With Gratitude

NickImage

For the first time in eight years I am not the president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Early last November I initiated a process of transition that came to completion at midnight on June 30.

Why leave the presidency? I have both positive and negative reasons. I shall mention just two.

On the positive side, I have for some time experienced an increasing concern for a different area of ministry. My training and gifts are more academic and literary than they are organizational and political. While both kinds of gifts and functions are important, the community that I serve (Baptist fundamentalism) has a far fewer number of writers than it has politicians.

This imbalance has resulted in a network of individuals, churches, and institutions that has been much more effective at perpetuating (and sometimes enforcing) loyalty to slogans, organizations, and leaders than it has been at explaining ideas and working through their implications. Flaccid thinking has led, first, to a very tenuous grasp of core principles and, secondarily, to an increasing inability to apply those principles to new and changing circumstances. This is the situation that I most wish to address, and I have slowly become convinced that I cannot address it effectively from the position of president.

When I accepted the presidency of Central Seminary, I entertained rather a facile notion of how the position would function. In my naivety, I thought of a seminary president as a senior faculty member, an institutional coordinator, and a theological anchor. I believed that I had seen this model exemplified in presidents like Rolland McCune and Douglas McLachlan. During and since the era of their presidential service, however, the expectations and official functions of a seminary president have changed.

The environment of higher education in Baptist fundamentalism has also been changing rapidly. For one thing, mainstream, historic fundamentalism has been shrinking, and the hemorrhaging has increased over the past decade. Many young men are abandoning fundamentalism for what they perceive as the more vital theology of conservative evangelicalism. Some older leaders are being sucked into a vitriolic theology (the various permutations of King James Onlyism) and a corrosive vision of Christian life, ministry, and leadership.

Caught between these two forces (conservative evangelicalism and hyper-fundamentalism), mainstream fundamentalism has not only dwindled, but has also begun to fragment. The fissures have been noticeable for some time, but they have widened into noticeable fractures during the past two or three years.

While mainstream fundamentalism has been dwindling, it has also been multiplying educational institutions. The result has been a needless but general dilution of educational integrity coupled with a sharp rise in each institution’s attempts to differentiate itself from competitors in the marketplace. As institutions become more concerned with markets than with real effectiveness, they unavoidably make choices that are designed not so much to help students as to appeal to them. These choices, if widely adopted and fully implemented, will almost certainly prove disastrous in the long run. Fundamentalists have taken educational shortcuts before, and we are still paying the price.

All of this brings up my negative reason for leaving the presidency of Central Seminary. It is simply this. Institutional presidents are poorly placed for the articulation of ideas, and yet my burden and my skills are precisely to flesh these out.

For one thing, fundamentalists have witnessed too many generations of leaders who were willing to use the power of their organizations to manipulate the loyalties and behaviors of pastors and churches. Consequently, many have come to expect that any pronouncement from a president is also a demand for conformity. Typically they assume that such demands will be enforced through deployment of whatever power has been centralized in the institution.

For another thing, fundamentalists are accustomed to institutions in which personnel walk in lockstep. When the president expresses an opinion, he is assumed to be delivering the official view of his organization. Certainly disagreement would never be expressed in public. Indeed, in many fundamentalist circles it would be unthinkable for a president to expect and accept (let alone encourage) vigorous dissent within his staff or faculty. For ideas to be refined, however, they must also be graciously challenged.

What complicates this situation is that some of my opinions and even convictions are rarely held within mainstream fundamentalism. Some personnel at Central Seminary agree, while others think that I am simply stodgy. Outsiders, however, do not see this internal disagreement or the cordial ways in which it is argued. They assume that whatever I do or say must be the official position of the seminary, and that some sort of institutional power will be deployed to enforce conformity.

In short, I have discovered that the political dimension of fundamentalism dominates virtually every observation that a president offers. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a fundamentalist network. Maintaining one’s institution as a viable entity within that network involves keeping certain gears well lubricated, and disagreement is usually taken as an affront. The president of an agency like a seminary can hardly make a pronouncement or offer an observation that does not have political overtones.

This means that no one is less free to express an opinion than a seminary president. Many (perhaps most) fundamentalists cannot imagine a president whose overriding concern is simply to persuade others on the strength of ideas alone. This is especially a problem when that president’s ideas represent a deviation from (and therefore a threat to) their institutional ethos as they perceive it.

The fact is that I can say more, and risk less misunderstanding, as a research professor than as a president. The only power that I want is the power of instruction and persuasion, the power to make the truth evident. Die Wahrheit ist untödlich.

In short, there are books and articles that need to be written. God willing, I intend to write at least some of them. Some of the writing will be critical, but most of it will aim to articulate and defend the concerns that ought to propel us. My burden has resonated with the board of Central Seminary, and those good men have sacrificially created the opportunity for me to devote myself to teaching, reading, and writing. For their step of faith I am deeply grateful.

Hymn 1:2
Ere the Blue Heavens Were Stretch’d Abroad
Isaac Watts (1674 –1748)

The deity and humanity of Christ. John i. 1-3, 14; Col. i.16.

