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One Baptist’s viewpoint on Christian education

 

Shorter College is back in the Georgia Baptist family. The battle to retrieve the school involved litigation that ultimately reached the Georgia Supreme Court, but on Oct. 21 the new governing board elected by the Georgia Baptist Convention met and began the process of writing a new chapter in the school’s history. Nelson Price, pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, was elected chairman of the trustees and testified that the meeting was marked by “cordiality and cooperation.”

J. Robert White, the Convention’s executive director, was cautioned that the path to reclaim the school would be precarious and difficult, but he believed that the school should remain as a part of the Georgia Baptist Convention and his resolve to win back the school was steadfast and unrelenting. Much credit is due the executive director for his leadership in this long and arduous battle. Price and Convention attorney Tom Duvall have also been instrumental in the effort to reclaim Shorter.

Since Mercer University was founded in 1833 Georgia Baptists have been involved in Christian higher education. What kind of an education should our Christian colleges and universities provide? That is a probing question and certainly deserves an answer. I may not be eminently qualified to provide the answer, but like most Baptists I have an opinion and unlike many, I have a platform for sharing it, so here goes.

Some of America’s greatest universities – Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton and Rutgers – were founded as a result of the First Great Awakening. David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., says, “Prior to the 19th century, every college started in this country – with the exception of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia – was a Christian-based college committed to revealed truth.

“For example, Dartmouth’s original charter states that the school’s original purpose was to ‘Christianize, instruct, and educate’ youth of the Indian tribes in this land … and also of English youth and any others.”

Unfortunately, most institutions of higher learning have departed from their moorings and abandoned their original purpose. George Marsden, in his book The Soul of the American University, asserts that our educational institutions have failed to mainstream religious history and take seriously the ideas of “traditional, faith-related” historians. That reality has contributed appreciably to the secularization of the upper reaches of American academic life.

Consequently, Marsden declares that in the last three generations leading universities and colleges have become “conspicuously inhospitable to … Evangelicalism.” He contends that a liberal mindset has now removed all “normative religious teaching” from the curriculum and that this “disestablishment of religion has led to the virtual establishment of nonbelief.”

 

Controversial name

Consider Dartmouth University’s original charter and contrast that with what happened at the beginning of the current school year. Noah Riner, president of the Dartmouth Student Assembly, spoke at convocation to welcome the class of 2009 and stirred up a hornet’s nest. He said, “Knowledge is good, but if all we get from this place is knowledge, we missed something. There is one subject that you won’t learn about in class, one topic that orientation didn’t cover, and that your UGA (undergraduate assistant – comparable to resident assistant) won’t mention: character.”

Riner continued, “Character has a lot to do with sacrifice, laying our personal interests down for something bigger. The best example of this is Jesus. He knew the cost (for our sins) would be agonizing torture and death. He did it anyway. That’s character.”

Riner explained, “Jesus is a good example of character, but He’s also much more than that. He is the solution to flawed people like corrupt Dartmouth alums, looters (referring to the Katrina pilferers) and me.

“Jesus’ message of redemption is simple. People are imperfect, and there are consequences for our actions. He gave His life for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to bear the penalty of the law; so we could see love. The problem is me; the solution is God’s love: Jesus on the cross, for us.”

Riner’s speech sparked a considerable amount of controversy. Some students took offense to the speech’s reference to Jesus, saying that convocation was an inappropriate forum for the topic. The student body vice president, Kaelin Goulet, expressed her disapproval for the speech by resigning her office.

Goulet commented, “I consider his choice of topic reprehensible.”

 

Rise above cacophony

The editorial board of The Dartmouth, America’s oldest college newspaper, condemned the speech by writing, “The problem with Riner’s speech was his insinuation that turning to Jesus is the only way to find character.”

Dartmouth and many other institutions of higher learning should heed the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus, “Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.”(Revelation 2:5a)

Therefore, I believe our Baptist institutions of higher education should rise above the cacophony of many other colleges and universities with a distinctiveness that is marked by a Christian worldview that permeates the process by which students will grow intellectually and spiritually. It is foolish to think that when a school focuses on Christian discipleship, fellowship and servant leadership that it must forfeit scholarship. Christian scholarship at its best produces learned graduates with changed lives and successful world-changing careers.

Harold Newman, the interim president of Shorter, has described the role of the college leadership as a “sacred trust to care for the college.” He stated, “Shorter College is poised and ready to become the premiere higher educational institution in Georgia Baptist life.”

The Shorter board of trustees that met on Oct. 14 to help chart a course for the future of the school are extraordinarily gifted individuals with a passion to see the school excel as a Georgia Baptist college. Newman characterized the trustees as “very committed to this partnership (between the school and the Convention) and devoted to the education of young people.”

Newman added, “SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) would be impressed with the composition of this board. It’s made up of ministers, accomplished businessmen, successful professionals including three physicians, and educators, some of whom are alumni of the college.” Interestingly, forty percent of the present trustees have served on the Shorter board previously to this term of service and forty percent have either graduated from the school or had a close family member to do so. One-third of the trustees are from the Rome area.

I am personally grateful for the many good things God is doing at Shorter and in each of our institutions of higher education. These institutions have a great responsibility as they equip and train young adults to become champions for Christ and future leaders of our nation.

The First Great Awakening birthed some of America’s greatest institutions of learning. It would be exceedingly wonderful if our Baptist colleges and universities could become the birthplace of the next Great Awakening by being committed to quality education in a biblically sound, Christ-centered environment.