NEW ORLEANS (BP) — When Jamie Dew and his family arrived last summer in New Orleans to lead the Southern Baptist seminary there, people told them, “If you love the city it will love you back.” Following a busy first year full of both successes and challenges, Dew said that’s true not only of his adopted city but the seminary as well.
Dew, 43, who today (June 5) marks the 1-year anniversary of his election as the ninth president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, recently spoke with the TEXAN about the past year and what lies ahead.
‘If you can do ministry here, you can do it anywhere’
Situated amid the density and diversity of New Orleans, NOBTS and Leavell College offer students immediate practical application for their theological education, Dew said.
“This city has brokenness,” he said. “It has opportunity. It has poverty. It has wealth. It has Southern Baptists. It has a lot of Catholics. It has a lot of Hindus. You fill in the blank. It’s got culture; it’s got music; it’s got food.”
Dew points to unity among local churches and the city’s designation by the North American Mission Board as a Send City as two factors contributing to NOBTS’ ability to prepare students for urban ministry.
“There’s so much of it that happens down here,” he said. “There’s just a lot of natural synergy there for the denomination between our entities.”
Building on the seminary’s historic missions focus and the city’s cultural diversity, Dew plans to make international missions a priority.
Dew came to NOBTS after serving as a professor and administrator at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. While there, he watched “hundreds and hundreds of students come, prepare and go — and that’s kind of in my DNA now,” he said. A philosopher by training, Dew credits a movement in his own life from intellectual pursuits to missions “because of my time at Southeastern.”
Dew hopes to reemphasize missions at the institutional level by creatively thinking through ways to “incorporate it more strongly into the curriculum and life experiences of students,” potentially through faculty hires and mission trips.
‘If you love the city, it will love you back’
For all its rough edges, New Orleans is generous. Dew called it a “deep grace” for him and his family “to be here in this city with these people on this campus.”
He and his wife Tara with their two sets of twins — Natalie and Nathan, 13, and Samantha and Samuel, 10 — have experienced what Dew called “a very natural, somewhat instinctual affection” for the city’s people.
“We threw ourselves into it,” Dew said, recalling the many churches they visited Sunday by Sunday in their early days in the city as well as their involvement in community and campus life. “We did everything, basketball games and festivals, and we did 11 or 12 Mardi Gras parades. We just jumped in, and those folks were right — you love the city, it loves you back. The same has been true of this campus and these students and this faculty.”
Amid the fast pace that comes with the job, Dew guards family time in daily rhythms.
“Unless there is a crisis of some kind, when I go home I’m home,” he said. “I’m not on my computer. I’m having dinner with my kids, I’m finding out about their day and I let them pepper me with questions about my day. We will go for a family walk, watch a movie or watch a little ‘Dude Perfect’ on YouTube. … I’ve only got five more years with my oldest kids, and so when I go home I protect that time like sacred terrain.”
But while their life is busy and challenging, Dew added, “We all just look back, even our 10-year-olds, and just think, ‘Wow, we’re so glad we’re here.'”
‘If Christianity is true, then it’s good’
When Dew was elected to NOBTS last June, he had one Ph.D., but by his first day on the job at NOBTS, he’d picked up a second, from the University of Birmingham in England. Both doctorates specialize in philosophy of religion, and his written works range from postmodernism to Thomistic hylomorphism.
Dew became a Christian at the age of 18 and will soon mark 25 years following Christ. He’s been involved in apologetics almost that long, a discipline he said has come a long way.
In the past, atheists asked evidence-focused questions requiring evidence-focused answers — such as the existence of God or the reality of miracles. Now, Dew said, “they still say we’re irrational,” but have added a second accusation: “You’re not just irrational for believing this — you are bad for believing this.”
The answer, Dew believes, goes back to approaches taken by C.S. Lewis and Blaise Pascal.
“Part of what Christians need to be laboring to do in this cultural moment is to show the goodness in the beauty of Christianity,” Dew said. “Look, if Christianity is true, then it’s good, right?
“Before you show lost people it’s true, you should first get them to the place where they would want it to be true. And I think we’re in a moment where the culture just doesn’t want it to be true because they think it’s bad.”
Looking back on his life before he was a Christian, Dew said, “I can see 18 years of brokenness when I did it my way, doing everything I wanted. And then I threw myself on Jesus Christ … and in that life, well, my goodness. I mean all I can see is life and flourishing.”
But Dew laments that often the beauty of Christianity is obscured because Christians “fight like cats and dogs amongst ourselves. That shows no beauty.”
New Orleans churches are doing a good job of demonstrating Christianity in a way that would cause lost people to wish it were true, Dew said.
The city’s brokenness means if Christians aren’t careful “the darkness here will absolutely overcome everything,” he said. Local churches across the New Orleans Baptist Association “line up shoulder to shoulder and get after it for the Kingdom.”
Without dismissing meaningful theological differences, Dew said New Orleans churches “don’t have the luxury of dividing over Calvinism” or other secondary matters. “The Gospel is already offensive enough to unbelievers,” Dew said. “Don’t add your own offensiveness to it.”