Retiring SBC agency head lands in NC

Richard Land, retiring head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has been named fourth president of Southern Evangelical Seminary.

By Bob Allen

Richard Land, who last year announced plans to retire in October after 25 years as president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has been named president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, a non-denominational school near Charlotte, N.C., that specializes in Christian apologetics, answering arguments that reject belief in the Bible or God.

Land, who starts work July 1, said in a video his aim is to produce graduates “who will be the Green Berets and paratroopers of God’s army, and who will be used by him to win tremendous victories for Christ and his kingdom.”

richard landLand, 66, said after prayer and counsel from friends, he believes the post is God’s will for the next chapter of his ministry.

“Over the years, it has become increasingly clear to me that the way you spell evangelism, discipleship, missions and Christian education in the 21st century is ‘apologetics,’” Land said.

Land announced plans to retire as the Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for moral, public-policy and religious-liberty concerns last July, not long after the agency’s board of trustees reprimanded him for “hurtful, irresponsible and racially charged words” and plagiarism on a weekly radio program that trustees took off the air.

Trustees recently named Land’s successor. Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., takes office as new ERLC president June 1.

Elected in 1988, at age 42, Land was one of the first SBC agency heads chosen during the “conservative resurgence,” a leadership change in the nation’s second-largest faith group that began in 1979. Land steered the entity, then known as the Christian Life Commission, in a direction more conservative than his predecessors, embracing culture-war issues like opposition to abortion and homosexual rights.

Land served five terms with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and is widely quoted in media. In 2005, Time Magazine named him one of "The Twenty-five Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”

A press release said Southern Evangelical Seminary trustees consider Land to be “one of the leading Christian voices for cultural apologetics in America over the past quarter of a century.”

Southern Evangelical Seminary was founded in 1992 by former evangelist Ross Rhoads, at the time pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, and Norman Geisler, a long-time seminary professor and apologist who has written or co-authored more than 80 books.

Geisler, who served as president of SES from 1999 until 2006, called Land “an excellent choice” to lead the school.

“He is nationally known, conservative, and a strong defender of Christianity in the culture,” Geisler said in a statement. “He will be a great asset to SES.”

In addition to managing the seminary, Land will return to the classroom, beginning with the 2013 summer session in August. Land taught theology and church history at Criswell College and was vice president for academic affairs before taking a leave of absence in 1987 to serve as administrative assistant to Texas Gov. William Clements.

Accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Southern Evangelical Seminary adheres to a doctrinal statement that affirms the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments as “verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original text.”

“We believe in the special creation of the entire space-time universe and of every basic form of life in the six historic days of the Genesis creation record,” the statement says in part. “We also believe in the historicity of the biblical record, including the special creation of Adam and Eve as the literal progenitors of all people, the literal fall and resultant divine curse on the creation, the worldwide flood, and the origin of nations and diverse languages at the tower of Babel.”

Seminary programs include the Institute of Scientific Apologetics, “designed for those interested in increasing their knowledge and effectiveness in defending the faith scientifically,” and the Institute of Islamic Studies, which equips pastors, missionaries and laypersons “for apologetic and evangelistic ministry and outreach to Muslims around the world.”

Faculty members include William Dembski, a proponent of intelligent design who taught previously at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Baylor University.