Dockery describes hope for ‘grace-filled community’ during Southwestern convocation address

Ashley Allen
| Jan 24, 2023

Expounding on what it means to be a “grace-filled community,” Interim President David S. Dockery introduced the first of six core values to “shape and inform” the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College community during the Jan. 24 convocation service. 

The ceremony, which formally begins the new semester, also included the installation of a new dean and two academic chairs, and announcements of the appointments of five instructors and five individuals to serve in interim roles.

Before delivering his convocation address, Dockery, who has served as interim president since Sept. 27, welcomed new students to campus. In a tradition that began with Southwestern Seminary’s fifth president, Robert E. Naylor, Dockery pronounced the new students as “Southwesterners.” Using Naylor’s own words, Dockery, himself a 1981 Master of Divinity graduate of the institution, reminded the new Southwesterners that “it is an honorable, worthy, and wonderful word about which you had nothing to do” and that the word Southwesterner speaks to God bringing them to the seminary.

Before leading the assembly in prayer for the campus community, and noting the announcement of an increase in enrollment in spring 2023 compared to the prior spring, O.S. Hawkins, senior advisor and ambassador-at-large, said he believed the increase is evidence of a “new day here at Southwestern Seminary.”

In his address to the assembly that included faculty, students, staff, and visitors, Dockery noted the distinctiveness of Southwestern Seminary citing the campus, varying forms of teaching and training, including online and non-traditional programs, comprehensive offerings of certificate and degree programs through its four schools and undergraduate college. Southwestern is “one of the truly comprehensive institutions of theological education in the country today,” he said.

However, he identified a core “aspect of the Southwestern community that we hope to see emphasized more and more in the days to come.”

“Our dream for Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College is for this community to be characterized by and filled with grace, acknowledging our deep and daily dependence on God while also recognizing God as the source and motivation for our worship and service of Him,” Dockery said, noting that a grace-filled community is also a God-filled community.

Dockery said the new institutional plan that will be presented to the seminary’s board of trustees at its spring meeting asserts that Southwestern Seminary is a Baptist and evangelical institution that seeks to “build a grace-filled community, which emphasizes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as virtues needed to create a caring Christian context where quality theological education, grounded in biblical and confessional convictions, can be offered.” 

The plan also recommends six core values of the seminary, including grace filled, Christ centered, scripturally grounded, confessionally guided, student focused, and globally engaged.

Dockery described grace as a “divine attribute revealing the very heart of the triune God.” 

Tracing the origins of grace as God’s gift, Dockery said, “Grace comes to us not because we are good but because God is good.” He added that though “works have no place, no place, in our coming to faith in Christ, good works are to function as the centerpiece of a life of gratitude for those who have experienced this divine gift.”

“Thus, grace-motivated, good works should be the centerpiece of this community as a grace filled one that seeks to honor God,” Dockery observed. He added that “teaching, learning, and serving in a grace-filled community does not, however, mean that we have the right to think, believe, or articulate anything that we choose.” Rather, Dockery said, a community is not grace filled that is not able “to define essential confessional and ethical commitments” but is, instead, “a community on the verge of losing its very soul.”

Dockery said the “dream” is for Southwestern Seminary to be a grace-filled community that is Baptist and evangelical by commitment and conviction, in addition being a Baptist and evangelical seminary by heritage and tradition.

“We will not go astray if we remember that our life in Christ is always grounded in grace, and grace is always grounded in God’s ultimate revelation of Himself in the living Word, Jesus Christ, and in His written Word, the Bible,” Dockery said.

Dockery said a grace-filled community “celebrates freedom to teach responsibly, to learn thoughtfully, to serve one another faithfully within community, giving deference to one another by thinking of others as more important than ourselves.”

Dockery asked for all in attendance to pray the Southwestern Seminary community would reflect a commitment to a grace-filled community by “not only receiving grace, but by modeling it, by showing it, and by sharing it.”

“Indeed, let us seek to share this grace with a lost and broken world, following the pathways of those who’ve gone before us on this campus,” he added.

Dockery urged faculty, staff, and students not to become “inhibitors of grace” by ignoring or removing grace from teaching, learning, and service.

