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(RNS) In the first instance of its kind, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s schools, acknowledged it has admitted a Muslim to one of its doctoral programs.

 The BH Carroll Memorial Building Rotunda at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

The BH Carroll Memorial Building Rotunda at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas Photo courtesy of Michael-David Bradford.Mrbradford [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Ghassan Nagagreh, a Palestinian Muslim, recently completed his first year of doctoral studies at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Nagagreh, a Sunni Muslim, has worked with the seminary since 2008 as a volunteer on an archaeological site in Israel. He is pursuing a doctorate in archaeology.

“This young man asked about the Ph.D. program, and I told him we don’t normally admit non-born-again believers to the seminary, but there is no reason we can’t,” said Paige Patterson, Southwestern’s president.

Patterson said that as many as 80 people work on archaeological digs, and only about a quarter come from Southwestern, so it is not unusual to find students and volunteers from different schools and different faiths.

But Nagagreh’s presence at the school has touched off controversy within the SBC.

Wade Burleson, an Enid, Okla., pastor and former member of the SBC’s International Mission Board, posted a lengthy piece on his personal blog on Friday (May 16) accusing Patterson of ordering the administration office to admit Nagagreh in violation of the school’s charter.

Burleson, who describes himself as actively interfaith, said the issue has nothing to do with any particular person or faith but is instead a matter of principle.

“Not only do we have decisions being made secretly and by presidential fiat, we have not addressed the possible use of cooperative funds being used for the education of a practicing Muslim,” Burleson said.

Cooperative funds are collected as part of tithes and offerings at SBC churches and are used for various projects, including missions, relief work and seminary subsidies.

Nagagreh said he has had a very good experience at the seminary thus far and will return for his second year in the fall. Patterson said he agreed to admit Nagagreh because Nagagreh agreed to follow the seminary’s lifestyle covenant, which covers personal behavior such as smoking, drinking and sexual relations.

“I also thought it provided a chance for us to have an influence on his life,” Patterson said.

Meanwhile, Burleson or others may bring up the issue at the SBC’s annual convention June 10-11 in Baltimore.

“The floor of the convention is the worst place for this,” said Joel Rainey, executive director of the Mid-Maryland Baptist Association and adjunct professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

“First, we have an odd proclivity for making public arguments into arguments about people, and there is a young man whom God created at the center of this discussion,” he added. “Second, I don’t want our work with Muslims and other faith groups damaged by what might be said in the midst of this debate.”

YS/MG END HORTON

66 Comments

  1. The floor, out in the open is exactly where this transgression needs to be addressed. I’m tired of secrecy. If Page Patterson thought this was okay, we would have found out a out it long ago.

  2. Stephen M Young II

    “This young man asked about the Ph.D. program, and I told him we don’t normally admit non-born-again believers to the seminary, but there is no reason we can’t,” said Paige Patterson, Southwestern’s president.

    Yes there is a reason you can’t. A seminary is a place for preparing followers of Jesus to minister in Jesus name. Those who do not profess to follow Jesus and who do not produce fruit in keeping with that profession have NO BUSINESS in seminary, and our churches should not support this.

    • Then they should not be offering degrees in objective research fields like Archaeology. A field where strong religious faith is actually a detriment to serious work.

      They should just act like a Christian Madrassa and offer useless theology degrees.

    • Travis Abraham

      A seminary is a place… to plant a “semin”/seed in order for it to grow. Yes, most go there to prepare for vocational ministry, and sadly, many believers (or non-believers) use it as a resource to learn and, if applicable, grow in their faith.

      As a Christian businessman, I went their to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). And I use my knowledge on Sunday mornings. But how sad it would be if I only used it on Sundays, and only with believers. I use it in my business every day. I use it in my family. I use it in my private ponderings and time with Jesus. I use it with friends, and strangers, and in my surroundings, and on the internet. I wish more people went to seminary and had their lives changed like mine was, and IS BEING changed to this day!

