Volume 2, Number 3
Ut Omnes Unum Sint
A journalist recently contacted me to express interest in Baylor’s efforts to support a thriving Christian intellectual community. As a Baptist, he wondered about the proper role for Baptist particularity in that community, along with the breadth and kind of engagement that should be sought with other Christian traditions. “What can Baptists learn from other Christian denominations?” he asked.
He especially wondered what, if anything, Baptists could learn from Roman Catholics, long regarded as “the very antipodes of each other,” in George W. Truett’s estimation. Truett minced no words: the “Catholic conception of the church, thrusting all its complex and cumbrous machinery between the soul and God, prescribing beliefs, claiming to exercise the power of the keys, and to control the channels of grace—all such lording it over the consciences of men is to the Baptist mind a ghastly tyranny in the realm of the soul and tends to frustrate the grace of God, to destroy freedom of conscience, and to hinder terribly the coming of the Kingdom of God.” So put, the prospects for rapprochement between Baptists and Catholics would seem grim.
Yet much has transpired in the 85 years since Truett placed Baptists and Catholics in diametrically opposed corners. Once resented immigrant populations of Catholics now lay largely uncontroversial claim to citizenship alongside Protestant sons and daughters of the American Revolution. John XXIII’s leadership in convening the second Vatican Council resulted in a series of articulate documents communicating the relevance and meaningfulness of Catholic faith and practice in the modern world, and it prompted renewed efforts at ecumenical dialogue.
Meanwhile, Baptists, long dominant in the southern United States, have lost the cultural hegemony once ours and have forged cooperative partnerships with others in order to bear Christian witness in an increasingly pluralistic milieu. Christians of all sorts find themselves facing the manifold challenges of thinking and living faithfully in an increasingly post-Christian civilization. Truett’s dichotomous representation of Baptist and Catholics—with all other Christians somewhere more or less short of Baptists’ full-orbed Christian faithfulness—seems less sustainable in an age when we need to stand together if we are to stand at all.
In light of these developments, then, perhaps it is unsurprising to see such recent books published as Mark Noll’s Is the Reformation Over? and Steven Harmon’s Towards Baptist Catholicity, or to witness a series of ongoing dialogues between the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Baptist World Alliance.
Baylor has never been as sectarian as Truett’s words might have it. Proudly and persistently Baptist, the first faculty member ever hired by the university was nonetheless Episcopalian. Nearly half of the faculty, 160 years later, is Baptist, but Catholics followed by Methodists come next in line, at around 10 percent each of the total faculty. To their numbers are added dozens of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and others.
Indeed, as in no other time, it makes sense to ask: What can Baptists learn from Catholics? (Or Lutherans from Mennonites? or Nazarenes from Presbyterians?) How should Baptists read and critically engage the pastoral and theological documents of other Christian traditions, including Roman Catholicism? To what ends? With what constraints? At least four reasons make raising such questions important.
“If Christian intellectual life is to prosper in the third millennium, if faith and learning are to be fruitfully related as they ought—at Baylor or anywhere—then I am persuaded that we must pray, with Jesus and the church universal, ut omnes unum sint, that they all—Christians everywhere—may be one.”
First, we Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and all the rest need one another more than ever. Instead of looking askance at other Christians, regarding them as competitors, or isolating ourselves from them, we need to listen and learn from one another. This is no less than Jesus asked us, his followers, to do, and it is vital work if we take his prayer in John 17 seriously.
Second, Baptists, as part of the radical Reformation, are by definition dissenters, protesters, and nonconformists—inescapably marked by 1,500 years of Roman Catholic doctrine, history, and practice, and yet unwilling to embrace Catholic ways uncritically. Two things follow: (a) much of what Baptists believe grows out of the root stock of Catholicism (e.g., belief in the fully human/fully divine nature of Jesus, commitment to the Triune nature of God, acceptance of (most of) the Scriptures canonized by the Church, etc.), and (b) it is impossible to know from what in the tradition we Baptists on principle prescind unless we critically understand that tradition. To be a Baptist is to follow Christ faithfully in dissent from certain features of Roman Catholicism, while at the same time yearning always for the completion of reformation, so that all of Christ’s followers may serve and worship together.
Third, Baptist universities have a great deal to learn from Catholic universities. Baptist intellectual life is a relatively late development in the Christian history; it is preceded by centuries of thoughtful Catholic reflection on the relation between the life of the mind and the life of faith. If Baptists want to think sensitively about the grace-filled beauty of creative and artistic expression, or the possibilities and limits of faithful citizenship, or the relation between faith and reason or nature and grace, or the ways in which human language is and is not capable of describing God, or the basis for human confidence in science as a means of understanding the world—all of these and so many other issues have a long history of thoughtful and articulate treatment within the Catholic tradition.
