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Arab Baptist Theological Seminary 60th Anniversary Virtual Celebration Report

The Arab Baptist Theological Seminary’s 60th Anniversary is an opportunity to remember God’s faithfulness through many decades of fruitful ministry. A vision “to see God glorified, people reconciled, and communities restored through the Church in the Arab world” daily motivates this dynamic community of students, staff, and partners to minister God’s kingdom through innovative theological education and engaging programs. On November 10 and 12, ABTS hosted a 60th Anniversary Virtual Celebration to reflect on God’s grand mission for his people and to share the ways in which ABTS is engaging in the redemptive work of Christ within this region and throughout the world.

Missed the live stream of the ABTS 60th Anniversary Virtual Celebration? Click here to view a recording of the event!

ABTS 60th Anniversary Virtual Celebration Report

After a welcome by ABTS Director of Partnerships Loulwa El Maalouf, Chief Academic Officer Martin Accad sets the stage for the event by discussing the educational curriculum design shift implemented in recent history. Starting in 2009, the theology program moved from a traditional linear model to an integrated approach. The change innovated the way ABTS’s offered theological education by applying nuanced, holistic methods that target the formation of the whole person. This interdisciplinary curriculum provides the framework for the 60th Anniversary Virtual Celebration as teaching faculty members explore the core values and rationale shaping ABTS’s instruction. Presentations speak to the realities of the Middle East and North Africa by dialoguing on matters of biblical faith through three primary dimensions: 1) God’s nature, character and mission in the world, 2) the Church’s witness in complex cultural, historical and religious contexts, and 3) personhood development and servant leadership. Together these sessions provide insight into ABTS’s commitment to provide engaging theolgocial education to students in the Arab world.

In the first presentation, Walid Zailaa, Emad Botros, and Nabil Habiby address fundamental questions concerning God’s nature, character and mission in the world. By surveying the breadth of scripture, they demonstrate how the Old and New Testaments harmoniously declare God’s graciousness and concern for all peoples. Serious Bible teaching requires critical analysis of scripture across its varied literary styles, and a faithful reading of the text reveals a singular message of God’s hope and truth. Our knowledge of God is rooted in his self-emptying love for humanity and his desire to transform the human condition through the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Scripture in its entirety is an invitation to be part of God’s mission to bless all people as it points to the assurance of God’s promise to bring all things to ultimate fulfillment. These foundational truths of the Bible permeate ABTS’s thought and practice.

Next, Wes Watkins, Caleb Hutcherson and Martin Accad peer through the lens of Community to discuss ABTS’s approach to equipping students for witness within multifaceted social, cultural and religious contexts. Central to this element of the education is a holistic understanding of salvation as a renewed humanity reconciled in its relationship to God and to each other. The implications of this illuminating concept of salvation is examined in the areas of cultural studies, historical theology, and Islamic studies. Students are challenged to form thoughtful, nuanced postures towards the world around them, especially those of other faiths, so that they can serve the Church in effective ways. This is important for any seminary education, and realities of the Arab World make investigations into culture, society, history, and Islam particularly compelling. Addressing such complex topics is challenging -it requires a willingness to probe controversial issues- but any theological program seeking to be relevant and fruitful must wrestle with heavy issues while maintaining steadfast sight on the person of Jesus Christ and the manifestation of the kingdom.

Before the third faculty conversation, Wissam Nasrallah, COO at the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, joins the anniversary event to share a brief analysis of Middle Eastern political, historical and economic trends of the past 60 years. From the seminary’s founding in 1960 to the present day, the region remains a precarious context as the Arab Church considers its place in society and the nature of its presence during periods of change.

In the final conversation Bassem Melki, Smyrna Khalaf and Abed El Kareem Zien El Dien share about the personal journey towards developing the Self and growing in servant-leadership. To cultivate theolgocial maturity and personal formation, a seminary must pair theology with the social sciences in ways that provide conceptual tools for understanding the nuances of human identity. Students are nurtured to develop strong senses of who they are at their core being and in relation to others. For ABTS, this aspect of theological education is particularly important and complex; students come from diverse national, religious, and cultural backgrounds and minister within complex- and sometimes precarious- contexts. Such challenging realities only increase the need for thorough examination of personhood development and interpersonal dynamics. Oftentimes, the greatest obstacle to reaching human potential can be one’s own self, but everyone is a living blessing when they operate out of a high level of self-awareness and a deep sense of security in their God-designed uniqueness. ABTS engages in personal formation to strengthen students’ pastoral effectiveness, and this comes from helping individuals grow in the knowledge of who they are in Christ.

After journeying through the various dimensions of ABTS’s values and beliefs, Nabil Costa, CEO at the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, shares how the family of LSESD ministries strengthen the witness of the local church and serve the community.

ABTS President Elie Haddad concludes the celebration by discussing ABTS’s future. 2020 has proven both a milestone year and a transitional moment for the seminary as it embarked on a strategic shift in its educational delivery method. These developments proceed from a commitment to continually innovate programs to the highest of levels of quality, accessibility, and effectiveness for the Church in the Arab world.  As crises continue to impact life at all levels, the seminary aims to further equip believers to respond to mounting cases of human need. Additionally, plans are in place to elevate ABTS’s scholarly capacities as it grows academic and research programs to create a hub for theological learning and investigation in the region.

60 years has provided unequivocal testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness to ABTS. Though the road ahead is not easy, it is hopeful as God continues to direct this faith-filled and missional community towards opportunities to participate in Christ’s work of the gospel.

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