Trustee report: NOBTS expands theological study aid

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NEW ORLEANS — Less than two months after New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary launched the Caskey Center for Church Excellence — a new partnership with an anonymous donor to provide free theological education for small church and bivocational pastors and staff members of Louisiana Southern Baptist churches — the school has announced an expansion of the program.

The initial gift of $1.5 million will provide up to $6,000 per year for up to 100 Louisiana students — the equivalent of a full scholarship. Applications to the program as of the first week of June had surpassed 125. In response to interest in the program, the anonymous donor has added an additional $1.5 million to go toward providing theological education to more bivocational ministers or those who serve churches with an average worship attendance of less than 250 people.

News of the expanded partnership was first announced June 3 to the NOBTS trustee executive committee, which met on the seminary’s campus.

[Editor’s note: Kelley announced during the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore that the anonymous donor has given NOBTS a third gift of $1.5 million to further anchor the Caskey Center for Church Excellence.]

“The response to the Caskey Center for Church Excellence has been terrific,” New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley said. “… Students accepted into this program will be able to apply the scholarship to any undergraduate or graduate degree offered in any NOBTS classroom, extension center or online program. These ministers are the backbone of the SBC, and we are delighted to be able to serve them.”

Current research indicates that 92 percent of Louisiana SBC churches have an average attendance of less than 250. Seventy percent of Louisiana Baptist Convention churches have 100 or less in attendance. Those statistics are almost identical across the SBC.

For more details regarding the scholarship program, visit nobts.edu/caskeycenter.

The trustee executive committee also voted to adjust the seminary’s existing fully-online Master of Arts (apologetics) degree and to launch a new Master of Arts in Christian apologetics degree. The seminary’s existing Master of Arts degree in apologetics was first approved in October 2013.

The Master of Arts in apologetics degree is aimed at students who might consider pursuing a doctor of philosophy or more advanced research. The degree requires 50 credit hours, with courses spanning biblical, historical, theological and philosophical studies, 18 hours of apologetics classes, and a thesis.

The Master of Arts in Christian apologetics degree is geared more for ministry practitioners — pastors, student ministers, missionaries, evangelists or apologetics specialists. The degree requires 36 credit hours, with courses spanning biblical exposition, theological studies, a supervised apologetics ministry practicum and 21 hours of apologetics classes.

While only the Master of Arts in apologetics degree is fully online, both degrees may be earned with any combination of online courses, classes on the main campus, or extension center courses. Many conference-based classes are also available when paired with events offered by the Institute for Christian Apologetics at NOBTS.

“With the annual Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, the Defend the Faith conference, and other activities sponsored by the Institute for Christian Apologetics, NOBTS has become a go-to destination for students interested in cutting-edge Christian apologetics,” NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke said. “These two apologetics degrees further heighten what is already one of our strongest areas of study.”

While NOBTS is awaiting approval of the Master of Arts in Christian apologetics degree from the Association of Theological Schools (the seminary’s accrediting agency), students may immediately begin work on the degree.

Kelley said, “The ability to explain and defend our faith is a crucial skill for believers in today’s world. We are expanding our apologetics program with these two degrees for those who want an online degree or a classroom degree.”

Prior to its lunch meeting, executive committee members attended the dedication ceremony for the Doris Kelley Showers of Blessing Resource Center, named after Kelley’s late mother. The new resource center and seminary community center was built through designated gifts of two anonymous donors. The resource center will house the seminary homeschool network, which currently serves close to 100 families.

“Nurturing families is a very high priority at NOBTS,” Kelley said. “We are thrilled to dedicate the Doris Kelley Showers of Blessing Resource Center to address the needs of our homeschool families. Homeschooling one’s children at NOBTS just got easier with the opening of this facility.”

The executive committee heard a preliminary report from the president regarding plans for the school’s centennial celebration, set for the 2017-2018 academic year. Kelley also announced Jake Roudkovski, associate professor of evangelism, as the school’s new director of the doctor of ministry program. Mark Tolbert, the former doctor of ministry program director, now directs the Caskey Center for Church Excellence.

Kelley briefed the executive committee on the seminary’s archaeological work at the Tel Gezer water system in Israel. The dig has garnered international attention for making strides toward dating the water system, linked to the Bronze Age. To follow the progress of the dig, go to nobtsarchaeology.blogspot.com.