Ere the blue heav’ns were stretch’d abroad,
From everlasting was the Word;
With God he was; the Word was God,
And must divinely be ador’d.

By his own power were all things made;
By him supported all things stand;
He is the whole creation’s head,
And angels fly at his command.

Ere sin was born, or Satan fell,
He led the host of morning stars;
(Thy generation who can tell,
Or count the number of thy years?)

But lo, he leaves those heavenly forms,
The Word descends and dwells in clay,
That he may hold converse with worms,
Dress’d in such feeble flesh as they.

Mortals with joy beheld his face,
Th’ eternal Father’s only Son;
How full of truth! how full of grace!
When thro’ his eyes the Godhead shone!

Archangels leave their high abode
To learn new mysteries here, and tell
The loves of our descending God,
The glories of Immanuel.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 12 Comments

Joshua Caucutt's picture

I enjoyed that. I look forward to your future endeavors.

May I submit that part of the problem is that God has placed the church in the position of the "pillar and support of the truth" and any parachurch organization, including the most well-intentioned seminary must accept a range of doctrinal views in order to remain solvent. Thus, a person who is committed to figuring out and standing on the truth of every biblical issue finds himself poorly positioned as a college/seminary prof or administrator.

formerly known as Coach C

jimfrank's picture

Congratulations, Dr. Bauder. I greatly look forward to your writings in the future.

Steve Newman's picture

Dr. Bauder,

Thank you for your lucid thinking on so many subjects. While the position you were in may not have played to some of your strengths, it will also help you in your future endeavors. While we have gifts in certain areas, we are not called on to neglect others. May God give you grace and wisdom in your new position!

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The phrase "Die Wahrheit ist untödlich" means something pretty close to "The truth is indestructible." (I'm not completely clear on "untödlich"... but pretty sure "indestructible" is close. Maybe "unstoppable"? I'm sure Jeff Brown could tell us!)

I'm very glad to see a fundamentalist institution that is willing to put resources into something that has no immediate and obvious return on investment. That is, investing in thinking. The results of that are always slow, indirect, hard to trace clearly to their causes. So "bottom line" pressure tends to keep it from happening. I know Central is facing plenty of that bottom line pressure. I hope and pray they can continue to afford a position that devotes a big chunk of time to thinking and writing.

Edit: From here....
http://remonstrans.net/index.php/2006/08/10/song_19

Quote:
Balthasar Hubmaier coined the phrase Die Wahrheit ist untödlich! (The truth is undying), and arising from this fervent belief in the truth and nobility in the historical moment arose an interesting collection of songs known as the Taglieder. These celebrations of the life and death of the persecuted were sung to comfort the common believer as he labored in field and shop, hence the German word daysongs.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Dr. Bauder, as evidenced by the massive number of "reads" associated with your articles, you have an amazing impact here at SI. Your ministry has impacted me: you are truly a gentlemen and certainly a scholar. Modern fundamentalism is not well known for its great thinkers; great thinkers of any stripe, actually, are rare. Your ability to think, process information, and present contemplated perspectives is amazing. You also are gifted to present deep thoughts in understandable terms. You are gifted, and our prayer for you is that God will lead you in the way you should go. I, for one, hope that the "way you should go" includes frequent contributions to SI. You have had a teaching ministry in my life.

I am sure the choice you made took courage and was prayerfully contemplated over time.

The burden to be a constructive influence -- to make a difference for the Kingdom -- is a good burden. Many of us who are less academically programed seek to make a difference in the places God has put us. But we need academically responsible, solid resources from scholars, thinkers, and leaders who truly seek-out the original intent of the Scriptural authors and relate that intent to the issues and challenges of our day. I wish you well and I bless the Name of God Who blesses us with brothers and sisters to help us to accomplish His will. Thank you, brother.

"The Midrash Detective"

LML's picture

Thank you for your openeness and courage in identifying a/the major problem with our movement in the broad sense. Be sure of my prayers.

JD Miller's picture

Dr. Bauder,
I DO NOT AGREE WITH YOU all the time, and I praise the Lord that you are willing to have others disagree with you. May iron sharpen iron and may your stripe increase within our circles. Not only do I appreciate your articles, but I also appreciate so many of the other writers here on Sharperiron. When reading many of the posts on this site, I say "AMEN"- other times I say "hold on a minute." Regardless I am challenged to think and not just stay in a rut of my own preconceived notions. Further it gives me an idea of what others think so that if these issues come up in our church I have already had a chance to think about them. Thank you all.

Jeff Brown's picture

"Die Wahrheit ist untödlich" means "Truth is immortal!" Phrased colloquially it would be, "You can't kill truth." Quite a meaningful statement for someone who believed his chances of being burned at the stake were rather likely.

Jeff Brown

Todd Wood's picture

Somehow I missed learning about Balthasar in seminary. Maybe, I was sleeping. Interestingly, I first learned about the man from Mike Sproul's writings on SI.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Kevin,

Looking forward to how God uses you in the next chapter.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

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