When the original charter of the Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary was adopted in 1858 it contained the following statement
which constitutes as a part of the "fundamental laws." "Every
professor of the institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist
Church; and all persons accepting professorships in this Seminary
shall be considered, by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in
accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles
hereinafter laid down, a departure from which principles on his
part shall be grounds for his resignation or removal by the
ABSTRACT OF PRINCIPLES
I. The Scriptures.
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by
inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and
authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
There is but one God, the Maker, Preserver and Ruler of all things,
having in and of himself, all perfections, and being infinite in
them all; and to Him all creatures owe the highest love, reverence
III. The Trinity.
God is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit each with
distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature,
essence or being.
God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass,
and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all
events; yet so as not to destroy the free will and responsibility
of intelligent creatures.
Election is God's eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting
life -- not because of foreseen merit in them, but of his mere
mercy in Christ -- in consequence of which choice they are called,
justified and glorified.
VI. The Fall of Man.
God originally created man in His own image, and free from sin;
but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command
of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness;
whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed
to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are
capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.
VII. The Mediator.
Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is the divinely
appointed mediator between God and man. Having taken upon Himself
human nature, yet without sin, He perfectly fulfilled the Law,
suffered and died upon the cross for the salvation of sinners. He
was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended to His
Father, at whose hand He ever liveth to make intercession for His
people. He is the only Mediator, the Prophet, Priest and King of
the Church, and Sovereign of the Universe.
Regeneration is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit, who
quickeneth the dead in trespasses and sins enlightening their minds
spiritually and savingly to understand the Word of God, and
renewing their whole nature, so that they love and practice
holiness. It is a work of God's free and special grace alone.
Repentance is an evangelical grace, wherein a person being, by the
Holy Spirit, made sensible of the manifold evil of his sin,
humbleth himself for it, with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and
self-abhorrence, with a purpose and endeavor to walk before God so
as to please Him in all things.
Saving faith is the belief, on God's authority, of whatsoever is
revealed in His Word concerning Christ; accepting and resting upon
Him alone for justification and eternal life. It is wrought in the
heart by the Holy Spirit, and is accompanied by all other saving
graces, and leads to a life of holiness.
Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal of sinners, who
believe in Christ, from all sin, through the satisfaction that
Christ has made; not for anything wrought in them or done by them;
but on account of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, they
receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith.
Those who have been regenerated are also sanctified, by God's word
and Spirit dwelling in them. This sanctification is progressive
through the supply of Divine strength, which all saints seek to
obtain, pressing after a heavenly life in cordial obedience to all
XIII. Perseverance of the Saints.
Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, and sanctified by His
Spirit, will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of
grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end; and though they
may fall, through neglect and temptation, into sin, whereby they
grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach
on the Church, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall
be renewed again unto repentance, and be kept by the power of God
through faith unto salvation.
XIV. The Church.
The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is composed of all
his true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for
its government. According to his commandment, Christians are to
associate themselves into particular societies or churches; and to
each of these churches he hath given needful authority for
administering that order, discipline and worship which he hath
appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops, or
Elders, and Deacons.
Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, obligatory upon every
believer, wherein he is immersed in water in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of his
fellowship with the death and resurrection of Christ, of remission
of sins, and of his giving himself up to God, to live and walk in
newness of life. It is prerequisite to church fellowship, and to
participation in the Lord's Supper.
XVI. The Lord's Supper.
The Lord's Supper is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, to be
administered with the elements of bread and wine, and to be
observed by his churches till the end of the world. It is in no
sense a sacrifice, but is designed to commemorate his death, to
confirm the faith and other graces of Christians, and to be a bond,
pledge and renewal of their communion with him, and of their church
XVII. The Lord's Day.
The Lord's Day is a Christian institution for regular observance,
and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual
devotion, both public and private, resting from worldly employments
and amusements, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.
XVIII. Liberty of Conscience.
God alone is Lord of the conscience; and He hath left it free from
the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything
contrary to His word, or not contained in it. Civil magistrates
being ordained of God, subjection in all lawful thing commanded by
them ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but
also for conscience sake.
