On to Seminary and the Study of Theology

At the small Southern Baptist college I attended, it was common and natural for students upon graduation to make a bee-line to a Southern Baptist seminary.  All were tuition free, so it made economical and professional sense to seek out a Masters degree.  There were several seminaries from which to choose.  Their key distinctions were location, size and theological views of the faculty.

I chose the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.  The school’s faculty had an outstanding reputation and registered — for the most part — on the liberal end of the theological meter.

Most people have never seen a liberal Southern Baptist.  They are now an extinct species, but I can confirm from personal experience that they did exist.  Of course, all things are relative and the label “liberal” is no exception.

I attended Southern in the b.f. era – before the fundamentalists.  There had always been plenty of fundamentalist students at Southern, but during the 1980s, fundamentalist religious leaders launched a strategic plan to take over the assets of the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly the education centers – the seminaries.   Their biggest criticism of the seminaries was that some professors did not adhere to, and certainly did not teach from, a “literal” interpretation of the Bible.

Southern Seminary had several schools, each of which offered several degrees.  I decided to pursue a Masters of Divinity and signed up for the “theology” track, a track taken by students preparing to be church pastors and by others wanting to focus their studies on theology (as opposed to music, social work or church education).  I fell into the second category.  I had no desire to be a preacher.  I hated public speaking.   But I loved the study of theology, church history, Greek, Hebrew and public policy.

The fundamentalists had just turned their attention to Southern when I arrived in 1983.  To fundamentalists, a literal interpretation of the Bible means that women cannot be pastors.  Accordingly, I was not welcomed by all on the theology track.  When I co-chaired the Women in Ministry group on campus, one student went so far as to write an editorial in the school paper about the group.  In it, he proclaimed that I was going to hell.  Somehow, I found his proclamation to be validating.