Prominent Voices Affirm Role Of Baptists In Higher Education Endeavor
by Judy Long
Two prominent Baptists reaffirmed the wisdom of Baptist investment in higher education April 18 at the conference examining the topic, "The Future of Baptist Higher Education," in the Paul Powell Chapel of Baylor University's George W. Truett Seminary.
Responding to the question, "Is Christian higher education a justifiable mission of Baptist churches and Baptist bodies," Albert Reyes, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and Dr. Jim Denison, pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, addressed the audience of more than 100 academic and denominational leaders.
Before answering the question, Reyes said the answer would be determined by how the Church defines the terms "Christian" and "higher education," and who the intended audience of the Christian higher education enterprise will be.
Reyes, a third-generation Texan of Mexican descent and a third-generation Texas Hispanic Baptist, challenged listeners to consider the future generation of college students. He envisions a major global shift that will impact the United States and Baptists in the next 35 years--a shift in race and ethnicity from black and white to a multicolored reality.
"One indicator of those changes nationally in the news in 2003 was that Hispanics became the largest minority in the United States for the first time in U.S. history. In other words, the generation behind us will not recognize the generation before us," he said.
Reyes reminded his listeners that Baptist egalitarianism traditionally provided educational opportunities for those who would not have considered higher education otherwise. He is optimistic that the Baptist legacy of providing access to Christian in higher education would continue, and he encouraged Baptists to contextualize their approach to the Christian message to provide greater opportunities to the emerging generation.
"This effort will require nothing less than organizational and cultural transformation of the institution itself. This kind of change will have implications for governing board strategy, executive and administrative staffing, and faculty," he said.
Denison raised the question, "how did the relegation of ministry to vocational ministers occur," adding that the Christian laity needs to be educated in order to serve the world as Christians.
He asserted that Christian higher education is crucial to the effective fulfillment of the biblical command to make disciples. Referring to Moses, Saul and the disciple Matthew, Denison said, "The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind."
Denison related post-modernism and post-denominationalism to challenges facing Baptists in higher education.
"Post-modernism makes 'Christian' a subjective term, not an objective characteristic with independent merit or relevance. It would ask Baylor, for instance, to reject its distinctively Christian identity and character and admit that the Christian worldview is just one of many competing in a pluralistic and relativistic world. Post-denominationalism makes 'Christian' more generic than Baptist universities admit or permit. It calls for Baylor to admit that the Christian worldview is more broadly evangelical and/or trans-denominational than a Baptist commitment will permit."
Denison concluded that Christian higher education is a crucial endeavor for the Church's ministry and future. "As our churches enable academic excellence within a Christian worldview and context, we provide an alternative to the relativism which dominates the rest of the Academy.
"The work of Christian higher education will not only enable our children to gain educational experience within the context of biblical faith--it will also provide an apologetic and transformational bridge to the larger academic world," he said.