JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 1, 2006 – Baptist institutions can successfully navigate the treacherous course between fundamentalism and liberalism by being Christ-centered and church-connected, Union University President David S. Dockery said Sept. 1.
Dockery addressed the university community during the annual fall convocation and insisted that Union can be true to its Baptist heritage without abandoning its ties to the church, as so many other Baptist institutions have done.
“Connecting with the great Christian intellectual tradition of the church at large can provide insight for today and guidance for the future,” Dockery said. “Knowledge of the past keeps us from confusing what is merely a contemporary expression from that which is enduringly relevant.”
In addition to Dockery’s address, the university officially installed Barbara McMillin as associate provost and dean of instruction; Gregory Thornbury as dean of the School of Christian Studies; and Jimmy Davis as vice president for Union’s Germantown campus and director of institutional effectiveness.
Entitled “Between Galatians and Colossians: A Renewed Vision for Baptist Higher Education,” Dockery’s address traced the history of Baptist higher education and charted a course for Union University to follow as it emphasizes both intellectual inquiry and Christian commitment.
Dockery referred specifically to a New York Times article from July about the number of Baptist institutions severing their relationships with the church. Some Baptist college leaders suggest that such action is necessary for Baptist academic institutions to remain faithful to the academy.
Dockery, however, rejects that philosophy and said that Union University will remain faithful to the church while maintaining its academic rigor and commitment to the academy. He recognizes that doing so is “swimming upstream” from what almost every other academic institution in the country is doing, and that some will question the legitimacy of remaining tied to the church while engaging both the culture and the academy.
But Dockery is confident that such an approach is both necessary and possible.
“A renewed vision for Baptist higher education will have a focus on the church,” Dockery said. “This university is not a church, but we must stay connected to the church. We will aim for the best in the academy, and will always have one eye on the historical past of the Christian tradition. The challenge is to preserve and pass on the Christian tradition while encouraging honest intellectual inquiry in the areas of teaching, research and scholarship.”
The Apostle Paul is an example for how universities like Union can achieve this task, Dockery said. Paul wrote the book of Galatians to challenge the false teaching of Jewish legalism and to stress the message of the true gospel.
The book of Colossians, meanwhile, was written to oppose a religious philosophy that appeared to challenge the essence of Christian teaching, Dockery said. This wrong-headed teaching had some connections with Christianity, but it denied the supremacy of Christ in all things.
Dockery told the Union community there is no place at the university for an anti-intellectualism that fails to engage the academy or to influence the culture.
“We must also recognize that free inquiry unanchored to theology and tradition often results in unbelieving skepticism, advancing the directionless state that characterizes so much of higher education today,” Dockery said.
Thus, in walking between these two ditches – a fundamentalist legalism on one hand and a secularized anti-Christian mindset on the other – Dockery said Union University will remain committed to the essentials of the Christian faith.
“What is needed is a bedrock, non-negotiable commitment to a belief in a triune God and in one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who was God incarnate,” Dockery said.
Also necessary, Dockery said, is “a belief in a fully inspired and authoritative Bible, and the message of God’s justifying work by grace through faith revealed therein.”
Finally, he emphasized the need for a focus on the church, in a hope of the return of Christ and a commitment to a life of prayer, holiness, obedience and growth in Christ.
“We need a renewed vision for Baptist higher education in the 21st century that will help us develop connecting and unifying principles for Christian thinking, grounded in the truth that God is creator and redeemer,” Dockery said. “We need to encourage curious exploration and serious wrestling with the foundational questions of human existence.”
Dockery said he believes God in his providence has brought to Union University the right faculty, the right staff, the right trustees and the right students to advance such a distinctive vision of Baptist higher education.
“We dedicate ourselves afresh to leading the Union University community in academic excellence, spiritual renewal, personal discipleship and faithful churchmanship,” Dockery said. “In doing so, we will seek to create a campus context to deepen and strengthen our dedication to Union’s wonderful Baptist heritage and her commitment to the best of the orthodox Christian intellectual tradition.”
An audio file of Dockery’s address is available at www.uu.edu/audio/Detail.cfm?ID=255.