LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) — A recent report from the Association of Theological Schools ranks The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary fourth among peer institutions for producing faculty doctorates in the accreditation agency’s member schools. Trailing only Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard and University of Toronto, Southern improved 12 spots on the list since the previous report in 2001.
“Southern Seminary established one of the first research doctorates in higher education in America and has been a pioneer since the beginning, preparing scholars for the church through the highest level of academic preparation,” said Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. “This report is a significant affirmation of Southern’s leadership in preparing scholars for the church past, present and future.”
In the 1891-1892 academic year, Southern admitted its first class in the research doctoral program, known then as the Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) and became one of the first free-standing institutions in the nation to offer the degree. Today Southern offers the Doctor of Philosophy, while also offering several other research doctorates, including the Doctor of Education and Doctor of Missiology.
“I am filled with gratitude and humility with regard to the incredible reach and influence of our Research Doctoral Program for the sake of the gospel,” said Randy Stinson, senior vice president for academic administration and provost at Southern Seminary. “It is a reminder of the great stewardship that is ours to train up generations of gospel scholars that will spend their days in classrooms all over the world.”
Since Mohler’s election to the presidency in 1993, Southern has claimed a higher spot on the list then it did when the 1991 report ranked the seminary sixth among peer institutions, before falling 10 spots in 2001. Gregory A. Wills, dean of the School of Theology and the seminary’s historian, said the report reflects the increasing number of like-minded evangelical schools who esteem Southern’s doctrinal commitments and academic standards.
“Our graduates who have gone out from our Ph.D. program have demonstrated the strength of their academic preparation and their commitment to God’s truth by becoming successful candidates for positions at institutions of theological education all over North America,” Wills said.
The report also contradicts a “doom and gloom” message in higher education that no teaching jobs are available for today’s Ph.D. students, according to Jonathan T. Pennington. As the director of Southern’s Research Doctoral studies, Pennington said he is “very thankful” to see “our graduates doing so well and making an impact as professors in a wide variety of schools” despite a tight job market.
“As I look forward to the next decade of Ph.D. education, I firmly believe that we will see a clearer distinction arise between the many Ph.D. programs that now exist,” said Pennington, who is also associate professor of New Testament interpretation. “Those programs that focus on rigorous academic training combined with a focus on personal mentoring of students — all in a confessional environment — will, I believe, produce the next generation of qualified evangelical professors.”
Among that next generation of professors is Matthew Haste, who recently graduated with his Ph.D. from Southern and accepted a faculty position at Columbia International University, an ATS-member school in Columbia, South Carolina. Since the ATS report covers the 2014-15 academic year, Haste’s hire at CIU in August is not reflected in the number of faculty doctorates from Southern. Haste said the academic rigor and mentorship of his professors prepared him adequately for his new teaching role.
“The faculty at Southern modeled Christian scholarship to me,” said Haste, associate professor of ministry studies at CIU. “They demonstrated how to balance rigorous academic study with pastoral sensitivity. As a new professor, I am consciously trying to interact with students and serve the church in the same way that I observed the faculty at Southern doing.”
Preparing Ph.D. graduates to be excellent teachers is what prompted Pennington to seek a grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, which the Research Doctoral Studies Office recently received. The Graduate Program Teaching Initiative grant will fund a consultation in March 2016, in which Wabash consultants and several of Southern’s Ph.D. graduates who are now teaching full-time will visit the Louisville campus to discuss ways to improve the doctoral program.
More information on Southern Seminary’s doctoral studies programs is available online at sbts.edu/doctoral.
S. Craig Sanders