New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was founded in 1917 by an act of the Southern Baptist Convention at their annual meeting that year in New Orleans. Originally named "Baptist Bible Institute," New Orleans Seminary was the first theological institution to be created by direct action of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was originally created as an undergraduate institution modeled after Moody Bible Institute. Gradually, the school began to move toward graduate level training, and in 1946 the Convention renamed the institution "New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary."
The school was the fulfillment of a century-old dream of Baptists to establish a missionary training school in New Orleans as a gateway to Latin America, and as a mission center in the ungodly city of New Orleans. In 1914, P. I. Lipsey, editor of the Mississippi Baptist Record, wrote an impassioned editorial favoring the creation of a theological school in New Orleans: "A seminary (in New Orleans) would plant the Baptist cause in this city in a way that would immediately command the attention and the respect of all. It would be planting the siege guns at the enemies’ gates.”
Baptist Bible Institute opened its first session in October 1918 under the leadership of Byron H. DeMent, who served as president of the BBI from 1917 to 1928. “The Baptist Bible Institute is preeminently a child of providence and prayer,” DeMent said at his inauguration. Since that day, New Orleans Seminary has been known as “The School of Providence and Prayer.”
Others who have served as president of the school are William W. Hamilton Sr. (1928-42); Duke K. McCall (1943-46); Roland Q. Leavell (1946-58); H. Leo Eddleman (1959-70); Grady C. Cothen (1970-74); and Landrum P. Leavell II, nephew of Roland Leavell, (1974-95). On February 23, 1996, Dr. Charles S. “Chuck” Kelley, Jr., of Beaumont, Texas, was elected unanimously as the seminary’s eighth president. Prior to his election he had served at the seminary for 13 years as the Roland Q. Leavell Professor of Evangelism and most recently as the director of the Seminary’s Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health. From its beginning until 1953, the school was located at 1220 Washington Avenue, in the heart of the Garden District of residential New Orleans. The current campus, at 3939 Gentilly Boulevard was purchased in 1947. The landmark entrance gates and fence from the Garden District mansion now are located on the front block of the Gentilly campus. The current property, once a 75-acre pecan orchard, has been transformed into a beautiful campus with more than 100 buildings. More than 20,000 men and women have prepared for ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.