Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I’m delighted to have with me, Dr. Jason Allen, he serves as the fifth president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Kansas City, Missouri. Since coming to Midwestern Seminary, he has led the institution to become one of the largest and fastest growing seminaries in North America. In addition to his role as President, Dr. Allen serves as professor for preaching and pastoral ministry. He is the author of numerous books, including Letters to My Students, Volumes I and II, Succeeding at Seminary, and Turnaround: The Remarkable Story of an Institutional Transformation and the 10 Essential Principles and Practices that Made It Happen. Dr. Allen regularly posts essays on his website, jasonkallen.com, and hosts a weekly podcast, “Preaching & Preachers,” which can also be found at jasonkallen.com. He and his wife, Karen, are both from Mobile, Alabama, and have five children: Anne-Marie, Caroline, William, Alden, and Elizabeth. Dr. Allen, I’m so grateful that you’re here with me today. Welcome to Truth In Love.
Jason Allen: Delighted to be with you, Dale, and delighted to have you on the team here, serving at Midwestern Seminary, and, of course, proud of your leadership at ACBC as well.
Dale Johnson: Thank you, brother, and I’ll just say up front is such a joy to be here. The excitement on campus, the way the Lord has just shown favor and kindness to us. No doubt due to your leadership and commitment to Him as well in the way that you lead. I want to talk today about counseling for the church. Now I’m going to pull out this idea for the church. This is a mantra that you started even 10 years ago here at Midwestern Seminary, and I want you to just talk broadly about that vision. Many of our listeners may not be familiar with Midwestern, but seminary in general, as we think about this vision for the church, just explain a little bit about what you mean in your heart behind that.
Jason Allen: Yeah, thank you. It’s funny. I was asked that just in recent days kind of question was like where did that come from? And so, maybe I’ll tackle the question that way, and in so doing, bring in some theological, biblical, and even kind of conceptual arguments as to why. For the church, we’ve been talking about it for 10 years now and just celebrated by God’s grace my 10th year of service here. And really, since day one we’ve been talking about it, and for me, it really began autobiographical, I think. Over the years as I was serving in other institutional contexts, especially Southern Seminary in Louisville, while simultaneously serving as a pastor or teaching pastor-type roles in churches. And so, I just had this growing dual love for theological education and the local church and pastoral ministry. And so, as I was a young man in my late 20s and early 30s, and thinking about my future, I really thought I would be pastoring long-term, probably not serving in an institutional position, much less as seminary president. But I did have this growing love within me of both these very essential work, theological education, and local church ministry. And so, when the search committee here reached out to me in the May of 2012 and begin to talk with me about the institutional opening here. I begin to talk from day one with them about an institution to be committed to local church service, very much committed to training pastors, ministers, evangelists, counselors so forth for the local church, and again, that was autobiographical within me by way of my passions. But more importantly, I believe it’s biblical.
You look at places like Matthew 16 when Christ promised to build his church; you look at places like Ephesians 4 and how they get fleshed out. And then you look at places like the pastoral epistles. And frankly, you look at the totality of the New Testament, this centrality of the local church. And so, I believe an institution like Midwestern Seminary has a right to exist in as much as its existence helps the local church, strengthens the local church, and is devoted to the local church. So, we say things here, like, you know, we believe that Christ is building His church, and we will abide in His blessing if we are a part of strengthening the church and giving ourselves to local churches. And look, there are a lot of parachurch ministries floating around. I’m the president at Midwestern Seminary, you’re president at ACBC, and many of those parachurch ministries are healthy and helpful. A lot of them aren’t, and I argued even a parachurch ministry should assess its own right to exist based upon what it’s doing to actually strengthen the local church and to expand the gospel as it does.
So, it begin autobiographical, I believe it’s entirely biblical, and thirdly, I would say it’s also practically speaking the right place to be. What do I mean by that? well, in the ATS these days that the gold standard accrediting agencies for seminaries and divinity schools in North America. There are just over 300 institutions, and like 290 are so of those are facing plateaued or declining enrollments, or they have over the past five years. So to flip that assessment, only a handful of actually grown in the past five years, and so, my point is the vast majority of seminaries and divinity schools have an enrollment challenge, and they seek to remedy that by becoming a shopping mall. Offering a bazillion different degrees regarding a bazillion different programs, trying to collect sufficient students to cobble together an enrollment of sufficient students to pay the bills. And there’s a dilution of focus, dilution of emphases that make some institutions without, as Churchill would say, anything to the pudding, and so, practically speaking, we want to be clear about what we’re about, for the church. We want to be clear, not just in the messaging, but in the substance on campus, from who teaches what, to the conferences, to the workshops we have, the vibe of the place, etc. And in so doing, as we say knowingly, we are not going to appeal to everyone, but we’re okay with that. We are going to appeal to those who are animated about local church service, just like we are.
