FRANKLIN, Tenn. – June 4, 2004 – Theology and Baptist higher education go hand in hand, says Union University President David S. Dockery.
Dockery was one of several Tennessee Baptists who were on the program of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools, a national organization which held its annual meeting May 31 June 2 at the Marriott Cool Springs Hotel.
Dockery delivered one of three Hester Lectures during the session of Baptist college presidents, chief academic officers, and other college administrative and staff personnel.
“I believe theology can render service to Baptist higher education in many ways,” Dockery told educators.
“It satisfies the mind so that we can know God, so that we can know the living Christ.
“Theology is vitally important for both the teaching and culture engaging task. Theology is necessary as a touchstone for understanding what we believe and for recognizing the principles by which our lives are to be shaped,” Dockery said.
He observed, however, that the very term “theology” scares many people.
“It sounds formidable, esoteric, abstract, and technical. Many people are suspicious of the word ‘theology,’ thinking it is irrelevant to our life with God or even worse, a sort of human presumption,” Dockery said.
“I have found the suspicion of theology to be present among many people, not just academics, but pastors and numerous laypeople alike.
“The suspicions are often right, at least in part, because theology often has been studied in the wrong way, which has led to misthinking, or even hurtful thinking at many places,” the Union president continued.
In leading educators “Toward a Theology of/for Baptist Higher Education,” Dockery reviewed traditions that have influenced Southern Baptists along with basic Baptist beliefs. He told educators that “theology can help those called to serve in Baptist higher education to better understand what we believe and why we believe it. We can appreciate our heritage and enliven our future hope.
“When this takes place, I believe Baptist colleges and universities can be strengthened. The gospel in its fullness can be proclaimed,” Dockery continued.
“Without the foundation of solid theology there can be no effective long term educational efforts that are truly and distinctively Baptist — much less truly and distinctively Christian,” he added.
The Union president observed that a theologically informed approach to Baptist higher education “must offer a way to live that is consistent with reality by offering a comprehensive understanding of all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation.”
Dockery stressed that the starting point of such an approach “begins with God and brings us into the presence of God without delay.
“The central affirmation of Scripture is not only that there is a God, but that God has acted and spoken on history,” Dockery said.
He stressed that “without healthy theology, those of us in the church and the academy are prone to be tossed back and forth by waves, blown here and there by every wind of teaching (as Paul describes in Ephesians 4:14).”
He asserted that a “healthy understanding of theology for Baptist higher education will help mature the head and heart, enabling believers to move toward spiritual health, resulting in the praise and exaltation of God.”
Dockery challenged Baptist educators to heed the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
The move toward a theology of/for Baptist higher education is intellectually challenging, Dockery told the educators.
“It is not the easiest road for us to travel, but it is one faithful to the vest of our heritage and maintains that there is no room for mere anti intellectual piety, much less some vague spirituality, in Baptist higher education.
“We are to have the mind of Christ. This certainly requires us to think and wrestle with the challenging ideas of history in the issues of our day,” he said.
“For us to do otherwise will result in a generation of God’s people ill equipped for faithful thinking and service in this new century.
“Christian thinking is needed to confront an ever changing culture,” Dockery continued.
“Instead of allowing our thoughts to be captive to culture, we must take every thought captive to Jesus Christ.”
Dockery suggested that a theology of/for Baptist higher education can help educators connect and unify principles for Christian thinking, grounded in the truth that God is creator and redeemer.
“A call for a theology of and for Baptist higher education will encourage curious exploration and serious wrestling with the foundational questions of human existence,” he continued. Dockery also observed that a theology of Baptist higher education “will help us be aware of contemporary cultural, social, and religious trends. …
“Ultimately,” Dockery said, “a theology of Baptist higher education grows out of a commitment to sphere sovereignty whether in the arts, the sciences, the humanities, education, business, health care or social arenas.”
Dockery noted that such a theory of Baptist education “rooted in Scripture and grounded in the best of our Baptist heritage can equip the work of Baptist higher education for times of duress and trial, whether that comes through means of persecution, whether in the face of faithless scholarship or in the midst of the church’s internal bickering and divisions.
“What is needed is a bedrock, nonnegotiable commitment to a belief in a triune God; in one mediator between God and humanity — the man Christ Jesus."
Such a commitment, Dockery said, represents a belief in a totally truthful and authoritative Bible and the message of God’s justifying work by grace through faith revealed therein.
Dockery noted that the bedrock commitment to one triune God is rooted in a focus on the church and lives “in the hope of the return of Christ, resulting in a commitment to a life of prayer, holiness, obedience and growth in Christ.
“This kind of theology can shape Baptist higher education for a promising future,” Dockery predicted.
Program personnel also included Robert Fisher, president of Belmont University, Nashville; James Porch, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention; Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector; and attorneys Jim Guenther and Jamie Jordan.
Bob Agee, former Union University administrator and retired president of Oklahoma Baptist University, serves as executive director of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools. Carson Newman College President Jim Netherton serves on the board of the association.
By Lonnie Wilkey
Baptist and Reflector