Record 467 degrees awarded at Southern's commencement

by Andrew J.W. Smith, posted Friday, May 19, 2017 (10 days ago)

EDITOR'S NOTE: A story about teacher/author John Piper addressing the commencement of Boyce College follows below this story. Boyce College is the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- Ministers of the Gospel are not partakers in a career, but recipients of a divine calling, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said in his commencement address May 19 to the 2017 graduates of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

During 219th commencement exercises on the seminary lawn, 318 master's and doctoral students received degrees. A week earlier, 149 Boyce College students graduated, with the combined 467 degrees representing the largest commencement in Southern Seminary's history.

Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, offers the New Testament reading during Southern Seminary's May 19 commencement. His daughter and son-in-law both received master's degrees.
Photo by Emil Handke/SBTS
"At every Southern Seminary graduation we remind one another of the great and essential fact that the Christian ministry is not a mere profession -- it is a divine calling," Mohler, SBTS president, said. "The ministry is one of Christ's gifts to His church. It is among the most serious -- and indeed the most serious -- and joyous of all callings."

In an address titled "As It Had Been the Face of an Angel," from Acts 6:8-15, Mohler encouraged the graduates to be encouraged by Stephen's example, who remained steadfast in the face of false accusations, his face shining like an angel's.

The contemporary depiction of angels in popular culture often misses the point, Mohler said, as angles in the Bible are messengers of God who inspire awe and fear.

"That is the ministry of the Word of God -- the ministry we celebrate in these graduates today," Mohler said. "We dare to pray that when they preach, when they bring the message from God's Word, in this sense their faces look like the faces of angels -- not cute, never harmless, not ready to jump off of a greeting card, but fearless, faithful, forceful to the end."

The work facing Southern Seminary graduates is inherited from a previous generation, Mohler noted, and commencement provides an opportunity to reflect on the faithfulness of spiritual forebears and to anticipate new ministries for newly trained Gospel workers in the years ahead.

Just as the prophet Joel foretold that old men would dream and young men would see visions, so too seminary graduates are driven into the world with powerful dreams and visions for how they can be used for the Kingdom.

"These graduates go out now to build upon what others have already built. We will all build on the foundation someone else has laid," Mohler said. "Even as the Lord grants opportunity to sow seed, we will spend much of our lives and ministries watering what others have planted, even as we plant what others will water.... In the church age, ministry is handed from generation to generation. Our humble determination and our heart's desire must be to receive this charge and to serve faithfully -- planting and watering in the fields of ministry and taking care how we build upon the foundation laid before us."

During graduation, Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and chairman of the board for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., read a portion from the New Testament. His daughter Lauren and son-in-law Michael McAfee both were among this year's graduates. Michael, an M.Div. graduate in the school of theology, is director of Bible engagement for the Museum of the Bible.

The 2017 graduating class also featured the 2,000th recipient of a doctor of philosophy degree in the 125-year history of Southern Seminary's doctoral program.

David Casas, of Lawrenceville, Ga., earned his Ph.D. from the school of theology; his dissertation was titled "A Defense of the Spiritual Interpretation of the Image of God." Casas is a member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Ga., and teaches Old Testament at Luther Rice University.

The terminal research degree was established at Southern Seminary in 1892 as a doctor of theology, making SBTS one of the early free-standing institutions to offer such a degree. Trustees approved a change to the Ph.D. in 1974.

Also during graduation, Mohler presented the annual Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence to Jeremy P. Pierre, associate professor of biblical counseling and the seminary's dean of students. Pierre has taught at Southern since 2011 and is the author of "The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life" and co-author of "The Pastor and Biblical Counseling." Pierre also is a pastor at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He and his wife Sarah have five children.

The recipient of the 2017 Josephine S. and James L. Baggott Outstanding Graduate Award was Elias Coye Still IV, a master of divinity graduate from North Carolina.

Mohler's entire address will be available in audio and video at equip.sbts.edu. A complete manuscript of the address is available at www.albertmohler.com.

John Piper to Boyce grads:

Embrace life of self-denial

By Andrew J.W. Smith

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- College graduates must reject a life of ease, comfort and material possessions, and embrace the cross-bearing challenges of the Christian life, John Piper said at the May 11 commencement of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Piper, whose daughter Talitha was among the 147 graduates, is the first person from outside the Southern Seminary community to give the commencement address at a Boyce College graduation.

Piper, founder of Desiring God Ministries and former pastor in Minneapolis, said Christians face a lifelong battle between two competing foundational philosophies, or two opposing selves. This "sacred schizophrenia," Piper said, forces believers to fight their "false self" that grapples for personal fame, glory, possessions, power and comfort. The true self, however, exhibits self-denial and a godward focus.

"The denying self loves real life that lasts forever, loves Jesus as all-satisfying, loves meaning more than money, loves the praise of holy heaven more than the praise of sinful earth," Piper said, drawing on Jesus' lessons about true discipleship in Mark 8:34-38. "The denying self is the true you."

There will never be a day in which Christians do not hear from the world that having material possessions is equivalent to having an abundant life. In opposition to this, Jesus teaches that the purpose of life is not accumulating resources, but experiencing Him intimately. This will require a lifelong battle to the death against believers' false, materialistic selves, Piper said.

"You are going to have to make war on your [false] self until you are no longer two, but one glorious self," he said.

Christians must not seek the approval of a sinful world, but instead the approval of the Son of Man, surrounded by the glory of His Father and holy angels, Piper said. There are two directly opposite audiences watching human lives: the audience of the heavenly realm and the audience of an unbelieving world, and the Christian's two selves will covet the approval of opposite audiences. They must deny the worldly self and live in their true self.

"Don't begrudge a few decades of sacred schizophrenia. It will be over soon enough and there will be one self someday -- one unified, true self and all self-denying will be over."

Piper appealed to the life of James Petigru Boyce, founder and first president of Southern Seminary and after whom Boyce College is named. As a student at Charlestown College before he was a Christian, Boyce was spotted by the college president, who said, "There is Boyce, who will become a great man if he does not become the devil." All people face the same two options, Piper said.

"That's true for everyone in this room. Those are the only two options in front of you," he said. "You are all destined to be unspeakably great in eternity or a devil in eternity. Whether you become a devil or great depends on whether you are in the state of sacred schizophrenia."

The 2017 Boyce College commencement marked the first to feature graduates of the Augustine Honors Collegium, an honors program launched in August 2016 under the guidance of Jonathan Arnold, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history. RuthAnne Irvin, Janae Leeke and Mackenzie Miller were the collegium's first graduates. The college also honored the first graduate in the bachelor of science in business administration, Jonathan Newlin.

Founded in 1974 as Boyce Bible School, the institution began offering bachelor's degrees as James P. Boyce College of the Bible in 1998 under Mohler's leadership. The name was later changed to Boyce College. Students can earn a variety of bachelor's and associate degrees through numerous programs, including Boyce Online, seminary track and dual enrollment.

More information about Boyce College is available online at boycecollege.com. Audio and video of John Piper's commencement address are available at equip.sbts.edu.

Andrew J.W. Smith writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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