      Feel free to see my posting below as well…

      • Obadiah Robert Robinson

        Actually Muslims reject Jesus as the Son of God the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Muslims reject the death of Jesus on the Cross.

      • Which teaching of Christ do muslims support ? Why are not muslims zealous about quelling radical muslims in their pursuit and allowing the barbarianism propel itself around the world, instilling themselves in every country and institution with the object and purpose of ?????
        It is easy to say what you have said, it is another thing to observe it happening. What I observe is that muslims are for anything but love and peace. What is the kingdom of heaven like? What does it take to enter the kingdom of heaven? If you are truly following the teachings of Christ you would not call yourself muslim but rather christ-like or Christian.

    • Since when did we become a people picking and choosing who can and who cannot hear the words of our Lord? The imagery that comes to mind when the woman was brought forth condemned…before Jesus and the “religious” leaders ready to kill. This was not a believer…she wasn’t even saved…and yet Jesus spared her. If this person is not a believer…who cares? Isn’t this type of person whom the word of God is for?

      Look at Jesus and his disciples. Were any of them “born-again” when Jesus was teaching them? Not at all. But they did come to a place where they did believe. How is it that we begin picking and choosing who can and who cannot know the deeper truths of God…especially if this person’s eyes could open to truth?

    • Travis Abraham

      Is the Bible/Truth or Seminary institution or Church or the SBC so weak as to give in to fear? What do they have to fear again?

      Is Jesus too big to be trampled on? I believe he came and showed he conquered all of that.

      (And yes, SBTS in Louisville is the largest SBC seminary, and like all of the others, it’s an amazing God-honoring establishment that would tell you it is imperfect.)

      More of my commentary in a post below.

      • Mr. Abraham, let meet clarify. Part of southern Baptist tithes subsidize his education. Also SWBTS has a document that they are transgressing by admitting a Muslim. It’s been reported that some Christians have been turned down because they aren’t teetotalists…but a Muslim is accepted?

        The issue isn’t so much that admitting a Muslim will change the institution. The issue is that SWBTS is being inconsistent and contradicting their covenant. If they want to admit Muslims then they need to change the documents and not accept the tithes to fund it.

        The “trampling” is an allusion to the book of Hebrews.

  3. Debbie Reynolds

    Nagagreh is now surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Instead of looking at this as a huge mistake, everyone should be praying for his eyes to be opened.

    • Marshall Wright

      Debbie, you are so right, isn’t it our love the is most important to reveal our faith. The amazing thing is that most proclaiming Muslims are much like most Christians and that is they are only socially in their faith. So what better way than to be in a seminary full of followers of Christ to have God reveal the truth to this man.

      I am very sad that our leaders would even think of putting this topic to a second thought, this reminds me of the pharisees and saducees from Jesus time. The cup looks good on the outside but inside is full of venom.

    • I’ll tell you right now that it’s not going to happen. The Muhammadan is incapable of love. All he knows is to fight. It’s in Jesus’ hands now. No Muslim theological school or seminary will admit non-Muslims. This is on a whole new level of absurd. Muslims have time and time again shown the world how they take advantage of Christian kindness because they feel entitled to it. After all, the best we can exist to these Muhammadans are dhimmis. As loving and kind as we are to Muslims, they will never stray from their Islamic faith of hate.

      • No Muslim theological school offers anything useful like Doctorates in Archaeology. If Baptists wanted their own answer to a Madrassa, they should not be offering courses non-Bible thumpers would be interested in.

      • Travis Abraham

        Jay, I love you bro, and I know where you’re coming from. My grandfather was Muslim. And yet he was led to Christ by missionaries 70 years ago, who did not believe what you do. And I praise God for my family’s legacy of following and promoting Christ.

        I hope you’ll change your tune. I know you say its in Jesus’ hands now. But I have to ask… who did Jesus instruct to be his hands and feet? And did it come with an asterisk demanding they were manicured and pedicured feet that go to clean places? Or hands and feet that were willing to be pierced like his were?

