You’re going to hear a lot about Collin Hansen’s new book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. This explosive little volume is certain to incite strong opinions across the Evangelical spectrum. What concerns me in this post is the fourth chapter of his book titled “Ground Zero – Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.”
Is Southern Seminary Ground Zero?
Let’s being with the obvious failure of this chapter to support its headline. As an experienced journalist, Collin has crafted a compelling angle. Yes, we all want to hear the inside story of Norton Hall’s subversive theology. Yes, we all want to see the photos of students sporting Tulip Tattoos. But Hansen’s visit to Lexington Road must have been mildly disappointing.
Three Southern students are mentioned by name: Matt Hall, Bradley Cochran and Timmy Brister. If Southern is “Ground Zero” then we should expect to hear about the irresistible influence of Calvinism at Southern Seminary. But all three came to Southern already convinced of reformed theology. These same stories could have come from any Evangelical Seminary in America. What about the other 4,300 students at Southern? Perhaps a broader sample would yield different conclusions.
Four Southern Seminary professors are mentioned by name: Albert Mohler, Tom Nettles, Bruce Ware, and Tom Schriener. If Southern is “Ground Zero” then we should expect to hear about their agenda to convince student of reformed theology. But each interview affirms the school’s commitment to the Bible above any theological system. Consider Mohler’s quote:
“When I say that my agenda is not Calvinism, I say that with unfeigned honesty, with undiluted candor,” Mohler told me. “My agenda is the gospel. And I refuse to limit that to a label, but I am also very honest to say, yes, that means I am a five-point Calvinist. If you’re counting points, here I am.”
The majority of this chapter actually speaks to the larger discussion between Southern Baptists. Even the most creative readers will struggle to see the connection with our Seminary.
The chapter title is a great hook, but twenty-four pages later it sounded like hype. Hansen offers no evidence of a vast Calvinist-wing conspiracy at Southern Seminary.
- Currently, not one of the deans at Southern Seminary is a five-point Calvinist.
- Calvinism is not a litmus test for teaching at the seminary.
- Calvinism is not the main subject of interest among faculty members or students.
Southern Seminary, like the wider Southern Baptist Convention, contains both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Next time you hear someone speaking of Southern Seminary as “Calvinist,” I hope you will be inclined to correct the misconception and provide some additional details in order to put an end to some of the false, sweeping generalizations about Southern.
The Real Ground Zero Revealed
What disappoints me most about this chapter, and the whole Calvinism conversation, is what Hansen didn’t say. Granted, his visit was brief, but sometimes it’s better to skip the tulips and smell the roses first.
Consider Mohler’s convocation message from 2000 as told by Baptist Press:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Theological education is fruitless unless it is Christ-centered and evangelism-driven, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told new and returning students at the seminary’s convocation Aug. 29.
“These days there is some confusion about what theological education is all about or should be all about,” Mohler said. “… It is clear that some theological seminaries see themselves as training schools for religious professionals. And others see themselves as academic research centers for theology and religious studies.”
But Mohler said the role of Southern Seminary — as well as that of other evangelical institutions — must be different.
“We ought to define who we are as an institution by thinking of ourselves as ground zero for the cause of the gospel,” he said. “There is always the danger of missing the obvious. A true test of a theological seminary is its faithfulness to the gospel. Is the gospel truly central?”
I’ve been at Southern since 1999, first at Boyce College and now as a LEAD school student. Granted, I’ve been off campus and attending part-time. But after nearly ten years and around 150 credits at Southern, my experience has proved Mohler’s vision is still on track.
Collin is a great writer, but his label for Southern just doesn’t stick. The renewal at our seminary is more diverse and gospel-driven than his treatment suggests. There may be students who are out of bounds, either too Calvinistic or too pragmatic, but our common passion is to preach Jesus Christ and a Gospel Worldview.
If you really want to understand the ethos of Southern and its faculty, I suggest you visit their personal blogs. Here are a few standouts. You can find more on our Faculty Said page.
- Moore To The Point – Russell Moore (Ph.D from Southern) – Associate Professor of Christian Theology (2001); Dean of the School of Theology; Senior Vice President for Academic Administration
- Biblical Church Growth by Chuck Lawless (Ph.D from Southern) – William Walker Brookes Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth (1997); Dean, Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth; Director of Professional Doctoral Studies
- Culture & Missiology by David Sills – Associate Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology (2003); Director of Great Commission Ministries; Director of the Doctor of Missiology program, Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth