Q&A: David Garland

November 6, 2007
On June 1, 2007, Dr. David E. Garland, The William B. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary, succeeded Paul Powell as Truett dean. Randy Fiedler of BaylorNews spoke with Dr. Garland about the opportunities and challenges ahead for the seminary.

BaylorNews: Tell me a little bit of your background before you came to Baylor.

David Garland: I taught 21 years at Southern Seminary in Louisville. I was Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament, I served as chair of the New Testament department and I was chair of the Biblical division when I left. My wife, Diana, was dean of the school of social work at Southern Seminary.

BN: Is that where you two met?

DG: No. We met in Oklahoma and were married, and three days later we showed up at Southern Seminary. I was a seminary student, and Diana finished her undergraduate work at the University of Louisville.

BN: Did you two both come to Baylor at the same time?

DG: We did. I was approached first as a candidate for Truett dean when Dr. Robert Sloan, the founding dean, left to become Baylor's president. I was asked by a faculty member to submit my résumé, and I never would have applied otherwise. I was one of the three finalists, and they eventually chose Dr. Brad Creed. However, they apparently liked me enough to invite me to join the Truett faculty the next year. Our problem was finding a place where both Diana and I could have positions. We had had offers at various places, but it was always an offer for just one of us. We had to go somewhere that would have two positions available, and Baylor worked that out.

BN: When Paul Powell was named Truett dean in 2001, you were named the new associate dean. In that job the past six years, what were your responsibilities?

DG: As dean, Paul Powell was very effective in reaching out to various constituencies in Texas Baptist life, and also working to increase our endowment through fundraising. At the same time, as associate dean I was responsible for many of the traditional duties of a dean, such as attending meetings of the Council of Deans and handling all faculty hirings and salary matters.

BN: Now that you're the dean, how have your day-to-day responsibilities changed?

DG: A lot of my new responsibilities are related to development and President Lilley's emphasis on deans being extremely involved in development. I now have an associate dean, Dr. Dennis Tucker, who will take some of the academic responsibilities I once had.

BN: As dean, what are some of the seminary's biggest strengths that you will be working to build on?

DG: I think there are at least two things that we can do well -- preaching and missions. We've recently just begun a center for effective preaching, and then we have a very large number of our students who are interested in missions. Those are the kinds of things I would like us to place our emphasis on.

BN: Talk a little bit more about the preaching center and how it will be used.

DG: It's called the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching, and we have an endowment in honor of the late Kyle Lake, who was pastor of University Baptist Church and a member of Truett's first graduating class. The center provides both for the scholarly study of preaching as well as programs that provide practical instruction in how to become a more effective preacher. It has a research library and will bring in experts from around the world to take part in preaching seminars. I think so many church members would love to hear more effective preaching in their churches, so we're going to try to do what we can to not only help our students with these kinds of learning opportunities, but also encourage alumni and other persons to become involved in this.

BN: What kinds of things will working preachers come to this center to receive?

DG: I think they will come to sit at the feet of master preachers and teachers of preaching. Ministers are always anxious to try to improve, and they're continually learning. As a minister you're continuously pouring out yourself to others, but there are times when ministers need to refresh their own wells. This center is designed to help them do that.

BN: Is preaching is a skill you can learn, or is it a gift given by God?

DG: I think it's both. People have inherent gifts, and this also is a skill that can be learned and honed. I don't think we can say, well, this is a gift and you've either got it or you don't. If that's the case, then why teach it? Experience helps a lot, and every preacher you talk to says that he or she was absolutely horrible when they started. People in the audience are sitting there rolling their eyes. The danger is if someone feels they have the gift, and because of that they don't ever have to work on it. But I don't know any good preacher who doesn't sweat over the task of preaching.

BN: Do most Truett students want to become preachers, or are they seeking other areas of ministry?

DG: Most students coming to American seminaries are not interested in being pastors. From what I can tell at Truett we're a little bit abnormal because many of our students do want to preach, but still it's not as large a percentage as it might have been back in the 1940s and 1950s and before that. It's interesting that in a recent survey of job satisfaction, ministers were ranked right up there at the top of the most satisfied workers. However, a lot of people, I think, believe that ministry means conflict. Many of our students have not had experience preaching, so they don't feel comfortable doing it. What we feel we need to do is to let our students' gifts blossom, and in many ways point out to them that preaching is something you should at least consider. When I went to seminary, I intended to be a social worker. The irony of ironies is that my wife, who went to college to be an English teacher, wound up being the social worker, and it was in seminary that I felt a very distinct call to preach. So I think that kind of calling can make itself known in the seminary.

BN: Do Truett professors see it as part of their job to help students figure out what their ministry should be?

DG: We're very happy to help them figure that out. One of the things you'll notice about Truett Seminary is that the faculty offices are right across from the classrooms, so students have immediate access to our faculty, who have open door policies. There is a great deal of mentoring provided as students struggle with what their calling is, what their gifts are and where they might go to use them.

BN: Is that kind of close relationship between faculty and students rare in seminaries?

DG: I cannot speak for anyone anywhere else, but it was rare in my experience. When I was a seminary student, I never darkened the door of a professor until I became a PhD student. The faculty wings were kind of like the sanctum santorum, and students just never went back in that area. Now we have a different generation of faculty and a different generation of students. We consider community to be an extremely important part of the ethos of Truett Seminary.

BN: When you consider hiring new professors, do you look at how much they want to interact with students?

DG: Absolutely. We have passed over professors with outstanding qualifications after we determined that they were not student-friendly and were interested only in research. To those kinds of professors, students become kind of a bother, and we are not interested in anyone like that. All professors who come onto our faculty must be collegial and love students.

BN: Is Truett different from some other seminaries in the way its classes are structured?

DG: Yes, in the sense that if you look at our classrooms, they hold only 20 to 21 students. Classes that small are going to provide an interactive, seminar-style learning experience. It's not simply a pedagogical approach where the professor downloads his hard drive into the students' hard drive, or where students just sit there and watch PowerPoint displays. One of the things we have to do is teach our students the requisite skills of ministry, and since those skills involve writing and speaking our classes expect active student participation.

BN: Truett, as I understand, has its own version of a Great Texts program. What does that involve?

DG: We do have that, and it's called Texts and Traditions. In these courses students read primary sources in the history of theology. Rather than read about Calvin they actually read the writings of Calvin, and rather than read about Luther they read the writings of Luther. There is a body of texts that we feel our students need to be versed in.

BN: Is there any way to characterize a "typical" Truett student?

DG: We have a diverse student population. According to the statistics from our recent self-study, our student body is about 32 percent female, and in our most recent graduating class, 40 percent of the students were from outside of Texas. So while we have a lot of students from Texas, we do not see ourselves simply as a regional seminary. We have national and international students and a growing national reputation for excellence.

BN: Some seminaries seem to have a very strict theology that they require faculty and students to adhere to. Is Truett aligned that way, or do you not worry about having a unified doctrinal stance?

DG: We have a statement of faith, but no faculty member is required to sign it. Clearly, we are a moderate, conservative seminary, and we do not believe in indoctrination. There are some non-negotiables for us, and historic Baptist distinctives that we follow, but we do not impose any theological stance on students.

BN: During Truett Seminary's early years, it was no doubt a challenge just letting people know about what it was. Now that more than a decade has gone by, are there new communication challenges?

DG: We still need to get the word out about Truett. We've been incredibly successful in a very short time, and it's been recognized externally. One of the things we have to do is continue to raise our endowment because our students going into ministry need heavy financial scholarship support. They will not be earning salaries that will enable them to quickly or easily pay off the price of their education. We also will need to get the word out to help us continue to draw quality students, because most seminaries across the land are struggling with enrollment.

BN: What about the size of Truett's student body? You have 402 students enrolled this fall, which is a record for the seminary. Are you comfortable with this size?

DG: Right now there's still room for growth, but if we grow our student body any more we'll also have to grow our faculty, and that is costly.

BN: Talk a little bit about your faculty. Every student I talk to at Truett talks about how excellent they are.

DG: I take pride in our faculty. There are a couple of things I want to mention. We are interested in persons who are going to publish, and last year our faculty of 15 published eight books and a significant number of articles. We're interested in persons who are going to be leaders in their academic fields, but we also expect them to be pastoral models for our students. They are excellent in their research, and I think that always manifests itself in good teaching, but they also have a pastor's heart in relating to people and students.

BN: Many serve as interim pastors, don't they?

DG: Five of our faculty are now serving as interim pastors. All of our faculty are speaking in churches and at conferences most every week, so our influence extends widely outside the seminary walls.

BN: Teaching, spending time with students, researching, preaching -- it seems as though Truett professors might not have a lot of free time.

DG: I think people preach because they love to do it and feel called to do it. "Woe is me if I don't preach the Gospel," that kind of thing. Not everyone is required to do this, and it may seem daunting, but I think that's part of the calling to be a seminary professor.

BN: Every seminary student looks forward to the day they graduate and go out into the work force. How easy is it for Truett graduates to find work?

DG: Our problem is we do not have enough students for all of the requests. That's why many people think we need to have more students. We are not having trouble placing students. We have an enormous demand that we are not able to fill, particularly in children's ministry. Even though we don't have a program in that area, our students have gone out of here as children's ministers and they have done exceptional work. The demand for children's ministers is enormous.

BN: One of the things I've always heard that makes Truett rare among seminaries is the emphasis it places on spiritual formation. Can you talk about that?