Dale Johnson: Now, for those of you who are listening, you want to know the truth of the matter. What Dr. Allen just shared with you is the reason that I came to Midwestern. We had a chat. I remember very vividly our first conversations, and you began to share that vision, and that is the heart that I share relative to the beauty of God’s plan for the local church. You guys know, even in biblical counseling, we talked about the beauty and necessity of the local church. ACBC’s vitality is only as good as the way in which we encourage the work that happens at the local church. And Dr. Allen, I think it’s wonderful to share that.
Now, we’re going to talk about ACBC even being here on the campus, which I think is outstanding, and we owe a debt of gratitude to you, but I want you to talk a little bit about some of those days. Not so detailed necessarily about conversations that you and I may have had but about even the curriculum change. You guys were in a place when you came here 10 years ago; you were at a place where you wanted to see alignment with this vision for the church and what it means to be for the church in every aspect. And even in the world of biblical counseling.
Jason Allen: Thank you, Dale, for the question. Delighted to unpack that. And it is an interesting story. It’s a sweet story, and I think it’s the right story as well. 10 years ago, we came we began to speak and very intentional ways about who we were for the church, but that has to get practical real quick, or it’s just hype. And so we begin to talk about how do we hire people that really beat in their hearts the same way we intend to beat as an institution, and how does it show up in the curriculum? So again, part of it is you hire the people who are churchmen. You have to do that. I mean, as they say, the faculty is the curriculum. But then you also need to ask very intentional questions about what does it means for New Testament studies, what does it mean for theology, apologetics, etc.
So, for instance, to be for the church means church history is not just a set of names and dates but is actually telling a story of God’s work to build and strengthen His church. New Testament studies isn’t just about historical backgrounds; it’s about teaching a generation of students to actually be able to exegete the text, to explain the text, and to apply the text to God’s people for the church to see. Apologetics isn’t just about crappy arguments; it’s about equipping pastors and ministers who can equip the people of God to answer the great compelling questions that this generation of inquires are asking, and so you can take that assessment and that work of application every discipline. Well, it has to get ultimately to the counseling room as well. It has to. And so, for us then of those early years, were asking the question. What does this mean for a counseling program? We had some very faithful people doing faithful work here, so this is not about, you know, bad people doing bad things, it’s about us trying to move our curriculum comprehensively in a way that we feel the best about what we are offering, what we are teaching, and the types of graduates we are producing to best serve the local church. And again, back to the fact, we are not trying to be all things to all people. We are not. This institution has been spending its energies towards local church service and a commitment that we made early and decisions that we subsequently made to reposition the counseling program to make sure that we are teaching students, men and women especially, not exclusively, but primarily to exercise their counseling work within the context of the local church.
And so, you know, there is, you know, Dale even better than I know, and your listeners will know the counseling world is a huge galaxy. While I’ve been doing a lot of different things, and we could talk for days about that and what’s helpful or unhelpful, what a generational peculiar what’s long-standing. There are a zillion ways to go with that. But for us, we said we’re going to knowingly let some things go, knowingly leave some things behind, knowingly focus on from a curriculum standpoint, from a faculty standpoint, and from an institutionally sponsorship standpoint, those things we invest, and those things we get behind and a strategic decision to teach and to promote biblical counseling. And although that means it is interesting we have this conversation because I found myself just last week with a friend in ministry who’s a dear brother, a name your listeners would know. And again, faithful expositor, and all the rest, and he was talking about seminary acts, and he said, I bumped into one of your students the other day —talking about a lady—and she’s a biblical counseling student there. And I said, now wait a minute, she’s not a biblical counseling student there. And he said, well, are like, maybe she’s a Christian counseling student. And I was kind of chiding him, I said, “Brother, you do not know how big these terms are that you’re throwing around here, and you are you are you are misidentifying that institution, that is not a biblical counseling institution, that is not a biblical counseling student.”
And so terms matter. And that’s a part of what we’re trying to do here, even as be really specific about not just what we do. But what we do, why we do what we do, and in a context where those terms come with a lot of weight and, in some cases, a lot of baggage and being very intentional about, not just in theory, but the actual concepts, the lectures, the books, the resources that we offer.
