Southern Evangelical Seminary was co-founded in 1992 by Ross Rhoads, former evangelist and then Pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, NC, and Norman Geisler, long-time Seminary professor and apologist. Pastor Rhoads’ burden for evangelism and Professor Geisler’s concern to defend the historic Christian Faith combined in the two-fold vision of the seminary to evangelize the world and to defend the historic Christian Faith. SES was officially incorporated in the State of North Carolina on January 6, 1992.
A feasibility study prepared by Dr. Geisler was presented to and approved by the Calvary Elders on February 24, 1992. The agreement with the church included the acceptance of its doctrinal statement and involved a fraternal and supportive relationship between the two organizations. However, both entities agreed to remain legally and economically independent and autonomous. Ross Rhoads was appointed as the first President of the Seminary and Norman Geisler was the first Dean.
By May 4, 1992 SES had obtained permission from the State of North Carolina to offer a Seminary program with degrees, as provided for under North Carolina General Statutes Section (G.S.) 116-15 (d). Preparation began to develop a faculty, catalog, and library and the first classes began in September of 1992. The Seminary grew rapidly, attracting students from all over the United States and several other countries; from the beginning it attracted national attention by its unique program in evangelism and classical apologetics.
In 1995 the first graduate received his degree. By late summer of 1997 the Seminary moved to McKee Road in Charlotte to property graciously provided by McKee Road Baptist Church.
In 1999 Dr. Norman Geisler was appointed President of the Seminary. Also in 1999, SES was accepted as a member organization of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), certifying that it has met all standards of financial integrity and Christian ethics. On March 2, 2001 SES was granted accreditation by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), a national accrediting association recognized by the United States government. That same year the Seminary started the Doctor of Ministry Program.
In 2003 SES completed the building of its own facility on a ten and one-half acre lot located on Tilley Morris Road in Matthews, NC. By the fall of 2004 Southern Evangelical Bible College was established to offer students the opportunity to complete an undergraduate degree. In 2006 apologist and evangelist Alex McFarland was inaugurated as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary.
The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree was approved by TRACS in 2007. In the spring of 2010 SES was approved to offer the Master of Theology (Th.M.) as a four year academic degree.
After Alex McFarland’s tenure as president, Bob Westra, the then Chairman of the Board of Trustees, served as the interim president. In 2013, after a long and distinguished career as the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, Dr. Richard Land became the fourth president of SES.
With the rise of online education and the improvements of live-streaming technology, the number of non-traditional students began to increase. As a result, SES relocated to a more modern facility in the Ballantyne area of Charlotte in the summer of 2018.
With the retirement of SES co-founder Dr. Norman Geisler in winter of 2019, the SES Board of Trustees unanimously voted to name Dr. Geisler President Emeritus. With his passing in July the same year, they again unanimously voted to rename the graduate school the Norman L. Geisler Graduate School of Apologetics.