XIX. The Resurrection.
The bodies of men after death return to dust, but their spirits
return immediately to God -- the righteous to rest with Him; the
wicked to be reserved under darkness to the judgment. At the last
day, the bodies of all the dead, both just and unjust, will be
XX. The Judgment.
God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world by Jesus
Christ, when every one shall receive according to his deeds; the
wicked shall go into everlasting punishment; the righteous, into
DON'T JUST DO SOMETHING;
Southern Seminary and the Abstract of Principles
A Convocation Address Delivered By
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
August 31, 1993
in Alumni Memorial Chapel
"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren, beloved
by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for
salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the
truth. And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that
you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then,
brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were
taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." II
Thessalonians 2:13-15, NASB
The Seminary Convocation which opens each academic year constitutes
a unique gathering of the Seminary community, assembled together to
welcome new students and new faculty, and to solemnize the
beginning of a new Seminary term. The roots of such an academic
convocation are found in the British universities of Oxford and
Durham, where for centuries the university communities have
assembled to mark the inauguration of formal studies.
At Southern Seminary, the tradition is as old as the institution
itself, for the very earliest minutes of the school record formal
services at the start of each academic year. A convocation of the
Southern Seminary family, gathered for worship and commemoration,
is a fitting hallmark of the Seminary's tradition, and is the cause
of our gathering this day.
Today, you have witnessed a ceremony which has been a central part
of this institution's life and commitment for 134 years--the
signing of the original _Abstract_of_Principles_.
The convergence of this ceremony as the first convocation of my
service as president and as the occasion of placing my own
signature on this sacred document, prompts me to reflect upon the
meaning of this confession, on its role as the Seminary's charter
of fidelity, on the priceless heritage of faithfulness of those who
have preceded us, and on the responsibility we collectively bear to
keep faith with this body of biblical doctrine.
Russell Reno, professor of moral theology at Creighton University,
recently reflected on the role of confessions in the Church:
The impulse behind confessions of faith is doxological,
the desire to speak the truth about God, to give voice to
the beauty of holiness in the fullest possible sense.
However, the particular forms that historical confessions
take are shaped by confrontation. Their purpose is to
respond to the spirit of the age by rearticulating in a
pointed way the specific content of Christianity so as to
face new challenges as well as new forms of old
challenges. As a result, formal confessions are
characterized by pointed distinctions. They are
exercises in drawing boundaries where the particular
force of traditional Christian claims is sharpened to
heighten the contrast between true belief and false
belief.... As they shape our beliefs, confessions
structure our identities." _/1/
My design today--on this day which will ever remain sacred in my
memory as the occasion of my own public attestation of this
confession--is for us to consider the central role of the
_Abstract_of_Principles_ in structuring the identity of the
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The roots of that role are integral to the founding of this
institution in the 1850s. The very idea of a central Baptist
seminary was controversial then, and so it remained for over half a
century. Baptists, though increasingly convinced of the need for
an educated ministry, were suspicious of centralized structures and
had long established a pattern of uneven cooperation in educational
endeavors. The decline and loss of Columbian College was but the
most celebrated embarrassment to Baptist educational efforts.
On the other hand, virtually all of the Baptist colleges and
universities founded in the nineteenth century were established for
the express purpose of training ministers of the Gospel and had
developed theological departments of varying size and impact. Each
had a loyal following, however, and none was ready to surrender its
own institutional identity in order to meld a larger school. That
was true, at least, until the rise of James Petigru Boyce.
Boyce, the son of a patriarchal South Carolina businessman and
financier, brought together the threads of seminary aspiration left
untied by so many others. As a twenty-nine year old theology
professor at Furman University, Boyce delivered his inaugural
address as what became the *Magna Carta* of Southern Seminary,
"Three Changes in Theological Institutions."
Educated at Brown University and Princeton Seminary, Boyce had
followed a privileged educational pathway. In presenting his vision
for a uniquely Southern Baptist theological institution, he drew
from his own experiences at Brown and Princeton, his tenure as a
newspaper editor, his deep rootage in what historian Walter Shurden
has identified as the "Charleston Tradition" in Southern Baptist
life, and the wisdom which had been imparted to him by the
influence of others.
Among those who influenced Boyce, surely none exerted a more
powerful moral, theological, and ministerial impact than Boyce's
former pastor and future trustee chairman, Basil Manly, Sr..
