Doug Sweeney is the New Dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School


Congratulations to Doug Sweeney!  He moves from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois to Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug replaces founding dean Timothy George.  Here is the press release:

Douglas A. Sweeney has been named the new dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham effective July 1. 

Sweeney is only the second dean to serve the interdenominational seminary, which was established in 1988 with Timothy George as the founding dean.

Sweeney’s appointment follows a national search to replace George, who is retiring as dean at the end of the current academic year. 

“I am absolutely delighted at the choice of Dr. Doug Sweeney to be the next dean of Beeson Divinity School. He brings to this role superb scholarly credentials along with a deep love for Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, the Lord’s church and God’s mission in the world,” George said. “The future of Beeson Divinity School is as bright as the promises of God, and I look forward to welcoming Dr. Sweeney as our friend, colleague and leader.” 

A world-renowned scholar of American theologian Jonathan Edwards, Sweeney comes to Beeson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he is the Distinguished Professor and Chair of Church History and the History of Christian Thought and founding director of the Jonathan Edwards Center. 

Having served on Trinity’s faculty since 1997, Sweeney was the founding director of the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity, 2000–2012. He raised nearly $4 million for the center, supervised staff, collaborated with boards, and hosted conferences and lectures. 

Prior to his tenure at Trinity, Sweeney served at Yale University where he edited The Works of Jonathan Edwards and was a lecturer in church history and historical theology.  

Samford Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs J. Michael Hardin said, “Dr. Sweeney brings together internationally renowned scholarship, academic administrative experience and a deep love and commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Samford President Andrew Westmoreland said, “Dr. Sweeney is ideally prepared to provide wise, visionary leadership for Beeson. His commitment to the relevance and authority of Scripture, his strong record of scholarship, his devotion to equipping those called to ministry and his engaging, irenic spirit will serve him — and Samford — well.”

Gary Fenton, former longtime pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, and senior advancement officer at Samford, is delighted by Sweeney’s appointment, having personally benefited from his book, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement.

“Dr. Sweeney is an outstanding evangelical scholar, who is committed to excellence of the mind, spiritual depth and Christ-like passion,” Fenton said. “He is an excellent choice to build on the rich theological foundation that Dean Timothy George has provided for this school. I am so grateful for the school’s past and excited for its future.”

Sweeney is an active member of St. Mark Lutheran Church, an evangelical Lutheran church affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, serving as both an elder and vice president. A former Baptist, he is a longtime Sunday School and Bible teacher, whose ministry extends into many other churches.

Sweeney holds degrees from Vanderbilt University (Ph.D., M.A.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A.) and Wheaton College (B.A.). He and his wife, Wilma, have one adult son.

“I consider it a great honor and privilege to serve as the next dean of Beeson Divinity School. I have long been an admirer of Dean Timothy George, and think that Beeson is the best-conceived and cultivated divinity school in all of North America,” Sweeney said. “My approach to theological education meshes well with Beeson’s guiding confessional documents, academic culture and personal approach to teaching and mentoring students. In fact, for me, moving to Beeson is like moving to a school that was designed to facilitate the kind of academic work, ecumenism and ministry I have done all my life. These are exciting times in which to serve the Lord together at Samford. Please pray with me that God will guide us firmly into the future.”

200th Anniversity of Princeton Theological Seminary Conference

In March 2012, Princeton Theological Seminary is hosting a historical conference to celebrate its 200th birthday.  The conference is entitled “Princeton in the Church’s Service” (The title of this conference seems to be a play off of Paul Kemeny’s study of Princeton University: Princeton in the Nation’s Service).  Speakers include Mark Noll, Darryl Hart, Paul Gutjahr, and James Moorehead.

As part of the bicentennial festivities, Princeton is also hosting a conference on the place of Common Sense Realism in the history of the seminary.   Speakers at the September meeting include Leigh Eric Schmidt, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Alan Keyes (yes, THAT Alan Keyes).

The Seminary Bubble

Back in the 1990s I enrolled in an evangelical divinity school on the north side of Chicago.  I am not sure why I was there.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a pastor or a missionary, but I knew I liked studying and had an ongoing fascination with theology and church history.  I spent three years in divinity school. After I finished I did not go into the ministry, but my experience in divinity school prepared me to think about the world from a Christian perspective.

