From the time of its founding (as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) in 1925, Palmer Theological Seminary has been difficult for people to categorize. In its early years, the Seminary was described as being “conservative, yet progressive.” By and large, this description remains accurate today.
As is the case with any academic community, one can find among students, faculty and staff vibrant discussions and varying perspectives. This takes place within a traditionally conservative theological framework, as reflected by the Seminary’s doctrinal basis.
The Seminary’s motto—The Whole Gospel for the Whole World through Whole Persons—captures Palmer’s distinctive values in the arena of theological education.
Palmer is committed to equipping whole persons to incorporate the whole Gospel into all the various contexts and relationships in which they are involved. We are concerned not only with the intellectual development of our students, but also with their personal, social, and spiritual development.
Commitment to the Poor and to Social Justice
“The Whole Gospel” refers to teaching and preaching that address not only the spiritual condition of human beings, but also the social and political structures of society, particularly as they affect those who are most vulnerable. As opposed to emphasizing only evangelism on the one hand or a “social Gospel” on the other, Palmer Seminary regards both evangelism and social justice as equal priorities for the church.
Much of the education that takes place in a seminary setting results not from the curriculum or course content but from the varying cultural and theological perspectives that find a voice. In this regard, though the Palmer Seminary community is not a large community, it has been described as “a microcosm of the world” because of the diversity that exists among faculty members, staff, and the student body. An education in a diverse environment enables students to expand their intellectual and spiritual horizons while preparing them for ministry in the real world and to “the whole world.”
Palmer’s diversity encompasses ethnicity, culture, denomination, age, and gender. Though a fairly small community, Palmer represents some 30 of the world’s nations, including Nigeria, South Africa, India, Belarus, Romania, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Myanmar, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Students in recent years have ranged in age from their early 20s to their early 80s. While American Baptists (23 percent) constitute the single largest denominational grouping among students at Palmer, other denominations are well represented. These include the National Baptist Convention, The United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), The African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of God in Christ, and the Mennonite Church. People find unity in a common mission
Integrating Knowledge, Ministry Skills, Spiritual Formation
As reflected in the Message from the Dean, the Palmer experience goes far beyond an academic education. It includes a high emphasis on the development of practical ministry skills and on the spiritual formation of students. Weekly chapel services, Days of Prayer, pot luck luncheons, soccer matches, barbecues, and many additional co-curricular activities combine to support students in the effort to find their place in and to affect the ethnically, culturally, politically, and theologically diverse world community in which they will minister.
All of the above values, commitments, and emphases work together to enable Palmer to provide for its students an experience that is both life-changing and unique.