Faithfulness to the Mission: Recovering the Great Commission
Mohler’s commitment to the founding mission of the Seminary inevitably led to a greater emphasis and focus on God’s overarching mission to redeem and reconcile those created in his image from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
For the truth. For the church. For the world. For the glory of God. Since its inception in 1859, the vision of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) has always been global inscope. The founding faculty were actively involved in the cooperative mission efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention. Basil Manly Jr., James P. Boyce, and John A. Broadus all served as either Board Members or advisors to the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB) in the initial years of the Mission Board. The historical record reveals that the leaders of Southern Seminary have been actively partnering and serving alongside the Great Commission efforts of the IMB for more than 160 years. That is an astounding fact and reality. That heritage of mission partnership and cooperation continues today under the leadership of seminary President R. Albert Mohler, Jr. SBTS is a confessional Southern Baptist seminary that endeavors to be a Great Commission seminary. The language of our mission statement expresses this Great Commission desire:
Under the lordship of Jesus Christ, the mission of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is to be entirely committed to the Bible as the Word of God, to the Great Commission as our mandate, and to be a servant of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by training, educating, and preparing ministers of the gospel for more faithful service.
A Great Commission seminary is one in which students learn to study and to teach the Bible in its entirety; one which understands its mission as arising from the church and, in turn, to serve the church, all with consuming urgency for the global mission. Clear Great Commission desire has marked much of the history of Southern Seminary. Yet, there was a period during the 20th century where the institution experienced missional drift as Seminary leaders and faculty downplayed the authority of the Bible, the urgency of the Great Commission, and the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. With the 21st century approaching, the trustees of the seminary recognized it was time for Southern to recapture and reclaim its founding mission and Great Commission vision. The trustees of the seminary made a bold move in the Spring of 1993 by hiring 33-year-old R. Albert Mohler, Jr., as the 9th President of the seminary. The hiring of Mohler was catalytic to the reclamation of the institution’s original mission. In the face of much scrutiny and significant opposition, Mohler convictionally and courageously led the institution to return to biblical fidelity and theological orthodoxy.
From the outset, it was clear that Mohler prioritized and emphasized the infallibility, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of the Bible—this unwavering commitment to the Bible as the Word of God has marked his leadership at Southern. The Mission Statement of the school, quoted above, reflects the primacy of Scripture in every facet of the institution. For Mohler, a commitment to the Bible as the Word of God is foundational to everything that takes place at Southern Seminary and Boyce College.
In addition to a renewed emphasis on the primacy of Scripture, Mohler restored focus on the confession of faith that has guided the institution since 1859, the Abstract of Principles. In the opening convocation in the Fall of 1993, Mohler highlighted the founding vision and confession in an address titled “Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There!” The original intent of the Abstract of Principles was a clear understanding that faculty members would teach in accordance with and not contrary to the contents of the confession. Under Mohler’s leadership, the Abstract of Principles was no longer a document that could be nuanced or signed under a private arrangement as to the meaning of the document. One of the early priorities for Mohler was to restore the Abstract of Principles to its original intent and purpose and to define the confessional parameters of the seminary clearly.
Flowing out of the priority of the Bible and the restoration of the Abstract of Principles, Mohler also cast a Great Commission vision for the seminary. Early in his tenure, he highlighted the necessity of evangelism and missions. He recognized that the primary purpose of theological education is to equip men and women for ministry that is focused on spreading the gospel and making disciples. To solidify this emphasis within the institution, Mohler helped establish the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry at Southern Seminary in 1994.
The newly established Billy Graham School allowed Mohler to hire new faculty members who were passionate about the Great Commission. He immediately hired professors who shared his passion for evangelism and missions and encouraged them to integrate this focus into their teaching and ethos on campus. Furthermore, Mohler has ensured that the seminary’s mission statement reflects its commitment to the Great Commission by explicitly stating the Great Commission as its mandate.
In 2015, Mohler announced the launch of an online distance learning initiative called “Global Campus.” The impetus of this strategic and visionary initiative was a desire to provide high-quality theological training in accessible formats to aspiring pastors, missionaries, and leaders around the world. Mohler articulated the vision, “We do not merely want to have a program that allows people to access Southern Seminary online…Our ambition is bolder than that — it is to reach the nations.” Today, through the Global Campus initiative Southern Seminary is training and equipping God-called men and women in time zones and on continents across the world that the founders would never have dreamed possible.
Mohler rightly understood that Great Commission training and preparation cannot be a “side project” for an institution that desires to make a truly global and eternal impact in an increasingly global and urban world. He recognized that a commitment to the Bible and the institution’s founding mission requires an unwavering commitment to the Great Commission. Today, Southern Seminary has the opportunity and stewardship to carry on the founders’ vision in reaching the people of a rapidly changing world with the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mohler’s commitment to the founding mission of the Seminary inevitably led to a greater emphasis and focus on God’s overarching mission to redeem and reconcile those created in his image from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. His faithfulness to that mission for three decades has resulted in scores of pastors, missionaries, and church leaders serving Christ around the world. Today, seminary graduates are sharing good news, making disciples, and planting churches for the glory of God all over the globe. Southern Seminary, under the tricennial leadership of Albert Mohler, is a living picture of convictional faithfulness that has led to abundant fruitfulness. By God’s grace, the legacy of faithfulness to the mission and to the Great Commission continues today and, Lord willing, will continue until Jesus comes again.