Carey C. Newman
Is 2012 Baptist?
Baylor's 2012 Vision statement, a sweeping declaration of the University's 10-year aspirations, has attracted national attention. The responses have ranged from curiosity ("just what is it that Baylor hopes to do?"), to well-wishing envy ("hope Baylor succeeds and sure wish my alma mater had a similar resolve"), to sincere prophetic respect ("Baylor really can change the culture and conversation of higher education in North America").
2012 has also sparked a discussion among the Baylor family. This is as it should be. It is not every day that a major university commits itself, and does so publicly, to such an ambitious plan. The Baylor family should discuss, and continue to discuss, the nature and mission of its University. It is every university's dream to have the level of expressed interest from its alumni that has been shown by Baylor's.
One aspect of this discussion has turned on the question of Baptist identity: will 2012 foster historic, traditional Baptist ways at Baylor or will it lead the University in a non-Baptist direction? This is indeed a worthy question, one that merits close attention.
There are, at least, 10 strategies open to any institution wishing to maintain its specific faith commitment. An institution can: (1) actively recruit new students from its specific tradition; (2) offer courses and whole programs of study in the specific tradition; (3) hire faculty for departments, schools and key professorships that are active adherents of its tradition; (4) operate a seminary to train ministers for its tradition; (5) engage in student development activities that reinforce its specific identity; (6) secure the services of a chief administrator who is an active participant of its tradition; (7) choose a governing board from its tradition; (9) maintain a formal relationship with its founding body; and (10) embrace a mission statement that roots the institution in the underlying convictions of the tradition.
Remarkably, while most faith-related universities deploy one or two of these strategies, Baylor puts all 10 into play. Statistics help tell the story here:
- The number of Baptist students attending Baylor remains constant at 43 percent; and each year a significant amounts of scholarship money is strategically set aside to fund the education of Baptists;
- 49 percent of all faculty at Baylor are Baptist;
- In the first year of 2012, 62 percent of all new faculty hires were Baptist (well above the average for any given year in the since 1995);
- 100 percent of the faculty teaching in the Department of Religion and in Truett Theological Seminary are Baptists;
- Baylor has recently sought out and hired internationally noted Baptist scholars such as historians David Bebbington, Thomas Kidd and Daniel Williams;
- Each semester, Baylor offers numerous courses in Baptist identity such as "Introduction to Church Ministry" (Rel 2480), "Baptist Life and Thought" (REL 4335) and a graduate course in "Baptist History" (Rel 5337);
- A noted Baptist scholar and minister, Randall Bradley, directs the program in Church Music as well as the Center for Christian Music Studies;
- While other sister seminaries are suffering decline, Truett Seminary will set records on number of graduates (now standing at 237), new students, and total enrollment (now at 400);
- The Seminary also now features a Doctor of Ministry program with 44 students and 10 graduates, graduates who are already providing leadership in Baptist churches;
- Baptist Student Ministries, a vital part of Baylor University, reached 4,600 students this past year, involved 1,200 students in its various activities (with 1,050 in regular Bible Study and 344 in summer, local or short-term missions)
- The President of the University is a Baptist and a published theologian;
- 100 percent of the University's Board of Regents are Baptist;
- Baylor maintains a strong and healthy relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas; and
- Baylor continues to embrace, without question or qualification, its mission to be pro ecclesia (for the church) and pro Texana (for society).
In short, Baylor has been, is, and always will be a Baptist institution. It is hard to imagine how Baylor could be more Baptist-and yet that is exactly what 2012 promises.
Each of the 12 imperatives, when carefully considered, is rooted in the logic of the Gospel and thus works to build Baptist identity at Baylor. Common to all 12 imperatives is a whole-hearted commitment to excellence. This is as true of the least overtly religious parts of the Vision-i.e., "to build with integrity a winning athletic tradition" (Imperative X) and to "achieve a $2 billion endowment" (Imperative XII)-as it is those aspects that are clearly motivated by spiritual impulses. The whole of the Vision is rooted in the Gospel call to be good stewards of the uniqueness of Baylor.
But beyond being a response to the primary call to excellence, 2012 also grows out of- and even extends-three historic Baptist ideas. First, 2012 seeks to lead Baylor to unprecedented levels of global influence. This will be accomplished through "the creation of a world class faculty" (Imperative III), by "attracting top-tier students" (Imperative IV), by "launching new academic programs" (Imperative V) and by "providing new academic facilities" (Imperative VII). Baylor is unapologetically and unflinchingly committed to "emphasizing global education" (Imperative XI). This emphasis on global influence is spawned by historic Baptist involvement in missions. Nothing is more Baptist than missions, and Baylor, through 2012, publicly recommits itself to using higher education to accomplish global missions.
Second, 2012 seeks to foster unprecedented levels of vocational development among its students. This means that Baylor students, through intentional academic and student life programming, will come to understand "all of life as a stewardship" and, more specifically, their own chosen profession as a specific "vocation" (Imperative VI). Since it is the main task of the whole University to mentor and shape the whole person, 2012 calls for the involvement of the entire Baylor family in this act of mentorship (Imperative IX). The emphasis on vocation grows directly out of traditional Baptist experiences of conversion and call. Nothing is more Baptist than the experience of conversion and the call to discipleship, and Baylor, through 2012, publicly recommits itself to using higher education to foster life-long Christian vocation among its students.
Thirdly, 2012 seeks to create unprecedented levels of community among its students. This will occur by "establishing an environment where learning can flourish" (Imperative I), "creating a truly residential campus" (Imperative II), and by "constructing useful and aesthetically pleasing physical spaces" (Imperative VIII). This intentional integration of academics and residence life clearly swims against the tide of self-indulgent individualism so prevalent in our culture. This emphasis on community grows directly out of Baptist notions of the church. Nothing is more Baptist than the power of belonging to a community of faith, and Baylor, through 2012, publicly recommits itself to using higher education to create community among its students.
The New Testament records a parable in which servants were given varying amounts of talents. Jesus praised those servants who wisely risked what they had been given to gain even more. 2012 is a serious attempt to put Baylor's talents to work. Great care should be taken so as not to bury Baylor's future in the field of nostalgia. While safe, such action does not accord with good Baptist instincts to "go and make disciples." Instead, with spiritual audacity, this University should aspire to be a Christian university of great influence, one that is solidly and unshakably rooted in the hallmarks of Baptist identity-missions, call, and community.
Carey C. Newman
Director, Baylor University Press