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On the Importance of Confessional Theological Education: An Interview with Jason K. Allen

June 10, 2020

Editor’s Note: The following interview appears in the Spring 2020 issue of Eikon.

Dr. Jason K. Allen is President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Southern Baptist seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He is also a Council member of CBMW. In the following interview, I asked Dr. Allen to articulate his vision for confessional education, as well as his rationale for adopting CBMW’s Danvers and Nashville Statements at Midwestern.

Jonathan Swan: Since your election as President of MBTS you have added multiple confessional statements as conditions of employment. In addition to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which was in place when you arrived at MBTS, you have added the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Danvers and Nashville Statements of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. What do you believe is the purpose of such confessional statements in a seminary and university setting? And what role do they play at MBTS?

JKA: There are many different ways to evaluate a theological institution, and accrediting agencies do. Institutions are classified by such metrics as size and enrollment, the strength of the endowment, faculty-to-student ratio, demographic make-up of the student body, and a host of other factors. But in the final analysis, the most important classification of all is whether or not the institution is a confessional institution.

By confessional, I do not mean an historic document on the books that does not enjoy present enforcement at the institution. By confessional, I mean an institution that clearly sets forth its beliefs, clearly requires its instructional staff to abide by those beliefs, and signals to all onlookers where the institution stands on essential doctrinal and cultural matters.

As for Midwestern Seminary, in recent years, I’ve led us to adopt the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality. These, of course, are in addition to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

For Midwestern Seminary, the adoption of these statements was not to move us in a more conservative direction, but to acknowledge and to codify the convictions that we already held. What is more, as it relates to the Nashville Statement, it is acknowledging that our cultural moment is changing rapidly, and we must speak to these changes with biblical conviction and, just as important, clarity.

JS: Most evangelical Christians understand the importance of doctrinal statements such as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. A high view of Scripture has historically been central to evangelical Christianity. But can you explain why you have deemed it important to also include the Danvers and Nashville Statements as confessional standards at MBTS? 

 JKA: The way you framed the question is right. For many decades, convictional, evangelical institutions have understood the importance of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. An affirmation of biblical inerrancy ought to lead one to other theological conclusions, but it does not always do so.

For example, a strong affirmation of biblical inerrancy typically leads one to also affirm the biblical complementarity of the genders. However, this is not always the case. Because issues like marriage, sexuality, gender, and the roles of men and women within the church are essential matters for the church and for Christian living, it is imperative that an institution which desires to be faithful is clear on these matters as well.

In other words, it would be foolish for me as president to make assumptions about non-essential matters, and it would be doubly foolish for me to make assumptions about essential matters. It would be foolish for me personally as president, or for the institution I lead, to assume clarity and biblical faithfulness by all who teach here.

My responsibility is not to draw comfort from general assumptions and vague assurances, but to ensure faithfulness. The adoption and usage of the right confessional statements is a significant step in the right direction in this regard.

JS: What would you say to encourage other like-minded churches and institutions to adopt the Danvers and Nashville Statements as part of their confessional identity?

 JKA: My initial response to this question is to simply ask, “Why not?” There are occasionally good reasons for not adopting clear confessional statements. It may be that the institution already has similar wording in a governing document, so to adopt an additional confessional statement may be redundant.

In fact, when Midwestern Seminary adopted the Nashville Statement, it was a step of redundancy. We already had similar wording in our governing documents, but we elected to adopt the Nashville Statement nonetheless, because we wanted to signal publicly where we stand on these issues.

Furthermore, we hoped to embolden other institutions to make a similar statement. Therefore, adopting confessional statements is not only for internal clarity and boundary setting, it’s also for external projection both as to who you are and what you value as an institution. And that, of course, will draw a certain type of faculty — and a certain type of student.

JS: How would you describe the importance of statements of faith, such as the ones you have incorporated into the confessional identity at MBTS, for the health and vitality of denominational institutions like MBTS?

 JKA: It is hard to overstate the importance of a statement of faith. We are a theological institution, not a sentimental one. We make truth claims, declare propositional statements, and are giving our lives to proclaiming and defending biblical truth. Thus, the written word is our friend. Codified statements are essential to missional faithfulness, both in the present and into the future.

It would be foolish for us as an institution to rely on vague generalities, passive-voice affirmations, and shared gospel sentiments for doctrinal accountability and denominational faithfulness. On the contrary, when I see an institution that lacks confessional statements or insufficiently uses them for theological accountability, alarm bells go off to me.

JS: How do you understand your role as president with respect to the confessional standards MBTS has in place? 

 JKA: As president, I’m the essential actor in Midwestern Seminary’s confessional standards. Over the years, the Board of Trustees has adopted our confessional statements, and they’ve hired me as president to ensure that these are faithfully implemented.

Every member of our instructional staff, whether elected faculty members, appointed adjuncts, or instructors who find themselves somewhere between these two poles are required to teach in accordance with and not contrary to our confessional statements.

It would be a treacherous act on my part to gloss over our confessional statements, ignore them, or just permit members of our faculty to swerve in and out of their boundaries.

What is more, to outsource that accountability to the faculty members would be a failure of leadership on my part. It’s not enough for them to affirm their adherence. Of course, that’s the essential first step. But their track record of teaching, preaching, and writing, and an objective evaluation of the same, must also demonstrate they believe and teach within those boundaries.

The integrity of my office and the integrity of our work here demands a president who is actively engaged in such matters and who signals clearly to all who teach here the sacred trust we have on behalf of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to affirm these doctrinal statements and to teach from them accordingly

Jonathan Swan is Book Review Editor for Eikon.

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