TT: In 1993, shortly after your appointment as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, there was substantial faculty fallout and a sharp move in an orthodox direction. Would you give us a glimpse into that time for you and how a seminary could do an about-face in such a short span of time?
AM: My election as president of Southern Seminary came in the course of a larger movement within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) — a movement that was specifically an attempt to bring the denomination back to its theological roots and especially to ground the denomination and its schools in a very clear affirmation of biblical inerrancy.
The seminaries of the SBC had drifted considerably to the left over the previous half-century to the point that, in many ways, they were almost indistinguishable from mainline Protestant institutions. My election in 1993 did not occur in a vacuum. It was very much a part of this effort, and everyone knew what was at stake. I think I was elected, at least in part, because I had a very clear plan for how to bring a theological correction to an institution like Southern Seminary, the mother seminary of our denomination. It would be costly, it would be controversial, and it would be extremely difficult. But the only way to reform an academic institution and to bring it back to a clear affirmation of biblical orthodoxy was to make clear that we were a confessional institution that held to those doctrinal parameters.
It was indeed a very difficult time. The controversy and the conflict were, in human terms, almost unbearable, but it was clear to those who love biblical truth that it would be far better for the institution to die than for it to continue in the direction that it had been headed for several decades. Those of us who undertook this task understood it was a great risk, but we also understood that it simply had to be done. Institutions move left progressively, inch by inch. They move in a more liberal direction compromise by compromise. But you cannot correct an institution the same way. Confessional integrity is not something that can be accommodated to a progressive timeline. There is no way to say, “We are tolerating less and less heresy and false teaching.” If confessional integrity is to mean anything, it must stand as an absolute standard. For that reason, we went through five or six years of very intense controversy, and on the other side of it, we were able, by God’s grace, to emerge with a very clear confessional identity. We have a faculty of incredible scholars who are committed to teach within our confessional statement, and thousands of students have come to Southern knowing exactly where we stand.