And he said unto them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
- Matthew 4:19
Christianity is perhaps best described as a twofold following after the Lord Jesus Christ. On the one hand, Jesus' first and foremost rallying cry was, "Come, follow me!" On the other hand, our Lord taught His disciples to extend that call to the world. Likewise, expressing the theme of both the Lord's premiere sermon (Mark 1:14-15 and parallels) and His final sermon, now known as the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20), the final chapter in the New Testament tells us that the Spirit and the church must entreat, "Come and drink freely of the water of life!" (Rev 22:17). From beginning to end, there is a twofold determination in the heart of the New Testament that ought not be quenched: it includes, first, a desire to follow Christ; it includes, second, a necessarily correlative passion to call other people to follow Christ.
In establishing His roving school of wannabe theologians, Jesus called the disciples to quit their prior vocation of fishing for fish and to learn, instead, to fish for human beings. The first Christian seminary, the seminary of the Apostles, presided over by Jesus Christ, was thus dedicated to evangelism. And, oh, some of those disciples were not at first what they would become when Christ had completely ushered them through His curriculum. This was a motley student body: their leader, appointed by the Lord Himself, was an ill-educated, impetuous loudmouth who went on to deny his Lord in His hour of greatest human need; another was committed to armed rebellion, though his Master identified a different way; yet a third, a betrayer, was providentially allowed by Christ to enroll. When you can see inside and properly evaluate each human heart, as the Lord can, yet you still allow such students to enroll, perhaps you are seeing not who people currently are, but who they may become through the preaching and teaching of His Word.
The Seminary of the Apostles was an evangelistic seminary that was itself the subject of the Lord's evangelism. That a seminary should be evangelistic, primarily outwardly but also inwardly, is a fact that was not lost upon the founders of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; it is a fact that is still evident in the president and faculty of Southwestern Seminary; and it is a fact that must challenge any seminary that dares to claim that it follows the Lord's commandments and example. That a seminary, literally a "seedbed," should include seed bearers whose broadcast of the Word would yield a worldwide harvest was part of the Lord's plan. That a seminary might include the odd student who was not committed to the Lord's ways was also apparently part of the Lord's plan.
Please allow me a moment of your time to explain why and how Southwestern Seminary became and remains, shall we say, "The Evangelistic Seminary."
1. Southwestern Seminary Was Founded with an Evangelistic Purpose
When Texas Baptists began their cooperative pilgrimage, the first problem they faced was a controversy over missions and evangelism. The missionary Baptists who formed the Union Association in 1840 were opposed on the one side by the Predestinarian Baptists under Daniel Parker and on the other side by Arminian Campbellite-influenced Baptists under T.W. Cox. Both of these extremes opposed "the promissionary, proeducation, and proeffort leaders" among the eventually victorious traditional Baptists.1 When the founding president of Southwestern Seminary, the esteemed Benajah Harvey Carroll, began to promote the idea of a Texas institution entirely dedicated to theological education, he emphasized the intended result as first the "stimulation" of "evangelism," followed by missions, then the harmony of the churches.2 During the 1906 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Carroll successfully proposed a new policy for the Home Mission Board, crying out, "Brethren, give me evangelists."3
Soon after, before the Texas state convention, Carroll famously proposed, "There is great need to create and endow a chair of evangelism." His argument was based on the fact that this was "the mind and spirit of Jesus." According to Carroll, Jesus Christ's "school of the prophets was intensely practical. The wisdom he inculcated was the winning of souls."4 This chair of evangelism, the first chair that Carroll wanted to be endowed,5 and the first such chair in the United States, became known as the "Chair of Fire," and its first occupant was also Carroll's chosen successor as president of the seminary, Lee Rutland Scarborough. Indeed, Carroll was so passionate about evangelism that when he discovered that faculty leaders sought to diminish evangelism as a requirement and turn the school in a primarily academic direction, he summarily fired two of the very men he had hired.6 Robert A. Baker noted that Carroll's godly character was so impressive that other leaders simply accepted such decisions as Carroll directed.7
2. Education Without Evangelism Is a Betrayal of Our Calling
Carroll's decisive leadership in an evangelistic direction was furthered with the choice of the next president, L.R. Scarborough. Scarborough's foundational influence was as great upon Southwestern Seminary, if not greater, prompting the faculty to refer to him with reverence as their seminary's "father" and with fondness as their "brother." They also characterized Scarborough as "a flaming evangelist and a compassionate soul- winner."8 This was, of course, part of Carroll's plan. He had written Scarborough to leave the pastorate and come to the seminary when it was first founded; he had appointed Scarborough to lead the committee that built the Fort Worth campus; and, after firing the errant faculty, he had requested the trustees to appoint Scarborough as his assistant. He had also given a discipleship-oriented deathbed commission to Scarborough to "keep the Seminary lashed to the cross," according to W.W. Barnes, the church historian who witnessed this event.9 For Carroll, Scarborough was his necessary successor.