Manly, who had been pastor of First Baptist Church, Charleston
during Boyce's boyhood, was one of the towering figures of the
South, and of the Southern Baptist Convention. Manly was also an
ardent confessionalist, who believed that a confession of faith,
clearly articulated and endowed with institutional authority, was
a necessary precondition to Southern Baptist support for a
Boyce delivered his weighty address, uncertain that Southern
Baptists would ever respond to his call, but certain of his
rectitude in pointing the denomination toward a vision for
theological education that was open at some level to all persons,
regardless of their educational preparation, offered the most
strenuous programs to persons of exceptional preparation, and was
firmly rooted in a confession of doctrinal principles binding upon
all who would teach therein.
This last point, the third of Boyce's three proposed changes, is
our concern today. Boyce's call was answered in the Educational
Convention of 1857 and in the eventual founding of The Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary, and Boyce was himself to be the
central stack pole of the founding faculty.
But Boyce did not dream nor serve alone. The most critical role in
bringing the _Abstract_of_Principles_ to final form was served by
Basil Manly, Jr., another of the four founding faculty. The
younger Manly had also enjoyed a Princeton Seminary education.
Though he began his studies for the ministry at Newton Theological
Institution, a Baptist school, he was directed to Princeton by his
father, at least in part because Princeton was governed by a
regulative confession of faith.
At Princeton, both Manly and Boyce had studied under the imposing
figure of Samuel Miller, a stalwart defender of Presbyterian
theological and ecclesiastical standards, who argued the "The
necessity and importance of creeds and confessions appears from the
consideration that one great design of establishing a Church in our
world was that she might be, in all ages, a depository, a guardian,
and a witness of the truth." _/2/
That same conviction drove Boyce, both Manlys, John A. Broadus, and
those who deliberated with them, to propose an
_Abstract_of_Principles_ based upon the Second London Confession,
which was itself a Baptist revision of the Westminster Confession.
The Second London Confession had been adopted in slightly revised
form by the Baptist associations in Philadelphia and Charleston,
and had thus greatly influenced Baptists of both the North and the
Writing in 1874, Boyce detailed the principles which guided the
The abstract of principles must be: 1. A complete
exhibition of the fundamental doctrines of grace, so that
in no essential particular should they speak dubiously;
2. They should speak out clearly and distinctly as to
the practices universally prevalent among us; 3. Upon no
point, upon which the denomination is divided, should the
Convention, and through it, the Seminary, take any
This explanation clarifies the _Abstract_'s originating process and
underlines the incredible theological unity of Southern Baptists at
the middle of the nineteenth century. The members of the drafting
committee were certain that Southern Baptists were undivided on
"the fundamental doctrines of grace" and that the matters which
threatened denominational unity--and were thus avoided by the
confession--dealt with issues related to the Landmark
controversies, in particular, to questions of baptism and alien
immersion, and to contested terrain regarding the Lord's Supper,
open and close communion.
The committee protected the integrity of the confession's witness
to the doctrines of grace, and as Boyce indicated, spoke dubiously
on no essential particular. Indeed, the _Abstract_ remains a
powerful testimony to a Baptist theological heritage that is
genuinely evangelical, Reformed, biblical, and orthodox.
When the Committee on the Plan of Organization brought its report
in 1858--just one year before classes would begin--the Fundamental
Laws of the institution stipulated that the
_Abstract_of_Principles_, "selected as the fundamental principles
of the Gospel, shall be subscribed to by every professor elect, as
indicative of his concurrence in its correctness as an epitome of
biblical truth; and it shall be the imperative duty of the Board to
remove any professor of whose violation of the pledge they feel
In that spirit, every elected and tenured faculty member of this
institution has freely and willfully affixed his or her name to
this historic record and to this confession of faith.
In publishing their report, the Committee also indicated that the
_Abstract_ "will always be a guarantee as to the safety of the
funds now contributed, against any perversion from their original
intention." The confession was designed to be compact, but
"without obscurity or weakness." _/4/
Its articles begin with the issue of the Holy Scripture, and there
is affirmed the basis of all Christian knowledge of the true God
who has graciously and freely revealed Himself to His creatures--in
Scripture inspired by God who has graciously and freely revealed
Himself to His creatures--in Scripture inspired by God which is
sufficient, certain, and authoritative. In their certainty they
bear witness to the perfection and unblemished truthfulness of
God's self-revelation through the written Word.
