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Baptist schools must preserve legacy of Christian scholarship, Mohler says

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Baptist colleges and seminaries have a “responsibility to perpetuate a legacy of Christian teaching in these critical, turning-point times,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said during his address at Union University’s inaugural Founders Day celebration Feb. 8 on the Jackson, Tenn., campus.
Mohler encouraged a reclamation of the traditions established early in the life of Baptist higher education. As the oldest institution of higher education in the Southern Baptist Convention, Union’s founding principles played a unique role in shaping the face of Baptist higher education today, Mohler asserted.
During his address, Mohler outlined five principles that have undergirded Union’s tradition and can serve as guiding posts for the future. Mohler described those characteristics as: a commitment to the local church, a vision for Christian scholarship, a purpose of unifying Baptists, a model of sacrificial stewardship and a dedication to truth.
“We have a responsibility to reclaim this tradition and nourish it by reflection,” Mohler asserted. Doing so, he explained, will help Baptist educators continue to prepare their students as “useful citizens and Christian scholars.”
For Union, Mohler pointed out, the tradition of Christian scholarship began with the university’s founders, R.B.C. Howell and Joseph Eaton. Howell’s tenure as chairman of the board of trustees and Eaton’s as the school’s first president were driven by their vision to prepare educated ministers and laypeople to carry out the Great Commission. During Howell and Eaton’s day, that often meant equipping students for ministry in the frontier land of the western United States.
Howell was followed by a steady flow of students, administrators and faculty who greatly impacted not only Union but also the Southern Baptist Convention.
After James Boyce received an honorary doctorate from Union in 1859, Mohler recounted, he went on to found Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Former Union President Charles Manley shared his passion of Baptist higher education with his brother Basil Manley Jr., who became president of Georgetown College in Kentucky. After Union moved from Murfreesboro to Jackson, Charles Manley went on to become president of Furman University in Greenville, S.C. Southern Baptist missionary pioneer T.P. Crawford studied under J.R. Graves and J.M. Pendleton at Union. Crawford went on to serve as the supervisor of the famed missionary to China, Lottie Moon.
Union unveiled a historical painting detailing these figures and others during the Founders Day service. The work includes trustees, faculty, alumni and buildings that have played significant roles in the university’s history. Artist Robert Nettles was commissioned for the painting.
Designed to become an annual event in university life, Founders Day was established so the Union community could continually celebrate its long and rich heritage of providing a liberal arts education in a Christian context.
In the case of Baptist higher education, the purposes of the past would do well to be the purposes of our future, Mohler said, noting, “May we reflect on our past as we head into our future.”

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  • Nedra Kanavel