“Our desire on this day, and in the days to come, is for the Southwestern community to display the characteristics of being grace filled in all aspects of our lives, in our teaching, our learning, and our service,” Dockery declared. “Becoming grace inhibitors takes place when we settle for something else, for external conformity, nullifying God’s will by conforming to arbitrary standards, which can happen to any of us who are not intentional about prioritizing our grace-filled commitments.”

He added the institution “will focus on the Word, the cross, and the Spirit” while the “members of a grace-filled community joyfully affirm the full truthfulness and the inspiration of Scripture, acknowledging its divine-human authorship, articulating its inerrancy, recognizing its sufficiency, and desiring to obey its authority.”

However, Dockery said, “We recognize that a grace-filled community requires more than orthodox confession, as important, essential, and foundational as this is.”

He encouraged the assembly to guard against legalism, while noting, “Unrestricted liberty is license. Wrongly restricted liberty is legalism. Rightly restricted liberty for the good of others and for the sake of our community as a whole is love.”

Recognizing “prayerlessness, complacency, self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, stagnancy, incompetence, territorialism, turfism, and inattention to the care of others” as “enemies,” Dockery encouraged intentionally prioritizing grace-filled characteristics, which include valuing the dignity of individuals, thinking the best of one another, and honoring others through words and actions.

“We’ll help to shape a culture at Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College characterized by joy, respect, gratitude, meekness, gentleness, patience, generosity, and liberality,” Dockery said. “We long to see colleagues delight in serving together, genuinely appreciating and honoring one another, desiring to work and serve well together, making other’s conditions their own so as to rejoice together, and weep together, to serve together, to suffer together, and celebrate together.”

He added, “Hopefully, in days to come, people will observe the Southwestern community, and say, ‘see how they loved one another.’”

In his closing remarks, Dockery said, “Let us begin today to celebrate grace anew at Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College, and as we celebrate God’s gift to us, let us unapologetically confess the faith once for all delivered to the saints while unashamedly affirming our Baptist distinctives.”

Before Dockery’s convocation address, Interim Provost Matt Queen recognized four new instructors and one new senior professor. 

Jill Botticelli, who was appointed director of libraries in November, was named instructor of history at Texas Baptist College. Andrew Jennings, who serves as executive assistant in the Office of the Provost, was appointed instructor of apologetics, while Trey Moss, associate vice president for academic administration, was named instructor of New Testament, both in the School of Theology. D. Heath Woolman, who serves as the chief of staff in the Office of the President, was appointed instructor of educational ministries in the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries. Librarian Emeritus J. Craig Kubic was named senior professor of administration also in the Terry School.

Following the action of the board of trustees during its fall 2022 meeting, three professors were installed in new academic positions during the service. 

Matthew McKellar, professor of preaching at Southwestern since 2009, was installed as the George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry. Carl Bradford, who has served at Southwestern as assistant professor of evangelism since 2018, was installed as the inaugural occupant of the Malcolm R. and Melba L. McDow Chair of Evangelism. The chair is named after retired Southwestern Seminary Professor of Evangelism Malcolm R. McDow and his wife, Melba, who were present at the service.

Chris Shirley, a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary, professor of educational ministries, and Jack D. and Barbara Terry Chair of Religious Education, was installed as dean of the Terry School. 

Queen also announced several interim academic leadership changes.

W. Madison Grace II, associate professor of theology and director of the Oxford Study Program, was named the interim dean of the School of Theology. Since August 2022, Grace has also served as the director of the Research Doctoral Studies program (RDS). Joshua Williams, associate professor Old Testament, was named interim director of the RDS program, effective in June. Additionally, Kelly King, a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary, including her Ph.D. in 2009, who has served as the program’s coordinator since August 2022, will serve in a heightened role within the program. 

Terri Stovall, dean of women and professor of educational ministries, was named interim associate dean of the Terry School. Michael Wilkinson, associate professor of theology, was named the interim director of the Professional Doctoral Studies (PDS) program. Wilkinson will assume the role in June.

The entire convocation service can be viewed here.

Chapel is held every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 10 a.m. (CT) in MacGorman Chapel on the campus of Southwestern Seminary and TBC. Chapel may be viewed live at swbts.live.