When Scarborough took the reins of Southwestern's presidency, he delivered a masterful inaugural address entitled, "The Primal Test of Theological Education." In that address, delivered in May 1915, he declared, "Christian education in all lands finds its earliest motive and supreme passion in a desire to train men to be efficient preachers of the gospel."10 By "efficient," Scarborough meant that Baptists need, more than anything, men who will make the winning of the lost the goal of their greatest and most effective efforts. And by "supreme passion," Scarborough meant that Baptist preachers must be fervent soul winners, in the public pulpit and in private conversations.
Scarborough offered five marks for the type of preacher that Southwestern must generate, including character, spirituality, scholarship, doctrinal conviction, and denominational sympathy and co-operation. It is in his comments on the second mark that he becomes most pointed. By "spirituality," Scarborough did not mean some type of inward, quietist devotionalism. No, by "spirituality," he meant a white-hot passion for souls. For a minister to be truly "spiritual," he must be "evangelistic." Anything less is a false ministerial spirituality. Listen to Scarborough:
Too many of our evangelists are unlearned, and too many of our scholars are unevangelistic. We will never win the world by the evangelists alone. We must train a strong group of scholarly pastors, who will go into the church with the soul-winning spirit and power and build evangelistic churches, and from them as centers win the regions round about. A seminary should not put a premium on ministerial stiffness, dryness, and starchiness, and turn out stilted clergymen. An unspiritual, unevangelistic ministry will never be an efficient ministry. The soul-winning spirit and compassion for lost men in our seminaries will enlarge their popularity and favor with the people, contribute to their spiritual life, keep them in vital touch with God and with the unseen realities of religion, and thus preserve our teachers and students from theological drift in doctrines and life, keep them close to the common suffering heart of a lost and ruined world, turn their energies constantly out of the uplifting movements among men, build in them the constructive spirit of missions, and thus make them power-plants, pulsating with the life of God. The final test of a preacher's efficiency is not found in what he knows about the deep things of God's Word, but in what he does with what he knows in bringing in Christ's kingdom among men.11
There are so many passages in Scarborough's works that ring with such power. Was he interested in proper theology? Absolutely, and to read his declarations about orthodox dogma will encourage the heart of every biblicist. But even more, this "father" of Southwestern Seminary was interested in theology being demonstrated in the winning of the lost. For any Christian to refuse to go "with Christ after the lost" is unthinkable. Moreover, the "spiritual life and atmosphere of Christian schools should be kept distinctly and continuously evangelistic."12 The profoundly appreciated Roy J. Fish summarized Scarborough's legacy, noting that our seminary's father held the line against the social gospel that was so prevalent in his day; that he was "passionate" about the lost; that he started the whole movement toward state evangelism conferences through the first such meeting in Cowden Hall on Southwestern's campus in 1936; that he defined the church as "a group of baptized believers going with Christ after the lost"; that he described personal evangelism as a "fine art," "the finest of fine arts." In summary, "One cannot understand L.R. Scarborough without seeing him primarily as a person of great passion for people who are lost. He not only preached it but he lived it."13
3. We Assume Lost People Are in Our Classrooms
Southwestern Seminary has a legacy of winning lost people to Christ in the classroom. When B.H. Carroll was a young man, he first confessed Christ, but he soon denied our Lord and asked to be removed from his church's membership. He was "an avowed infidel" when he sought entrance to Baylor, but was nevertheless admitted by its president, Rufus C. Burleson, on the basis of Carroll's obvious intellectual attainments and debating skills.14 Years later, after several crises, upon hearing an evangelistic sermon he went down the aisle to the front of a church, "casting myself unreservedly and for all time at Christ's feet, and in a moment the rest came, indescribable and unspeakable, and it has remained from that day until now."15 He was subsequently
baptized at the hands of W.W. "Spurgeon" Harris, a former Baylor schoolmate. Six years earlier, Harris had been an eloquent opponent of the infidel whom he was now baptizing. That infidel admitted by Burleson into Baylor would become the founder of Southwestern Seminary.