DG: Our spiritual formation program was developed by Betty Talbert, and other seminaries have asked us about it. We are flattered by being copied. In fact, someone from the Association of Theological Schools who was here on a site visit said he'd gotten calls from Washington State and other campuses asking to see what we do. While every seminary I think is now very conscious of the need to offer something in spiritual formation, it was one of the founding elements of Truett. We put an emphasis on spiritual formation, something that was completely absent from my seminary education.

BN: What is involved with Truett's spiritual formation component?

DG: As part of our spiritual formation requirement, every student is required for six semesters to be in a small covenant group that meets once a week. There are no tests and no grades involved. I think what is unique about us is that our faculty are also involved in their own weekly covenant groups, where the participants go through a discipline of reading Scripture, reflecting and praying together. That seems to be unique among seminaries, that faculty themselves would be involved in their own covenant groups. A covenant group creates a close bond where students are able to share with one another and pray with one another. One of the things I've seen in a study is that success in ministry is tied to the ability to form lifelong friendships, so we're very interested in forming community for students. It's probably the most crucial thing they'll do in seminary. Character formation, spiritual formation and competency in ministry -- those are things that really count.

BN: The impression I'm getting, given the reality of small classes and weekly covenant groups, is that it's almost impossible for someone to attend Truett and not become involved with their professors and fellow students.

DG: If they don't, it's noticeable. Someone just came by today asked me about one of our students. Even though I never had this student in class, I knew who he was, I knew where he was from, I knew what his interests were and I knew why he turned down an offer from one church. To me, that's an extremely important part of the makeup of Truett, that our students are known. The challenge can be for the commuting student. That's why I'm very hesitant about any kind of off-campus, online education.

BN: So creating and maintaining interpersonal relationships is important?

DG: Yes. Ministers fail mostly because of problems with interpersonal relationships, and I think the seminary is a place where you learn to cultivate those skills and personal relationships, particularly when you're in a classroom where people disagree with you. That's why I think it's very problematic when you insist that everyone toe the party line, and then they go out into a church and find that there are folks in the church who disagree. What do you do? In a pattern where a pastor functions as a kind of CEO, you just kick them out. And that's not the way that church works. Usually, they kick the pastor out.

BN: Do many of your students live outside of Waco and commute?

DG: We have students coming from Dallas, Austin and Tyler. I don't know how they do it, but they've been able to do it successfully. Many of these commuting students are already working in churches, and that's why they're driving in. But the majority of our students are here in Waco.

BN: A challenge Baptists face today is to effectively serve Texas' large and growing Hispanic population. What do you see as Truett's place in that?

DG: One of our development goals is to find Hispanic faculty. We've not been successful at that so far, for a variety of reasons. First, there is a very small number of Hispanics who attend seminary, and then a smaller number of those end up having the requisite qualifications to be professors. This is something that we are very conscious of and want to rectify as soon as we can, but it's very difficult. What we have done is start a certificate of ministry program for bivocational pastors, with about 175 students enrolled. And just this summer we hired someone who will work in the McAllen area to develop that program in Spanish. The certificate of ministry is for people who might not have gone to college or seminary and are not likely to go, but are already pastoring a church. We feel it's a very important part of our mission to be able to provide these pastors with some helps and skills. We're increasing our efforts down in the McAllen area because there's such a large number of people there hungry for any kind of help they can get.

BN: Truett's former assistant dean, René Maciel, left in August to become president of the Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio, a school with a predominantly Hispanic student body. Do you anticipate a stronger working relationship with that school now that he is president?

DG: René's departure was a very sad loss for us, but it also is a wonderful gain because I think we're going to have an even closer relationship with BUA. René and I have even talked about perhaps doing Truett's Hispanic preaching conference with BUA, maybe in San Antonio or elsewhere. We agree that we need to partner together and help one another, and I'm thrilled by the potential there.

BN: Could BUA be a source of potential students for Truett?

DG: It already is, and those students are doing exceptionally well here. We want to have more of them. I believe the Hispanic community in Texas believes that Truett is their seminary, because we've been very welcoming to them, hosting conferences and going out of our way to offer what expertise we have.

BN: You're not the only dean in your family. Your wife, Diana, is the founding dean of Baylor's School of Social Work. How does it work with two deans living together under one roof? Do you two bounce ideas off each other?

DG: I don't bounce ideas off Diana, I just simply steal hers. It is extremely valuable to be her husband because through her I'm able to see another successful program, and so there's a synergy between our two schools. It's been a boon to me to be able to learn from her. I don't know if she gets anything out of the deal or not.

BN: Are you looking forward to the challenges of being dean?

DG: Yes, I am excited about it. There are some new challenges, particularly related to development and communication. Our biggest failure, I think, has been communicating everything that's been happening here. In our self study for accreditation they were very complimentary, and one of the site visit members said that Truett is one of the best-kept secrets in the country. Well, we want to let the secret out.

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