>From there the _Abstract_ is bold to confess that this God who has
spoken is none other than the one sovereign Lord and creator of the
universe, infinite in all His divine perfections, "the maker,
Preserver, and Ruler of all things."
Furthermore, God is revealed to be a Trinity of three divine
persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, "without division of nature,
essence, or being." Those who voice assaults ancient or modern
upon the integrity of the Trinity will find no comfort here.
This God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit "decrees or
permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds,
directs and governs all creatures and all events." No more
comprehensive witness to the reality of divine providence is
imaginable. This God is neither inert nor inactive nor
ineffectual. The relationship between divine sovereignty and human
freedom is beyond our limited understanding, but God is God, and
His sovereignty in unconditioned.
The _Abstract_ testifies to the grace-filled doctrine of election
as "God's choice of some persons into everlasting life--not because
of unforeseen merit in them, but of His mere mercy in Christ."
_But_of_His_mere_mercy_in_Christ_! Could there be a more eloquent
affirmation of God's saving purpose in election?
The confession also points directly to the issue of human sin
through the fall, whereby human beings created in the image of God
and thus free from sin "transgressed the command of God," and fell
from perfection and holiness, such that all now inherit a nature
"corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law," and who become
actual transgressors when capable of moral action. Therein is our
But Jesus Christ, the "divinely appointed Mediator" took on human
form, yet without sin, and "suffered and died upon the cross for
the salvation of sinners." This same Jesus was buried, rose again
the third day, and ascended to His Father, from whose right hand He
"ever liveth to make intercession for His people." Beyond all
this, He is "the only Mediator, the Prophet, Priest and King of the
Church, and Sovereign of the Universe."
God's salvific purpose is demonstrated in regeneration, whereby the
sinful heart, wholly opposed to God in itself, is quickened and
enlightened "spiritually and savingly," as "a work of God's free
and special grace alone." Therein is our salvation.
Then the _Abstract_ points to repentance, by which we are "made
sensible of the manifold evil" of our individual sin, respond by
means of this "evangelical grace" so that with sorrow, detestation
of sin, and self-abhorrence, we seek to "walk before God so as to
please Him in all things."
Faith is then believing on God's authority the Gospel concerning
Christ, "accepting and resting on Him alone for justification and
eternal life. This too is a divine gift wrought by the Holy Spirit
to those who are unworthy and, on their own part, unable to conjure
faith unaided by the Spirit.
Those who have trusted in Christ by faith, are then justified and
acquitted before God through the satisfaction that Christ has made,
"not for anything wrought in them or done by them; but on account
of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, they receiving and
resting on Him."
Thereafter comes sanctification, by which the redeemed are granted
divine strength so as to press "after a heavenly life in cordial
obedience to all Christ's commands."
Those whom God has redeemed in Christ, "will never totally nor
finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly
persevere to the end. Even though they may fall, they are "kept by
the power of God through faith unto salvation."
In successive articles the _Abstract_ affirms and confesses Jesus
Christ as the Head of the Church, the Church as the possessor of
all "needful authority for administering that order, discipline and
worship which He hath appointed;" baptism by immersion in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit as the sign
of fellowship with the death and resurrection of Christ, of
remission of sin, and of consecration unto God; of the Lord's
Supper as the Church's ordinance of commemoration of Christ's death
and as "a bond, pledge and renewal of their communion with Him;" of
the Lord's Day as a regular observance of worship, both public and
private; of liberty of conscience on issues "which are in anything
contrary to His Word, or not contained in it," and yet of
subjugation to civil magistrates in all lawful things.
The _Abstract_ also confesses that our bodies return to dust after
death, but our spirits return immediately to God--"the righteous to
rest with Him: the wicked, to be reserved under darkness to the
judgment." At the last day, the bodies of both the just and the
unjust will be raised. On the appointed Day of Judgment, God will
judge the world by Jesus Christ, and "the wicked shall go into
everlasting punishment; the righteous into everlasting life."
