Dr. Sullivan's Commentary
Theological education claims our future while enhancing the gospel
Many Florida Baptists know I have a deep commitment to providing theological education to train God-called church leaders in our state. As a result, over the past 20 years, the Florida Baptist Convention has developed a strategy for our ministry.
To have an aggressive church planting ministry (which we do) without aggressive theological education to undergird the theology of the new church planter is a mistake. With the need to start more churches to reach the burgeoning ethnic population, providing theological training is even more demanding and critical.
Recently, I was invited to address our expectations for theological education in general and our major theological provider, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, in particular. Here is the core of what I said:
“Let me encourage you: Keep telling us to claim our future in ways that continue to enhance the gospel!
“Probe us to use reason. We do not give up our brain when we live by faith. It is through reason that we can understand the moral laws of God. As we gain knowledge, help our reasoning powers to intensify our interest in the pursuit of the holy.
“Challenge us to recognize that knowledge and reason must be correlated by the faith experiences of life. Theological education is not just for the head; it is also for the heart. Someone said it well, “we should have a mind for truth and a heart for God.” Faith in union with knowledge and reason will always lead us to the best comprehension of the mind of God as well as the personal will of God for my life. We must not allow intrusions by secular society to cancel conclusions about God and His revelation to us.
“Remind us that in an effort to be relevant and do something vital we must not allow ourselves to confuse the mission of the church. Theological education is for the mission of the church. Every church should be a theological seminary! While serving as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Aledo, Texas, (population 443), I decided to do additional graduate work at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In discussing this decision with one of my deacons, the owner and chief mechanic at our only garage, told me, “I will agree to afford you this privilege and even help financially if you will promise one thing: If you learn anything new about God be sure to come back to tell us.”
“Affirm that every person has the same rights to the gospel. God has established this truth to preserve order and to restrain the sinful tendency of self-destruction. We must proclaim these truths to bring people to the gospel.
“Lead us to better comprehend the mind and life of Jesus Christ. His moral perfection projects on us the perfect model for living. The confidence of our ethics, education and church governance must be rested in Jesus. This allows us to have fellowship with Him and to exert more influence for Him.
“Help our churches reclaim the often displaced person of the Holy Spirit. Teach us how to make the Holy Spirit a child of theology and not a stepchild. It is by the Spirit that the powerful ministry of God enters the life of man and delivers him as he turns to Jesus. The Christian life without the Holy Spirit is as warped as the excessive claims of those we criticize as being warped. The Spirit must be active in calling the called.”
Florida Baptists have made of a commitment to theological education unlike any other state convention. However, we must continue the quest to enroll, encourage, help educate and equip all of those who proclaim the truth of God. God has called them to their ministry; we are responsible for providing them with the highest quality of theological education available.
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