        We are not absolved of responsibility for the souls of the lost because of Jesus. Rather, it’s quite the opposite.

        For more of my perspective, see my posting below.

  4. Do you guys realize how foolish this is? Do you think you’re going to sway a Muslim’s mind if he’s been indoctrinated to hate Christians and have been fed apologetic material from the likes of Christian-haters like AHmed Deedat and Zakir Naik? He’s going to use his “Christian” credentials to attack the Christian faith in a few years. Just you wait and watch.

  5. Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for Baptists. For our good tradition, and our devotion to you above all else. Forgive those among us who are so silly and so small and so petty and so filled with malice that they would rather fuss about a Muslim taking a PhD at a Seminary than about the millions of victims of war. Guide such persons to repentance, and common sense. Your friend, Jim.

    • Islam is not a race. It is an ideology that has inspired hundreds of millions of Muslims to have animosity towards people of other faith. Before you go defending these people, just remember the cries of those Christians in the middle east who are forced out of their lands (these lands were Christian before the Islamic invasion and infestation), forced to convert, their property destroyed, their churches turned to mosques, and many executed for the crime of being a Christian.

      SBC and Christianity is down because of coward Christians like you who are silent when there is oppression and silent when the faith is under attack. LIberals, atheists, and Muslims have all one thing in common; their shared hatred of Christianity and measures that are taken to eradicate it from the public sphere. They have successfully convinced the masses that Christianity is the greatest evil known to man and are all allies of one another.

      Wake up and don’t let political correctness hinder you for speaking up. There is a war against Christianity and Christians are committed the greatest sin of silence..

      • Right, Islam is not a race. Its a religion. So Jim should have just called the ignorant hateful comments “bigoted”, instead of “racist”.

        Is there any way you can say something like
        “The Muhammadan is incapable of love. All he knows is to fight.”
        ..without sounding like a frothing at the mouth raging fool?

        People who think you can fight one form of religious fundamentalist bigotry with another form, are idiots of the highest order. It is the same lines as the fools who thought Hitler was a suitable alternative to Stalin. It made no difference, one brutal genocidal dictatorship was as good as another. The only thing Christian fundamentalist bigots do is validate the rhetoric of Islamic fundamentalist bigots in a feedback loop. One feeds off of the other.
        Jay, you are the best kind of supporter the Taliban and Al Queda can hope for.

        The more Christians embrace bigotry as the defining element of their religious belief, the more irrelevant they become.

      • Travis Abraham

        “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” ~Tertullian
        And we say this as if its a bad thing…

        We could take a lot from this:
        “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the TRUTH IN LOVE, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

        (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV, emphasis added)

        My Post is below.

  6. In theory, I love the concept of a Muslim student coming to a Christian Seminary, because he is going to be around the people of God, learn about the Christian faith, and be greatly challenged in his own beliefs. For him, I think this is a good thing, and I would most certainly want this young man to come to Christ, and praise God if he does!

    However, the matter at hand is one that is bigger than just this student. There is a precedent set here that has some red flags. A Seminary isn’t just to get a typical secular degree. It isn’t just for anyone. It’s for people that are called by God to be in ministry. Having been a seminary student, that was very clear in the application process. I had to give my testimony of faith, and have letters signed by my church, pastor, and other believers attesting to my faith and calling. This is pretty clear for all SBC Seminaries. It’s what churches give their cooperative money to, and it is used as a standard when churches are looking for pastors. If you break with that norm in this case, where does it end? What about accepting a mormon or jehovah’s witness? What about a hindu? What about someone who is in Wicca? There is nothing wrong with having a Baptist school that will accept anyone. Here in Louisiana, we have Louisiana College that is Baptist, and it’s open to anyone. But that is the way it is set up to be. That is the expectation. It isn’t a seminary. It’s a private college that anyone can go to. Our Seminaries aren’t. They are for training those who are called to minister the gospel. And, when someone hears that you have a degree from one of our colleges, that is what they expect to get: someone who has been trained for ministry.

