FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – An international gathering of church leaders and educators met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Aug. 6-10, to build partnerships they hope will enrich theological education among Baptists around the world.
There exists a “rising global need for theological education to be enhanced,” missiologist Keith Eitel said during this summit, which was organized by Southwestern’s Global Theological Innovation (GTI) program. This first GTI summit drew together nearly 60 leaders from such diverse Spanish-speaking nations as Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Honduras, Uruguay, Guatemala, Columbia, Venezuela and Cuba. Southwestern Seminary faculty and guest speakers, such as SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, spoke to relevant topics during the four-day meeting.
Recent statistics have revealed an “explosive growth” of Christianity in the “global south,” Eitel, dean of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern, said. According to some researchers, a total of 83,000 people convert to Christianity every day in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America, while only 4,000 become Christians in North America and Europe each day.
Theological education, however, has lagged behind this expansion of Christianity, Eitel said. Many schools around the world have expressed a need for library resources, faculty development, and greater recognition of their degrees by accrediting agencies and other schools.
Brent Ray, associate director of Southwestern’s GTI program, agrees that there is a crisis in theological education around the world. And, as a result, many churches have leaders who need further pastoral and theological training for the tasks that God has given them.
“Over the last decade many of our international Baptist seminaries have declined measurably,” Ray said. “In fact, in many countries we have watched as many Baptist seminaries have been forced to shut down.
“There is now a critical need and appeal for our Southern Baptist churches, mission agencies and seminaries to join Baptists worldwide in reaching, teaching and equipping the next generation of Baptist leaders.”
For this reason, Southwestern is facilitating a global network of theological schools and seminaries. These schools would work together to develop standards of theological education appropriate both for their own contexts as well as for laying a foundation for global cooperation. Leaders from Spanish-speaking nations were able to confer about such standards during the GTI summit.
“We are moving quickly,” Ray said, “toward the formation of a global Baptist theological alliance, or consortium, whose Kingdom impact will only be measurable in God’s eternal economy.”
“Many years ago,” he added, “Dr. Cal Guy made the comment, ‘All ministry is built upon redemptive relationships.’ And that is precisely what Southwestern’s GTI program is about—building relationships, partnerships and strategic alliances that will enhance and expand resolutely biblical theological education and discipleship across the globe.
“If Southwestern—partnering with the International Mission Board (IMB) and Southern Baptist churches—can contribute in a meaningful way toward bringing our international Baptist seminaries together in a unified effort to network, partner, train, equip and mobilize disciple-makers and theological educators, it will truly have world-changing implications. This is little more than the concept of ‘globalization’ as defined by Christ’s words in Matthew 28:18-20.”
While this first GTI summit at Southwestern involved educational leaders from Spanish-speaking nations, Ray said that Southwestern is “committed to the development of similar alliances and networks among like-minded Baptist institutions throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.” During the summit, in fact, Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson awarded a presidential scholarship to Dennis Dhlula, the principal (president, in U.S. terminology) of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe. This scholarship will augment Dhlula’s ministry in Zimbabwe by helping him to study at Southwestern.
Educational leaders from Spanish-speaking nations also learned during the GTI summit about an opportunity to benefit from Southwestern’s new, online, Spanish-language Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree. According to Craig Blaising, executive vice president and provost at Southwestern, the online degree program offers advantages for theological institutions and students alike.
“Our desire,” Blaising said, “is to get education to those who strategically need it.”
While Southwestern’s Spanish MTS is currently available to anyone for a promotional tuition of $100 per course, students at schools within the GTI network can earn their complete master’s degrees at this reduced rate. Through these network schools, students can gain access both to the internet and to personal contact with professors, libraries and ministry opportunities. Additionally, network schools can give students practical ministry training that cannot be provided online.
The Spanish MTS degree offers additional advantages to schools within the GTI network, Blaising said. Undergraduate schools, for example, will be able to offer a master’s degree to their students, and faculty members can also gain further graduate training. By partnering with Southwestern Seminary, these schools may also take steps toward accreditation and toward the ability to offer their own graduate programs.
For Southwestern Seminary, Blaising said, the Spanish MTS degree is “part of a strategic global outreach”—part of Southwestern’s vision to make disciples in every nation.