"If my father saw Temple now, it would disturb him"

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Jonathan Charles's picture

I graduated from Tennessee Temple-twice.  When I was there the KJV was used, the dress code still fairly conservative (girls could wear pants off campus) and music was still conservative.  This mirrored most of the Temple constituency.  After Roberson there came two successive pastors who did not understand who the men and women were who made up the nearly 10,000 alumni who had graduated from the school.  Change was implemented very recklessly and thoughtlessly.  The vibe I got from the leadership was "We're going to make X change and people are going to have to live with it."  The alumni decided to live without Tennessee Temple.  The switch to the Southern Baptist Convention was necessary because Temple was a school without a constituency.  It is sad to drive through the campus.  Last time I was there it seemed like a ghost town, grass growing over side walks, buildings dirty and in need of repair, etc.   

Jeffrey Dean's picture

I also graduated Temple twice and I do not see the big deal.  Organizations like people like corporations like countries like religious movements have limited lifetimes.  Inevitably death comes.  Some movements/organizations survive longer, but eventually they die or morph or fracture into something unrecognizable.  

My personal take is that the HPBC/TTU struggles closely mirrors the IFB movement that Dr. Roberson loved.  IMO the IFB movement is shrinking into utter irrelevancy on its way to oblivion.  HPBC and TTU are drowning like the swimmer that got sucked into the IFB whirlpool.  

The post-Roberson leadership tried to get away but too little and too late.  Eventually all that will be left will be the fading memories of old people.  Fundamentalists barely get a footnote in history now and in 100 years we'll mostly be forgotten.  It's no big deal.  We aren't here to build monuments to movements. 

Jonathan Charles's picture

At the same time that Temple was being sucked into the whirlpool, schools like Crown and West Coast have thrived.    I don't buy the argument that Temple's demise was inevitable.  The post-Roberson leadership didn't appreciate Temple's heritage.  To me it is just a matter of preference if you use the KJV, prefer a particular style of music and want students to dress in this way or that way, both of which would be modest.  But you can't come in and turn a hard right or left and expect to have your alumni with you.  When the Jennings/Bouler leadership got the school away from its IBF roots, the school found itself in a wasteland with no constituency.  Maybe its association with the SBC can save it, but it is probably too late.

Jeffrey Dean's picture

Thriving would imply fiscal healthiness, increased academic excellence, advanced degrees, educational awards... Crown  & West Coast might scrap together 2000 students between them and nobody is impressed with the academic product.  They are generally the children of the KJV only sect and thus they have really limited choices.  Dr. Roberson/TTU wasn't close to KJV only so it's really an apples to oranges comparison.

In a man centered organization change is inevitable when the man in the center leaves.  The follow on leadership never had a chance.  Anything that was not done exactly like the last guy was going to be seen in a negative light. I'm just surprised that they have limped along for so long.  

The SBC won't save them.  TTU brings nothing to the table that the SBC needs or wants.  The SBC has good schools and the schools that are not so great (like Carson-Newman) are much easier (and cheaper) to save.

   

Dan Burrell's picture

Good thoughts and perspectives Jeffrey and Jonathan.  I’d like to postulate one additional factor. 

 

The complete absence of a succession plan of Lee Roberson retired.  The awkward and painful transition from Roberson to Faulkner to Jennings was devastating. 

 

Bouler arrived to a church and college trapped in history and in a neighborhood that was truly ghetto.  They had too much invested in that campus to move, redevelopment did not work, everyone was heading to the suburbs and even if they could have moved, the old guard wouldn’t have let them.

 

I remember taking a load of teens to visit the school back in the mid-1980’s and they were hesitant to get out of the van in that neighborhood.  Then a girl from our church was the victim of an attempted rape in her dorm room.  To my recollection, not another kid from our church ever attended there. 

 

The problem at Chattanooga is not unique.  There are many cities with huge edifices to the heydays of the Independent Baptists as they kicked off the first wave of the modern Church Growth Movement.  From Akron to Miami, Canton to Charlotte, Indianapolis to W. Hollywood — the churches highlighted by Elmer Townes in the 70’s are mere shadows of their former selves if they still exist at all. 

 

Perhaps the current generation of CGM megastars with megachurches on megacampuses should take note.  There’s much to be learned from philosophy to vision. 

 

 

Edited to clean up formatting

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

JohnBrian's picture

along with my wife, a sister, my brother and his wife.