    The other question at play here is how was the decision made? Was it brought before the board of trustees, or was it decided on just by the president? I think if you are going to break with the basic rules and premises of the school, that it is something that should be reviewed by a greater body than just one person to think about the ramifications of the decision.

    That being said, I’m sure this student is a great young man that has a seeking heart. My prayer is that his heart will be open to the gospel during the time he is at Southwestern. I hope that he will become a great man of God and lead many in his culture to CHrist. However, I also hope that the administration will reconsider allowing this to be an ongoing action.

    • Patterson said he agreed to admit Nagagreh because Nagagreh agreed to follow the seminary’s lifestyle covenant, which covers personal behavior such as smoking, drinking and sexual relations.

      Believing in Jesus Christ isn’t one of the seminary’s lifestyle covenants?!! Not only should this individual not be funded for his studies, he should not be attending at all because he has not made a profession of faith!

      “I also thought it provided a chance for us to have an influence on his life,” Patterson said.

      The church is already an influence as this individual has participated in the archaeological digs.

      Patterson doesn’t understand the fact that another student – a Christian – will be denied a spot because of the exception made to this Muslim. This is a slap in the face to all Christians. Make a profession of faith a requirement to his attendance or call it off for everyone considering the seminary.

      • I also found it very interesting that Patterson said he allowed Nagagreh to attend based on him conforming to the lifestyle covenant. Is “morality” (refraining from smoking, drinking, sex outside of marriage, etc.) a greater factor in acceptance to SWBTS than faith? It seems the answer is yes.

      • Travis Abraham

        Yeah, the seminary isn’t running out of room any time soon, sadly. That’d be a PHENOMENAL problem to have!

        More response from me below in my post.

    • Travis Abraham

      See my post below… You give good food for thought as well! Is there perhaps an alternate degree a non-believer could earn? Or some amendment to how it works?

    • I am an older follower of Christ, a great-grandmother, a Bible teacher and have taken numerous classes at a Bible college to be better prepared in ministry. 1. Rules are important and should be followed (or changed). Mr. Patterson would have involved others in decision.
      2. I have read and studied to some extent the Quran. One must understand where each portion was written, who was following, how many were following, and what context the portions were written in to more fully understand what was being said and why. Another important study is the private life of Mohammed. Unfortunately it is a sadly lived life, one I could never choose to follow. I believe many of his followers pick just the nice teachings while others believe in killing the unconverted in the name of jihad, taxing the unbelievers, etc. I have read all the fearful things. We should not be blind or dumb to evil.
      3. The bottom line for me is Jesus said to love. Love our neighbors, love our enemies. ‘Fear not, for I am with you.’ Pray for the lost to be won to eternal life through Jesus.
      It’s so easy to be drawn in to fear of being ‘overtaken’ by haters – but beware of becoming haters ourselves.
      Consider the words of the postings. Are we loving as Jesus taught?

      I think the young Muslim man could experience amazing Love from the light and salt he would be surrounded by at the seminary. Maybe, or not, he would decide to accept Jesus, but he would have more of a chance at life eternal, I believe, if he is welcomed with open arms.

      Love you all and praying for wisdom.

    • “A Seminary isn’t just to get a typical secular degree. It isn’t just for anyone. It’s for people that are called by God to be in ministry. ”

      This means that Seminary is open to ALL…not a few. Because every believer is called to ministry. No one is called to accept Jesus and thats it. All have a ministry. Seminary is good…but it really is supposed to be handled by men and women making disciples…and we are all called to do this. The Disciples did not go to Seminary to learn of God. Jesus invested His life into them in order to train them and ready them…and then commanded them to do the same. Seminary is good…but in reality this should be taking place by individual men and women investing into others and not some institution.