Dale Johnson: And this was no menial decision, but when you shift curriculum in this direction—this has been a hindrance for seminaries for years, for decades even. In my dissertation, I write specifically about how curriculum changed in the opposite direction to move away from a genuinely pastoral care, biblical sufficiency position into a much more Church growth movement, as we think about business efficiency and modern clinical theory and that sort of thing. And so, what you’re doing here and your goal in moving biblical counseling for the church is quite radical, to be honest with you, as you compared to other schools and what they’re doing and that sort of thing.
So talk a little bit about you did this just before but maybe unpack it a little further. In your mind, how does biblical counseling fit in this particular vision for the church? Even for our students, if you were talking to prospective students out there and to say, man, if you come here and study biblical counseling, how does it set their mind and affections toward the ministries of the local church?
Jason Allen: Yeah, let me do that and also, say, perhaps of word or two at the tactical level about that transition; that’ll be helpful. Again, we knew early on that we wanted to make this shift; we need to make this shift. We’re looking at the right timing to do it. And, you know, we frankly just had some other bigger fires to put out and make more major decisions to make in those early years, but again, it was a philosophical, a biblical, a convictional decision, but it’s also occasioned by other realities. And at that point, we had a licensure track program, okay. And I think, in general, the sustainability long-term of licensure track programs in evangelical institutions is in doubt. I mean, even if you’re okay with that philosophically, how sustainable that be when you have state legislatures across the country, for instance, out banning conversion therapy, outlawing and refusing licensure, and recognition, and credentialing for organizations or institutions that would teach, for instance, same-sex marriage is a lifestyle to be counseled out of not to be affirmed.
I think the accreditation standpoint as well, is an issue. I mean, the whole CCAP world is a complicated world, and I just think all of that is built upon sand, generationally. And I just think if you and I have this conversation, let’s say in the year 2040, what credentialing agency will actually be out there to affirm an evangelical organization that is trying to maintain an evangelical identity, a biblical conviction but play in that world of licensure and play in that world of CCAP accreditation. Does it make sense?
Dale Johnson: For sure. So, I’ll even take a step further. I appreciate even your awareness to think on that level because it is putting those who are pursuing licensure and also hold Christian convictions, putting them in a very difficult place. And what we’re going to see is the church then becomes the battleground because I want to counsel consistent with my Christian ethic, my Christian convictions, but the secular world is putting so much pressure and limiting my ability to do that as a quote-unquote licensed professional, and now those two worlds converge. And so, one of two things is going to happen where either we’re putting churches under potentiality for litigation, or we’re going to have to recede the way that we counsel from a Christian disposition. And so, I think exactly what you’re describing is the scenario that we find ourselves in right now. And so, I appreciate you unpacking that relative to prospective students and how they’ll think here by the things that they learn.
Now, I want to talk maybe a little bit more practically and I really appreciate your focus—for the church. I can say, as somebody who’s been here four years is not a mantra, just simply a mantra. It is something that in everything that we do we talk through that as a vision and legitimately thinking about how are the things that we’re doing affecting what’s happening on the ground at the local church level. I want you to talk about biblical counseling, at least as you’ve seen it here, and maybe its impact the Center for Biblical Counseling here at Midwestern, which is a training center of ACBC that’s housed here at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Talk a little bit about its impact on the campus, even the students that are here, and that sort of thing.
Jason Allen: Well, it’s made a huge impact. And the presence of ACBC has been immensely helpful to us. A, as we transition our program and transition program means you’re teaching out as we did successfully that’s been put to bed now several years of the old program, but you’re trying to populate a new program. We had a pretty rapid displacement, and it was a sweet displacement as we were teaching out the old, we began to receive and in large numbers and now in tremendous numbers of students, men and women, the undergraduate, the graduate, and yes the doctoral level coming to study biblical counseling. And again trying to connect a couple of different questions here and things we touched on into an answer. You know, at the very heart of things, we preferring that beyond even the accreditation issues we talked about, and the governmental interference that is coming, may well come and all of that. It’s just basic conventional decisions about why we exist as seminary and that local church focus and an understanding that the age throws a lot out there by way of what is wrong with me? What might be wrong with you? We live in the great therapeutic age, right? And this hyper-focus on self-actualization, self-realization, how I feel, what I want to feel, what I should be experiencing, this obsession with our current moment-by-moment emotional and psychological state, whereas in the vast history of humanity, people just got up in like you know, found nuts and fruits. You know, they got up and went to work. They got up and sell their own provision, and they weren’t in a position even to have these existential thoughts about why they exist and what they’re doing, what they want to be feeling, and why they’re feeling blue today, as opposed to yesterday and all of this.
