JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 30, 2011 – 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, according to Union University President David S. Dockery.
“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 at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in San Francisco Nov. 18. “But I don’t think that we need to get sidetracked by our focus on these challenges. 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 the School of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, addressed recent developments in the Southern Baptist academy and issues such institutions face going forward. Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Theological Seminary, moderated the ETS discussion session.
Among recent developments that have shaped Baptist colleges and seminaries today, 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 seminar professors now being published by prominent publishers. Though Southern Baptists had a “low wattage,” in-house brand of intellectual engagement for much of the 20th century, “The age of Baptist parochialism is over,” Mohler said.
Dockery noted the changes in educational offerings at Baptist institutions – with colleges offering more graduate degrees and seminaries providing undergraduate degrees. He said that 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.
The Union president 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.
“Church control isn’t pretty, but it is deadly necessary,” Mohler said. “Otherwise, the institutions are lost.”
Morgan, likewise, stressed 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 must also 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.”