  7. A Southern Baptist seminary president making decisions in secret!!!??? I’m shocked – such things have never happened!! Oh wait, there is that whole other Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville that routinely does such things….never mind.

  8. Travis Abraham

    QUESTIONS FOR BELIEVERS — Are you governed by love or fear? What in this article are you afraid of? Is the danger overwhelming? Is it the money (the cooperative funds)? If so, I would be proud to support his education and be blessed in doing so, regardless of the outcome! Is it the potential “contamination” of an institution? I’m a sinner, dirty, filthy, and horrendous in my core; saved not by my worth but solely by Jesus who transforms. Without Christ ABIDING, there is no one worthy of anything short of damnation, neither me or you. Do you doubt that Truth and the Bible can stand against those who would oppose it? Then you must ask yourself if you truly believe it or not. Truth is truth.

    QUESTIONS FOR SEMINARY LEADERSHIP to consider — Should your bylaws perhaps be amended in some ways for those lost, yet seeking knowledge they may not be able to find in the average church? Or offer education paths that accommodate? If so, why? If not, why not? Is there ANY part of you that fears the financial ramifications of “devout members” who might withdraw their support? And if such threat occurred, would that threat cause you to bow to (fear) God or man? Would Christian seminarians/future pastors/future leaders lose or gain from the experience of interacting with those coming from outside of their faith in an academic setting?

    “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God ABIDES in him, and he in God. So we have come to KNOW and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have CONFIDENCE for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we IN THIS WORLD. There is NO FEAR in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

    (1 John 4:15-19 ESV, emphasis added)

  9. I have no problem with a Muslim student being admitted to the archaeology program, since it’s not specifically training for Christian ministry. With that being said, I do think it’s telling that, ultimately, he was admitted because his morals fell into line with conservative evangelical values, and that was ultimately considered more important than what he believes about Jesus.

  10. Travis, I am so thankful to hear about how G-d blessed your family and to hear your heart coming across. May the Holy One of Israel reveal Himself throughout the world to Muslims, Jewish people, and all who do not yet know Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).

  11. As a Muslim, I feel the seminary would have been correct had it refused entry to the student, since it has a right, as per its charter to administer only to christians. That being said, if it chooses to do otherwise, that is a matter for its board to deal with. As for the comment here wherein someone tried to correct a Musilm when she said that Muslims do believe in Jesus: the response to her was very incorrect and unseminarian. This is why academics allow for the different beliefs in Jesus. There is no ONE christian concept in Jesus. And to argue for one correct concept is wrong…and only shows how silly particularism and triumphalism is. There were other comments that were polite. That is how interaction…even when there are differing viewpoints…should be.

  12. FYI….we as Muslims DO believe in Jesus as a Great Prophet. No, we do not believe he is the son of God. God does not beget…nor is He begotten.

    I was raised in a Southern Baptist home….and it was the most racist and segregated religion I have EVER seen. Muslims are not “trained” to hate Christians. That is what the media WANTS you to think.
    I think this admission to the school is a chance to grow the interfaith beliefs!!
    Most of you really need to turn off the news….and get your info first hand! Go to the source… Seriously.

    • Actually what we need is to dump religion altogether.
      It is the source of division between people.

      Did you hear the one about…

      A Rabbi, an Imam and a Priest walked into a bar.
      They agreed they would act like Atheists for a couple of hours.
      Instead of praying each other to hell, they just laughed and had a good time.

  13. If all students have to fullfil requirements then this young man has to fullfil the same requirement. If the rules were bend for this young man..the administrator needs to be removed from this school. All atheist look at how disgusting Harvard has become on moral and education.

