On what President Adam W. Greenway called a “high, holy” day, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Scarborough College celebrated 294 certificate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral students during its spring commencement ceremony, May 7, of whom 210 were present.
“We come together because we celebrate not just the degrees that have been earned and the diplomas that will be presented,” said Greenway, “but because sitting before us is the hope that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ will have a more faithful ministry because of, literally, the hundreds of years of combined consecrated study and preparation that has been invested.”
Because the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the spring 2020 commencement ceremony, this was the first in-person spring commencement in two years, after holding in-person fall commencement in December. The ceremony took place in MacGorman Chapel, with attendance limited to faculty, graduates, and up to four guests for each graduate due to COVID restrictions. Up to four additional guests for each graduate were invited to watch a live simulcast of the ceremony from a separate location on the Fort Worth campus. The ceremony was also livestreamed online.
In his address to the graduates, Greenway preached from Ephesians 5:15-21, emphasizing Paul’s admonishment to make the “most of the time, because the days are evil.”
“The days are evil now and before you,” Greenway said. “You will be sent out to minister in an environment that is perhaps as adversarial to what we believe and confess than any environment that any graduating class has ever gone forth from this institution into since our chartering in 1908.
“… The kinds of conversations we are having, the kind of issues that we will confront, demand nothing less than the wisdom that comes from above.”
Greenway specifically exhorted the graduates to exercise wisdom both in how they represent the Kingdom of God and, as “newly minted” graduates, how they represent Southwestern Seminary.
“The testimony of the effectiveness of what has been invested in you, my friends, my fellow Southwesterners, will be determined by the kind of life that you live, the kind of ministry that you have, the kind of labor that sounds forth and comes from you,” Greenway said. “And you, my friends, are called to make the most of it. Because the reality is, there will be people who will be watching your life and your conduct, your ministry and your work, and you will be to them the only evidence of what Southwestern Seminary is about and if what we do matters.”
Greenway said that the church must have “a different kind of ministry that is deeper and richer and more faithful and more fruitful” because of the time and the investment that has been made in these graduates and that they themselves have made through their years of study and preparation.
“And if I may be so bold and blunt,” Greenway implored, “don’t blow it.”
Calling the graduates “the living testimony that there is a reason why Southwestern Seminary exists, why a Southwestern Seminary theological education matters,” Greenway exhorted them not to be “jerks for Jesus,” but rather “instruments through whom the love of God and the power of Christ is seen.”
Greenway concluded, “My prayer is that, for however long you may serve, wherever God may take you, you will make the most of that opportunity; you will live in such a way and lead in such a way and work in such a way to where no harm will come from you for the cause of Christ and for our work here at Southwestern Seminary.”
For Lesley Clarke Danner from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, this graduation is the culmination of 17 years of study. He earned both his diploma and advanced diploma in theology in 2007, his Master of Arts in Theology in 2011, and now has completed his Ph.D.
“I have been through two transplants, eye difficulties, and several other things that should have given me a new direction, but the Lord kept me on point at SWBTS,” Danner says of the last 17 years.
“If it was not for SWBTS, I would have no ministry at all,” he continues. “… I was able to apply what I had learned in teaching at churches and at universities. I am 65 now and ready to apply my doctorate wherever the Lord leads.”
Similar to Danner, Henderson Taylor of Dawson, Georgia, graduated with his Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling after having begun his studies 18 years earlier, in 2003. He says he is “excited to be able to counsel people using Scripture” and in light of life’s experiences as a Christian for 33 years, 27 years of military service, 30 years of marriage, and 14 years as a parent.
Others who devoted significant portions of their lives to studying at Southwestern include Cody Barron and John Hofecker, who are the second and third individuals, respectively, to complete their bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees at Southwestern Seminary since Scarborough College was founded in 2005. (The first was Paul Jared Morrison, who completed his Ph.D. in fall 2018.)
Hofecker, from Brevard, North Carolina, says his studies at Southwestern and his relationship with the faculty “have humbled me, helped me to develop compassion for others, and have helped to clarify a calling to teach.”
“At the same time,” Hofecker adds, “my studies have also contributed to a growing awe and wonder of the majesty and grace of God.”
Barron, from Oak Point, Texas, says his studies, particularly at the doctoral level, helped him understand how biblical thinking informs a theology and philosophy of education.
“My studies caused me to rethink and reconsider my entire philosophy of education—exposing areas of unbiblical thinking and reinforcing areas of biblical thinking,” says Barron. “Biblical insights about education in the church and in higher education refined my teaching in theological and practical ways. In my current vocational setting working full-time in higher education, my Ph.D. studies informed several of my decisions or approaches to educational administration.”
Master of Divinity graduate Brit Redfield, from Mansfield, Texas, says she was similarly impacted in her own field of study—namely, missions. She admits that before she came to Southwestern, she “did not understand missions at all.”
“It was during my time at Southwestern that the Lord called me to missions,” she says. “By changing my degree to an M.Div. in missions, I learned valuable lessons, such as how to contextualize the Gospel so that it cannot only be heard in the heart language of the people, but also understood in the cultural context you are witnessing in. Just that lesson alone is worth all the money for my degree.”
Ph.D. graduate Binu Paul, from Kerala, India, says his training at Southwestern was vital in his growth as a practitioner in theology.
“It created a desire in my heart to lead a life that is patterned after Jesus Christ and to focus on the growth and health of the church, the body of Christ,” he says. “Southwestern impacted me to be a pastor-theologian who will care for his walk with the Lord and lead others to Christlikeness.”
In like fashion, M.Div. graduate Firmato Rodriguez of McAllen, Texas, says Southwestern Seminary impacted him “in all areas of my life.”
“The seminary has taught me about what it means to follow God faithfully in the face of doubt, anxiety, and stress,” he says. “As for the ministry aspect, the seminary has influenced me to hold a very strong, conservative theological stance that has aided me in being able to stand firm against these cultural changing times.”
Wynnette Taylor, who graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies, says “there are no words to adequately describe” how grateful she is for the faculty “who supported me through my studies here.”
“They challenged me to think beyond my basic understanding of Scripture and the Christian life as well as encouraging me with patience and opportunities to grow in my faith,” she says.