I was fourteen years old when I acknowledged that God was calling me to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. My wise father said to me, “Son, I didn’t go to college so I can’t give you much advice on your education. But it does seem to me that if you’re going to be a Baptist preacher you ought to go to Baptist schools.” That made sense to me.
So, I went to Mercer University, a Baptist college in Macon, Georgia. I just assumed that I would go from there to a Southern Baptist seminary. Most of the Baptist but non-Southern Baptist options that I knew about were too much of the fundamentalist persuasion for me. Our campus minister had attended Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, so I visited there. Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX was the biggest of them all so I visited there. But I think that I knew all along that I was going to end up attending the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. A saying that was going around the Christianity Department at Mercer when I was a student there maintained that “if you love to preach, you go to New Orleans; if you love the Lord, you go to Southwestern; and if you love to learn, you go to Southern.” Well, I loved all three, but I was told by people whose opinion mattered to me that Southern was the strongest academically of the Southern Baptist seminaries. It was also the oldest one and I was impressed by that tradition. So I went to Southern.
In the wake of the changes in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979, other Baptist seminaries and divinity schools have been birthed. Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond is a free-standing school. Others are connected with Baptist universities or universities with Baptist roots: Truett Seminary at Baylor in Texas, Beeson Divinity School at Samford in Alabama, White Divinity School at Gardner-Webb in North Carolina, and Wake Forest Divinity School are examples. Then there are Baptist houses of studies at divinity schools that are related to non-Baptist denominations: Candler School of Theology at Emory in Georgia and Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, for instance.
Sometimes I think that I should have chosen a different educational path. Perhaps it was not a good idea, the solid advice of my father and other advisors notwithstanding, to acquire all of my higher education at Baptist schools. Perhaps I should have gotten one of my graduate degrees at a state university or at a non-Baptist private school or at a school in Great Britain. Don’t get me wrong; I find no serious fault with the education I received at Southern; I just think that I might have been well-served to broaden my educational horizons a bit.
What I really wonder, though, is what educational path I would take now if I were a college Baptist ministerial student who wanted to pursue a seminary education. There are just so many good choices that it might come down to who would give me the best financial package!
I do know this: I would take a serious look at the McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. It is affiliated with my undergraduate alma mater, Mercer University. The school is eleven years old now and to my eyes it looks like they are doing a fine job. Debra and I were joined by seven of our church members in attending a dinner last night at which we were addressed by Dr. Truett Gannon, who is retiring this year after serving for ten years as Senior Professor of Supervised Ministry at McAfee. He pointed out that McAfee has 211 alumni of whom 187 or 88.6% are working in ministry. Of those, 55.8% are in church or church-related ministries, 16.1 % are in chaplaincy, 16.1% are in education (either teaching, working on staff, or doing further graduate study), and 4.2% are involved in social ministries. He also told us that 51% of McAfee’s current students are female and close to 40% are African-American or of an ethnicity other than Caucasian. The school has a fine faculty and an excellent leader in Dean Alan Culpepper.
I believe that one good thing that has come out of recent developments in Baptist life is a broader range of choices in theological education. There are lots of great schools at which a Baptist minister can get a fine education. I’m proud that one of those fine schools is in my state and is associated with my college.