The Baptists have established a new seminary in Kentucky. Over the last 30 years Baptists have averaged one new seminary per year somewhere in these United States.
So what else is new?
Over the last 30 years Baptists have averaged one new seminary per year somewhere in these United States.
Virginia has at least five new schools: Tabernacle, Richmond, Central, Liberty and one called the John Leland Center for Theological Study. North Carolina has four, including those launched by established universities such as Wake Forest, Campbell and Gardner-Webb.
But this emergence of new Baptist schools is not just a Southern phenomenon. New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Michigan and Arizona are all sites of new institutions. California has seen at least three established (The Masters and branches of Bethel and Western).
In addition to these new seminaries, there are many new graduate programs offering degrees in ministry and theology, launched at schools such as Campbellsville University in Kentucky and Palm Beach Atlantic College in Florida.
All of this may be the institutional foundation for what Lutheran scholar and social commentator Martin Marty once referred to as “the baptistification of American religion.” He was describing the broad popularity of standard Baptist values, such as religious freedom, congregational autonomy, baptism by immersion and lay ministry.
Some of these new schools do indeed have a pronounced Baptist identity. Their materials describe how Baptist pastors gathered to pray and plan; their names include the word “Baptist”; their graduates are called to minister with Baptist congregations and institutions.
But others downplay the denominational affiliation. Phoenix Seminary opened as a branch of Western Baptist Seminary but when it became autonomous, it dropped the Baptist label. This mirrors the actions of more established schools that also began as Baptist schools, such as Denver Seminary and Western Seminary in Portland. Both are trying to broaden their bases, as institutional leaders like to describe it.
Most of these new schools seek accreditation of one sort or another, more often than not by the American Association of Theological Schools, located in Pittsburgh. Their latest statistics report 243 programs in Canada and the United States, up from 212 a decade ago. The list includes 14 seminaries newly recognized as accredited, as candidates for accreditation, or simply as associate members.
Then there are those like Landmark Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas; it is accredited by the largely unknown Accrediting Commission International of Beebe, Ariz. Perhaps seeking to offset a lack of recognition, the first professor is listed with the following questionable degrees: B.D., D.Litt., D.M.I., D.Th.Ed., Th.D, Ph.D, D.D.
My suspicion at the legitimacy of this new school intensified when I noted they give course credit for “life experience.” Five credit hours are awarded for every year of ministry experience for years one to five; four credit hours per year for years six through 10; and only two credit hours per year thereafter. I thought the value of experience increased with time; silly me.
At the opposite end of the credibility spectrum is Fuller Seminary in California. Founded in 1948, it is a major evangelical (and accredited) graduate school that is not aligned with any one denomination or network. It maintains a Web site that lists 311 seminaries and divinity schools in the United States. Of these, 55 are identified as Baptist; many others (such as Dallas and Gordon-Conwell in Boston) have a strong baptistic flavor.
It is hard to say what flavor best describes Seminary Number 295, named enigmatically as “The Virtual Baptist Seminary.” Location? Kentucky! But when I tried to find the Web site of this cyberspace seminary, the message simply read: “This site can not be located.”
We do, however, know where to find the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky—on High Street in downtown Lexington. Come September, when the first class convenes and the opening convocation is held, students will take their proper place in the surprising renewal of theological education among Baptists in North America.
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.