Integration of Head and Heart: A Q&A with Dean Todd D. Still

December 1, 2017
As a professional school, Truett is preparing students for their future careers. However, as seminary students, these future careers are, more often than not, in the field of ministry, adding another layer of needed preparation. How does Truett balance the academic, practical, and spiritual needs of its students?

At Truett, we want to both inform and form. In ministry, a person can be an “A student” and a “C minister,” even as an individual can be a “C student” and an “A minister.” A strong GPA does not necessarily a good minister make. A person can be intellectually sharp, but can be relationally, socially, and spiritually under-formed. This, in turn, will negatively impact that which they seek do. So many ministers have conflict with churches they serve not because of what they teach or fail to teach, but due to how they act or fail to act, over who they are or fail to be.

At Truett, we have an Office of Spiritual Formation, and we ask our students – indeed require them – to be involved in Covenant Groups. We also have a weekly worship experience as a seminary community, and we ask our students to come and be a part of that worship experience.

At Truett, we want to be productive and prolific, humble and hungry. We want to be taken seriously in the academy, and we also want to serve our churches. The way we best serve our churches is not only by preparing students academically, but also by preparing them spiritually for the work of the ministry. We encourage our students not only identify their respective callings, but also to cultivate them. In the midst of ministry, it is one’s call that inspires and sustains. Ministry requires an active, vibrant, spiritual, devotional life to ground and to animate one’s intellectual knowledge.

How do you as dean seek to embody this balance – of academic dedication and spiritual devotion – in your own work and activities?

In 1992, I was a first-year post-graduate student at the University of Glasgow, and there appeared in my mail-slot a publication featuring an article by the now-famous New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright. Wright was being asked how he balanced an academic reading of Scripture with a devotional reading of Scripture, and he said, to paraphrase, “I do not seek to negotiate between the two. I seek to integrate the two.”

That statement impacted me then, and it has been a goal towards which I have aspired ever since. I seek to allow my spiritual commitments to impact my academic work, and I attempt to allow my academic work to inform my spiritual commitments. Even as we challenge our students to integrate head and heart, I want to do that myself. In the words of the nineteenth-century English New Testament scholar and minister, J. B. Lightfoot, we are to be marked by both “the highest reason and the fullest faith.” So how is that best done?

First of all, you have to be engaged academically. Ultimately, although Truett serves the church and is connected to various Baptist organizations, we are neither a congregation nor a denomination. We are one of the 12 colleges and schools of a major research university, and professors within our seminary earn tenure and promotion the same way that everyone else at Baylor earns tenure and promotion—by excellent teaching, research, service, and collegiality.

Simultaneously, however, we are of, by, and for the church. By God’s grace, we are serving and are producing students for the church. My personal hope is that I—and other Truett faculty—can continue to be meaningfully and fruitfully involved in both the church and the academy.

You mentioned that Truett is “neither a congregation nor a denomination” but is instead one of the schools of Baylor University. Can you share a little more about that relationship?

Sure. Truett was established in 1991, and we began to offer classes in 1994. Now, we have over 1,300 graduates serving in 41 states and 25 foreign countries. Truett, then, is a seminary that is embedded into and supportive of Baylor University. There are many “stand-alone” seminaries, and there are a fair number of university divinity schools that do not see themselves connected in any meaningful way to a churchly constituency.

One of the things that I think makes Truett special is that we are intentionally training people for ministry while also seeking to add appreciably to the research footprint of a major university. So these twin commitments (Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana—if you will) strengthen us, but they also arguably strengthen Baylor.

With academic strategic planning underway, how do you see Truett contributing to the University’s Tier 1 aspirations?

We contribute by “a long obedience in the same direction” (so Eugene Peterson), by continuing to make an academic contribution in our given disciplines—whether biblical studies, theology, church history, practical theology, missions, evangelism, pastoral care, or pastoral leadership.

We can also help our university “move the needle” by offering well-designed, well-placed, well-funded PhDs. We presently have a PhD in preaching that is being vetted within Baylor.

Additionally, I would also say that we can add to the University’s aspiration to achieve Tier 1 by continuing to raise funding toward endowed chairs, which in turn enables us to attract and retain the best talent in our faculty ranks.

Finally, Truett can be a partner with other schools and colleges in multi-disciplinary enterprises and efforts. For example, if there were an overall emphasis at Baylor on population health, what in the world could our seminary bring to the table? Well, to the extent that spiritual wellbeing is a part of health, we could speak into the concern of one’s spiritual life and ecclesial connections.

So these are four ways off of the “top of my head” as to how we might contribute to “big B” Baylor as she seeks to ramp up to Tier 1 status. It is not only sciences, technology, engineering, and medicine that can make contributions. STEM must make room for STEAM, and we at the seminary are among those scholars who can contribute in the Arts. It used to be said, and I would argue rightly so, that theology is the queen of the sciences.

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