Louisville—The Southern Baptist Convention’s first African-American seminary professor is among three retiring faculty members at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Vaughn Walker, David Puckett and Brian Richardson are retiring following the 2015-2016 school year with 64 combined years of service on the faculty of Southern Seminary. Walker, WMU professor of Christian ministries and professor of black church studies, was appointed in 1986 as the first black professor at any of the six SBC seminaries, and then the first elected to the faculty in 1997.
“Vaughn Walker is one of the warmest and most encouraging human beings I’ve ever known,” Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. said. “Over the course of 30 years, he has shown a steadfast commitment to Christ’s calling in his life, service to the church and commitment to this school that was transformed during the time he was here.
“There are very few men who could have lived through that entire process, and with such a kind and constant spirit contributed so much to this school.”
Walker, who had already earned a Ph.D. from Oregon State University and was a college professor, moved to Louisville, in 1984 as a Southern Seminary student. At the time, the institution was founding the Carver School of Church Social Work and wanted to develop a ministry to the inner city of Louisville, particularly to black families, Walker said.
The seminary hired Walker as an assistant professor and he taught for seven years in the Carver School, which closed in 1997.
After Mohler was elected president in 1993, Walker moved to the School of Theology, then to the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry in 2003. He retires as the last remaining active professor hired by the late seminary president Roy Honeycutt.
“The most compelling emotional moment for me here, in my 30 years, was the day I signed that Abstract (of Principles),” Walker said about the founding seminary charter all professors are required to sign upon their election. “I know I was the first African-American, at No. 200, to sign it. I even wondered whether an African-American had ever touched that book before, had ever had his hands on it.”
Walker has developed both master’s and doctoral programs in black church leadership, and has pastored First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville, since 1984. While he is retiring from full-time teaching, he will continue to supervise his current doctoral students and pastor his church.
“I am a practical theologian, I am not your traditional theologian. I see myself as a pastor who teaches,” Walker said. “My ministerial identity is as a senior pastor who loves the challenge and stimulation found among the academic environment.”
Kevin Smith, assistant professor of preaching at Southern Seminary and the first African-American president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, studied under Walker during his Ph.D. program and said he owes his career to him. A fellow graduate of Hampton University—a historically black university in Virginia where Walker earned his bachelor’s—Smith said the fruit of Walker’s academic ministry is scattered throughout the institutions of the SBC.
“I think his legacy is every black professor at a Southern Baptist seminary,” Smith said.
In his remarks, Mohler also praised Puckett for his “massive” contributions to Southern Seminary, serving as professor of church history since 2002 and as associate vice president for doctoral studies from 2002 until 2012. Puckett authored “John Calvin’s Exegesis of the Old Testament” and a chapter on the Reformer in the “Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters.”
Mohler said Richardson, Basil Manly Jr. Professor of Leadership and Church Ministry since 1996, is uniquely “encouraging and unwavering in the faith.” Richardson was president of the North American Professors of Christian Education and the founder and first editor of the “Journal of Christian Education” and contributed to numerous books on education and family ministry. (BP)