Douglas A. Sweeney, who succeeded founding dean Timothy George in July 2019 after a nationwide search, was formally installed as dean of Samford’s Beeson Divinity School during its service of convocation, Jan. 28.
“This is a service that many of us will recall with fondness as long as we dwell on the earth as we gather for only the second time in the history of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School to install a new dean,” Samford President Andrew Westmoreland said in his opening remarks. “Dr. Sweeney, we have come to know you as one ideally prepared to provide wise visionary leadership for Beeson. Your commitment to the relevance and authority of Scripture, your strong record of scholarship, your devotion to equipping those called to ministry, your administrative expertise, and your engaging, charitable spirit will serve you and Samford well in the many years to come.”
During the installation service, Sweeney signed Beeson’s faculty covenant and George offered the prayer of installation. In his words of acceptance, Sweeney said he was profoundly grateful for the communion of the saints.
“This place has been built up over 31 years by a great lot of prayer, blood, sweat and tears, and financial support. I’m especially grateful today for our founding dean, Timothy George, who by the grace of God, of course, and the help of many others, built such a wonderful divinity school.”
Sweeney continued, “I ask you to join me in the race that is now set before us. Let us persevere faithfully. Let us look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. And let us pray together fervently for the presence and guidance of the Lord as we seek to follow him, his leadership, his guidance into the future.”
Earlier in the service, Sweeney’s longtime friend and former colleague Kevin J. Vanhoozer, research professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, gave the convocation and installation address.
Preaching from Philippians 1:27-2:3 with a message entitled, “A Wisdom Worthy of the Gospel,” Vanhoozer said seminaries are first and foremost places where one comes to learn Christ, who is the “wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
“To learn Christ means more than learning about him. It means becoming Christlike: delighting in and doing God’s will, and thereby prospering in all that one does,” he said. “Theological education must do more than fill the mind; it must shape the heart.”
This kind of wisdom, Vanhoozer said, “requires humility for the sake of unity.” For seminaries like Beeson, then, to aspire to this kind of wisdom, he suggested three actions: get understanding, give understanding and be understanding.
“Beeson is already an exemplary model of a school that gives understanding, thanks in large part to its founding dean, Timothy George. I’m thinking particularly of his essay, ‘Why I am an Evangelical and a Baptist,’ where he makes clear how one can affirm one’s denominational differences as things that distinguish but need not divide us from other Christians, things that may actually be gifts to the one catholic church,” he said. “It is a blessing to have one’s denominational differences understood in these terms. I encourage you to grow further into your identity as a school that gives understanding. Be more Beeson.”
Finally, to be understanding one must put others before himself or herself as Paul writes in Philippians 2:3, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
“My prayer for Beeson is that you will grow further into your unique identity as a learning community united in your intent to understand God truly, not least by listening not only to those who belong to your own particular disciplinary or denominational tribe, but to the whole communion of saints and scholars, past and present, who profess and practice the gospel,” he said. “May others say of Beeson, ‘See how they understand one another.’”
Watch Vanhoozer’s entire address on Beeson’s YouTube channel.