Fourth, to undertake meaningful dialogue with other Christians, to seek better to understand the Catholic tradition out of which Baptist heritage grows as a dissenting expression of Christianity, and to try to learn how to think intelligently as a Christian by looking for help from Catholics—in none of these efforts is one required to abandon Baptist identity and conviction. Such non-negotiable expressions of faithful discipleship as believers’ baptism, commitment to the supremacy of Scripture as Christians’ guide to faith and practice, the priesthood of all believers (along with the grave responsibilities to one another that such priesthood signals), etc. ground commitment to the Baptist way. To pay attention to the breadth of Christian history, reflection, and practice hardly makes one less Baptist, but rather for the reasons outlined above promises to help realize the fullness of Baptist identity, precisely through the aforementioned distinctives.
If Christian intellectual life is to prosper in the third millennium, if faith and learning are to be fruitfully related as they ought—at Baylor or anywhere—then I am persuaded that we must pray, with Jesus and the church universal, ut omnes unum sint, that they all—Christians everywhere—may be one. Within the vast treasures of Christian faith, practice, learnedness and integrity through the centuries lie the resources to render Christian intellectual community true reality instead of passing fancy.
May Faculty Retreat
On May 15-19 the Institute hosted Vocation, Liberal Learning, and the Professions, a retreat for Baylor’s chairs, deans, and senior academic administrators held at Laity Lodge, near Leakey, Texas. The retreat included over 40 faculty members, including President John Lilley and Provost Randall O’Brien. As part of the week-long program Mark Schwehn, Professor of Humanities and Dean Emeritus of Christ College at Valparaiso University delivered two lectures, “Recapturing the Concept of Vocation: Why It Matters for the Christian University” and “Exiles from Eden: Enjoying Christian Community and Intellectual Friendship.” Elizabeth Newman, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond delivered two lectures as well, “The Church’s Stake in the Academic Vocation: A Different Faith, Hope, and Love” and “When Difference Divides: Embodying Charity and Humility through Christian Hospitality.” And Thomas Smith, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Humanities at Villanova University, spoke on “Teaching as a Christian Vocation” and “Academic Administration as a Christian Vocation.” Burt Burleson, pastor of Waco’s DaySpring Baptist Church, led morning and evening worship services each day of the retreat.
The retreat sought to deepen participants’ understanding of the theological exploration of vocation, to explore the implications of Christian calling for academic life in both its teaching and scholarly dimensions, and to enhance faculty readiness to help mentor students effectively in discerning and responding to their own Christian vocation. It also represented an opportunity to acquaint diverse faculty with one another, facilitate understanding and trust across varied disciplines and denominational perspectives, and initiate new friendships in a context of charitable discourse and cooperation. Perhaps more pastorally, the retreat program was designed to encourage the renewal possible through solitude with God and prompt thoughtful faith through a simple yet rich daily liturgy.
Participant responses were highly positive, with various chairs, deans, and provosts offering such comments as: “The ability to relax and laugh about our shared frustrations or joys was especially meaningful,” “Each speaker brought wisdom and commitment to their presentations,” “This was the best organized retreat in all aspects [in which] I have participated in my professional life,” “I came away with a renewed sense of vocation for myself,” and “Not only did the presentations and discussions provide a richer Christian conceptual scheme for our future discussions, the retreat format provided many opportunities to build relationships of common interest and trust to continue discussions and to enhance collegiality on campus.”
Staffing Changes for the Institute
Our heartfelt appreciation goes to Michael Hanby, outgoing associate director of the Institute for Faith and Learning. Dr. Hanby concludes two extremely productive years of service to the Institute, a period marked—among other things—by his outstanding leadership of the Crane Scholars Program and his contributions to two significant and successful grant-writing efforts for Baylor Horizons: Sustaining the Theological Exploration of Vocation, a $1.1 million initiative over the next three years, and also The World and Christian Imagination, the 2006 Lilly Fellows Program National Research Conference, to be held at Baylor this November 9-11 with $83,500 in grant funding. Dr. Hanby’s theological expertise and unyielding idealism will be missed, but we applaud his commitment to focusing his full energies upon his primary responsibilities as a scholar and a teacher in Baylor’s Great Texts Program.
