JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 29, 2003 – Students and faculty at the nation's oldest Southern Baptist institution overwhelmingly lauded their president as he called for a fresh focus on the core beliefs of Evangelicalism and recognized Union University as an institution of higher learning that is Evangelical by conviction.
David S. Dockery, president of Union University, delivered his remarks at the university's fall convocation where he boldly outlined his address. Dockery, a nationally-renowned scholar and speaker, charged the Union University community to embrace evangelicalism by conviction.
"I believe the preferred future for Union University and institutions similar to ours is a renewed commitment to an academically rigorous, culturally engaged and Christ-centered Evangelicalism," Dockery said.
The president outlined what he called three significant points to define the direction of Union University in 2003.
Evangelicalism must not be "anti-intellectual." Rather, Dockery said, evangelicalism must be engaging.
"It must emphasize the importance of the life of the mind, learning to think Christianly," Dockery said. "There is a place for rigorous academics. Evangelicals contend that truth counts, that there is indeed a historic faithful orthodoxy to be confessed and proclaimed."
Evangelicalism must not be only "other worldly." Rather, Dockery said, evangelicalism must be culturally engaged.
"It must stress the development of a Christian worldview, active service and global evangelism," he noted. "Yet, it cannot be 'this worldly' only either, for service by itself apart from the gospel, while certainly helpful, is ultimately insufficient."
Evangelicalism must not be "separatist/legalistic." Dockery said evangelicalism must be involved and cooperative in educational and mission efforts.
"Indeed there must be an emphasis on cooperation in mission and a shared core of beliefs, coupled with an emphasis on purity, holiness and faithful Christian living," he said.
The president's address, based upon Colossians 1:13-20, covered an historical overview of the evangelical movement from the Reformation period to the current day.
"The Evangelical movement can be identified by an evangelical mood, but for us to say that Union is 'Evangelical by conviction' refers to more than just a kind of piety," Dockery said as he challenged the student body. "It may be difficult to define the edges, except from denomination to denomination (and thus best to think of Southern Baptist as 'denominational Evangelicals'), but the core of Evangelicalism seems clear viewed both historically and biblically."
Reaction to Dockery's address was overwhelmingly positive with faculty, staff members and students rallying behind the president's charge.
Todd Brady, minister to the university, noted, "In a society where conviction is hard to find, Dr. Dockery's call for Christ-centeredness at Union University clearly articulates the purposes and goals of this institution. Indeed, Christ-centeredness is more than a catch phrase at Union - it is the warp and woof of all that takes place."
Gregory Alan Thornbury, director of the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Christian Leadership, commended the president for his remarks.
"President Dockery makes clear that the former (Evangelical) implies the latter (conviction)," said Thornbury, who also serves as an assistant professor of Christian studies. "Evangelical means nothing if it does not entail fidelity to the biblical gospel and its cultural mandate. In an age in which higher education is beset by a myriad of confusions, David Dockery has blazed a trail faithful to historic Christianity which cuts through the fog of modern academic indecision."
"To be an Evangelical instutiton of higher education is ultimately to be a Christ-centered institution that sees itself as an heir to the Reformation, the Puritans, Pietists and Revivalists," Dockery said. "It is to be an institution that confesses the full authority of Scripture and the need for personal conversion by faith in the Gospel message, grounded in Jesus Christ."
"So in short, to be Evangelical means to be Christ-centered," Dockery added. "Thus for us to describe Union University as an institution that is Evangelical by conviction is to say that Union is committed to being a Christ-centered University."
Union Provost Carla Sanderson said the president's address set the stage to take the university a step further in the exploration process of what is distinctively Union University.
"Strong applications for the faculty's work on core curriculum review and the staff's work in considering learning beyond the curriculum can be drawn from the address this morning," Sanderson said. "This morning has been all about creating the right future for this institution of higher learning."
Accolades also came from David Gushee, the university's Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy. "This speech is an important step in Union's self-definition," Gushee said. "It also should help sweep away any misunderstandings about our identity and mission from either the far left or the far right."
Tom Rosebrough, dean of the School of Education and Human Studies, said the president ushered the university into the company of Luther, Wesley, Whitefield and Graham.
"We are known for the company we keep," Rosebrough said. "Dr. Dockery has delivered a compelling if not stunning rationale for the university's Christ-centered mission. It is a concept that needed explanation in these confusing times of religious semantics and the president has thoroughly and gracefully spoken to the need."