WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–In the midst of a culture inundated with religious misinformation that often militates against biblical Christianity, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary June 1 launched the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, a center designed to lead the way in responding to controversial cultural issues and equipping Christians to do the same.
The idea for the center came from seminary President Daniel Akin, who felt it was necessary given the climate in which the church finds itself today. Assailed on all sides by lies purported to be truth, such as those contained in the recent film and best-selling book “The DaVinci Code” and the Gnostic gospel of Judas, the church must be ready and able to defend the biblical gospel, Akin said.
The Center for Faith and Culture will defend the faith by:
— sponsoring annual lectureships, conferences and forums.
— supporting an apologetics website.
— providing intensive mentoring in worldview, ethics and apologetics for Southeastern students.
In addition, the center will impact local churches through conferences designed to equip their members to address important cultural issues from a Christian perspective.
The center’s founding dean, L. Russ Bush, III, had served as academic vice president and dean of the faculty at Southeastern for 17 years and is widely known in evangelical circles for his work in the field of Christian philosophy and for co-authoring with Tom Nettles the influential book, “Baptists and the Bible.”
For Akin, Bush was the logical choice, given his qualifications and legacy among Southern Baptists in the field of philosophy.
“No one has contributed more to helping Southern Baptists think Christianly than Russ Bush,” Akin said. “His work in philosophy and Christian apologetics has guided us in how to define and defend the faith. Russ is our best known writer and teacher in these fields and it is appropriate that a center dedicated to faith and culture bear his name. I am excited at what the center will contribute to the advancement of God’s Kingdom work, and I know Russ Bush will do a wonderful job in giving leadership and direction as the center begins its work.”
As it turns out, a center of this nature had been a desire of Bush’s for a long time, one that he could never determine how to implement until Akin’s proposal. When Akin approached him about serving as the center’s founding director, Bush said he was honored. But when Akin told him he wanted to name the center after him, Bush hesitated.
“I didn’t think Dr. Akin should do it,” the self-effacing Bush said. “I thought it was too much. I was overwhelmed by it, and I said, ‘I’m glad to have this center, but it doesn’t have to be named after me,’ because I thought he was going overboard. But he persuaded me that he really wanted my name on there, that he wanted that to be the reputation of it –- what I’ve done for 30 years.”
Others, such as Gary Habermas, say Bush is a fitting man to lead the Center. A well-known Christian apologist, Habermas serves as the distinguished research professor and chair of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University.
“The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture is an excellent way to honor a scholar, author and statesman who has devoted his career to furthering the Gospel by defending its underpinnings,” Habermas said. “Russ is truly deserving of such public respect, which he has received for many years from his colleagues. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to be congratulated for giving life to such a wonderful idea.”
Norman Geisler, CEO and dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C., and renowned leader in the field of philosophy and apologetics, agreed.
“Dr. Russ Bush is one of the foremost evangelical leaders in the country in the field of faith and culture,” Geisler said. “His contributions in both leadership and scholarship are exemplary.”
David Nelson, senior vice president for academic administration at Southeastern and the man who replaced Bush as dean of faculty, said he believes in both the idea behind the Center for Faith and Culture and the man Akin has chosen to lead it.
“The Bush Center will be pivotal in equipping not only Southeastern students, but also Southern Baptist pastors and churches to understand and engage the culture for the glory of God,” Nelson said. “The center will help believers to form their faith through training in worldview issues, to live their faith, by offering insights on all manner of ethical issues, and to defend the faith, by offering training in apologetics.
“There is no one better qualified among Southern Baptists to lead this effort than Russ Bush. He has been a leader as a philosophy teacher, in scholarly societies and in SBC life. We are praying that God will give him many fruitful years in the work of the Center for Faith and Culture.”
One reason the center is needed, Bush said, is the ignorance in America today concerning the content of the Bible and the Christian faith.
“This center is necessary because of the tremendous confusion in the culture about what Christianity actually is,” Bush said. “The very fact that the gospel of Judas could create such a stir means that church people in general are not really equipped to respond to it. They don’t have the background knowledge. These things sound plausible to them. If they knew about what Gnosticism was and what the Gnostic gospels are, they would have just dismissed this immediately. But what you have is a lot of people saying, ‘Really? Well, maybe that is right.’”
Bush’s plans for the center include taking aim at perennial cultural issues like the creation-evolution debate, abortion and homosexuality. However, because the center is designed to engage any issue that finds itself located at the intersection of faith and culture, Bush believes that a wide variety of important topics lie within its domain.
“Even with advertising, people now are essentially morally desensitized because almost everything is presented as acceptable,” Bush said. “Homosexual cowboys are one of the main options for an Academy Award. Well, this would be unimaginable a few years ago, but today it just kind of flows.
“What we want to have is a resource place where when people hear about things like this, they can come to our website or come to some of our conferences and get answers. But our goal is not just answering questions, although that’s a big part of it. What we want to do is actually make a strong presentation of the Christian faith so that when those things come up, they will sound as hollow as they actually are. Whereas now, people in the churches and everywhere else tend to think, ‘Well, maybe that’s possible,’ because they don’t have the basic foundational knowledge about their faith. This will help them to resist these false ideas that are constantly being brought up in the media.”
Bush’s strategy will include several different avenues of communication, such as conferences organized for local churches, pamphlets and academic books published for distribution, guest speakers brought in for lectures and, hopefully in the future, DVDs produced on important cultural topics.
“There are plenty of science and faith sites and there are plenty of popular culture sites, but I don’t know of one that really puts everything together the way we’re thinking about it,” Bush said. “We go to different sites for different things. What I want to do is be able to come to one place to get faith and science, popular culture and missions strategies all in one location. I think people will be interested in that.”
Bush’s vision for the center is that it would become well-known in Southern Baptist life as “the place to go to get information about controversial issues and doctrines and questions that come up in local churches.” He said he also hopes that it will be recognized in the broader evangelical world as a credible resource center.
For Bush, the move to director of the center will mean that he must step down from his role as academic vice president and dean of the faculty, although he will continue to teach as professor of philosophy. On April 11, trustees honored him by electing him to the positions of academic vice president emeritus/dean of the faculty emeritus and distinguished professor of philosophy of religion.
Although he will miss the role of dean in which he has served for so long, Bush admits with a smile that such a position also demands “a whole lot of work,” one that he is “happy to turn over to someone else.”
While directing the center will involve a good deal of work as well, Bush hopes his new position will afford him the time to do something else that he has been wanting to do for years now — write.
“I have not been able to do much writing because there’s just not enough time,” Bush said. “I’ve wanted to publish, but it’s very hard to do it when you have to do the work of a dean because that work is pretty much all day long every day. Now, I should have more time, and I should be able to do more writing. And that’s important to me. I’ve always said that if you don’t publish, you don’t leave anything much. I’m hoping that I can get more titles published that will help to leave some kind of a legacy of influence.”
For Bush’s colleagues, peers and former students, his legacy is not in doubt, and it is one that they hope to see extended to Southeastern’s Center for Faith and Culture. Bush simply hopes to keep serving faithfully and making steady progress at developing the center.
“I just hope that when I retire, I will be able to say, ‘Look, we accomplished more than I thought we could,’” Bush said.