History and Affiliations

Central Seminary: A Brief History

In 1900 no Baptist seminary existed west of the Mississippi River. Rev. Evan B. Meredith, missionary secretary of the Kansas Baptist State Convention, gathered Baptist leaders to consider the possibility of establishing a seminary. A committed Baptist, Joanna Barber Lovelace, pledged $2,000 to the new school, sharing part of the inheritance she received from her first husband, Merrick K. Barber.

On August 14, 1901, a mansion overlooking the Missouri and Kansas rivers was purchased, and the Fowler mansion became the seminary’s first building. Three days later twelve men were elected to serve as the board of directors, and on August 27, the board submitted the charter for the Kansas City Baptist Theological Seminary to the Kansas Secretary of State. In 1941, the seminary’s name was changed to Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

The seminary’s first charter stated its purpose as to provide “for the education and training of ministers of the gospel, missionaries and teachers to the end that men may be saved through the presentation of the truth revealed in God’s word.” The school was now ready to develop a course of study, elect a faculty, and recruit students.

On opening day, October 21, 1902, the seminary had four faculty members and six enrolled students. There was no library, no beds for students, and no cash. Despite these limitations, the seminary grew, and by the next fall, forty-five students were enrolled.

By 1903, the seminary had expanded its reach, welcoming students of other denominational backgrounds, and by 1920, the school extended its influence beyond the border of the United States with students from eleven countries having enrolled in classes.

Women were welcomed as students in 1909, and four years later a Women’s Training School was opened at the seminary. Enrollment grew rapidly, with thirty-one women attending in 1924. Ninety years later, in 2014, Central began the Women’s Leadership Initiative, a Master of Divinity degree program focused on resourcing women called to ministry.

In 1955, Central formed a relationship with Myanmar Institute of Theology, which at the time was known as Burma Seminary. A joint agreement opened the way for the Bachelor of Theology to be awarded to qualified MIT graduates. In the 1960s, political conditions in Myanmar forced termination of the agreement. But throughout the remainder of the twentieth century Central hosted Myanmar scholars in its Missionary in Residence program and provided scholarships for students from Myanmar. In 2009, Central and MIT renewed and strengthened their cooperative work by creating a shared Doctor of Ministry degree program that continues to the present.

Education innovation became part of Central’s DNA in the late twentieth century. In 1989, a pilot program for long distance learning was created, the first online classes were added as a means of educational delivery in 1999, and the Association of Theological Schools approved Central’s request to offer a fully online Master of Divinity degree in February 2016.

Central throughout its history has experienced many financial challenges, perhaps the most significant in 2005, when the seminary had to declare financial exigency, released four of its twelve full-time faculty members, and cut eight staff members. The next year, the seminary sold its property in Kansas City and moved to its current location in Shawnee, Kansas.

In 2011, Central established a Korean language program and added sites in California, Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington state to accommodate learning of the growing Korean student population. In the past ten years of this program, over 1,000 students have been admitted. In 2020, Central launched a partnership with Calvin University in South Korea, establishing a Doctor of Ministry degree program.

Central now offers eight programs: the Diploma in Christian Formation, the Diploma in Theological Studies, the Master of Arts in Missional Church Studies, the Master of Arts in Counseling, the Master of Christian Care and Counseling, the Master of Arts (Theological Studies) degree, the Master of Divinity degree, and the Doctor of Ministry degree. Approximately 70% of the seminary’s students are of Asian heritage. Today, Central attracts a diverse and dynamic group of students who are preparing their own unique and imaginative ministries in congregational settings, chaplaincy, counseling, education, and community and non-profit leadership.

Baptist-founded and affiliated

Central Seminary was founded by Kansas Baptists leaders in 1901. The seminary continues to be closely affiliated with the American Baptist Churches-USA and with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. While Central is historically Baptist, our seminary is ecumenical. Students from many different faith traditions find Central a comfortable and welcoming environment in which to study.

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