Discussions concerning the need for Baptist graduate theological study began at the 1955 Orient Missions Conference sponsored by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in Hong Kong. At the 1957 Orient Missions Conference, a Continuation Committee was formed for the purpose of investigating ways and means of setting up a program of graduate theological education in Asia. A meeting of eight Baptist Seminaries in the orient was called for April, 1959, at which time definite steps were taken to accomplish this objective. On April 21, 1959, a Board of Trustees was organized and a Preparatory Committee was set up to make specific plans for beginning a graduate seminary.
At the next meeting of the Board held in Baguio, Philippines, in November of 1959, a Constitution and By-Laws were adopted. The trustees represented the eight cooperating Baptist seminaries in Asia who were co-sponsors of the school along with the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Teaching branches were approved for the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan, and administrative offices were established in Hong Kong. There were nine teaching branches: Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia-Singapore-Thailand. The last four of these were approved at the 1990 Trustees’ Meeting in Seoul, Korea. The administrative offices are located at the Philippine Branch. Since the partnership with the Foreign Mission Board is being dissolved, the Malaysia teaching branch withdrew from the consortium in 1999. The headquarters office was then moved back to Hong Kong in 2003. The Japan Baptist Theological Seminary, Yokohama, Japan, was approved as a partner school of ABGTS at the May 2004 ABGTS Executive Committee meeting held in Fukuoka, Japan.
Five students were admitted to the Master of Theology course in September of 1960, three in the Taiwan Branch and two in the Hong Kong Branch. The number of students has never been large but the quality of work has been consistently high and nearly all the graduates are currently active in the Christian ministry in Asia. The theses and dissertations produced by these students have made a significant contribution to indigenous theological thought in Asia.
After several years of discussion and preparation, the Trustees voted in June, 1977, to establish a Doctor of Ministry Program at the Philippine Branch. The course was designed to provide advanced training for both theological professors and persons engaged in church and institutional ministries. Three students began study in this program in January 1978. Not only was this the first Doctor of Ministry program to be sponsored by an Asian education body; it was the first theological doctorate to be offered by an institution supported by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention anywhere in the world. The Doctor of Sacred Theology and Master of Theological Studies degrees were added in 1982. At the August 12, 1996 Board of Trustees’ meeting, the Doctor of Sacred Theology was changed to Doctor of Theology and at the same time the Doctor of Missiology and the Doctor Religious Education were added as new degrees.
There have been seven Presidents of the seminary to date; Dr. James D. Belote (1959-1964); Dr. W. Carl Hunker (1965-1977); Dr. Grover F. Tyner, Jr. (1977-1987); Dr. George R. Wilson, Jr. (1987-1993), and Dr. Chow Lien-Hwa (1994-2006; Acting President July 2009). Dr. Lilian Lim (2005-2009). Serving as president at present is Dr. Graham Walker, Jr. who was elected by the Board in June 2012. Those who have served as Deans are Dr. Chow Lien Hwa (1959-1971), Dr. Carter Morgan (Acting Dean, 1966-1971 and Dean, 1971-1982), Dr. Albert W. Gammage, Jr. (1982-1994), Dr. Graham B. Walker, Jr (1994-1999), Dr. Tereso C. Casiño was elected as the second Asian Dean in August 1999. His term expired in September 2002. Elected in August 2002 is Dr. Stephen Tam. He served until July 2009. Dr. Lizette F. Knight (June 15, 2009-June 16, 2012). Consequently, the Board of Trustees during their June 16, 2012 meeting in Taiwan appointed Dr. Honorina Lacquian as the new Dean.
By 1999, six of the partner school presidents were ABGTS graduates. However, policies and plans by the Southern Baptist Convention culminated its severing of ties with ABGTS. This marked the start of a new era where ABGTS would be led by Asians for Asians, then for the world. ABGTS found a new covenant partner in Mercer University, Macon, Georgia, providing partial financial support yet allowing the Seminary total freedom in electing officers and charting her own future.