Another young man was admitted into Baylor, this time in 1888, and he was not a baptized believer. His father sent him to the school with the understanding that the young man would attend all of Carroll's sermons at the First Baptist Church of Waco and send his father a summary. That young man's letters to his father started short but eventually reached sometimes fifty pages in length as he absorbed Carroll's preaching. That young man was baptized at the hands of B.H. Carroll during his first year as a student at Baylor. That young man would later go on to win thousands of people to Christ as a pastor. That young man would then receive letters from Carroll begging him to hear God's call to take up the chair of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That young man was Lee Rutland Scarborough, the "father" of Southwestern Seminary.16
One of the surprises that many new faculty at Southwestern Seminary have when they come on board is that Paige Patterson, our current president, regularly proclaims the gospel evangelistically, not only as part of his public sermons outside the seminary and not only as a regular personal soul winner, but also in chapel. Patterson has consistently presented the gospel in his sermons and has issued altar calls and other invitations during the most public gatherings of the seminary, during both Convocation and Commencement.
Paige Patterson once explained to me that he does not want to waste any opportunity to lead a lost person to salvation. With a gentle but firm spirit, after proclaiming the Word of God, after explaining about human sinfulness, divine wrath, and the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, Patterson will invite any students at Convocation to come forward and receive counseling from professors who are ready and willing to lead them to a sure salvation in Christ. At the Commencement ceremony, which typically has people from all over and from every walk of life, many who may never otherwise hear
the gospel, he will invite everybody to bow their heads and lift their hands if they wish to receive Christ. Then he will lead in a sinner's prayer of salvation, appealing to the Word of God externally and to the movement of the Spirit internally. President Patterson assumes that there are lost people at Southwestern Seminary and he issues invitations to all sinners to believe and be saved. And many are.
I have discovered the same phenomenon in my own classroom. My systematic theology lectures are grounded in hours of consistent biblical exegesis and begin with a detailed and passionate scriptural exposition before proceeding to historical examples and concluding with systematic concerns. As a result of this teaching method, learned in part from my own mentor at Southwestern Seminary, James Leo Garrett, Jr., primary
emphasis is placed upon biblical proclamation. Because I preach the Word when I teach systematic theology, students may be convicted, even converted. One day, to my surprise, a student stood in class and thanked me publicly for leading him to be born again during one of our systematic theology lectures. He explained that he could not keep silent. My first thought was not to expel the young man and ask him to reapply to seminary for admission, but to praise the Lord and help this man to complete his degree. That young man, formerly a Presbyterian, is now a successful Baptist pastor of a dynamic and
growing large church in Texas. I no longer assume that every person in my classroom is truly born again. Indeed, I hope that some are not, for there is no greater privilege on this planet than being used by God to midwife a rebirth. Professors ought to be preachers, too.
