Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s academic year concluded with much pomp and circumstance on May 4 as graduates, families, and friends gathered together in the Daniel Lee Chapel to observe the school’s 63rd commencement exercises–launching theologically-trained gospel ministers into service.
In comprising the school’s largest graduating class, 199 students graduated including 28 undergraduate certificate recipients—including one diploma from the Midwestern Women’s Institute; 40 undergraduate, 96 graduate, and 32 doctoral degrees were conferred as well.
Additionally, three students were among the first to complete Midwestern Seminary’s Accelerate Program, in which they earned both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same time in less than five years.
Key moments in the ceremony included President Jason Allen’s challenge to students in his commencement address to “guard their personal holiness and doctrinal faithfulness,” as well as a presentation of the institution’s Professor of the Year award.
In beginning his expository message from 1 Timothy 4:16, Allen asked of the audience, “What does it mean to be faithful?”
In answering, he noted two points for them to consider – living a life of personal holiness and leading a ministry in which one guards his or her teaching/doctrine.
To his first point, Allen explained the importance of the first section of verse 16, which reads, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching.” He said, “Paul does away with the shallow advice, and even the good advice, and narrows in on the most urgent advice of all: Guard your life. Guard your doctrine – matters of personal holiness and conviction.”
He added that personal holiness is an outdated phrase in today’s hedonistic culture. He warned graduates to use caution in the things they watch, the jokes they enjoy and pass along, the “gutter references,” and innuendos. He suggested, “All of this matters because when it accrues, it often leads to a calamitous fall.”
Allen then explained that the graduates are bound to a very special stewardship.
“Brothers and sisters, we are stewards – not only of our own diplomas, our education, and all of the practical commitments we’ve made to ministry – but we are also stewards to the glory of God and the glory of the church, and the gospel of Christ. If we do not guard our lives, we are rolling the dice on the calamity that may come.”
Allen’s second point expressed that one’s doctrinal outlook, and potential changes in it, can oftentimes go unseen by others, whereas guarding one’s personal life might show signs of forewarning.
“There are two types of ways to depart from the ministry,” Allen said. “One is the public, the scandalous, shocking, and the obscene. The other is just the slow fizzle away to where you wake up one day and you have moved one million miles from where you once were.
“You get a sense that guarding your doctrine is especially relevant to that second way. not suggesting that if we guard our doctrine that will prevent us from the calamitous departures, but I am suggesting that those who do not guard their doctrine are more prone to such departures.”
Allen then noted that Paul encouraged Timothy to persevere, to persist and be steadfast because “as you do this, you will ensure salvation both for yourselves and for those who hear you.”
Allen said Paul’s charge to Timothy carries over to modern day. It is meant to encourage us to remain steadfast to ensure our own salvation; to make our own call and election sure; to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
“That faithfulness is called for by the Spirit,” he added. “It is enabled by the Spirit; it is secured by the Spirit. But the stakes are higher than your personal ministry. It is also enabled ‘for those who hear you.’”
Allen concluded the message saying, “Remember this day – for the joy that shall be yours momentarily as you walk across this stage, but also for the charge that is yours to be faithful to these things.”
Following his address, Allen announced Midwestern Seminary’s Professor of the Year. This year’s recipient was Rodney Harrison, who is dean of Post-Graduate Studies, Distance Education & Effectiveness. He is also the professor of Christian Education and has ministered at Midwestern Seminary since 2003.
Harrison came to Midwestern Seminary following a fruitful ministry in church planting and missions in California, the Dakotas, and Minnesota. Prior to coming to Midwestern, he was New Church Extension Associate for the California Southern Baptist Convention. Harrison is the author of four books and has written material for LifeWay Christian Resources, The Revitalizer, and several academic journals.
He holds the Bachelor of Arts degree from Dallas Baptist University, the Master of Arts in Christian Education and Doctor of Ministry in Mission Administration from Golden Gate Seminary. Harrison has also pursued post-doctoral studies at Oxford University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Julie have three grown children, Joshua, Cassandra and Gabrielle.
To view the 2018 commencement service in its entirety, click here