Mercer’s McAfee is Creating a Fresh Culture for Theological Learning
“Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words,” St. Francis of Assisi said. At McAfee’s School of Theology 2018 Founder’s Day, Interim Dean, Greg DeLoach, reminded us of the many ways McAfee’s alumni preach. “These bears preach,” DeLoach said to Cecil B. Davis Hall, full of faculty, alumni, students, and visitors.
McAfee faculty is speaking in churches, taking students around the world for class, publishing incredible amounts of research, and presiding at the American Academy of Religion. McAfee alumni have served in ministerial roles on all seven continents, are running successful and entrepreneurial non-profit organizations, serve in the military as chaplains and lawyers, and are continuing to serve congregations across the nation.
This year the new class of first year students come from multiple states, representing recent college graduates, second career adults, and one college professor. There are two PhDs, one EdD, and one PharmD in the first year class alone.
The Founders Day address, was delivered by Dr. David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life. He began by reminded all those gathered of the context out of which McAfee was born. McAfee was founded in 1995-1996 to give students an environment that was not teaching the new Southern Baptist Convention’s ideas. McAfee would use the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message statement that focuses on making Jesus the center of biblical interpretation. “I would suggest that by now, progressive Baptist Christian ethical tradition is one of the most notable characteristics of who we have become at McAfee,” Gushee said.
“New frontiers are coming into view. One of these has to do with the controversial issue of LGBTQ inclusion in our school and in our churches,” Gushee said. “Over the years, by God’s providence, McAfee has evolved. Now over half of our students are African-American. We also have been blessed with Afro-Caribbean, Hispanic, Asian, Asian-American, and many other kinds of students.”
Recently, Mercer’s Center for Theology and Public Life which is housed at McAfee, received a generous donation from the family of the late ethicst Glen Stassen. Stassen, who passed away in 2014, was a Baptist theologian and the Executive Director of the Justice and Peacemaking Initiative at Fuller Seminary. He was also Gushee’s close professor, mentor, and friend.
Stassen used his leadership role at Fuller to help those with less power at the end of his career; people of color and of the LGBTQ community that McAfee is reaching out to with open arms. “This building of a new shared culture is one of the things that we are beginning to learn how to do at McAfee,” Gushee said. “It will be the project of the next generation, which we must all undertake together. It is hard work. But it is hard to imagine any other viable future for a theological seminary in Atlanta in the middle of the 21st century.”
Part of the gift the center received from the Stassen family will fund an annual scholarship for an entering ethics student at McAfee. The first recipient of the Stassen Scholarship was recognized at Founder’s Day. “For me this honor confirmed God was calling me here for a reason,” Ian Madden, the first year Stassen Scholarship recipient said. “But I think the scholarship demonstrates that McAfee is all about-empowering us to find our calling, and God, in an intentional, individualized way.”
With alumni serving in churches nationally and across the world, students from all over the states with different backgrounds, and a community with diverse beliefs, McAfee is creating a fresh culture for theological learning. Mercer University’s president William Underwood will say, “any day is a good day to be the bear.” At the McAfee School of Theology of Mercer it is no different, and these bears preach!