In this we have inherited a priceless and grace-filled testimony to
the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the eternal truths revealed in
Philip Schaff, whose great work _The_Creeds_of_Christendom_ remains
an indispensable classic, defined a creed, however it is labeled,
as "a confession of faith for public use, or a form of words
setting forth with authority certain articles of belief which are
regarded by the framers as necessary for salvation, or at least for
the well-being of the Christian Church." _/5/
Schaff well described the purpose of the founders of Southern
Seminary in framing the _Abstract_of_Principles_. It is a
testimony to those central doctrines necessary to salvation, and to
other issues essential to the well-being of the Christian Church.
What operative convictions are revealed in the _Abstract_ and in
the testimony of those who framed the confession?
First, that truth is always confronted with error, and that the
doctrinal depository of the Church is ever in danger of compromise.
The founders of this institution were quite ready to speak of
orthodoxy and heterodoxy, of evangelical truth and heresy. This
was a vocabulary used with individuals certain of the reality of
divine revelation and the necessity of orthodox teaching. These
issues were taken with deadly seriousness.
They offered no apology for stipulating doctrinal issues nor for
demanding theological fidelity. In fact, Boyce specifically aimed
his critical sights at "That sentiment, the inevitable precursor,
or the accompaniment of all heresy--that the doctrines of theology
are matters of mere speculation, and that its distinctions only
logomachines and technicalities...." There is no theological
indifference to be found here--no doctrinal minimalism or lowest
common doctrinal denominator is the focus or sentiment. _/6/
This is robust, full-orbed faith from beginning to end; a faith
which would establish Southern Seminary on its rightful course.
Southern Seminary was established in the very year Darwin published
his _Origin_of_Species_. Critical philosophies were already
spreading from Europe to the United States. Harvard had fallen to
Unitarianism and Transcendentalism. Established seminaries in the
North, once considered secure in the faith, were now seen to be
wavering. Boyce and his colleagues saw a "crisis in Baptist
doctrine" approaching, and they were determined that Southern
Seminary be ready. _/7/
Second, that a confession of faith is a necessary, proper, and
instrumental safeguard against theological atrophy or error. As
Boyce argued, "It is based upon principles and practices sanctioned
by the authority of Scripture and by the usage of the people...."
Further, "you will receive by this assurance that the truth
committed unto you by the founders is fulfilled in accordance with
their wishes, that the ministry that go forth have here learned to
distinguish truth from error, and to embrace the former...."
Beyond this, the confession is a safeguard to trustees, to faculty,
to students, and to the denomination:
It seems to me . . . that you owe this to yourselves, to
your professors, and to the denomination at large; to
yourselves because your position as trustees makes you
responsible for the doctrinal positions of your
professors, and the whole history of creeds has proved
the difficulty without them of correcting errorists of
perversions of the Word of God--to your professors, that
their doctrinal sentiments may be known and approved by
all, that no charges of heresy be brought against them;
that none shall whisper of peculiar notions which they
hold, but that in refutation of all charges they may
point to this formulary as one which they hold
_ex_animo_, and teach in its true import--and to the
denomination at large, that they may know in what truths
the rising ministry are instructed, may exercise full
sympathy with the necessities of the institution, and may
look with confidence and affection to the pastors who
come forth from it. _/8/
Here is where the institution would stand, before God and before
the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. The founders were
certain that this was solid ground, and in this they were surely
Third, that a theological institution bears a unique responsibility
to protect the integrity of the Gospel, and that its professors
should give their unmixed and public attestation to the confession
As Boyce commented: "You will infringe the rights of no man, and
you will secure the rights of those who have established here an
instrumentality for the production of a sound ministry. It is no
hardship to those who teach here to be called upon to sign the
declaration of their principles, for there are fields of usefulness
open elsewhere to every man, and none need accept your call who
cannot conscientiously sign your formulary."
Fourth, that those who teach the ministry bear the greatest burden
of accountability to the churches and to the denomination.
Boyce delivered his address as the ghost of Alexander Campbell
still haunted the Baptist mind. Campbell criticized confessions of
faith as assaults upon freedom of conscience and, as Boyce
lamented, "threatened at one time the total destruction of our
faith." As Boyce feared, "Had he occupied a chair in one of our
theological institutions, that destruction might have been
"It is with a single man that error usually commences;" argued
Boyce. "Scarcely a single heresy has ever blighted the Church
which has not owed its existence to one man of power and ability
whose name has always been associated with its doctrines." Boyce
specifically identified Campbellism and Arminianism.
