Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Blossoming Flower of Conservative Scholarship

God called me to be a pastor when I was eleven years old. In the thirty subsequent years, only one thought has given me pause about that calling. I have passed through seasons of my life when, although I knew that my calling was to pastoral ministry, I have felt some obligation to serve as a professor in a seminary or in the religion department of a Baptist university. As the Conservative Resurgence progressed and as SBC seminaries began to return to the denomination's conservative roots, I heard others wonder aloud where Southern Baptists would ever find enough conservative, Bible-believing, qualified professors to be able to staff six seminaries.

I fretted over the question as much as anyone else. Having gone to Baylor, I naturally assumed that the ratio of liberal professors of religion to conservative ones must approach 10 million : 1. Having heard the story of C. H. Toy repeated ad nauseum and having spent many sessions subjected to the patronizing musings of professors who were absolutely certain that, as I matured, I would certainly come to see things their way, I wasn't even optimistic that the one professor in ten million wouldn't be a Schleiermachian before all was said and done. Believing that I was capable of becoming qualified as a conservative scholar and professor, at times I succumbed to fear and worried over the thought, "If not you, Bart, then who?"

As it turns out, this concern is not unique to Southern Baptist conservatives post-1979. In a recent article by John Tierney in the New York Times entitled "The Left-Leaning Tower," the Gray Lady considers the plight of the conservative academic and actually dares to contemplate the possibility that the stock liberal explanation of the phenomenon ("that conservatives are just too close-minded and dimwitted") might not be a self-evident truth.

I no longer worry. As it turns out, it is not difficult at all to find or to make good conservative scholars. As a trustee and member of the Academic Affairs subcommittee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I meet a new crop of conservative scholars twice a year when we consider new faculty. They have terminal degrees from institutions like Princeton. They write about things like the appropriate classification and understanding of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q174. As it turns out, if you create a place where conservative scholars will not be vilified and ostracized, conservative scholars will come to you.

For The New York Times to scratch its head and wonder why the dearth of conservatives in academia is a bit like Captain Ahab trying to figure out what became of all the sperm whales. Before 1979, a conservative scholar couldn't get a job in the SBC system. Today, a conservative Ph.D. graduate of an SBC seminary still will be blackballed from the vast preponderance of the universities that Southern Baptists have founded. Like the desert flower erupting into color at the least bit of rain, with just the slightest encouragement conservative scholarship blossoms and flourishes. It's just that so few environments will, even grudgingly, allow those precious few needed raindrops to fall.

But the rain is falling in our SBC seminaries, and the resplendent flora reveal the glory of God. That so many of these scholars are now so young and so capable is reason to be hopeful about what is yet to come. May God give me the years to see it for myself.


Dave Miller said...

Thanks. Great encouragement.

David R. Brumbelow said...

I remember hearing the same thing. Moderate to liberal scholars feigning concern that even if we wanted all conservative professors at our SBC seminaries, we could never find enough of them. Part of the problem was their view that if you were conservative you must not have the intellect and education to be a professor. Of course, if you had the intellect and education, they could not imagine you would be a conservative.

I was convinced back then that if you gave the opportunity, conservative scholars could easily be found and produced. God only knows how many great conservative scholars were ignored and blackballed by our moderate leaning institutions during the pre-Conservative Resurgence (CR) days. As you point out, today conservative scholars still are ignored and resented in most of our Baptist Colleges and Universities.

To the young conservative theologs out there - Now is the best of times. Study to show yourself approved. And never forget the ones who voted their convictions during the CR to give you this opportunity.
David R. Brumbelow

Anonymous said...

very true overseas as there.

Dr. James Willingham said...

Aye! Very encouraging, but for the fact that some of the conservative brethren do not realize just how balanced, flesible, creative, enduring and magnetic biblical orthodoxy can make a child of God. And being so conservative, they seem to fear lest they might violate certain canons of conservative thought. But I have have found, though it has cost me with conservatives just as my believing the Bible cost me dearly with the moderates (seems like they really don't deserve the name liberal as that should go to the Bible believing souls). Just look at how Jonathan Edwards took George Whitefield to task in their ride to GW's next appointment after preaching for JE. And then note GW's change and how he raised money for Harvard, whereas before the institution and the evangelist villified one another. And then there is the case of Whitefield and Wesley and the Funeral Sermon and the idea that neither would be able to see the other in Heaven due to the one or the other being so close to the throne that the one speaking to the issue was convinced he would not be able to see his brother, being so far away.

We are going to go forward even more by leaps and bounds, when the Bible believers find out how the truth can make them balanced, flexible, creative, enduring, and magnetic...and even liberal in the best sense of that word.