A Southern Baptist Context

by E. Glenn Hinson

Dr. Hinson is professor of church history at Southern Baptist Seminary, Lexington, Kentucky.

This article appeared in the Christian Century February 11, 1977, p. 93. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as a whole has never formulated a plan for relating piety to learning and pastoral care to theology.

A large institution such as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary no doubt poses a greater problem for the integration of piety and learning, and that of pastoral care and theology, than a smaller, more intimate setting. For one thing, the whole educational process tends to be more programmatic and structured. Classes are often too large for professors to invite one-to-one contact with students. The burden of education falls, therefore, on structured pedagogy -- lectures, examinations, research papers and other traditional items of instruction.

For another, sheer size almost prohibits the experience of a united community in which common aims and endeavors are clearly articulated. The seminary is divided up into a crazy-quilt, array of subcommunities, revolving around more limited aims and interests. At Southern the smaller schools of religious education and church music probably offer closer-knit community experience and potentially put a whole educational experience together better than the larger school of theology.

For these reasons, among others, the seminary as a whole has never formulated a plan for relating piety to learning and pastoral care to theology. A certain amount of both, however, probably takes place in virtually everything which goes into the educational hopper. By virtue of more studied attention to it over a longer period I would judge that we do a better job of relating pastoral care and theology than we do of relating piety and learning.


Concerning the integration of pastoral care and theology, Southern Seminary has a well-developed program in pastoral care and clinical pastoral education in which the two are self-consciously integrated. It should be noted also that most members of the faculty have served as ministers in one capacity or another and continue an unofficial pastoral ministry in the seminary. Many still function formally on an interim or part-time basis, thus assuring a continuous exchange between theology and pastoral care. Faculty members also take an active role in local congregations and denominational affairs.

The impact of these types of involvement is clearly evident, in the pastoral slant of both the writing and the reaching of faculty members. Even such a subject as church history, often labeled esoteric and arcane by nonspecialists, can be applied to the pastoral ministry of the church. Indeed, I have found that few subjects open more windows on pastoral care, as well as on doing theology. Of course, I do not teach church history here as I would a university course, but with a view to helping a student make some sense out of the whole Christian heritage and to apply insights to actual pastoral issues.

Numerous opportunities to relate pastoral care to theology are available to students -- and in the last analysis it is the students who bear the chief responsibility for the integration of the two. Students function in a variety of church ministries: as pastors, associate pastors, ministers of education; ministers of music, ministers of social work, counselors, teachers, etc. Job placement is done under supervision in a ministry studies program. Pastors and other specialists, as well as faculty, serve as supervisors and, depending on their competence, relate pastoral ministry to theology with varying degrees of effectiveness.


If, by virtue of several years’ conscious attention to the need, we are doing fairly well in relating pastoral care to theology, we may not yet deserve a passing grade for the way we relate piety to learning. Our lack of attention to the matter has been in part deliberate. Within a Southern Baptist context there is always the danger of a takeover by the pseudo-pious who are also anti-intellectual. The thrust of education at Southern Seminary, therefore, has been solidly academic, and faculty members often drag their feet when someone suggests more deliberate attention to the cultivation of piety.

Nonetheless, piety is related to learning in several ways. Almost without exception, classes open with devotional readings, brief devotionals or prayers. Although the Baptist heritage encourages spontaneity, many faculty members use the opening as an opportunity to acquaint students with the vast heritage of Christian spirituality. Through classroom instruction most professors offer some model of the integration of piety and learning. In an informal poll I found that some colleagues, emphasize that the best sign of proper integration is scholarly integrity. Others, however, make a more conscious effort to let piety enter the teaching-learning process by way of “rabbit-chasing” -- discussion of topics tangential to the main subject, and personal commentary.

Beyond the classroom numerous activities open doors to the conjunction of piety and learning, although their impact would be difficult to measure. Southern Seminary now employs a chaplain who makes an effort to gather together the varied spiritual resources in order to assist students in their spiritual formation. Throughout its history the seminary has scheduled regular community worship (now three days a week). Although preaching still occupies center stage here, in recent years worship services have become more diverse and express the vocational pluralism of theological training.

To meet certain needs beyond this community-wide corporate worship, students and faculty meet in collegia pietatis for Bible study, prayer, discussion, etc. In addition, there are the customary individual counseling and advising which have an impact on student perceptions.

In the past decade or so the ecumenical climate -- especially the close contacts between Protestant and Catholic seminarians -- has awakened and heightened concern for spiritual formation at Southern. The initiative for new approaches has rested until recently with individual faculty members, thus preempting uniformity. Some colleagues -- Findley Edge, for example -- have worked at it from the perspective of church renewal. Wayne E. Oates and his colleagues have used a psychological-pastoral model. I have tried to draw from the history of spirituality to acquaint students with workable models. In 1964 I started a class on the Christian devotional classics in which the students and I search together to deepen our understanding and challenge our practice of devotion. Currently, with strong ATS encouragement, the total picture is getting a new look.


It is always difficult to tell what the future holds, but I would offer the following “educated guesses”: (1) Neither courses nor programs will supplant what Spener called the “living example” of professors and others who are both superior scholars/ teachers and devout churchmen and churchwomen. (2) The indescribable and immeasurable “total situation” will likewise remain a major factor. (3) The Baptist heritage, as well as size, will likely not allow Southern Seminary to structure spiritual formation or the integration of piety with learning, and pastoral care with theology, to a great extent. I am not discouraged by this likelihood because the church always confronts the same situation in its relationship to the world.

(4) Much effort will and should be expended to open up the whole treasury of spirituality, non-Christian as well as Christian, to all persons. It will be helpful to assume that all are seekers and not among those who have already arrived. (5) I expect much more attention to be given to meditative practices or styles. of prayer. For the immediate future the spotlight may fall on the use of the Bible in meditation (as suggested by Morton Kelsey’s The Other Side of Silence).(6) There will continue to be experimentation with small groups, retreats and other aids to devotion. (7) An effort will be made to do more in-service education, as suggested by the D.Min. degree. (8) One hopes the ecumenical climate will continue to provoke concern for more adequate formation of ministers and continue to stimulate the sharpening of old perceptions and practices and the development of new ones.