A Brief History and Philosophy of Theological Education at Central Baptist Theological Seminary
Marshall, Molly T., Baptist History and Heritage
Before joining the faculty of Central Seminary in 1995, I must admit I knew little of this historic seminary, the first Baptist seminary west of the Mississippi. The names of W. W. Adams and H. E. Dana (1) were familiar from my days at Southern, but I was not aware of their distinguished service at Central. My roots were nourished in Southern Baptist life in northeastern Oklahoma, (2) and we presumed we were the only Baptists around! In the aftermath of my "forced resignation"--a nice euphemism for firing--at Southern Seminary in the fall of 1994, I was looking for a new spiritual homeplace in which to offer my vocation as a theologian, an equipper of ministers. At the same time, providentially, Central was seeking to expand its constituency. The board, led by the president, sought to reach out to marginalized moderate Southern Baptists; in a sense, this was a return to the historic vocation of Central, a place designed to educate the Baptists of this area, that included Northern (now American), Southern, (3) Progressive, National, as well as other denominations. The lines between Baptists were not drawn so firmly at the turn of the century when the Kansas City Theological Seminary (our first name) was founded. (4) By the 1950s, however, the wonderful collaboration between the northern and southern cousins in the Baptist family began to have strained relationships, and another Baptist theological institution was formed. I will not try to interpret fully the reasons for this rupture in the brief compass of my presentation; perchance, even in this august gathering there likely would be differing interpretations of our forebears' decisions.
In the early 1990s, as we all can bear witness, lines were clearly drawn and something of a diaspora was occurring. In the second year of his presidency, Thomas Clifton comprehended the shift in Baptist life and sought to provide a hospitable place where a "Baptist family reunion" could take place. And indeed, at Central, it is.
I want to outline our beginnings, tell a few of the notable facts about Central, and describe the kind of students we are seeking to form. We are grateful for our calling to serve Christ and the Church here in the Midwest for nearly one hundred years.
A Venture of Faith
Reverend E. B. Meredith, missionary secretary of the Kansas Baptist State Convention, was a man of vision and great faith. In the early part of 1900, he began to gather others around him who yearned to found a seminary. Not only did he plant the seeds with other ministers, he also awakened the citizens of Kansas City to the promise such an institution could hold for the whole community. (5) On August 17, 1901, Reverend Meredith convened the first board meeting in his home in order to purchase property for the founding of a seminary. (6) Baptists of varied stripe were a part of this earnest, but inauspicious beginning. As a bonus for locating the school in the city, the Mercantile Club of Kansas City, Kansas, pledged to give the fledgling seminary $5,000, greatly helping defray the start up cost of $12,500 (which included the purchase of the Fowler mansion to house the seminary.)
The first charter of the Kansas City Baptist Theological Seminary stated that the purpose for its founding was "for the education and training of ministers of the gospel, missionaries and teachers to the end that men may be saved through the presentation of the truth revealed in God's word." (7) From the very beginning, the seminary sought to welcome a variety of educational backgrounds as well as persons from other ecclesial traditions. As early as 1903, the seminary catalogue articulated this ecumenical vision:
While the seminary was founded primarily for the education of Baptist ministers, it admits students of other denominations having the ministry in view. It also welcomes others who are desirous of a theological training for better service in the Lord's kingdom, even though they do not anticipate entering the ministry. …