So, this generational, cultural moment, there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of complexity, and a lot of that is being sorted out, needs to be sorted out. And so, we’re going back to the fact and say, you know, we see our calling as an institution and what we’re trying to do with pastors and ministers is a work of soul care, an acknowledgment that most of what ails men and women today is spiritual in nature, often theological in nature, and yet that can intersect with the emotions, it can intersect with a lot of things, and sometimes there can be medical things going on, of course, that can impact how one feels, but there is an uncanny correlation I can speak to personally in over 20 years local church ministry, and I know this sounds simplistic, but it’s true. The correlation is this—those people who are most often actively and faithfully involved in the life of the local church in the main are the least likely to need after-hours counseling by one of their ministers. I mean, that is just this strange, maybe not strange, but remarkable correlation. And so, coming full circle here in your question. And what we mean here is on the institution and what we’re seeing, what we delight in is people are coming, men and women, to study biblical counseling. It just has raised candidly the spiritual dynamic of the whole place. Because people are devoted to Scripture, reading of Scripture, teaching Scripture, here to learn Scripture, to apply Scripture, to counsel Scripture, and it has definitely had an elevating effect on the institution as a whole, and one that we’re delighted to see and proud to reflect on moments like this.
Dale Johnson: Well, I’m encouraged all the way around. I’ve only been here for four of the ten years, and I want to give you an opportunity to even talk a little bit about this. You just released a book, Turnaround: The Remarkable Story of an Institutional Transformation, telling the story of 10 years here at Midwestern Seminary. And not many days ago, we celebrated your 10-year anniversary and the release of this particular book. You went into describing your heart for what is to come at Midwestern. This is not directly needed specifically to biblical counseling, but this idea of the vision for the church and how we maintain our focus moving forward as an institution. I want you to talk about that because I think our listeners will be encouraged at what our aim is as we try and prepare men and women to go serve the Lord in different parts of the world, as they focus on serving the local church. So, talk a little bit about even from this point on moving forward your vision for the church.
Jason Allen: Thank you. God has been really kind. The past 10 years. We went from an institution of about 1,100 students to this year, we’ll finish with about 5,000, and not just 5,000 students, but 5,000 students from 50 states, all 50 and in over 60 countries and the sweetness of those data points to me it’s a reminder of God’s doing a global work using this institution to do it, and that’s profoundly encouraging. But with all of that growth and all the financial blessings given to us, an incredible faculty, and the amenities, all that comes together into one word, stewardship. What are we gonna do with it? And God has put on my heart, and our hearts are institutionally as we’ve updated our five-year strategic priorities to make the main priority ongoingly the main priority and that is mission faithfulness. We’re going to continue to talk about and be clear about why we exist and what we believe.
What do we believe? We cheerfully happily heretofore confessional statement Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the Danvers statement on biblical manhood and womanhood, the national statement on biblical sexuality and gender, and then, of course, the Chicago statement on biblical inerrancy, and I don’t hire faculty, Dale who like affirm those, and I want to hire faculty who advocate for those, and then we’re going to take those confessional commitments and continue to project for those under the rubric and with the mission of for the church, to project that for how many pastors, ministers, missionaries, yes, counselors are we producing by the year to go out into the churches, into the mission field and fulfill these roles that are so urgently needed.
Dale Johnson: Now, I think all of you know why I love being here at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and serving under the presidency of Dr. Jason Allen and his vision for the church. I want, on behalf of everybody at ACBC, Dr. Allen to take an opportunity to say thank you for providing a space for offices here for ACBC in Kansas City. I’ll mention to all of our listeners, as I do people when I go across the country, that if you’re ever in Kansas City, stopped by. We’d love to see you, love to see you in the office at ACBC; come by the Midwestern campus, see us and say hello. Come to the place that we’re recording right now in the Spurgeon Library; you will not regret your time here.
Dr. Allen, this has been great. I’ve really appreciated the time and over and over again, hearing your heart here; these things are not just things that you talk about, they are things that we see happening, even on the campus, in everything that we do, and I appreciate it.
Jason Allen: Thank you for the opportunity, and may the Lord continue to bless you and all of our brothers and sisters at ACBC.
Check out our Training Centers here.