Earlier this month in what was an inaugural visit, we spent four days in Louisville, KY, on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A friend from Nashville drove up on Monday, picked us up at the airport, and took us to the home we rented on AirBnB not far from the seminary campus.
Our primary purpose for the campus visit was to do research in Boyce Library, specifically to dig through a significant portion of the 110 boxes of files that comprise the Wayne Ward Papers. By his own count, Wayne Ward sat on more doctoral committees at Southern Seminary than any other professor in the school’s history. He was, by every account, one of the more influential Southern Baptist preacher-theologians during the last half of the 20th century. But more about Dr. Ward in a subsequent post.
The dates of our planned visit happened to coincide with the week-long celebration of Dr. R. Albert Mohler’s 25th anniversary as the seminary’s president. The parking lots were overflowing. The mood on campus was vibrant. From the moment we stepped foot on campus, there was a palpable sense that something consequential was happening. Russell Kirk, who in many ways was the father of modern American conservatism, might have sensed the presence of ghosts. In fact, it’s almost impossible to walk the campus in Louisville without sensing the degree that history has been made there, and that it’s still being made.
Perhaps, more accurately, you get a sense that these stones have meaning.
One cannot visit four of the six Southern Baptist seminary campuses in a span of several months without making some comparisons. The campus of Southwestern — particularly the buildings constructed in the last decade — lacks architectural coherence. In North Carolina, Southeastern Seminary has as its central focus the large, stately Binkley Chapel. New Orleans, whose official logo depicts the chapel steeple, has a similar feel. Years ago on the campus of Midwestern Seminary, we noted how dated the facilities appeared. A forthcoming visit there promises to reinforce reports of new life on campus. And we’ve yet to plan a visit to Gateway Seminary’s new facilities in Ontario, Calif.
But Southern, how shall we put this?
Southern’s campus is straight out of central casting. It’s how a school that has shaped, and continues to shape the contours of evangelical theology should look and feel. It is simple, elegant, tidy, and well maintained. It’s true we were there for an important week and extra housekeeping might have been ordered, but everyone we asked — from faculty to students and staff — said that’s how it always feels on campus. It is a place where the serious work of theological formation occurs, and from chapel to classroom, coffee shop to cafeteria, there is something refined about Southern Seminary.
But enough about bricks and mortar.
To be continued . . .