Reforming theological education

One of the great results of the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention the last three decades has been the impact made on our theological seminaries. Whatever doubts there may have been about the confessional integrity of those institutions has been, for the most part, removed. Now there is reason to believe that most professors actually believe the statements of faith that they sign in order to teach at one of our schools.

Another development in theological education that is serving to reform it even further both within and beyond the SBC is the explosion of opportunities to study via the internet. Granted, sitting at a computer is not the same as sitting in a classroom, interacting with other students. Nor is listening to an audio lecture the same as experiencing the lecture in person. There are other limitations, as well. But given all that, the availability of excellent instruction via online resources has put basic theological education within the reach of countless people who otherwise would have no hope of being taught by Martin Lloyd-Jones, Don Whitney, Roger Nicole, Timothy George, J.I. Packer, or Tom Nettles.

Now the insights of those men, and others, can be gleaned through classes offered by the Founders Study Center. The Study Center promotes opportunities for people to study in their own church settings under experienced pastors who serve as mentors. It is inexpensive and very accessible, and has been recognized and acclaimed by recognized leaders in theological education.

A new endeavor in theological education has just completed its first year under the direction Sam Waldron and Ted Christman, pastors of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. The Midwest Center for Theological Studies is committed to providing ministerial training in a local church context. Semester courses as well as J-term and I-term classes are offered. What makes the Midwest Center such an attractive situation for aspiring ministers is not only the presence of Dr. Waldron and Pastor Christman, but also the vitality of Heritage Church. One of the unfortunate limitations of seminaries that are based on the university model is that a student can complete the course with little or no involvement in a warm-hearted, well-ordered, confessional, evangelistic church. Yet, for those who desire to become spiritual leaders themselves, there is no substitute for being engaged–fully engaged–in the life of a healthy local church under the oversight of faithful shepherds.

I praise God for the upgrade that theological education within the SBC has experienced in recent years. And I am also grateful for these new options and opportunities that are opening up for the future.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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