Christian colleges and universities have every right to maintain their denominational heritages. I teach at Houston Baptist University, and I am pleased that our school explicitly holds to its Christian mission:
Many universities call themselves Christian, but cannot bring themselves to talk about the central narrative of the Christian faith – the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection. Yet as Father Richard John Neuhaus has written, “If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything.” The implications of such truths are worth studying and knowing to the fullest – truths we all must confront to have a life worthy of our Creator’s purpose.
Therefore, it is right and good for Christian institutions to ask their faculty to teach in accordance with central tenets of the Christian faith. Recently, however, a couple of Baptist colleges have dismissed theology faculty because they hold to Baptist principles. Read that last sentence again; I know it sounds wrong.
Jarvis Williams at Campbellsville University
Earlier this week, Patrick Schreiner reported that Jarvis Williams, an associate professor of New Testament and Greek at Campbellsville University, would not have his contract renewed. The case is curious since Campbellsville University is a Baptist school, associated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, and CU is letting Williams go in spite of the fact that he is a fine Southern Baptist scholar. Schreiner writes:
He is a Christian conservative who is committed to biblical authority and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
We have heard from a reliable source that they retain several faculty members who are not part of Baptist traditions, professors in the school of theology who reject biblical authority and biblical inerrancy.
Williams has published three books over the last few years and a number of articles. He is an African-American who has worked toward racial reconciliation within the church. And most importantly, Williams is passionate about proclaiming the Christian gospel. What more could a small Baptist university hope for?
According to Schreiner, Williams’ theology is the problem; he is too conservative for his institution. It is ironic that someone who received his PhD from the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer welcome to teach at a university associated with the SBC. It seems that at Campbellsville University the administration only extends academic freedom to those professors who disagree with the school’s founding principles.
The Case of Louisiana College
Unfortunately, Williams’ experience at Campbellsville is not an isolated incident. Earlier this year Louisiana College, owned by the Louisiana Baptist Convention, informed three young Christian Studies professors that their contracts would not be renewed. Jason Hiles, Ryan Lister, and Kevin McFadden were given no warning or justification. Though the president of LC refused to comment about why he dismissed them, he published a letter at the time claiming that he would not tolerate Calvinism on campus.
All three of these professors at Louisiana College graduated from Southern Baptist seminaries. All three affirmed the Southern Baptist statement of faith with no reservations. They were accused of Calvinism, but Southern Baptists have a long history of Calvinist representation within the convention. The president of LC, on the other hand, has some charismatic and prosperity-gospel leanings that do not fit so well within the Southern Baptist tradition. It is sad that Louisiana Baptists are more willing to countenance the prosperity gospel, which is not their tradition, than they are Calvinism, which is an integral part of their tradition.
Accreditation woes have exacerbated the theological tumult at Louisiana College. SACS put the school on academic warning for the second straight year; next year they have to get their house in order or face probation. The school has been operating in the red, and the physical plant is in need of massive renovations. This theological battle serves as a smokescreen to distract from the real issues that the school faces.
When news broke about the nonrenewal of these contracts, the student body of Louisiana College launched a social media campaign. Most of the college’s trustees, however, seemed to ignore the firestorm of criticism. (I recommend Thomas Kidd’s First Thoughts post on the LC fiasco.)
Now it is time for me to expose my bias. Jarvis Williams, Ryan Lister, and I attended church together about ten years ago. Jason Hiles, Kevin McFadden, and I taught at Louisiana College together before I moved to Houston Baptist University. Of course I’m biased, but that does not mean that my criticism is wrong. These men have been treated ill by their respective institutions.
It seems odd that young bright scholars trained in Southern Baptist seminaries are no longer welcome in Southern Baptist denominational colleges and universities. Thoughtful conservative professors are under attack from both the “freethinking” academics, who only value a certain type of academic freedom, and the anti-intellectual fundamentalists, who seem to distrust all thinking.
It is a hard thing when a Southern Baptist cannot find a home in his own convention.