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Baptist college leaders explore integrating faith & learning

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FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP)–Top administrators of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools explored opportunities for integrating faith and learning during a three-day annual meeting in Franklin, Tenn.

Presenters of Hester Lectures and other speakers explored faith and learning themes such as “The Call and Challenge to be a Distinctively Christian College or University,” “Developing a Theology for Baptist Higher Education” and “The University, the Church and the Culture.”

In the first Hester lecture, Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton (Ill.) College, told administrators of the 54 ASBCS institutions that, “Distinctively Christian thinking is inevitably built upon the Trinitarian claim of the Lordship, and therefore the centrality, of Jesus Christ. This leads directly to the awareness that he is the One, the only One who can serve as the centerpiece of an entire curriculum, the One to whom we must relate everything and without whom no fact, no theory, no subject, no practice can be fully appreciated.”

In the second Hester lecture, David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., an ASBCS member school, said, “A theology of Baptist higher 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.”

A theology for Baptist higher education, Dockery said, must include a belief in a Triune God, with Christ as mediator between man and God, a belief in a totally truthful and authoritative Bible, a belief in the message of God’s justifying work by grace through faith, a focus on the church and a commitment to a life of prayer, holiness, obedience and growth in Christ.

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“This kind of theology,” he said, “can shape Baptist higher education for a promising future.”

Tom Corts, president of ASBCS member Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., delivered the third Hester lecture. He challenged school administrators to, “Make your peace with the reality that your institution is not like all others; it has a higher and holier calling, no matter the bias of the culture. And make your peace with the reality that the recognition and respect bestowed on other institutions may never be yours in a culture like ours.

“But then, you are not accountable for being popular with the local chamber of commerce, he reminded. “‘When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and Time shall be no more,’ you will account to the Lord God for your stewardship. Therefore, be certain that, if Baptist colleges were someday, somehow, to be outlawed, we would see one another in jail.”

The May 31-June 2 meeting provided continuing education opportunities for a wide range of administrative disciplines, including public relations, financial affairs, legal affairs, academic affairs, student development and denominational relations.

In business matters, members approved changes in their bylaws to increase the number of board members from 15 to 16 and to increase the rotating terms from three years to four years. Bob Agee, ASBCS executive director, told members, “The bylaw change will increase participation for member schools and will result in more experienced board members.”

The association, founded in 1948, is owned by its 54 member schools in 18 states and exists for the schools to cooperate in promoting the interests of Christian education. Combined enrollment of the member schools encompasses more than 123,000.

Members of the association include the chief executive officer and the chief academic officer from each member school. A board of directors manages the business and affairs of the association.

Members heard reports of a newly formed insurance consortium to help manage the skyrocketing costs for property and casualty insurance at member schools. The consortium already has saved an average of $100,000 per year for each school that has elected to participate in the joint purchasing program.

Members also approved an annual budget for the association of $239,292 with expected revenues of $249,225. About 55 percent of the revenue comes from annual dues paid by member schools; less than 10 percent from state Baptist conventions; and the remainder from corporate sponsorships, auxiliary enterprises and annual meeting income.

The budget funds two fulltime staff members, a corporate office in Nashville and member services including fellowship and continuing education opportunities for faculty and administrators; value-added services through corporate sponsors; The Southern Baptist Educator, a quarterly scholarly journal; joint promotion of the schools in printed and electronic media; monitoring of legislation affecting Christian education; and a website (www.baptistschools.org) for prospective students and those seeking employment at member schools.

In other action, the ASBCS board of directors voted to deny membership renewal to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, because board members said Grand Canyon no longer meets membership requirements. Grand Canyon, with a reported enrollment of approximately 3,000 students, has been sold to a for-profit corporation, which changes its former status as a “non-profit Baptist-related institution” — two of the requirements for membership in ASBCS.

ASBCS board chair Bill Crouch, president of Georgetown (Ky.) College, said, “Grand Canyon is free to reapply for membership in the future if its status changes.”

The board elected as officers for 2004–05: Andy Westmoreland, president of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., chair; Ron Ellis, president of California Baptist University in Riverside, vice chair/chair elect; and Don Good, vice president for academic affairs of Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky., recording secretary.

New board members elected during the meeting by the full membership include Mark Brister, president of Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee; Arlen Dykstra, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis; David Jeffrey, provost and vice president for academic affairs of Baylor University in Waco, Texas; Richard Parker, vice president for financial affairs of Houston Baptist University; and Evans Whitaker, president, Anderson (S.C.) College.

ASBCS’ corporate offices are located in Nashville, Tenn.
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Tim Fields is director of communications of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools.