Northern was born during the Liberal v. the Conservative controversy, after a conservative group of pastors and scholars left the University of Chicago to form a school where the evangelical principles would be taught to men and women aspiring to the ministry.
During the 1940s, conservative groups called for a “new evangelicalism.” Northern Seminary, a school rich in scholarly and conservative tradition, provided the new leaders who promoted this new brand of evangelicalism.
Northern Seminary provided most of the leaders to the conservative movement of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Many students who graduated from Northern Seminary were among the founding faculties of Fuller Theological Seminary (1947) and Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary (1950).
Northern graduates founded organizations that revitalized American religious life after World War II. The founder of Youth for Christ, Torrey Johnson, was a graduate from Northern Seminary. The first four editors of Christianity Today, including Carl Henry and Kenneth Kantzer were also Northern graduates. J. Edwin Orr, international evangelist and historian of revival, Kenneth Taylor, who published The Living Bible, and Warren W. Wiersbe, the famous writer and minister were Northern alumni. There are also other Northern graduates who have served with great distinction as pastors, missionaries, educators, and evangelists whose names are too numerous to mention.
What made Northern Seminary the school that gave birth to so many leaders of the evangelical movement? What made Northern Seminary a great evangelical seminary was summarized in three words by Charles W. Koller, the fourth president of Northern Seminary: “Scholarly, Conservative, Baptistic!”
Charles W. Koller, the fourth president of Northern Baptist Seminary and the author of How to Preach Without Notes, a classic book on expository preaching without notes, wrote an article in the Northern, the official journal of the seminary, in which he described the work of Northern Seminary. The article was published in the in the Northern in February 1945, volume 32, issue 5. Below, I am reproducing Koller’s article as published in the Northern.
“Scholarly, Conservative, Baptistic!”
Clear aim and fixed purpose have characterized the life of Northern. “Scholarly, Conservative, Baptistic!” This ideal has been kept constantly in view. Closely related is the further statement which has become so familiar to the friends of Northern: “Student-centered in its policies; Bible-centered in its curriculum; Christ-centered in its loyalties.” These expressions have not been mere rhetorical gestures, but definite guidelines within which the life of Northern has moved.As Northern Baptist Seminary prepares to enter its second century of ministry to the churches, it becomes imperative that we again look at what made Northern Baptist Seminary a great school of the church. It is impossible to live on the success of the past. However, in its second century of service to the cause of Christ, Northern can recapture the three important factors that made Northern a school of renown: “Scholarly, Conservative, Baptistic!”
Sound scholarship and genuine piety must go together in the preparation of ministers. A cultivated mind is no substitute for a consecrated heart; nor can piety alone compensate for the want of scholarship. And scholarship, if it is to be adequate, must take into account the professor, the student, and the curriculum. Through steady, persevering effort, Northern has risen to a position of recognized strength at all points, and stands higher today than ever before in its history. It is no small tribute to Northern’s scholarship that, in the past six months alone, Baptist seminaries and colleges have drawn from Northern four presidents, one dean of women, and three professors.
Conservatism, at Northern, means unqualified committal to Scriptural standards of doctrine and life. With unwavering conviction, the school stands upon the traditional Baptist position of orthodoxy, evangelism, and missions. The position of the apostles, as to the deity of Christ, His Messianic identity, His sinless life, His atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His promised return, and His eternal sovereignty, is the position of Northern. The separated life which Northern upholds is a life of dedication to all the Scriptural virtues. This includes both the positive virtues and the scrupulous avoidance of things not necessarily sinful in themselves but tending to dim the spiritual glow and impair the spiritual effectiveness of the minister. It is confidently believed at Northern that any return to New Testament power must come by way of return to New Testament standards. And this, in turn, calls for the propagation and perpetuation of the apostolic type of ministers.
Northern is Baptistic in its convictions and teachings. As a rule, about 85 % of the students are Baptists, although non-Baptist students are received without prejudice, on the same basis as Baptist students. Northern is likewise Baptistic in its affiliations. From the beginning, it has functioned and co-operated within the framework of the Northern Baptist Convention, and has derived support through denominational channels. Through successive denominational crises and catastrophes which have disturbed the Baptist fellowship, Northern has stood as a great stabilizer, a bulwark of Baptist solidarity. Upon its declared position of conservation and cooperation, Northern is helping mightily to preserve the Baptist heritage and to keep the Baptist brotherhood intact. On this position Northern is gaining friends constantly and is enlarging its area of service to the cause of Christ. As a “Scholarly–Conservative–Baptistic” institution, Northern seeks to merit the continuing confidence and good will of its friends, and invites their continuing prayers and support.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Charles Koller, Northern Seminary