Baylor Hosts April Conference To Tackle Baptist Education Issues

Dec. 8, 2004

by Judy Long

Educators, scholars and students and Baptist leaders from across the country will assemble in April on the Baylor University campus to discuss current issues facing Baptist colleges and universities. The conference, "The Future of Baptist Higher Education," will take place April 18 and 19 at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Prominent Baptist voices will discuss Baptists' role in higher education in a Christian culture that increasingly questions the relevance of denominations.

Baylor's Provost Emeritus Donald Schmeltekopf, who is planning the meeting, said the conference will discuss several issues, including the secularization of denominational colleges and universities. "Church-related schools have found it hard to resist the onslaught of secularization. This powerful fact has prompted a loss of serious Christian identity.

"Baptist schools face a host of challenges from student enrollment to denominational accountability. Since most Baptist state conventions are decreasing their support every year, a crucial topic is one of purpose: exactly what is distinctive about Baptist colleges and universities that make them both worthy of support and integral to the Christian faith itself," Schmeltekopf said.

Keynote speakers William Hull, Samford University provost emeritus, and David Gushee, the Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., will open the discussion with the topic, "The Purpose of Baptist Higher Education." Gushee will assess the conversation among those in Christian higher education regarding their intellectual identity and theological vision.

Other speakers include Bill J. Leonard, Divinity School dean and professor of Church history at Wake Forest University; Baptist University of the Americas President Albert Reyes, who in October was elected the first minority president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance; Martin Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago; and Larry Lyon, dean of Baylor's Graduate School and a sociologist who has conducted research on the attitudes of students entering college.

Schmeltekopf said he is concerned about the future of Baptist colleges and universities. "In 50 years, we could be dinosaurs if we don't face the serious issues now. Traditionally, the academic enterprise has not focused merely on preparing to earn money in a career, so what should it be today? If we're going to be a real alternative to state universities we need to reclaim our legacy as serious academic and religious institutions."

Schmeltekopf said today's students come to universities with a strong career orientation and, unlike students of the past, have not adequately considered the perennial issues of life that we all face.

He said the conference also will discuss whether the notion of faith and learning is more than Christian culture and activities. "Students can find Christian activities in organizations at state schools, so we must define the place for denominationally-related Christian higher education," Schmeltekopf said.

A registration fee of $125 and $50 for students will cover three meals and conference costs. Conference times are listed on the Baylor calendar at www.baylor.edu/calendar/. To read about the conference or register online, go to www.baylor.edu/FBHE/. For more information, contact Schmeltekopf at (254) 710-7691.

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