In 2021, Berkeley School of Theology (BST) will celebrate its 150th anniversary. As a charter member of the Graduate Theological Union (1962), BST was founded in 1871 and remains at the center of Baptist and ecumenical theological education in the far west of the United States. The seminary is affiliated with American Baptist Churches in the United States (ABCUSA). Prominent American Baptist leaders in America include the founding father of Rhode Island, Roger Williams; businessman, John D. Rockefeller and educator, Laura Spelman Rockefeller; social gospel theologian, Walter Rauschenbusch; U.S. Presidents Warren Harding and Harry Truman; Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.; and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (BST Board member).Though steeped in the historic “free church” heritage, BST admits students from a variety of denominational and religious traditions here in the U.S. and around the world.
In the early 1840’s, while California was still a part of Mexico, the Baptist Home Missions Society (BHMS) sent its first mission-workers to the Bay Area with the specific mandate to inaugurate educational institutions. Those early dreams were waylaid until 1863 when the first educational convention of the new Baptist association was held in San Francisco. Berkeley School of Theology traces its lineage to this visionary spirit of BHMS that was also establishing Baptist educational institutions for men and women freed from slavery and Native Americans seeking education. Colleges like Morehouse, Spelman, Ottawa, and Bacone College, along with Berkeley School of Theology, were all established by BHMS in the spirit of liberty and justice for all. Indeed, an early president of Berkeley School of Theology was one of four ministers to preach at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, while another Baptist educator would soon become the eighth president of UC Berkeley just down the road. The Sather Gate and land-mark Campanile (bell-tower) at the heart of the UC Berkeley campus speak to Baptist philanthropy, leadership and commitment to higher education in Northern California and at Berkeley School of Theology.
Berkeley School of Theology was chartered in 1871 as California College. The pioneering and innovative spirit of its founders has guided it through a series of transformations and name changes throughout its 150-year history. As one of California’s earliest colleges, the school was first located in Vacaville and then moved to Oakland in 1887. In 1912, California College relocated to Berkeley, changing its name to Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (BBDS). Three years later this school merged with the Pacific Coast Baptist Theological Seminary, which had begun instruction in 1890 at the First Baptist Church of Oakland and had moved to Berkeley in 1904. For the next fifty-three years (1915-1968), the school carried the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School name, even as it merged once again with California Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in Southern California. CBTS had been founded in 1944 at Temple Baptist Church in Los Angeles, later moving to Covina in 1951. In 1968, the new two-campus institution was renamed American Baptist Seminary of the West. Not long thereafter, the Southern California CBTS faculty joined the faculty in Berkeley (1974) where, together, they could share in the resources of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU). In December of 2019, the Board of ABSW, after a ten-year process of study and deliberation, changed the name of the institution to Berkeley School of Theology, to reflect its expansive mission.
Today, as a founding member of the GTU, Berkeley School of Theology offers its students a myriad of resources through the largest partnership of seminaries and graduate schools in the United States. BST students may take advantage of the strength of its historic Baptist heritage as well as interdisciplinary religious thought, study, and practice through cross-registration at other GTU seminaries. In addition, BST students have access to one of the finest theological libraries in the world, an uncommonly large faculty of distinguished scholars, and the resources of the University of California, Berkeley. Through the GTU, students can pursue BST degrees as well as the Ph.D., and M.A.