In August 2008, Dallas Theological Seminary was presented a letter from an informal organization of evangelical churches in the greater Knoxville area. In the letter the churches requested that DTS consider extension education establishment in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The letter included the following signatories and church representatives:
- Tim Addis (Pastor, Friendship Baptist Church) www.myfriendshipchurch.com
- Joel Ammons (Pastor, Lakepoint Community Church) www.lakepointcommunitychurch.com
- Scott Cagle (Pastor, Northstar Church) www.northstarknox.com
- Kenny Crook (Pastor, Blount Community Church) www.blountchurch.org
- Rick Dunn (Pastor, Fellowship Evangelical Free Church) www.fefc.com
- Jeff Fuchs (Pastor, Blount Community Church) www.blountchurch.org
- Johnny Mazon (Pastor, Fellowship Bible Church) www.fbcknoxville.com
- Brandon Swoboda (Pastor, Fellowship Bible Church) www.fbcknoxville.com
- Hollie Miller (Pastor, Sevier Heights Baptist Church) www.sevierheights.org
- Sam Polson (Pastor, Westpark Baptist Church) www.westparkbaptist.org
- Chad Sparks (Pastor, Providence Church) www.providencechurch.com
- John Stone (Pastor, Berean Bible Church) www.bbcknoxville.org
According to many Knoxville churches, the reason for the contact was clear:
"For those of us committed to the spiritual transformation of people in East Tennessee, the lack of opportunity for post-graduate, evangelical, theological training has been detrimental. There are hundreds of graduates each year from the many colleges in our area who would be candidates for a seminary or extension. Too many times we have watched our best and brightest leaders-in-the-making move away to attend seminary, never to return home. Of course, it is God’s plan for many to sense God’s call to places far from home, but it is our belief that the people of our area, both believers and unbelievers, need well-equipped and qualified leaders that understand our culture and sense a calling to make disciples in their home. We further believe that a center (or extension or satellite) for theological training makes great sense in a region that takes great pride in its volunteer spirit. Indeed, Texas, among many other places in this world, has benefited from the selfless sacrifice of Tennesseans. This is no less true regarding spiritual missionary fervor."
Extension Consideration Request letter from Knoxville, TN churches
At the close of the letter, representatives from Dallas Theological Seminary were invited to Knoxville for the purpose of meeting several of the signatories, visiting church campuses, and gaining insight into the culture of eastern Tennessee. This event took place on Thursday, November 6th through Sunday, November 9th
On behalf of DTS, Dr. John Grassmick (VP for Academic Affairs, Academic Dean, Professor of New Testament) and Dr. Mark Yarbrough (VP for Communications, Associate Academic Dean, Assistant Professor of Bible Exposition), along with their wives, flew to Knoxville in response to this invitation. They met with various pastors and their wives for an informal gathering which included discussion and prayer. Specifically, on Friday evening (Nov. 7th), a dinner was held at Pierless Restaurant with approximately eighteen people in attendance. The churches represented at the dinner included Berean Bible Church, Fellowship Bible Church, Lakepoint Community Church, Northstar Church, Providence Church, Sevier Heights Baptist Church, and West Park Baptist Church. Following the meal, Pastor Chad Sparks of Providence Church provided an overview for the purpose of the gathering. In short, he summarized the letter previously submitted to DTS, and again emphasized the “need” for graduate-level theological education in eastern Tennessee. Following the initial presentation by Pastor Sparks, Drs. Grassmick and Yarbrough presented and interacted on the history, theological perspective, and identity of Dallas Theological Seminary. Time was also given towards the role of extension education (and its variety of offering types) in today's educational landscape. The evening concluded with a question and answer session and general discussion.
Prior to leaving, the decision was made to pursue the "Next Step" of this initiative.
Along with articulating the history of the dialog, the decision was made to create a web presence that provides information about DTS, explains the nature of an "Extension Site Education," makes available a customized FAQ section, and offers a "Survey" for those who desire to express interest and/or support of a potential Dallas Theological Seminary Knoxville Extension.