Those who founded this institution were painfully and solemnly
aware of the history of heresy which included Arianism,
Nestorianism, Pelagianism, Socinianism--a parade of doctrinal
deviation. And they were determined to safeguard the institution
they would establish, in so far as human determination would
suffice. They knew nothing of radical revisionist theologies which
would follow, of process philosophy and deconstructionism, of
demythologization and logical positivism. But they knew the
pattern of compromise and deviation which marked the checkered
history of the Church and its testimony to the truth. They had
seen the radical Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and they
had seen enough to understand the challenge.
The faculty of Southern Seminary would be held to a standard higher
than that required of the churches, higher than that required of
students, higher than that required of those who would teach at
many sister institutions. As Boyce stipulated:
But of him who is to teach the ministry, who is to be the
medium through which the fountain of Scripture truth is
to flow to them--whose opinions more than those of any
living man, are to mold their conceptions of the
doctrines of the Bible, it is manifest that more is
requisite. No difference, however slight, no peculiar
sentiments, however speculative is here allowable. His
agreement with the standard should be exact. His
declaration of it should be based upon no mental
reservation, upon no private understanding with those who
immediately invest him into office; but the articles to
be taught being distinctly laid down, he should be able
to say from his knowledge of the Word of God that he
knows these articles to be an exact summary of the truth
Let those who would understand Southern Seminary understand this:
That our faith is not in the _Abstract_of_Principles_, but in the
God to whom it testifies; that the revealed text we seek rightly to
divide is not the _Abstract_of_Principles_, but Holy Scripture, but
that this _Abstract_ is a sacred contract and confession for those
who teach here--who willingly and willfully affix their signatures
to its text and their conscience to its intention. They pledge to
teach "in accordance with and not contrary to" its precepts.
The _Abstract_ is not something foreign which has been imposed upon
this institution--it is the charter of its existence and its
license to teach the ministry. Its purpose is unity, not disunity;
its heart is bent toward common confession.
In some sectors of theological education, confessionalism is
assumed and charged to be dead--a fossil of an ancient era when the
Church claimed and proclaimed objective truth on the basis of
Some would now celebrate what Edward Farley has identified as the
"collapse of the house of authority." _/9/ Confessions, creeds,
doctrines, truth-claims, supernaturalism, theism, commands--all
these are swept away by the acids of modernity.
It cannot be so here. Not because we are unaware of the currents
of modern knowledge; not because we do not understand the
challenges of a relativistic and secular age, where all issues of
truth and meaning are automatically privatized and politicized; not
because we are unaware of the Hermeneutics of suspicion, but
precisely because we have faith in God, and in His truth unchanged
and unchanging. _/10/ Our motive is not to seek false refuge in an
antiquarian past absolved of all its faults and blemishes, but to
keep the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We fear no
charges of foundationalism, positivism, or authoritarianism. We do
fear God and His divine judgement.
The _Abstract_ is our most fundamental centering covenant with each
other as faculty, students, president, and trustees. For students
it is the framework within which you should expect to receive
instruction and education. You will not be tested by the
_Abstract_ upon your arrival nor your departure, but it should
frame your expectations and assure the confessional parameters of
your study here. It is a pledge your professors have made before
they enter your classroom to teach, and it is because they so
highly esteem their calling to teach the ministers of the Church
that they have come here and committed their lives to serve the
Church and the cause of Christ by investing their lives in you.
They do so gladly, heartily, and with consecration. They deserve
your utmost respect, affection, and dedicated attention.
For faculty, the _Abstract_ is the charter to teach and the
standard of confessional judgement. Southern Seminary is a
confessional institution, a pre-committed institution. Teachers
here should expose students to the full array of modern variants of
thought related to their course of study. But these options are
not value-neutral. The standard of judgment is found within the
parameters of the _Abstract_. In this charter is found the
platform for true academic excellence, where all fields of study
are submitted to the most rigorous and analytical study; but also
found here is the standard for confessional fidelity to the
churches and the denomination, for these fields of study and
research are conducted by those who have established their own
confessional commitments and who make these plain and evident to
those who come here to study and to learn.
