SBC Life Articles

The Integrity Imperative for Baptist Higher Education

The following is the inauguration banquet address by James T. Draper, Jr., for Mark Brister, president of Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

The greatest challenge facing you, Mark, will be to keep OBU a Baptist institution. The move today is toward "serving" Baptists, but not "being" Baptist. I believe that this institution needs to not only serve Baptists, but to also be Baptist in every respect.

The Word of God declares: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…. (Ps. 111:10).

Some academic skeptic once said "Christian education is an oxymoron." The academy abounds with those who think the same thing of education by Baptists and for Baptists. Some are embarrassed that the academy must be encumbered by anything so archaic as a confessional stance. That is not the case at OBU. This has been and continues to be a Baptist institution with a strong confessional stance.

James T. Burtchaell distilled years of research into a remarkable book of about 800 pages, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches (Grand Rapids, Mich. Wm. B. Eerdman's, 1998).

Burtchaell charts the history of seventeen American colleges and universities that severed their ties with their founding denominations. He shows a remarkable sameness in the reason that these schools left their denominations. The eternal conflict whereby Christ stands in judgment of culture caused these institutions to capitulate to prevailing secular standards of knowledge. The pattern followed by these schools is so repeated, patterned, and predictable that it is as if they had read the minutes from one another's meetings.

First, these schools broke away from trustee control of their parent denominations and became generically Christian. They evoked amorphous and undefined allegiances to "Christian values" and "Christian respect" without further defining details.

Little by little they moved away from the orbit of denominational or even Christian education whatsoever. Burtchaell studied Congregational, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, and Evangelical schools. He himself is a Roman Catholic, so he has no axe to grind about Baptists.

He noted that a denominational institution, whatever its denomination, stays true to the denomination so long as its president is a member of that denomination, its trustees and professors are from that denomination, and the majority of the students are from that denomination. When these distinctives have eroded, there is no evidence in American history of a university remaining distinctively Christian, much less denominational.

There is an inherent irony when institutions lose their original purpose. For example, men meet and shake hands. What does that mean? Its roots are in the medieval custom of opening the hand to show that it contains no weapons. In beautiful new homes there are transom-like windows over the outside doors. The original purpose of the transom was to ventilate a room before the days of central air conditioning. Now they are merely decorative. In another world, the cornerstone of a building had a functional purpose in holding up the corner of the building. Now it is merely decorative.

In the same way, institutions can lose their purpose. It is hard to remember now that Vanderbilt and Duke were once Methodist institutions, that Princeton was the pride of Presbyterians, and that Harvard once served the Puritan/Congregational cause.

Oklahoma Baptist University has been and is a Baptist educational institution that provides education by Christians and for Christians. OBU does not hesitate to proclaim that the eternal Logos of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the fountain of all truth and knowledge. OBU recognizes the absolute character of God's self-disclosure in Jesus Christ, and measures all truth by that self disclosure.

OBU recognizes that there is no truth to be feared in the face of faith. OBU understands that faith is a way of knowing, belief is a way of understanding, and God's wisdom is the greatest tool for discernment.

We affirm today that nothing to be discovered in the macrocosm above through a telescope or in the microcosm below through a microscope will ever contradict the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.

Louis Pasteur lived in a world that believed micro-organisms were spontaneously generated from the mud and dust. He alone believed that they multiplied microscopically in septic conditions. Pasteur was right and the world was wrong. Galileo dared to affirm that the known universe was heliocentric, not geocentric. One man understood the truth, and the rest of the world was wrong.

Those devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ understand that truth rests in Him alone. Whatever the unbelieving world affirms must be measured by the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Every congress that has ever gathered and every emperor who has ever reigned cannot change one iota of the truth that is in Jesus Christ. He is the wellspring and the fountainhead of all that is truth.

In the inauguration of Dr. Brister as president of OBU, we celebrate our commitment to the absolute truth found in the Written Word and in the Living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you, Dr. Mark Brister, as you lead this great Baptist School into the 21st century.

    About the Author

  • James T. Draper, Jr.