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Towers interview with new School of Theology dean Russell D. Moore
February 09, 2004
By Bryan Cribb
“I never expected this to happen, and certainly not at this point,” Russell D. Moore (above) said of his election as dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president of Academic Administration. Photo by David Merrifield
Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. announced Russell D. Moore as the new dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for Academic Administration during seminary convocation Jan. 27. Moore takes over for Daniel Akin, who was elected president of South-eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Below is an exclusive interview with Moore.
Towers: As a theologian, what is your driving passion? And what, as dean and senior vice president, is your vision for the seminary and the School of Theology?
Moore: The Scriptures reveal that the driving passion of God is the preeminence of Christ in all things (Eph 1:10; Col 1:17-18; Phil 1:10-11). The storyline of the Bible is the invasion of this Warrior-King into the enemy-occupied territory of a fallen cosmos. And, in the church, God is signaling to the principalities and powers what the entire creation will look like -- when every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed (Eph 3:10).
The Great Commission is not a program. It is the crushing of the Serpent’s head. The church is not a “faith-based organization.” It is a declaration of war. Theology is not a science for religious intellectuals. It is a war plan. And the ministry is not a “helping profession” designed for people too religious to be social workers. It is a call to take on the domain of darkness with the sword of the Spirit.
Southern Seminary is one of the few places left in American evangelicalism that gets that Christ-centered warfare vision of the Gospel. Our professors teach Greek and Hebrew and theology and evangelism and leadership and hymnology and all the other disciplines in the same way the early church fathers once did -- as ammunition for Great Commission warfare.
And our students have a very different reputation from that of most student bodies. They are not simply after a “meal ticket” to a county-seat church. Instead, our students see the night falling across a world of billions who have never heard the name of Jesus. They know, with Jesus, that “an enemy has done this.” They know who he is -- and they are ready to fight him to the mouth of hell itself. That’s what Christianity is all about. That’s what Southern Seminary has been about for the past 10 years. I want to see that vision continue and accelerate into the 21st century and beyond.
With this the case, I share President Mohler’s vision for Southern Seminary as focused on transforming local congregations. The focus of Christ’s reign in the present age is over His body -- the church. The era of “movements” and “ministries” and Christian celebrities has not transformed American culture. What can transform people and communities are not “movements” but churches. A student who graduates Southern Seminary should leave here with a broken heart for the lost, a driving passion for evangelism and a rock-solid commitment to local congregations. I want to help continue that heritage.
Towers: Talk about the legacy of Danny Akin. What is it like to try to follow in his wake?
Moore: It is impossible to replace Danny Akin. He is one of a kind, and the dean of all deans. He led this faculty with integrity, humility, godliness, excellence and courage. And his legacy is so much more than academic. When Maria and I adopted our boys, I told her that I prayed that, when they were grown, we would have the kind of success in parenting that Danny and Charlotte Akin have had. Their sons are godly young men, who virtually glow with respect and adoration for their parents. That says more about the character of a man than a billion biographies.
Towers: Which persons have most influenced your ministry?
Moore: Well, many of them are right here on the faculty of Southern Seminary. I am a biblical inerrantist today because of the influence of Tom Nettles’ book, Baptists and the Bible. I never wanted to be a seminary professor, because I wanted so badly to spend my life in the pastorate as a pastor-theologian. Bruce Ware, my doctoral supervisor and one of the godliest men I’ve ever known, modeled for me what it looks like to be a theologian-pastor. One of the great blessings of this position is the opportunity to work side-by-side with him.
And, of course, no one has had a greater influence on my life and ministry than President Mohler, who is my mentor and father in the faith. I learned more in his basement library during my doctoral years than I ever could have in a classroom -- not just about theology but about what it means to give one’s life over to the defense of the faith. So much of who I am was forged in those years. That is perhaps the biggest adjustment to my becoming dean last Tuesday. I walked from the chapel into the same office I entered every afternoon during my doctoral years. Except now I was to sit down on the other side of the desk that had once been his. That was a surreal experience.
I owe my spiritual formation to the Woolmarket Baptist Church, my home congregation just outside of Biloxi, Mississippi. One pastor in particular, M.L. Faler (who is now a pastor in Pine Bluff, Ark.), instilled in me a love for the Scriptures and for the church, a love I’ve never lost. I was in awe of him, for his godliness, his wisdom and his courage. And I still am.
Most of my theological convictions were not formed in doctoral seminars, but in Vacation Bible School, Royal Ambassadors and Training Union classes. Every day Maria and I think about Wool-market Baptist Church, and how much we owe them.
Towers: Can you talk about the events of the past month or so? What factors went into making a decision of this magnitude?
Moore: When the president first brought up this possibility with me, I paused to wait for the punch line. I really expected him to say, “I’m just kidding. For real, who do you think should be the next dean?” After a few awkward seconds of looking at him -- and slowly realizing he wasn’t joking -- I simply said “Wow.”
I wish I had said something more appropriate for the profundity of the occasion. I then said,“I can make the case against me.” And I spent the next half-hour or so debating why I should not be dean. “I am only 32 years old,” I said. “That will change,” he replied. “Next year you’ll be 33.”
We then prayed together for God’s will to be made plain in this matter. After that, everything is a blur.
Towers: What is it like to be dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president at 32 years of age?
Moore: I never expected this to happen, and certainly not at this point. My friend David Prince, pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, now sarcastically calls me “the Doogie Howser of Baptist theology.” I guess you have to be thirty-something even to know who “Doogie Howser” was.
The first person I heard from after the announcement was Dr. David Dockery, now president of Union University. He said that at the time of his appointment to this position, he was told that he was the youngest dean in Southern Baptist history. And he was six years older then than I am now. “Some people will tell you that you are too young for this position, just as they told me,” he said. “Just remember Paul’s admonition to Timothy, and thank them for their interest.”
Dr. Dockery’s word of encouragement was repeated that day by dozens of my faculty colleagues, both to me and to Dean Scroggins. We both were humbled by the encouragement we received from this faculty, many of whom were once our professors.
They are more than colleagues; they are my closest friends, and cherished brothers and sisters. They are the greatest theological faculty in the world, and I know how blessed I am to be given the opportunity to serve them as dean.
Towers: What is something students would be surprised to know about you?
Moore: Well, some of my faculty colleagues were surprised that I’m such a country music lover. I know that Ken Magnuson and Steve Wellum are going to miss the strains of Johnny Cash playing upstairs in Norton Hall. Bill Cook, on the other hand, predicts that it is just a matter of time now until Randy Travis is invited to give the Mullins lectures at Southern Seminary.