond, seeing the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resonate with that vision, appreciate that vision, trust that vision, and send us men and women preparing for ministry, because of that vision.
How fast has the seminary’s growth taken place?
We’ve nearly quadrupled in size. The year before I arrived we had about 1,100 students. This past year that ended, which would be the 2018/2019 academic year, we ended with 4,000 students. We expect to be somewhere well north of 4,000 students at the end of this academic year.
You have launched an undergraduate college. Tell us about that.
Midwestern Seminary started an undergraduate program in the mid-2000’s, but it was kind of sleepy. It there primarily in an online capacity. But as the Lord began to grow the seminary these past six years, and we began to receive resources through gifts and other investments that really began to enhance the campus community, that infrastructure began to take shape. We recognized the opportunity to take the undergraduate program to a whole other level.
The signature piece of campus improvement the past seven years has been the new $13 million student center. It is a state-of-the-art, beautiful, functional building for students that includes a cafeteria, gymnasium, bookstore, seminar space, event space and so much more. So that really was the final piece from an infrastructure standpoint, to have a legitimate, strong and growing undergraduate program. So when that began to come together in final form, early last year, we also renamed the college the Spurgeon College. We’ve begun to expand our degree offerings as well.
The college is not just for ministry majors, though all of our students have at least a Bible or ministry minor degree, but also if you want a communications degree, or business degree, or inter-cultural studies degree. We’re intentionally, slowly, incrementally adding majors to round-out our undergraduate program.
The college is growing — and not just online, but residentially as well. We have even taken steps in recent months to add sports teams. Spurgeon College has a basketball team and we recently announced the addition of a women’s volleyball team and men’s and women’s soccer teams.
Tell us about your plans for a new library.
So in the past six years we will have completed, including the library, right at $30 million in campus construction and renovation projects. The signature pieces of that have been the $13 million student center and about a $3.5 million construction of the Spurgeon Library. We’ve also completed several other, targeted, multi-million-dollar renovation projects. And then there is the library project, which is about a $3 million comprehensive renovation.
Right now, as you and I are visiting, the library has been totally emptied. Asbestos abatement is taking place. A demolition is taking place and now they are beginning the earliest days of actually building the new library. So, it will transform the space, not merely from being a collection of books, which we’ll still have, but with space that is more hospitable and amenable for doctoral and undergraduate students to study, in collaborative and individual settings. Once the library is done we will have completed $30 million of campus improvements without incurring any indebtedness. We have no long-term debt. We have a little bridge loan for the student center, in concert with donor pledges, and all that will be done in two years.
So, we will have a campus – in about two years – that will be caught up on the deferred maintenance front, which is a major accomplishment – and we’ll be debt free.
You have a relatively new chapel.
When I was elected, we had a chapel project that had stalled out. It was a shell and I got to raise the money and oversee the construction project, bringing that to completion. It’s a beautiful facility. It seats about 1,100. We are able to have major conferences and events there, in addition to just the ongoing weekly usage of it for seminary worship services.
Then, of course, there’s the spectacular Spurgeon Library.
Yeah, that is a special, indeed a singular collection that we have. Over 6,000 books and artifacts owned by Spurgeon. Hundreds and hundreds of these books that Spurgeon owned have been heavily annotated by him.
We have artifacts that we received from the Spurgeon collection proper when the seminary acquired that in the mid 2000’s. Also, in recent years we have developed relationships with the Spurgeon family, his heirs. They’ve entrusted us with a substantial amount of resources and artifacts. Other affinity groups who are collectors, who are people who see what we have in the Spurgeon library and appreciate it, have made key donations to the library.
Our collection is always expanding. In fact, this morning, while riding the train to Jefferson City, I was emailing with another group looking to make a transaction with us related to the Spurgeon Library. So, we’re always adding to that collection.
Is it open to the public?
Yes it is. We do have church groups that come through. The library is generally open every day roughly from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. But I would encourage anyone who wants to tour it to email the Spurgeon Center. You can do that through the seminary’s website and actually set up an appointment. We’ll have a curator or assistant curator give you a tour, whether you want to be there for 20 minutes or two hours, you can decide.
Are pastors able to do research and sermon prep there?
Yes. We have everything from the most serious scholar – doing the most serious degree research – to the most casual lay person who wants to see a little more about Spurgeon and everything in between. The collection is such that it’s intriguing and appealing to wherever you fall on that spectrum. Everyone has heard of Spurgeon. Not everyone’s a church historian, but everyone has heard their pastor quote Spurgeon a time or two along the way. As I tell people, Spurgeon was the Billy Graham of the 19th century.
So we are the repository of that collection. We’re really proud of what God’s given us and it’s displayed in a way that’s beautiful, stirring and accessible.
So where is Midwestern headed?
Midwestern is headed, by God’s grace, to greater degrees of faithfulness. So Don, I just turned 43, here just a few weeks ago. When I was elected president I was 35. If God gives me health, strength and favor with Southern Baptists, I intend to serve there for many years. I believe this to be God’s calling on my life. And my wife shares that as well. For us the future is about what is it like for this seminary to grow in greater degrees of faithfulness to Southern Baptists. So that would consist of, first and foremost, theological faithfulness. We’re a Baptist Faith and Message 2000 institution — happily, proudly, wholeheartedly so.
Additionally, we have other supplemental confessional statements that just project who we are. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the National Statement on Biblical Sexuality. So all of those statements project who we are. We are happily owned by Southern Baptists. They select our trustees. Those trustees own the institution in behalf of Southern Baptists and they hold us faithful.
Our faculty, I believe, is top shelf – a generation of scholars that, by and large, are all younger men and they project to be there for many decades.
Even though you’re a Southern Baptist seminary, Missourians feel very close to Midwestern. How many Missourians attend Midwestern?
That’s a moving number and frankly, it gets diluted a bit with online programs. So the growth of online programs the past 15 years has made our reach more expansive. We have students online from nearly every state in the Union. However, when it comes to our residential programs, certainly not a majority, but a plurality of our residential students would be Missouri students – Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska students, but heavily Missouri. We think of the SBC as our family and Missouri Baptists as our immediate family. To be in this state is a blessing. I love serving the churches of the MBC. You were at the state convention as I was in November and I got to give a brief word of update to Missouri Baptists. Multiple times my report was interrupted by applause, just as I spoke of growth and ministry and theological faithfulness. That message resonates with Missouri Baptists because Missouri Baptists are a conservative people, a Bible-believing people. They’re committed to the gospel, to the Great Commission, to biblical norms of sexuality and marriage. I tell people, as long as we are faithful to Southern Baptists, Missouri Baptists, they will be faithful to us. They’re not looking to fight with us, they are looking to support us. I’m proud that we’re giving them something worthy of their support.