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Hemphill’s executive v.p. choice rallies seminary’s Texas trustees

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Ken Hemphill’s selection of Craig Blaising as executive vice president and provost has rallied trustees from Texas, the seminary’s home state.

The full board stood to applaud Hemphill for recommending Blaising, 52, after unanimously approving him Oct. 16 as the seminary’s chief operational and academic officer effective Jan. 1.

“This truly is something to celebrate,” trustee chairman Michael Dean of Fort Worth told the board, then telling Hemphill, “I want to thank you for this bold move on your part and this great step forward for your presidency and for Southwestern Seminary. This is one of the most exciting things to happen since I’ve been on the board.”

Dean said the job is “a newly created position” in which Blaising will “take upon his shoulders some of the day-to-day operations, thereby freeing up the president to give the kind of leadership and vision that he needs to give to the seminary.”

Blaising, a native of San Antonio, Texas, comes to Southwestern after having served as associate vice president for doctoral studies and as the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., since 1995. He served as director of the Ph.D. program in theological studies and professor of systematic theology at Dallas Seminary from 1980-95. He was the first faculty member named to the Evangelical Bible Chair at the University of Texas at Arlington in 1978.

He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, master of theology and doctor of theology degrees at Dallas Theological Seminary and a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in Austin.

Trustee vice chairman David Allen of Dallas described the selection of Blaising as “Dr. Hemphill’s most significant decision since he’s been here.” As an indicator of the extensive evaluation that went into approving the recommendation, Allen acknowledged that trustees deliberated over the decision as seriously as they would in hiring a president.

Blaising was given the broadest job description ever written for a Southwestern Seminary administrator below the level of president, with Hemphill describing him as “second in command.” He will function as the chief operational and academic officer with authority to appoint and discharge staff below the executive level. Additionally, Blaising will recommend new faculty members to the president while authorized to supervise and evaluate the work of existing faculty. He will also serve as professor of theology.

Hemphill added, “He will be empowered by the president when I inaugurate a specific task for him that he can pull together other elements of the seminary community to help him accomplish that task.”

Trustee Ralph Pulley of Dallas, a former board chairman, spoke of his acquaintance with Blaising at First Baptist Church of Dallas where Blaising was a member while teaching systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. “He has wonderful academic credentials, with the mindset, spirit and all the attributes to be a wonderful provost and executive vice president.”

Trustee Matthew McKellar of Tyler, Texas, added, “He is, in my opinion, a world-class scholar with tremendous credentials who will enable us to have a greater impact in the evangelical world.”

Trustee Dean Gage of College Station, Texas, said, “It’s probably one of the key appointments made in a number of years, not only in terms of position, but in terms of the quality of Blaising in carrying out this assignment.

“When he forms a partnership with Hemphill, that’s going to have a tremendous impact,” Gage said.

For many of the trustees, Blaising’s election to the seminary solidifies a symbolic victory for the conservative resurgence, with the unanimous vote demonstrating the unity of conservatives. One trustee noted the distinction between unity that must be developed and that which arises early. He said most committee recommendations are reported to the full board as unanimous reports in spite of some dissent that eventually gave way in the interest of unity. However, in the case of Blaising, he said trustees were excited by Hemphill’s selection from the beginning.

Blaising’s task of recruiting and securing new faculty is key to ensuring that conservative theology will be taught in Southwestern’s classrooms. Said Blaising: “Our goal, as the president has said, is to make Southwestern a foremost seminary for training ministry leaders and evangelicalism,” Blaising said. “We will be adding faculty to the seminary who are a faculty of integrity and who affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. So with integrity and quality, we want to build that into a community of scholars that’s mutually encouraging and contributes to the overall goal of the seminary.”

Trustee Miles Seaborn of Fort Worth said there are currently 12 to 15 vacancies in several areas where one existing professor is shouldering the burden of the workload. Noting that Blaising is already in contact with people “who would really meet our needs as strong conservatives,” Seaborn said he anticipates five to six new faculty recommendations by the next trustee meeting, April 8-10, 2002.

Denny Autrey of Lindale, Texas, chairman of the trustees’ academic affairs committee, said Blaising’s expertise will enhance the school of theology, adding, “He has grown up in a conservative approach concerning the importance of Scripture. This will speak volumes to all Southern Baptists that Southwestern is on the cutting edge as a Bible-believing seminary.”

Trustee Ronnie Yarber of Athens, Texas, said Blaising brings conservatism and scholarship to Southwestern through his credentials as a leader in the academic environment and a commitment to Southern Baptist work and Southern Baptist causes.

“The movement to bring him on helps to mute any criticism about the weakness of our faculty,” Yarber said, citing criticisms by moderates worried over recent retirements and resignations. Instead, Yarber believes Southwestern’s faculty will grow stronger with new appointments. “He is in full sympathy with the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he is very comfortable with his position on the inerrancy of Scripture.”

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  • Melissa Deming