Celebrating a New Decade: Retrospect and Prospect
Central Baptist Theological Seminary was founded in 1956. Upon the closing of Northwestern Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, students, faculty, and other sponsors urged Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters to open a new seminary in order to fill the vacancy of such a training institution in the upper-Midwest. This past school year, 2016-2017, Central Seminary began its seventh decade of training men and women for gospel ministry. It has been my distinct privilege to serve on the faculty of Central Seminary for over forty of the past sixty years.
The ancillary characteristics of Central Seminary have ebbed and flowed over time as leadership and faculty have changed, but the Doctrinal Affirmations and Points of Purpose have remained constant since its founding. I am grateful to God for the long history of Central Seminary. I have always treasured my familiarity with its founder, Dr. R. V. Clearwaters. I served on his pastoral staff at Fourth Baptist Church and continue to serve on the faculty here at the seminary. Much of Dr. Clearwaters’s vision for Central Seminary still permeates the institution. His instruction and mentorship instilled in me a foundational understanding of at least four values that I believe still characterize it.
The balance between strength of leadership and the weakness of leaders. Many of my generation will recall Dr. Clearwaters’s repeated reminder that the greatest of leaders still “put their pants on one leg at a time.” Effective leaders are, at the same time, peccable humans. All men, even great men, have “feet of clay,” to borrow Clearwaters’s analogy. Many remember Richard Clearwaters as a driven and forceful man. I also remember him as a charitable and sensitive pastor. Many who attended Fourth Baptist Church under his ministry will recall seeing him in the foyer on any given Sunday down on one knee warmly interacting with a child. A 1996 article in the Star Tribune by Minneapolis magnate Harvey Mackay publically cited Dr. Clearwaters as an exemplary servant-minister (Star Tribune, “For Executives Only,” Thurs., Nov. 5, 1996). No man is perfect, including the founder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, but God uses imperfect men to serve Him and His people. The strength of a man’s leadership is not measured by his impeccability but by his faithful servanthood. Central Seminary still longs to produce faithful servants for ministry to the next generation.
The balance between the desperate need for laborers and the essential need for training. Dr. Clearwaters often reminded his congregants and students of his own educational deficiencies. Yet a common slogan of the seminary long echoed his conviction: “When the Lord calls to preach, He calls to prepare.” I remember Dr. Clearwaters saying on many occasions, “If I knew that I had only four years to serve God in ministry, I would spend three of them in seminary.” In the 21st century, as formal education becomes more streamlined, impersonalized, and thus minimized, Clearwaters’s educational thesis needs constant reaffirmation. Certainly the spiritual needs of the world grow exponentially dark. The response, however, should not be streamlined training but strengthened training. A man who, in his youth, abandoned the rigors of education came in his newfound faith to recognize its essential value. That legacy lives on in the convictions of the administration and faculty of Central Seminary today.
The balance between the reliability of truth and the fallibility of the learner. I remember hearing often in my early years of seminary training that “no one has a corner on the truth.” Striving toward a proper understanding of God’s revealed Word entails a process of lifelong discovery and growth. In my early years of teaching, I was often encouraged by recalling another adage of our founder: “Central Seminary is a fellowship of learning.” As a professor I could learn from my students and my peers (and my mistakes) at the same time that I taught in the classroom. Within the parameters of the seminary’s doctrinal statement and the ethics of decorum, students and professors could interact freely based on their current maturation in doctrinal refinement and exegetical conclusions. I have always loved the ever flowing theological dialogue at Central Seminary within the bounds of its unchanging institutional doctrines and distinctives. I believe that this openness is a direct reflection of the founder’s balance between the inviolable tenets of the faith and the developing persuasions of the life-long learner.
The balance between the greatness of the work and the frailty of the worker. This concept found its fullest embodiment in the salvation testimony of Central Seminary’s founder. After many “prodigal” years of running from family and God, Richard Clearwaters was confronted with the sober realities of life in a fallen world. Through a series of providential circumstances, Richard returned home to the farm, yet still in search of the truth. Soon thereafter, his younger brother was killed in a farm accident for which Richard himself felt responsible. This incident was followed by a prolonged period of grief, depression, and spiritual conviction. According to Clearwaters, nothing could console him during his long wakeful nights save the chirping of the crickets. God used the most humble of creatures to minister to the most profound of human needs. All of the years that I knew him, a metal cricket sat on his desk to remind him of this truth. God still seeks the frailest of vessels to serve His mightiest cause.
It has been my amazing privilege to serve at Central Seminary these past forty-plus years. With all of the permutations of that career, the ideals that I most love about Central Seminary have remained static. Granted, I view the seminary and its founder through a unique lens, and not all will agree with my assessment. Be that as it may, few can argue with my familiarity. I remain inexpressibly grateful for its long history, and I am excited for the seminary’s future, as God sees fit to sustain it.
This essay is by Roy Beacham, Professor of Old Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
St. Peter once: ‘Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?’—
Much more I say: Lord, dost Thou stand and knock
At my closed heart more rugged than a rock,
Bolted and barred, for Thy soft touch unmeet,
Nor garnished nor in any wise made sweet?
Owls roost within and dancing satyrs mock.
Lord, I have heard the crowing of the cock
And have not wept: ah, Lord, thou knowest it.
Yet still I hear Thee knocking, still I hear:
‘Open to Me, look on Me eye to eye,
That I may wring thy heart and make it whole;
And teach thee love because I hold thee dear
And sup with thee in gladness soul with soul
And sup with thee in glory by and by.’
About Guest Author
This guest article has been published because an editor has determined its contents to be supportive of the values of Religious Affections Ministries. Its publication does not imply full agreement between its author and RAM on other matters.