Honestly, I am unsure what the numbers finally reveal. However, some of the statistics I found remarkable.
For example, the "head-count" enrollment for four of our six seminaries was less in the 2008/09 academic year than in the 2007/08 academic. The two exceptions are New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS)*, which rose from 3,509 students (2007/08) to 3,570 students (2008/09), and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) which climbed from 1,006 students to 1,037 students respectively.
Of the other four seminaries for the same academic year, while Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) dropped slightly (from 3,581 to 3,585, or about 1.3%), the obvious loser was Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) dropping 4.6% in headcount enrollment (199 students). Southeastern Baptists Theological Seminary (SEBTS) also dropped during the academic time period approximately 2.2% (56 students).
A larger snippet of time may bear an even greater concern, however--especially if we examine the FTE*** on the seminary campuses.
Going back to the 2005/06 FTE*** and comparing it to the 2008/09 FTE*** we observe sharp declines which, at least for two of our seminaries, may deserve further exploration.
Of our six seminaries, three showed marked improvements during the academic time span and one almost dead even. MBTS and GGTS registered higher FTE*** enrollment. And, while SWBTS registered a slight FTE*** decline (2,091 in 2005/06 to 1,981 in 2008/09 or about 5.2%), it hardly comes close enough to what may be an alarming decline in the other two seminaries to lump it with them.
SEBTS had an FTE*** student count of 1,628 in 2005/06 which dipped to 1,364 in 2008/09. The net loss of 264 students or about 16.2% appears significant, at least to me. Daniel Palmer, director of development at SEBTS has more than once publicly endorsed more monies to the seminaries. In light of the falling FTE***, however, those who advocate increased funds to seminaries need to explain why more monies are needed when the FTE*** appears to be nudging in the wrong direction.
One must also ask, in light of the recommendation the GCRTF has given us in its progress report to make "Great Commission Giving" (GCG) on a flat line with CP giving, if such a scenario will not increase the likelihood aggressive seminary development leaders will not seize the opportunity to solicit funds directly from churches to "partner together" on either mission projects and/or the training of "church-planters." After all, if all giving--whether CP giving or GCG--is flat-lined, what difference does it make in the long-run?
Even so, more troubling than SEBTS's FTE*** are the numbers from SBTS. In the academic year 2005/06, SBTS recorded a FTE*** of 2,223. In the latest figures for the 2008/09 academic year, however, SBTS posts a FTE*** of 1,836, a whopping loss of 387 students or about 17.4%. No amount of shuffling feet can dance around this significant drop in FTE***. One wonders if our trustees are dealing with this apparent problem in our beloved seminaries.
One also must wonder, given the high-profile attention SBTS has garnered over the last few years, becoming "ground zero" for the "young, restless, Reformed" movement sweeping across American evangelicalism****, if SBTS's move toward strict Calvinism--a move initiated by Dr. Al Mohler--has played a part in the declining numbers. Perhaps.
Given SBTS's definitive shift toward the "Reformed" theological perspective--quite apart from either Conservative theology in general and/or biblical inerrancy particularly, the defining concerns of the Conservative Resurgence--are Southern Baptists, who are overwhelmingly non-Calvinist in conviction, pursuing other avenues of theological development? Could the drop in FTE*** be explained in part by a positive answer to such a question?
Similarly, are the declining numbers indicative of a ground-swell reaction to the confessional identity of strict Calvinism which presently defines SBTS? If so, is the apparent move by SEBTS to edge farther and farther toward a Calvinism by default academic culture a move which may, in part, explain its similar dipping FTE*** numbers when compared to SBTS?
Listen carefully to one SEBTS student lament the continued change developing at Southeastern. Billy Birch writes:
The "Calvinizing" of Southern Baptists charges full steam ahead; and though I do not support all of Estep's historical statements concerning Calvin himself, the warning concerning Calvinism is still relevant. This I state having just returned from the campus bookstore at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and College at Southeastern and viewing the inundation of Calvinistic literature on their shelves. This I also state having experienced first-hand Calvinist professors at this institution who have of late become more emboldened at teaching Calvinism by assumption in the classroom (//link)
I recently spoke with a young pastor who had switched from SBTS to SEBTS because of Southern's decidedly "Reformed" student body. His words were, "I simply didn't fit." After switching to Southeastern he said, to his surprise, the conditions he faced at Southern were virtually replicated at Southeastern. His frustration was not easily covered over.
Will grassroots Southern Baptists once again be pressured to pursue other avenues for theological education in the second decade of the new millennium like they pursued in the last quarter of the 20th century? While the issue then was theological moderatism wed to biblical errancy, the issue now may be Dortian Calvinism wed to theological determinism. Or, perhaps a better way to state our current situation is by asking this: are our seminaries--specifically SEBTS and SBTS--selling out to pop Calvinism sweeping the nation among the young twentysomethings? Is this the wave on which our entities are riding?
Southern Baptists all over America need to arise and start asking some serious questions. Hundreds of graduates are coming out of our seminaries per year who are strict, 5 point Calvinists. Ninety to 95% of churches in the SBC are strict, non-five-point Calvinist. Where, then will those who've been steeped in strict Calvinism serve, if they remain in the SBC? Is the push for major church-plants a push to put these strict, 5 point Calvinists into ministry?
I hope not.
Indeed I pray not.
Exploiting the great commission to place graduates from Southern Baptist seminaries in contexts other than our local churches because we've theologically instructed them in beliefs not compatible with the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists is not an enterprise acceptable to the Lord. I assume most of us would agree.
Whatever the reason for the dip in FTE*** numbers at SBTS and SEBTS--whether a developing trend or an understandable blip in enrollment--may our Lord continue to use our seminaries, the administrations, and faculties all for His glory.
With that, I am...
*given NOBTS's special circumstances due to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and consequently, special consideration by the EC for its special circumstances, I am leaving NOBTS numbers out of scope in the remainder of this post
**"headcount enrollment includes all enrollment whether on campus or off, web-based instruction, and any stray dogs in the parking lot
***FTE refers to "full-time" enrollment.