The SBTS Sesquicentennial: Recapping A Celebration of Faith

The SBTS Sesquicentennial: Recapping A Celebration of Faith June 25, 2009

Today Southern Seminary–or, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary–celebrated its 150th anniversary.  This is known in fancy chronological language as a sesquicentennial.

The day was an eventful and meaningful one.  Events at SBTS included a lunch at 12:30pm that drew way over 1000 people; a time for campus tours and fellowship afterwards; and a ceremony at the seminary chapel at 3pm that formally commemorated the occasion.  The celebration drew hundreds of alumni to the school and allowed believers from various stations and places to connect. 

The ceremony itself had a number of highlights.  Mark Dever led the assembly in a responsive reading that included these weighty words:

“We return to the historic founding of this Seminary in order to remember the rock from which we are hewn, the story that expresses the glory of God in our calling, and the vision for establishing Gospel churches that would take the saving message of Christ to all the nations.” 

Dr. Mohler preached an eloquent and concise message that summarized the current position of Southern relative to its historic past.  The message closed with these words:

“We stand at the intersection of history and hope, encouraged by legacy and inspired by destiny.  May we dedicate ourselves this day to the vision that sustains us, the truth that possesses us, and the legacy that inspires us.  By God’s gracv, may we, like those who founded this seminary a century and a half ago, find our confidence for the future where alone it can be found–in the assurance of things hoped for.”


Following Dr. Mohler’s message, the seminary honored seventh president Duke K. McCall by announcing the dedication of its new welcome pavilion in his honor.  McCall then gave some remarks which showed his talent as an orator in the finest Southern fashion.  While noting the “currents that carry us different ways”, an obvious nod to theological divergence between McCall and others, the former president registered his support for the school he loves and called for alumni–presumably those who have struggled to think well of SBTS in recent decades–to stand in support of the school.  The assembly gave him a standing ovation, a moment that was both unexpected and poignant.

With that, the day was essentially concluded.  One was left with a strong sense of gratitude to the Lord for sustaining this seminary, one of many in the Christian world, through countless battles and challenges.  The leaders and scholars of SBTS know based on their heritage that it is impossible to maintain fidelity to Christ and His call without contending for the faith. 

Though it is not popular in modern academia to speak in such militaristic terms, the future of fidelity depends upon a defense of orthodoxy.  Things in this world do not trend up; they break down.  Sin is real.  Attacks will be made on the truth.  While we should never adopt only a defensive stance, the history of Southern and all other schools that have survived decades, even centuries, of theological challenge show us beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christian faith must be aggressively defended by able and wise leaders.  Perhaps we could say we need a defensive offense–a position that seeks the advance of the kingdom at all times while remaining ever aware of the serious challenges to the truth that Satan and sin send the church’s way.

We must make sure that in our Christian institutions, we retain a very real belief in these things I’ve just mentioned–sin, Satan, hell, and the like.  As we observe Christian schools like Southern and Union achieve newfound (and joyful) success, we must also pray for their leaders and workers never to grow ashamed of the essential truths of Christianity.  Many things that sound like superstition and career suicide to the secular academy are nothing less than the very core of biblical doctrine.  If we lose sight of this basic fact, and acquiesce, however gradually, to the cultural spirit, we may well watch as our schools observe sesquicentennials.  But for all the pomp and celebration of these events, if we have gained the world and its way of thought, we will have lost our faith and its salvific hope.

Southern Seminary is faithful because of the almighty sovereignty of our holy God.  He has chosen to raise up faithful leaders to buttress this school and many others.  On this day, we praise God for these leaders even as we pray for their continued faithfulness to Christ, and even as we pray for the next generation.  May they, like this one, see that Christian faith must be bold, unwincing, uncompromising, gracious wherever possible, courageous as the moment requires, and steadfastly committed to things that this world sniffs at as foolish–but that a mighty cloud of witnesses celebrates as true, gloriously true.

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  • To answer your question at the Union event, which I know is still eating away at you :), M. E. Dodd was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana. He is also considered by many to be the father of the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program for foreign missions. He was also a two-time graduate from Union.

  • John

    I think Mohler and the seminary board made a poor decision in electing to name the new pavilion after a theological liberal who led the school in an unbiblical direction. Why do Southern Baptists insist on honoring liberals? Perhaps they haven’t come as far as many claim.

  • Dave Ainsworth

    Al Mohler, “eloquent and concise“? A special occasion, indeed! 🙂

    Thanks for your account of the week’s events. Very helpful for those of us who couldn’t make it.

  • John

    Concerning the foolishness of Christians honoring theological liberals, see:

  • John Michael LaRue

    I learned more about the character of Dr. Mohler through his sincere graciousness shown toward Dr. McCall than I have in my three years of watching him lead Southern Seminary.

    It is quite apparent that Dr. McCall has come to the point of recognizing God’s hand being on Dr. Mohler and the leadership of Southern Seminary.

    Dr. McCall’s message calling on the alumni of Southern to rally in unified support behind the current leadership of the seminary was a well-timed and well-needed expression of confidence in the work of God occurring in the seminary today.

    I am certainly glad I was in attendence for such a momentous occasion of honoring the past of Southern Seminary while looking forward to the future that God has in store for the school!