Evangelical Theology in the Twenty-First Century

by Steve W. Lemke
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

delivered as the Presidential Address for the 2000 Southwest Regional meeting
of the Evangelical Theological Society at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary



        Nearly three years ago, I was approached about the possibility of becoming the Provost and academic dean at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I quickly consulted friends such as Millard Erickson about whether or not academic deans could remain current in their own disciplines. He relayed to me the old adage that in their first year, deans stop writing; in their second year, they stop reading; and in their third year, they stop thinking. I have discovered over the past few years that this is a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation. The time constraints placed on deans usually does not allow for in-depth research. So I find myself left with having only about six months of thinking left, and at that I'm fading fast.

        Millard Erickson is a happy exception to this rule, of course, due principally to his wonderful discipline, time management, and love of theological scholarship. So a new dean may choose to be "in Adam" by following in the natural human inclination of deanship away from scholarship, or one may become "in Erickson" and make time for research and writing. Given my time constraints, however, I fear that I have become an "in Adam" dean. So in this presidential address, with my time running out, I would like to share from my vantage point of a seminary dean what the key issues are that evangelical theology will face in the next few decades.

        I'll begin with a few caveats. First, I have discovered to my astonishment that technical papers in my chosen discipline of philosophy sometimes provoke yawns rather than interest among more general audiences. I thus offer this talk as a provocateur of discussion, rather than as a more typical research paper. My purpose is primarily to spur discussion and dialogue as we seek to address these issues together. Perhaps these ruminations will spark or provoke a helpful discussion. Second, perhaps as a partial mark of my impending mental poverty, I have organized what I believe to be seven major issues confronting evangelical theology in this new century as an acrostic according to the first seven letters of the English alphabet. By the way, my commentary in the various sections is not equal in length (A, B, and C are longer). I simply had more to say in some areas than in others. This should not suggest that the issues about which my comments are shorter are less important. I would be eager to discuss any of them during the discussion time. Third, while I am attempting to speak about evangelicalism in general, I do speak unapologetically from a Southern Baptist perspective. Please help me make applications to your own confessional fellowship. And fourth, I should note that many of my predictions are not the way I would hope theology will go, but how in fact I expect it to go. I must also insist that these predictions be understood as merely the prognostications of a seminary dean, not as prophecy. Please to not evaluate these best guesses according to the high standard of accuracy enunciated in Deuteronomy 13, not to mention its concordant harsh penalty of capital punishment if my predictions do not all come true.

        A is for anthropology.  I had the privilege recently of participating in the Research Institute of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The participants included evangelical thinkers such a