When I remember the history of Southwestern and how its founders made so much of evangelism, perhaps because school administrators and pastors had made so much of it in their lives, I am emboldened to make more of evangelism in my own life. Indeed, while L.R. Scarborough assumed most of his students would be believers (after all, this is a Southern Baptist seminary), he was under no illusions all his students would be. In his famous work, With Christ After the Lost, he has a chapter devoted to "Educational Evangelism." Therein, he discusses how students in Christian schools should meet together "to pray for their college friends" and thus "they have become burdened for those who are lost." "This burden has caused them to go out under the leadership of the Holy Spirit to witness personally to the lost and to lead them to the Lord."17
In the same chapter, on "Educational Evangelism," he discusses "imperatives for denominational schools." Therein, he argues that the administration and trustees must be responsible to the churches and that the faculty must be faithful Christians and that it is best if they are also faithful to their denomination. What Scarborough never argues is that students themselves must subscribe to the denomination's confession, nor even that they must be Christians.18 Similarly, when directly addressing the fundamentals of Southwestern Seminary, he again puts the emphasis on the fidelity of the faculty, by subscription, and of the trustees to their Christian and Baptist confession. Again, he does not presume to make such a requirement for students. To the contrary, he states bluntly, "No such requirement is made for students."19 Why would the father of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary make such a claim? Perhaps Scarborough understood by personal experience that the Christian school itself is a place for lost people to be evangelized and not a disconnected ivory tower for starched shirts. The seminary is a place where evangelism should be practiced by professors and students alike towards everybody they encounter, whether in the school or outside it.
4. Evangelism Suffuses Our Teaching
Robert Baker writes movingly about how Southwestern Seminary has several ingredients that constitute its spirit. One of those concerns "the nature of a theological seminary." "Carroll, Scarborough, and the faculty did not conceive of Southwestern Seminary as an academic ivory tower in which to retire from the world for study but saw it as a front-line bunker where students participated in the contemporary spiritual battles." And the first example that Baker offered concerned evangelism: "The weekly memorization of many Scripture verses in the evangelism class of L.R. Scarborough was not an academic exercise; it was the loading of the students' weapons for regular use in winning people to Christ, after the example of their teacher."20 As a student of Scarborough's successor in the Chair of Fire, Roy J. Fish, I can attest that the practice continued into the late twentieth century.
The second example that Baker offered concerning the evangelistic ethos of Southwestern regards Walter Thomas Conner. In the historical hierarchy of Southwestern Seminary, Conner receives the honor of third place, after Carroll and Scarborough, as indicated in an authoritative collection of essays on the legacy of Southwestern.21 When Carroll was putting together his plans for the future of the seminary during the seminal years of 1906 through 1908, the founder indicated to the young Conner that he "would be offered the position of teacher of theology in the seminary" if he "would make proper preparation."22 Conner went on to study with A.H. Strong and Walter Rauschenbusch at Rochester Seminary and E.Y. Mullins at Southern Seminary. He was subsequently appointed as professor of theology at Southwestern in 1910 and retired in 1949. His theology shaped generations of preachers and his influence was profound among Southern Baptists. He declined a professorship at Baylor and the presidency of the Kansas City seminary in order to become the leading theologian at Southwestern Seminary during the first half of the twentieth century. It is said that his "recommendation of young men for the Southwestern faculty was tantamount to their election."23 Providentially, Conner's student, James Leo Garrett, Jr., became Southwestern's leading theologian during the second half of the twentieth century.
One of Conner's greatest contributions concerned his understanding of theology as a practical discipline. He argued, "the purpose of theology is to furnish us with a knowledge that is practical in its aim. It is not meant to give us a speculative knowledge that is all-comprehensive and logically complete. It aims rather to give us truth by which we are to live."24 Through a series of brilliant responses to the acidic trends in his day, Conner concluded thus:
Properly speaking, Christian theology is the statement of the meaning of the Gospel. A man does not have to have a complete philosophy of the whole universe in order to grasp and state the meaning of the Gospel of Christ. This is not to say that we should not, so far as we can, relate the truth of the Gospel to every other truth. But it is to say that one does need a theology that he can preach. And a theology that is not preachable is not good theology; there is something wrong with it. A good way to test your theology is on a sinner. The Gospel is good news. It is good news because it announces spiritual redemption for the whole world of lost sinners. Theology is the statement of the meaning of this good news in terms that will appeal to the people of our day. This is the thing that makes Christianity a preaching religion. When Christianity ceases to be a preaching religion, you may know that it has lost the passion that grows out of the experience of redemption; that is, it has ceased to be Christianity.25
With appreciation, James Leo Garrett, Jr., started his wonderful two-volume systematic theology by summarizing Conner's argument that theology must be evangelistic to be good theology.26
In my own teaching and preaching, I have taken the assertion of Conner and the affirmation of Garrett to heart, both as a pastor and as a professor. (To be honest, I cannot teach without preaching, nor can I preach without teaching, just as I cannot evangelize without preaching, nor can I preach without evangelizing.) At the end of the second semester of the required course in systematic theology at Southwestern Seminary, I require my students to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a lost person. Their job is to be faithful to the Word of God and proclaim it to lost people. During the final examination, they are given an opportunity to reflect theologically on the witnessing event itself. This practice of correlating systematic theology with evangelism has yielded both evangelistic and disciplinary fruit.