A lot of my classmates at divinity school were there because they they wanted to pastor evangelical congregations.  Some of them left careers or good-paying jobs to following God’s call on their lives.  Many of them had spouses and children.  A lot of them were going into debt in order to fund their divinity education.

I thought about these fellow students when I read Jerry Bowyer’s post, “The Seminary Bubble.”  (Thanks for the link, Russ Reeves).

Bowyer writes:

Imagine an institution that requires its leaders to attend not only college, but graduate school. Imagine that the graduate school in question is constitutionally forbidden from receiving any form of government aid, that it typically requires three years of full-time schooling for the diploma, that the nature of the schooling bears almost no resemblance to the job in question, and that the pay for graduates is far lower than other professions. You have just imagined the relationship between the Christian Church and her seminaries.

Read the rest here.

Military Chaplains and Liberty Theological Seminary

According to this article in the St. Louis Dispatch, one out of every five Air Force chaplain candidates is enrolled in Liberty Seminary’s chaplaincy MDiv program.  Most of them are taking online courses.  Here is a taste:

Critics say that high rate of enrollment could add to an imbalance of evangelical Christians among the military’s corps of chaplains. And some even within the military have raised questions about the quality of Liberty’s program.

Liberty’s pairing of evangelical Christianity and patriotism is exemplified during Liberty’s annual Military Emphasis Week. According to the school’s website, the highlight of that week is “the patriotic convocation, occurring the Wednesday closest to Veterans Day, featuring patriotic music, veteran testimonies and an inspirational message from a Christian combat veteran.”

Liberty is not accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the national accreditation agency for graduate-level seminaries. Instead, it is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The Department of Defense requires only that seminaries that train chaplain candidates be listed with the American Council on Education, which is not an accrediting body.

The Largest Seminaries in North America

Fuller Seminary (1940 full-time equivalent students) is on the top of a list dominated by Evangelical and Southern Baptist seminaries. A few observations:

  • Dallas Theological Seminary, that bastion of dispensationalism, continues to hold strong. It is at #5.
  • My alma mater comes in at #7.
  • No Ivy League divinity schools made the top 20. (Princeton Seminary is not affiliated with the Princeton University).
  • Only two seminaries on the list–Duke and Candler (Emory)–are connected to a major research university.
  • 9 of the top 20 are located in the South

Go To Seminary!

According to this article in The Christian Century, enrollment at theological seminaries is on the rise.

A lot of it has to do with the economy, but others are attending seminary because they want a post-undergraduate intellectual experience that allows them to reflect on the meaning of life within a spiritual or religious framework. Frankly, I think more people should to go seminary. Imagine if corporations required their top-level executives to take a year studying ethics and moral theology?

Growing up Catholic, theological seminaries were always talked about using the article “the.” For example, “Did you hear about the Benucci’s oldest son, he is going to ‘THE seminary’ to become a priest?”

But there are many who attend seminary or divinity school with no intention of becoming a member of the clergy. When I enrolled in a divinity school back in 1989 I thought about the possibility of becoming a minister, but what I really wanted was an opportunity to learn theology and church history so that I could think more deeply about the world from the perspective of my faith. I ended up staying for awhile–earning an M.A. in church history and an M.Div. When people learn that I went to seminary they immediately want to know if I am “ordained.” I am not. But I do not regret the experience and I use my divinity education every day. I have even been asked, on a few rare occasions, to preach Sunday morning sermons!

Here’s a snippet from Christian Century piece:

When Boston area artist Paula Rendino needed fresh inspiration more than a year ago, she sought her muse in an unlikely place: seminary. Art school would have been “too boring,” Rendino explained. She yearned to bring fresh depth to her work by pondering spiritual themes.

Now she does exactly that alongside dozens of ministers-in-training at Andover Newton Theological School, an ecumenical, American Baptist seminary in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.

“In seminary, you’re looking at philosophy, ethics or poetry and taking the time to really think about something,” Rendino said. “That’s so important because we live in a time where everything is fast, people write in short sentences” and “don’t take the time to think about things.”