In 2014, after moving from Rüschlikon to Prague just 19 years prior, the International Baptist Theological Seminary found itself on the verge of yet another move, this time back to western Europe where its story began. The move, announced after years of discussions, would bring IBTS to Amsterdam, housed in the former John Smyth Memorial Baptist Church on Amsterdam’s west side.
The move also brought on a revised name for the institution, the International Baptist Theological Study Centre, though it would still retain the IBTS acronym.
The institution would be led by an alumnus of Rüschlikon, Stuart Blythe. Under Blythe’s leadership, IBTS began a thriving partnership with Dutch Baptists and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam that continues to this day.
Blythe also helped to establish the place of IBTS in the academic life of Amsterdam, ushering in several cohorts of PhD students who would go on to receive their degrees from the VU Faculty of Religion and Theology. Blythe resigned his position in 2017, taking a professorship at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Taking his place in the interim was someone who had served IBTS faithfully in the past, David McMillan. McMillan held the organization steady until Mike Pears could come on board as the Director of IBTS. Pears steered the organization to become a true learning community, whose major components are the PhD research community and the Learning Network, which connects people from around the world with top academics to have conversations about relevant topics.
Whether through high-level academic research or the lively conversations in the Learning Network, today’s IBTS is centered on three areas: the mission of the church, Baptist identity, and practical theology. What sets IBTS apart in its approach to these areas is its twin commitment to a truly Baptist engagement with the world and the intentionally international context which it has created to do it.
IBTS’ Baptist (or baptistic) engagement is reflected in everything from its relationship with partners like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the European Baptist Federation, BMS World Mission, and the Baptist World Alliance to the many Baptists and baptistic researchers who form the IBTS learning community.
If its Baptist commitments make IBTS distinct, its international focus makes it truly unique. IBTS staff and students come from all over the world. Indeed, with apologies to the British Empire, the sun does not set on IBTS staff and students.
The real strength of this focus is seen most clearly at its annual Colloquium, held every January in Amsterdam. At Colloquium, staff and students gather to share their research, bringing their own histories, perspectives, and understandings to bear on a wide spectrum of research projects centered on mission, identity, and practice. Theology is always influenced by one’s context and considered as a whole, IBTS has a global context, which only serves to make the work of its students and staff stronger.
It would be short-sighted to focus solely on what happens in Amsterdam, since the impact of IBTS is felt far beyond its walls. In addition to pastors working with their congregations all over the world, there are students working in war zones, laboring for human rights in oppressive contexts, and consulting with leaders in Parliament.
Often, a student’s PhD research is drawn from or directly impacts the ministry they perform in their own context. Therefore, through their work with IBTS, the sharing of ideas at Colloquium, and the relationships formed with fellow students and staff, IBTS is having an impact far beyond its building in Amsterdam.
In recent years, the relevance of theology in general and Christian higher education in particular has been questioned. Do we need theology? Do we need theological schools? Do we need an international theological school?
With its many students doing front-line work all over the world, work that benefits from their investment at IBTS and IBTS’ investment in them, IBTS answers these questions with an emphatic “yes!”
Editor’s Note: Good Faith Media and IBTS (Amsterdam, Netherlands) are working on a partnership, across multiple media platforms, to provide diverse perspectives concerning global issues.