With regard to the first issue, of evangelistic impact, for example, during this last year alone, 146 of my 151 systematic students shared the gospel with a lost person to meet their class requirement. Of those 146 testimonies to Christ, 19 souls were won to profess personal faith in Jesus Christ!27 Nineteen new converts to Jesus from a systematic theology assignment at Southwestern Seminary: I cannot help but get excited about my students having the privilege of leading lost people to an eternal relationship with the living Triune God!
With regard to the second issue, of personal discipline, the students benefit in profound ways. Some students have sheepishly admitted that their Reformed theology previously stood in the way of their witnessing, but now they were so happy that their systematic theology professor had "forced" them to overcome that. Others have talked about ingenious ways they have brought the gospel into a public classroom, or have been compelled to learn or relearn their Spanish in order to testify better to the growing Hispanic population, or have corrected a heretical teaching about the Trinity, or have led a Hindu to faith in the one true God, or have been led to become a fulltime missionary to Mormons, or have learned that the Holy Spirit is responsible for salvation while we are responsible for speaking the Word, and the list goes on.
Moreover, systematic theology is not the only discipline that is suffused with evangelism. A New Testament professor, Dr. Terry Wilder, regularly joins Southwestern Seminary's students in order to reach the area around Seminary Hill. When asked why and how he incorporates evangelism into the New Testament course, he writes, "I incorporate evangelism into my discipline largely because (1) God commands us to evangelize/make disciples (Matt 28:19-20; 2 Tim 2:2), and (2) he wants everyone to be saved (2 Pet 3:9)." He accomplishes this goal "primarily by teaching it from biblical texts and by requiring my NT students to share their faith a certain number of times each semester, always being sure not to ask them to do something that I myself am not willing to do or model for them."28 We have Old Testament, Missions, and Education professors and administrators who are just as adamant about evangelism as our New Testament and Theology professors, and we have not even mentioned the dynamic and vivacious current occupant of the Chair of Fire, Dr. Matthew Queen.
Similarly, a professor in our Preaching and Pastoral Studies division, Dr. Thomas Kiker, writes, "If we don't train our pastors to be intentional evangelists we will continue to have plateaued and declining churches. The main role of the pastor is to make disciples and equip the saints to make disciples. Evangelism has got to be at the forefront if we are to do what God has called us to do."29 In a day when our Southern Baptist Convention is forming task forces to examine why baptisms have been in decline, while other task
forces seek to dampen arguments over divisive theological speculations, Dr. Kiker's words are especially convicting.
Finally, Dr. Keith Eitel writes, "Theology without evangelism/missions is like a body without a soul. The one needs the other for human existence in this world. The soul lives on either in heaven or hell. Hence evangelism is the only basis to alter the destiny of anyone who is lost."30 In a time when our seminary comes under scrutiny for making so much of evangelism, Dr. Wilder's claims about Scripture's demands upon Christians and Dr. Eitel's reminder about the eternal destinies of the human beings who are at stake— these take on even more relevance.
A Final Word
Evangelism permeates the lives of the presidents, professors, and students of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We exist to help the churches fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. Evangelism is, from a practical theological perspective, our raison d'être. If I may paraphrase W.T. Conner, our seminary's founding theologian, applying his words to the nature of our school, as revealed in its historical and contemporary character, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is "The Evangelistic Seminary," and the day it ceases to be such is the day it ceases to be a Christian seminary. We are fishers of men making fishers of men and may nothing ever stand in the way of that overriding dominical policy.
Malcolm B. Yarnell III
Director, Center for Theological Research
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas
Written on the 487th Anniversary of the Anabaptist
Margarita Sattler's Drowning for Testifying to Christ