At the same time, we extend a warm welcome to Darin Davis, the Institute’s incoming associate director. A native of Amarillo, Dr. Davis holds his B.A. in English and philosophy from the University of Texas, his M.A. in philosophy from Baylor University, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from St. Louis University. He returns to Baylor following four years as a member of the philosophy department at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, where he was twice nominated for the Norbertine Leadership and Service Educator of the Year Award. The author of articles and reviews in such journals as The Modern Schoolman, the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, and The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Dr. Davis is a promising young scholar of the highest order of imaginative and intellectual abilities.
Reflecting on his commitment to Baylor and to the Institute for Faith and Learning, Dr. Davis noted, “I am dedicated to the cause of church-related higher education; indeed, I believe religiously defined schools are the most vibrant places to study and teach. For me, there is no more exciting place than Baylor. Although I have spent the last nine years at Catholic institutions, I am a Baylor graduate (M.A., ’95) and a Baptist born and raised in Texas. Accordingly, I believe I could return to Baylor with an awareness of some of the challenges and promise of advancing its Christian commitment while continuing its ambitious pursuit of academic excellence. I have been an active participant in conversations about these matters at St. Norbert, and I can think of no place I would rather contribute to the future of church-related higher education than Baylor.”
New Grant Opportunity for Baylor Faculty
In 2000, Baylor was awarded a grant of $2 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support the theological exploration of vocation through an initiative entitled Baylor Horizons. Under these auspices several innovative activities began to fulfill three basic purposes: (1) helping students examine the relationship between their faith and vocational choices; (2) providing opportunities for young people to explore Christian ministry as their life’s work; and (3) enhancing the capacity of the school’s faculty to teach and mentor students effectively in this arena.
As part of Baylor Horizons’ overall programming, the Vocation and Faculty Formation Grants Program seeks to help faculty explore a theological understanding of vocation, and also to consider the implications of that understanding for teaching and scholarship within a Christian university. By supporting such efforts, the grants program especially hopes to fulfill Baylor Horizons’ third purpose as expressed above. The Vocation and Faculty Formation Grants Program specifically aims to:
Projects awarded should prove demonstrably helpful in preparing recipients to mentor students more effectively in thinking about the relation between faith and vocation. A wide range of grant proposals are acceptable, but typical proposals for funds through the Vocation and Faculty Formation Grants Program fall into the following categories:
Faculty interested in support for a project under the Vocation and Faculty Formation Grants Program should complete the application available online. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis with awards made until the annual budget has been committed. The maximum individual grant award is currently $3,000; for projects involving multiple faculty members, the maximum award is $5,000.
The World and Christian Imagination
Baylor University’s Institute for Faith and Learning will be hosting the LFP National Research Conference in conjunction with its own annual Pruit Memorial Symposium at its campus in Waco, Texas, Thursday, November 9 through Saturday, November 11, 2006. Called The World and Christian Imagination, the conference derives thematic coherence from a single, central, organizing question: how might the Christian imagination be brought to bear on all aspects of contemporary life? This year’s national research conference thus will assemble an interdisciplinary group of scholars addressing the fecundity of the Christian imagination for scholarly understanding and interpretation of the world. It will explore the interaction of Christian thought with various aspects of contemporary intellectual, social, and political life.
The conference will have over 100 individual presentations, and featured guests include: Stephen M. Barr, University of Delaware; Nicholas Boyle, University of Cambridge; David Burrell, University of Notre Dame; Susan Felch, Calvin College; Amy Laura Hall, Duke Divinity School; Kevin Hart, University of Notre Dame; Jeanne Heffernan, Villanova University; John Milbank, University of Nottingham; Merold Westphal, Fordham University; and many others.
Registration costs $100, which includes the following meals: dinner Thursday, lunch and dinner Friday, and lunch Saturday. For more information, call 254-710-4805, email IFL@baylor.edu or visit www.baylor.edu/IFL.
Upcoming at Baylor
Upcoming beyond Baylor
"We believe that the highest intellectual excellence is fully
compatible with orthodox Christian devotion.
"Modern man is unprecedented; yet we must now go back to
St. Augustine to restore the balance of our cognitive powers. . .
. He taught
"If you regard them carefully and piously, every kind of creature and every movement that can be considered by the human mind speaks to us for our instruction. The diverse movements and dispositions are like so many voices crying out to us, telling us to recognize their creator."
"There is no great philosophy which does not draw life from listening to and accepting religious tradition. Wherever this relation is cut off, philosophical thought withers and becomes a mere conceptual game."
"I believe in Christianity
Clive Staples Lewis
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