Panel: Baptist academia face major challenges

Baptist Press
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Posted: Dec 05, 2011 5:52 PM
Panel: Baptist academia face major challenges
JACKSON, Tenn. (BP) -- Southern Baptist universities and seminaries face significant challenges in the near future in areas such as theology and science, globalization, and their relationship to churches, Union University President David S. Dockery said in an address in conjunction with the Evangelical Theological Society's mid-November meeting in San Francisco.

"I don't think we've ever faced bigger challenges than those that we face at this particular time," Dockery said in a video address seen at the San Francisco-area Golden Gate Baptist Theological in Mill Valley.

"But I don't think that we need to get sidetracked by our focus on these challenges," Dockery said. "If we do, we run the risk of losing sight of the hope that we have in the Gospel and the greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ as head of the church to guide us forward."

Dockery, along with R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Chris Morgan, dean of California Baptist University's School of Christian Studies, addressed recent developments in Southern Baptist academia and issues such institutions face going forward. Jeff Iorg, Golden Gate Seminary's president, moderated the discussion.

Among developments that have shaped Baptist colleges and seminaries, Dockery cited the Southern Baptist Convention's embrace of inerrancy as a foundational commitment and not just a passing trend. That conviction has then led to a greater engagement by Southern Baptist scholars with the broader evangelical world, he said.

Mohler also praised Southern Baptists' advances in intellectual engagement, with several university and seminary professors now being published by prominent publishers. "The age of Baptist parochialism is over," Mohler stated in reference to Southern Baptists' "low wattage," in-house brand of intellectual engagement for much of the 20th century.

Dockery noted the changes in educational offerings at Baptist institutions -- with colleges offering more graduate degrees and seminaries providing undergraduate degrees. He said continued collaboration between the seminaries and the colleges and universities that want to relate to the SBC could foster a constructive conversation about the work of Southern Baptist academic institutions.

Dockery added that he is encouraged by a stronger relationship between academic institutions and churches in recent years.

"We have moved from an ingenious programmatic emphasis toward a greater emphasis on the Gospel and theological conversations within the commitment to the full truthfulness of the Bible, our Trinitarian commitments, the centrality of the Gospel, a renewed sense of the lostness of men and women around the world and the need for a missional understanding of our calling in the academy," Dockery said. "I think that has been a very significant development."

But even with the improvement in the church-academy ties, Dockery said the connection between educational institutions and churches still needs to be stronger.

"I think it's important that we recognize that we work hand in glove in this regard," he said. "We need to develop an ongoing theology of the church in order to do theology for the church."

Mohler echoed Dockery's sentiments about church accountability, stating, "Church control isn't pretty, but it is deadly necessary. Otherwise, the institutions are lost."

Morgan, likewise, underscored the role that the university plays in developing leaders for the church.

"As we think through what it means to raise up leaders for church life -- which is the point of a seminary and the point of a university, to raise up Christian leaders in various vocations for the sake of the Kingdom -- then I think the church-saturated nature of that has to recapture us," Morgan said.

While Morgan said pastors should be developed through the writings and teachings of professors, he said the university should also play a role in the development of the Christian businessman, the Christian nurse and Christians in other professions.

"The university can be in the middle of forming their worldview," he said.

Dockery said that universities, which focus on liberal arts, and seminaries, which focus on theology, would do well to learn from each other.

"We would do theology better with a broader understanding of a liberal arts framework, and certainly at the university level, we would do our work much better with a theological focus and a theological grounding, so that together we are working in conversation to develop a generation that can have a mind for truth and a heart for the things of God," Dockery said.

Dockery said educational institutions also must work together to address issues related to theology and science, beginning with a common commitment to a historical Adam and Eve. He also referenced the rise of Christianity in Africa and Asia, saying that Baptist colleges and seminaries have much to learn from theologians on those continents.

"I think it will be very, very important for us to understand our educational task in a more missional way, an understanding that must be grounded in the uniqueness of the Gospel," Dockery said. "So many of the scholars and leaders who are focusing on the issues of globalization are willing to punt on that particular doctrinal issue. We must never do so."

Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

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