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Posted: 5/19/03

Kelley proposes offering for
SBC seminaries; Criswell name possible

By Mark Wingfield

Managing Editor

A president of one of the Southern Baptist Convention's six seminaries has proposed creating an annual offering for the seminaries on the scale of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions.

This new offering should be named for W.A. Criswell, suggests Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

See full text of Kelley's proposal here. (The pdf file will open with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, available here.

Kelley proposes the idea in a white paper titled “Roots of a Dilemma: SBC Entities and the Cooperative Program.” It is published in New Orleans Seminary's online journal, “Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.”

The special offering is one of several possible ways to provide greater funding for the six SBC seminaries, Kelley wrote. It is the primary option he personally recommends.

The seminaries need more money, he suggests, because SBC conservatives aren't doing as good a job of funding theological education as SBC moderates did in the past.

Gifts to the SBC Cooperative Program, while increasing in total dollars, have not made gains against inflation, Kelley noted, and the recent demise of an SBC capital-needs budget has hit the seminaries hard.

The SBC's attempts to redirect more money to front-line missions through agency restructing in 1997 helped but did not solve the problem, Kelley said. From a financial perspective, these changes “to some extent offset the inroads of inflation on CP income.”

In this restructuring, the six seminaries were given an additional 1 percent of Cooperative Program income to share among themselves. This provided assistance, he said, but did not fund any new initiatives.

Even with this change, five of the six seminaries could not make their payrolls based on Cooperative Program giving alone, Kelley said.

The seminaries also took a hit two years ago when the SBC Executive Committee eliminated the capital-needs budget that traditionally had been funded by over-budget Cooperative Program gifts. Instead, any Cooperative Program overages now are distributed to all SBC entities by the regular budget formula.

“This was a devastating blow to the six seminaries, but a positive help for the other entities,” Kelley wrote, explaining that seminaries relied on these funds to offset capital expenses that didn't have donor appeal, like replacing sewer systems.

“The new system made it virtually impossible for the seminaries to receive ever again the money they received in the past for capital projects,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, professors' salaries at SBC seminaries are low, and costs passed on to students are getting higher.

“We are not far away from putting Southern Baptist theological education financially out of reach for many Southern Baptists,” he wrote. “Unless there are some changes, the moderate-dominated seminaries of the '70s and '80s will prove to have been far more affordable than the conservative-dominated seminaries of the 21st century.”

He outlines five options to increase funding to seminaries:

Change the Cooperative Program distribution formula.

bluebull Allow more fund-raising by the seminaries.

bluebull Allow seminaries more input into trustee selection in order to place more wealthy donors on trustee boards.

bluebull Reinstate the SBC capital-needs budget.

bluebull Create a special offering for the seminaries.

“Today it is difficult to imagine the mission boards functioning without their annual offerings,” Kelly said. “The potential for the same effect is there with an annual offering for the six seminaries. The problems are how to organize and promote it, how to pay for the cost of it and where to place it on the calendar.”

The offering, he suggested, could be named for Criswell, the legendary pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, who died about 18 months ago.

Ironically, First Baptist Church years ago founded a Bible college named for Criswell, first known as Criswell Institute for Biblical Studies and now as Criswell College. It is not an SBC school and, in fact, was created as an alternative to SBC schools.

Times have changed, however, and there has been a steady flow of Criswell faculty and graduates into leadership of the six SBC seminaries, particularly Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

Kelley's suggestion of allowing seminary administrators more input in the selection of trustees has been proposed before but with negative repercussions.

In 1990, Russell Dilday, then president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, suggested to SBC President Jerry Vines that the seminaries were not always getting the caliber of trustees they needed.

Some of the trustees appointed to seminary boards to bring about political and theological change were not competent for the task, Dilday told Vines in a private conversation.

A member of the SBC Executive Committee overheard that conversation and raised a protest with seminary trustees, who questioned Dilday at length about what he had said.

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