N.C.'s newest seminary is strictly biblical

In a corner of a Cary church, without any sign to draw visitors, a new seminary is taking root.

Its founder and president, the Rev. Stephen Davey, named it Shepherds Theological Seminary – and it's a title he takes literally. He wants students to be taught by “men who wear the fragrance of sheep,” by which he means, active church pastors.

Davey, of course, is one himself. He's the pastor of Colonial Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the Triangle. He founded the church 22 years ago as an independent Baptist church, unaffiliated with any Baptist denomination and grounded in a strict biblical interpretation of Christianity that he had engraved on the pulpit – Sola Scriptura, or the Scriptures alone.

Davey sees the church, which draws nearly 4,000 people each weekend, as the seminary's chief attraction. It's a laboratory for aspiring pastors who can study its workings and apprentice in its many ministries. The seminary recently earned “candidate status” from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. That means it's on track to be formally accredited within five years.

For Davey, it's a cause for celebration. Accreditation gives the seminary a gloss of respectability and means the degrees it grants will be recognized by other schools.

“There's real potential in this area for a conservative, Bible-based ministry training people for Christian leadership,” said Davey. “It's an open pasture land.”

Others disagree.

“Eastern North Carolina doesn't need another seminary,” Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, the older of the nation's two accrediting agencies.

North Carolina has nine seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. Five more are accredited by the Transnational Association, a smaller, more theologically conservative accrediting group.

But schools of theology are rarely started because of geographical need.

“Seminaries are founded because a church is growing, has energy and wants to embody that in a seminary,” said Aleshire.

That energy has spurred a modest bloom. In its first five years, Shepherds, which is governed independently of the church, has granted 13 degrees. This fall, Shepherds will enroll 60 degree-seeking students.

Shepherds' tuition – $175 for a credit hour – is competitive with its nearest theological rival – Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which charges Southern Baptist students about the same, and non-Southern Baptists twice as much, or $400 per credit hour.