  14. Southwestern already had several Muslim students in their prison seminary program. it is disturbing that they would say this is the first since, well, that’s hardly true.

    chris

  15. I pray the young man is graciously saved by God through this. However we must be careful not to justify the means for a hypothetical ends. We do have an intent for our seminary’s, to train Christians for Christian ministry. So the intent and stated objective here was circumvented even if the intention was good. This action is in line with “evangelistic dating” which by Gods grace end up in a salvation in spite of wrong actions but should not be emulated nor applauded. What will be next? We have the rules in place for a reason, either change the rules or live by them

  16. Joshua Galindo

    Do we not have anymore faith in the power of God’s Word than this?
    If we stay engaged with this student would it not be more profitable
    than to run away from it? There was a story of another Muslim man that
    was converted through his friendship and the persistency of a Christian.

    • Joshua Galindo
      don’t you think it would have been at least a little more proper to ask the people in all the Baptist congregations FOR PERMISSION first,, since from the reply’s ive read it appears many southern Baptist thought there gifts to their Sem were going to train their
      own pastor’s. not a Muslim..

      • Who does this ministry belong to? I thought we were being led by the Spirit and our goals were to fulfill His commands. This isn’t “my” ministry…and it isn’t “yours” or even the Southern Baptists that spent money. This is and has always been our Lord’s. Man, reading all of these comments really depresses me. No wonder we have millions of churches across the USA and so many people are broken, hurting, homeless, helpless, and without hope…the hope “WE” profess that we carry. This is insane! If the Church doesn’t wake up and seek to put others ahead of us…what are we doing here? People do NOT need another good message…another pointing finger…another church. What they need is the Hope our Lord gives. We should be ashamed that this topic is even something to debate. There are more important things to do. Come on people….this thing is REAL. Jesus isn’t some fad or political message…He is LIFE!

  17. Seriously?You do realize that the Operations and Engineering departments have been run and staffed almost exclusively by Kuwaitis for the last 20 years. The only reason KAC aircraft are still flying is because of the many dedicated “locals” maintaining and flying them.

  18. interesting evidently southern Baptist seminary’s don’t exist to only train there own pastor’s like our church body’s seminary does..

    http://www.wls.wels.net/seminary/our-purpose-and-objectives

  19. IF the young Muslim man was admitted to study archeology, that is one thing. But from what I know about SWBTS, they have ‘issues’ with inclusion and with diversity. Can they, in all good conscience, be what they are, that is a fundamentalist evangelical institution, and not make an attempt to proselytize this young man?

    I say this:
    if a Christian entity cannot be respectful of a person’s faith, is it right for them to invite a young man into their midst and then treat him in a manner that disrespects the one thing he holds most dear?

    I say ‘no’ to this.
    Christian hospitality is a sacred duty of Catholic and Orthodox (and likely Anglican and Lutheran) communities of faith. But fundamentalists don’t respect other faiths. I don’t see how they can bring someone into their midst and also, at the same time, with integrity, treat that person with dignity and respect . . . it would be nice if they COULD, but fundamentalist preaching is what it is, and UNLESS things have changed and Christian hospitality is now accepted as a duty, then fundamentalists have no business bringing someone in and then abusing them because of their religion. It’s just wrong.

    Actually, some have wondered if all of this is really on the level, or if there is more to it than is public knowledge. If there is some secret agenda surrounding this SWBTS – Muslim student issue, then we will soon know what’s up.

    I don’t look for that, but personally, I think the whole thing sounds strange from the get-go. It doesn’t make sense. Fundamentalism is different from orthodox Christianity . . . the stridency, judgmentalism, and proselytizing alone would not allow for a successful experience for the young Muslim man.

    At the very least, having let him in, they now need to be respectful of him . . . but do they fully understand what this means?

    ?

  20. Admission of First Muslim Student to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Has Sparked Controversy In the SBC | BCNN1 WP

    why would a Seminary pastor want to do that? doesn’t he have enough problems to contend with out causing more? ..Sounds like he has activist judge syndrome..
    deciding to do it knowing most southern Baptist have good reason
    to want to spend seminary money on training their own pastor’s to pastor their
    own people..

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