Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern are committed to “equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.” Within this mission, the Kingdom Diversity Initiative endeavors to “Seek and equip students from every corner of the kingdom to serve in every context of the kingdom.” These interdependent goals shape the entirety of campus life—especially how education is undertaken. The Kingdom Diversity Initiative has enhanced our institution’s educational philosophy by uncovering voices that have been historically underrepresented, misrepresented and ignored.
Theological traditions are shaped as much by what they exclude as by what they include, and faith traditions are no exception. Many Christian denominations in the United States, including the Southern Baptist Convention, have been formed in part by the exclusion of minority voices. The Kingdom Diversity Initiative sponsors a range of informal and formal events—bagged-lunches, read-ins, blogs, podcasts, conferences—to expose students to a wide range of voices whose influence, whether through absence or presence, has shaped how Christians in general, and Southern Baptists in particular, understand the gospel and its implications. This approach means that we sometimes engage voices with whom we do not and should not agree entirely. Just as we can learn from orthodox Christians with whom we may differ in some particulars, we can also learn from figures outside of orthodoxy, or even outside Christianity altogether, without endorsing or adopting those views we find objectionable. The goal is always to better understand the brokenness of this world to more appropriately serve as ministers of the gospel.
Because our highest callings are to love God, to love neighbor, and to make disciples, Christians must do the hard work of making the gospel applicable in whatever context we serve. Paul offers an example in his message at the Areopagus in Acts 17. Seeing that the people of Athens had an altar to an unknown god, he preached that this god they didn’t know was, in fact, his God. Paul contextualized the gospel message by presenting it in a way the people of Athens could understand. While Christians in the United States have been willing to do the hard work of contextualizing the gospel in places around the world, we have been unwilling to examine our own context with the same depth and attention. This status quo in education explains why Christians with shared doctrinal convictions have distinct views on the application of those convictions. A narrow list of required reading and lack of thoughtful engagement—with those whom we agree and disagree—limits our ability to understand how the gospel comes to bear on contexts other than our own. This explains why many of our churches, neighborhoods, and schools remain segregated.
Studying a variety of historical figures is essential to understanding the state of our witness today. The gospel is the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf. But the gospel, in the hands of fallen humans, has been used for bad and good purposes alike. Christians need a nuanced grasp of how their faith has been used paradoxically to justify and abolish slavery, to withhold and champion civil rights, to perpetuate and battle racism, to subjugate and empower women, to colonize and liberate nations, to encourage and challenge the love of money. All of these problems relate directly to what people hear when the gospel is proclaimed. If we don’t understand that some people hear “health and wealth,” “colonialism” or even “white supremacy” when they hear “Christianity,” then we are not equipped to give an answer for the hope we have within us. The Kingdom Diversity Initiative encourages an exegetically rooted and historically attentive view of Christianity within the Southeastern family (and beyond). Our desire is to contextualize the eternal truths of the faith to today’s challenges considering where we have been and where our Lord is taking us.