Does the 'old Southeastern' still exist?
April 19 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Does the 'old Southeastern' still exist? | Friday, April 19, 2002

Friday, April 19, 2002

Does the 'old Southeastern' still exist?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

I was taken aback during a recent trustee meeting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

While explaining challenges the school will face in raising $50 million for new buildings and expanded programs, fund-raising consultant Jerold Panas praised Southeastern president Paige Patterson as being "off the charts" in popularity with supporters.

That's not what set me back because it is true. Patterson is a strong, personable and capable leader with an extremely loyal following.

But then Panas added, "The seminary was founded in 1950, but it is really only 10 years old. Anything that happened before Patterson doesn't exist."


I know what Panas meant - I think. I presume he meant that the character of the school has changed so greatly that pre-Patterson alumni can't be counted on to support the "new Southeastern's" fund-raising campaign.

I know what he meant, and I know he's an outside consultant from Chicago, but it still hurt.

I thought surely some school official or board member would distance themselves from Panas' comment, or at least acknowledge Southeastern's prior history, but no one did.

The school is indeed quite a different place these days, but not entirely divorced from its past. The theme for the new fund-raising campaign is "Scholarship on Fire!" That's an excellent description of the way I felt in 1979, when I sat down in Appleby Hall for my first class in Old Testament. My professors' scholarship, faith and fervor fed a fire within me, a burning desire to learn and to serve.

And I am not alone.

Men and women who were trained during Southeastern's first 42 years are hard at work throughout America and in mission fields around the world. The scholarship lives on, and the fire lives on in former students who spanned the spectra of theology and talent and calling.

Quite a number of very conservative leaders in our own state have degrees from the "old Southeastern" hanging on their walls, as do many moderates. I know a few graduates who might qualify as "liberals," and some old-school alumni who are somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan. Some have disowned the "new Southeastern," while others are great fans and supporters.

Today's Southeastern is certainly distinctive. The student body is growing, and large numbers are directly involved in missions. The teachers share a conservative bent and a liking for the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, but that does not prevent them from being bona fide scholars who know a lot of stuff and know it well. Students are serious about their calling and serious about their studies.

If you find two students engaged in conversation on one of the ubiquitous memorial benches scattered around the campus, they're likely to be either cramming for a test or debating some point of theology.

Today's Southeastern students may learn as much about historical criticism and other tools of Bible study as ever, and though they are also instructed "why that dog won't hunt," the options are there for the taking. Theological uniformity, to the best of my knowledge, is not a requirement for graduation.

Southeastern seminary is indeed charting a new course and plying new waters, but the "scholar ship" has been in the ocean for a long time. All of its many alumni, in their hearts and lives, are different people because of their experience at Southeastern.

Both Southeasterns, the old and the new, will continue to exist for as long as their graduates and their influence live in this world.

Good has come, and will come, of both.

Is that so hard to admit?

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4/19/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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