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New programs seek to engage culture
April 17, 2006
By Jeff Robinson
R. Albert Mohler Jr. speaking at the trustee board's annual spring meeting. Trustees unanimously approved the creation of two new theological study centers — the Center for Theology and the Arts, and the Center for Theology and Law. Photo by John Gill
Trustees at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on April 11 unanimously approved the creation of two new theological study centers—the Center for Theology and the Arts, and the Center for Theology and Law, during the board's annual spring meeting.
Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said the new study centers aim at equipping pastors and church leaders to think biblically about pivotal issues which dominate contemporary culture.
"One of the ways we want to lead Southern Baptists is through helping evangelicals and Southern Baptists in particular to engage some of the most critical issues of our day," Mohler said.
"This is not a time for Christians to be out-thought by the world, but in general that is what happens. We find the church behind the times in thinking about some of the most crucial issues of our day."
Mohler also announced the appointment of two new faculty members to lead the centers.
Steve Halla will head the seminary's Center for Theology and the Arts and serve as assistant professor of philosophy. He currently serves on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary and will earn a doctor of philosophy degree in philosophy from the University of Texas at Dallas this spring. He received a master of theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and bachelor's degree from Moody Bible Institute. Halla and his wife Kathy have two daughters.
The Center for Theology and the Arts will focus on the interaction between Christian theology and the various arts. Its goal is to help Christians to develop a biblical understanding of such issues as aesthetics, artistic expression and appreciation, Mohler said.
Peter J. Richards has been appointed the director of the Center for Theology and Law. Richards presently serves as a research fellow in law and history and is administrator of the World Law Institute at the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Ga. He earned a doctor of a master of laws and a doctor of the science of law Yale University, a doctor of jurisprudence from the University of North Carolina, and a bachelor's degree in medieval and renaissance studies from the University of Michigan. Richards and his wife Johanna have four children.
The Center for Theology and Law will focus on the interaction between Christian theology and the world of law and will offer a master of arts degree in theological studies with an emphasis on theology and law. The one-year program is intended for those who are bound for law school, those who have just graduated from law school and those whose professional service in ministry includes interest in both theology and law. Both study centers will be operated out of Southern's School of Theology.
Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration, hailed the new study centers as "an historic moment" in the lives of both Southern Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention.
"Issues of the arts and media and understanding the law are issues that are confronting not only individuals and the culture but Southern Baptist churches," Moore said.
"Pastors need to know how to engage these issues as [does] a theologically informed Southern Baptist layperson. Southern Seminary has taken the initiative to take on the culture with a biblically informed worldview in an unprecedented way and we are very excited about that."
Mohler also named Kurt Wise as the new director for Southern's Center for Theology and Science, and professor of theology and science.
Wise currently serves on the faculty of Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., where he is also director of the Center for Origins Research.
Wise earned both a doctor of philosophy and master of arts in paleontology from Harvard University. He and his wife Marie have two daughters.
Wise replaces William Dembski, who is leaving Southern Seminary to join the faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary so he can be closer to his family.
"With the addition of Kurt Wise, we are recognizing that creation is a ground zero theological crisis point right now in American culture and even in our churches," Moore said.
"We need to train Southern Baptist pastors to equip young people to engage Darwinism from elementary school on. We also need to train Southern Baptists to recognize Darwinist thinking in ways that are subtle that they don't even recognize."
Mohler said Southern Seminary hopes to help both Southern Baptists and evangelicals in general to think biblically about such issues as the arts, law and science. He pointed to one major moral issue, abortion, as an example of how Christians often come late to the task of engaging profound cultural issues.
When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in 1973, it took Southern Baptists nearly a generation to respond to the issue, Mohler pointed out.
"[Southern Baptists] at the grassroots level just weren't engaged in the issue at all," he said. "It took a generation for Southern Baptists to get highly engaged on that one issue. And right now it's not just one issue, it's an entire host of issues, and they are not just moral issues or political issues or legal issues, they are cultural issues.
"[Law and the arts] are two issues with which we intend to help Southern Baptists do some very serious thinking."
In other business, trustees:
• Approved the appointment of Kevin L. Smith as assistant professor of church history for the seminary. Smith is a doctor of philosophy candidate at Southern Seminary.
He also received a master of divinity from Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tenn. Smith has served as the Martin Luther King Jr, Fellow at Southern since 2002.
• Approved the appointment of Thom S. Rainer as distinguished professor of evangelism and church growth.
Rainer served as founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth at Southern Seminary from 1994 until 2005 when he resigned to become president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
• Approved a $33 million budget, a 9.9 percent increase over last year's budget.
• Heard a report from President Mohler that Southern's enrollment has topped 4,000 students for the first time in the seminary's history.