The winter issue of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s quarterly magazine “Southwestern News” focuses on the seminary’s part in encouraging a remarkable work of God on the European continent. The magazine reports on Southwestern’s support of an evangelical revival being sparked by Russian-Germans who live in the Cologne-Bonn area of Germany. Then it describes how the seminary is strengthening the heritage of Baptist studies handed down by renowned scholars such as William R. Estep and Robert A. Baker.
Beginning with this issue, the seminary has launched a new link for the “Southwestern News” magazine at www.swbts.edu/swnews. There the magazine can be read online, and articles can be easily downloaded.
The story has often been told of how Germany became a bastion of liberal theology over the past couple centuries. Today, Germans are among Europe’s most secular and unchurched people. However, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson describes how God preserved a remnant of German Baptists and Mennonites who maintained a firm belief in biblical inerrancy and a strong mission impulse. Today, these Russian-Germans are sparking a revival in their homeland.
Patterson wrote: “The first ancestors of the Russian-Germans to immigrate to Russia arrived there at a time when Bible-believing Christians were persecuted in Europe and invited by Catherine the Great to come to Russia in the 18th century. During World War II many of their descendants tried to return to Germany, but were taken back against their will by the Russian armies when Germany was partitioned. By whatever means, the German Baptists in Russia found themselves scattered from the Ukraine to Vladivostok, and from the Baltic Sea to Kirgistan. Everywhere they went they reestablished their churches and worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ, never expecting how bad a persecution they would have to suffer. But persecution often has a salutary effect on the people of God. Under the pressure of communism and atheism, the Russian-German Baptists and Mennonites found that their faith was strong and their resistance to the threats of Marxism was really quite successful.”
Patterson said these Russian-Germans believers began repatriating back to Germany in great numbers during the latter half of the 20th century. They continued spreading the gospel among other Russian-speaking Germans, planting churches, and eventually opening the Bibelseminar, Bonn, (BSB), a seminary to train ministers. Last year, Southwestern Seminary trustees established an extension campus at the BSB to offer accredited master’s-level education. Currently, there are several students enrolled in master’s studies through the BSB, and the number is growing.
“To visit in their assemblies or drop in on the Bibelseminar campus is like a journey to the doorstep of Heaven,” Patterson wrote. “The singing is celestial, the preaching resounds with biblical and prophetic mandate, prayer is fervent, and fellowship is sweet.”
The story of the BSB and the spark of revival it is fanning is told through interviews with professors and students. There is an account of Hermann Hartfeld, professor of ethics and contemporary theology. Born and raised in Omsk, Russia, and an engineer by training, Hartfeld spent many years in Soviet prisons for his Baptist beliefs. The Soviets eventually forced him to leave Russia. Hartfeld went to Germany, studied theology, and now trains students to go back to Russia, and beyond, with the gospel.
Readers will also meet BSB master’s student Heinrich Kehler. He is a young Russian-German who is burdened to reach the estimated 2.5 million Russian-Germans in Germany. But Kehler also believes that soon BSB graduates will be taking the gospel out into the larger German population, and beyond.
Other articles introduce Friedhelm Jung and Helmuth Pehlke. Jung is the coordinator of the BSB’s master’s program and professor of Greek and systematic theology. Pehlke is a German evangelical who testifies to a near lifelong calling to teach Old Testament at the postgraduate level. Both professors were elected by the Southwestern board of trustees to full-time faculty service on the Bonn extension campus.
In addition to the remarkable renewal in Germany, there is also a “Baptist renewal” going on at Southwestern’s Texas campuses, according to Malcolm Yarnell III, Southwestern Seminary’s assistant dean for theological studies and director of its Center for Theological Research. Pointing to the fact that the Baptist identity among many Southern Baptists has “fallen on hard times” in recent years, Yarnell reports that, “Southwestern has reinvigorated its curriculum and instituted multiple efforts to remind others outside the seminary of Baptists’ faith and message.”
Yarnell describes how scholars at the seminary are using the Internet, conferences, library archives, overseas study programs and academic studies to “foster( ) a renaissance of Baptist studies” at Southwestern.
“The list of the seminary’s historic leaders who were and are passionate about being Baptist is prestigious: L.R. Scarborough, George W. Truett, W.W. Barnes, Robert A. Baker, William R. Estep, James Leo Garrett, Jr., and Paige Patterson, among others,” Yarnell wrote. “Those who now lead, teach, and study at Southwestern consider themselves blessed and responsible to be faithful recipients and transmitters of the most biblical tradition in Christian history.”
In his article introducing the magazine, Patterson was upbeat about the reports it contained and was eager to share its themes with Baptists around the world.
“The revival of Baptist studies here at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is an encouraging sign and mirrors the revival developing among Baptists in Germany,” Patterson wrote. “If you desire a blessing and want to be encouraged, then read every page of this issue of ‘Southwestern News’ and it will brighten your confidence in what God is at work doing in this otherwise evil and discouraging world.”
For a free subscription or a copy of the current “Southwestern News,” email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (817) 923-1921 ext. 2430.