But the importance and impact of the _Abstract_of_Principles_ and
of Southern Seminary reaches much farther. We have arrived at a
critical moment for the Southern Baptist Convention and its
churches. A denomination once marked by intense theological
commitment and a demonstrable theological consensus has seen that
doctrinal unity pass into a pragmatic consciousness. We are in
danger of losing our theological grammar, and, more seriously by
far, of forfeiting our theological inheritance.
This crisis far outweighs the controversy which has marked the
Southern Baptist Convention for the last fourteen years. That
controversy is a symptom rather than the root cause. As Southern
Baptists, we are in danger of becoming God's most unembarrassed
pragmatists--much more enamored with statistics than invested with
The _Abstract_ is a reminder that we bear a responsibility to this
great denomination, whose name we so proudly bear as our own. We
bear the collective responsibility to call this denomination back
to itself and its doctrinal inheritance. This is a true
reformation and revival only the sovereign God can accomplish, but
we must strive to be acceptable and usable instruments of that
The _Abstract_ represents a clarion call to start with conviction
rather than mere action. It cries out, "Don't just do something,
stand there!" This reverses the conventional wisdom of the world,
but it puts the emphasis rightly. Southern Baptists are now much
more feverishly concerned with doing than with believing--and thus
our denominational soul is in jeopardy. This people of God must
reclaim a theological tradition which understands all of our
denominational activity to be founded upon prior doctrinal
commitments. This is true for the denomination at every level--and
of the local churches as well.
But this message is also critical for the future of theological
education and of Southern Seminary. We can never measure our life
and work in terms of activity and statistics. In the view of
eternity, we will be judged most closely, not on the basis of how
many courses were taught, how many students were trained, how many
syllabi were printed, or how many books were published, but on
whether or not we kept the faith. The other issues are hardly
irrelevant, and they are valid markers of institutional stewardship
and ministry. But there is a prior question: Does the institution
and those who teach here stand for God's truth, and do so without
embarrassment? May we answer that question with the humble
confidence of Martin Luther, and say *Here we stand; we can do no
other. God help us.*
And now, as a new academic year begins, we welcome you to Southern
Seminary. We are standing on sacred ground, drinking from wells we
did not dig and living in a city we did not build. Here you will
find God-called ministers drawn here to study, God-called
professors committed here to teach, God-called administrators and
fellow-servants dedicated here to the purposes for which this
I commend professors to students and students to professors and all
members of this hallowed community to each other. We will stay
about the task, we will keep the faith, and we will care for each
other. We will study and teach and serve and learn together in
what I pray will be a true community of consecrated scholars.
And now, as we go to classes, seminars, recital rooms, and lecture
halls, may we go with the prayer offered by John Calvin before each
May the Lord grant that we may engage in the
contemplation of the mysteries of God's heavenly wisdom
with ever increasing devotion to God's glory and our
_/1/ Russell Reno, "At the Crossroads of Dogma," in
_Reclaiming_the_Faith_, ed. Ephriam Radner and George R. Sumner
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), p. 105.
_/2/ Samuel Miller, _Doctrinal_Integrity_ (Philadelphia, 1824), p.
_/3/ James P. Boyce, "The Doctrinal Position of the Seminary,"
_The_Western_Recorder_, June 20, 1874. Fifth in a series of
articles. This article was reprinted in _Review_and_Expositor_,
January 1994, p. 18-24.
_/4/ "Report of the Committee on Organization,"
_The_Southern_Baptist_, May 11, 1858, p. 1.
_/5/ Philip Schaff, _The_Creeds_of_Christendom:_With_a_History_and_
_Critical_Notes_, Three volumes (New York: Harper and Row, 1931),
_/6/ James Petigru Boyce, "Three Changes in Theological
Institutions," in _James_Petigru_Boyce:_Selected_Writings_, ed.
Timothy F. George (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1989), p. 49.
_/7/ Ibid., p. 49.
_/8/ Ibid., P. 52. All further citations from James P. Boyce are
from this address, _ad_passim_, unless otherwise noted.
_/9/ Edward Farley,_Ecclesial_Reflection:_An_Anatomy_of_
_Theological_Method_ (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), see esp.
_/10/ Phrase borrowed from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, _Truth_Unchanged,_
_Unchanging_ (Westchester, IL: Crossway Publishers, 1993).
(c) 1993 by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
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