I went there in 75 fresh from the mission field where I had lived my entire life except for the furlough years. The first time I attended HPBC in the Chauncy-Goode auditorium (it wasn't called that then), I was terrified, because I had never seen that many white people in once place in my life! (that's my story and I'm sticking to it)

At the end of my first semester, Dr Roberson kindly told me that my presence was no longer required or appreciated and I was thrilled because I didn't want to be there any more than he wanted me to be there. I stayed away for 2 years, returning for Spring 78, txfrd to NBBC for Fall 78, and decided that WI was way too cold for an island raised MK/TCK, even though my girlfriend was there.

I returned to Chatt, we got married at 1st Baptist, Pound, WI in June 79, started back to Temple and lasted a month before dropping out with no intention of ever resuming our education.

BUT, in 1985 I returned with my wife following the next year and we graduated in 90 and 91.

Dr Jennings came in 85 and was run-off in 90 by the people who didn't like the changes he made (the attacks on him in the Spring of 90 were disgusting). Most of the changes were needed - there were too many faculty/staff for the size of the student body so staffing cuts were made. One rule that was changed that fall was the requirement that if we traveled on Sunday we had to stop for church wherever we were. One time I stopped for a 7pm Sun service only to find out that the service had started at 6pm, so walked in on the end of the service. We had to fill out attendance records accounting for every service in the week. Dr Jennings announced in chapel that if we were driving back to school, we were not to stop but to come straight back. That was a huge relief to students, so much so that I still remember it 27 years later! Dr Jennings was dearly loved by the student body

Dr Bouler spoke at my wife’s graduation and I was not impressed. I didn’t know who he was, but thought his sermon sounded like a candidate speech so was not surprised he became the next pastor. Nichols (Roberson’s son-in-law) had become the President before Bouler came and there was some conflict between them that forced Nichols out. That, to me, was the beginning of the end and since Sexton had left HPBC to go to Knoxville and had started Crown, he was drawing students away from Temple.

Dan is right to note that there was not a succession plan. The church should not have built the 5700 seat auditorium when Dr Roberson was near retirement. For years they didn’t use video so it was impossible to see the speakers from most every place in the building.

One of Dr Roberson’s famous quotes was “everything rises or falls on leadership.” It is personally sad for me to see the decline because of poor leadership.

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Jonathan Charles's picture

John Roberson said:

"He said he'll never understand why his father left Temple when he did."

 

Perhaps there was no succession plan because Roberson hadn't planned on retiring at that time.  Also, Cliff Robertson had to resign before Roberson's resignation.  Roberson was a young 73.  As I've thought about TTU/HPBC I was reminded of other "drive in" churches that are doing very well.  Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia is one.  People drive in from the suburbs, even N.J. to go to church in center city.  But one thing such churches did was to develop urban ministries, ministry to those suffering with AIDS, food pantries, etc.  HPBC never did such things except for having a bus ministry and a gospel mission.  It has been nearly 30 years since Roberson was off the scene and none of the 3 pastors since had a vision for urban ministry.  I lived in Chattanooga for 10 years.  People in Harrison need the gospel, but the plight of the Chattanooga inner city is greater.  When I lived there, except for Orchard Knob Baptist Church I don't recall another single church between 3rd street and 23 street.

Jeffrey Dean's picture

I actually believe that the revered Dr. Roberson made many mistakes in his leadership prior to his retirement.  Chief among them was having no vision beyond his retirement and being unable to support the men who did it their way.  That's not a popular viewpoint because he is probably even more beloved as time goes on. But Dr. Roberson's famous intransigence against change may also have been his biggest vulnerability.  

Dan, your point is very well made: any successful organization needs a succession plan.  You can't leave it to chance.  Part of that vision is being willing to train and support your successor.  And in that support you must be willing to let go and accept that it won't look exactly like how you did it.  It is the rare visionary who makes that happen. 

Jim's picture

Comment: I don’t buy all of his conclusions but there is a lot of history:

 

http://www.wayoflife.org/database/page607/page607.html

 

For example the Cliff Robinson issue:

 

When it was discovered in the mid-1980s that Dr. Roberson’s associate Cliff Robinson had been carrying on an affair with Dr. Roberson’s secretary for something like 15 years, they were fired but there was no church discipline. They weren’t even brought before the church.

T Howard's picture

Jim,

David Cloud's article is less about TT than it is about CCM.  Typical Cloud.

JohnBrian's picture

Jim wrote:

When it was discovered in the mid-1980s that Dr. Roberson’s associate Cliff Robinson had been carrying on an affair with Dr. Roberson’s secretary for something like 15 years, they were fired but there was no church discipline. They weren’t even brought before the church.

My understanding was that they had not actually had an affair but had inappropriate conversations. Was there more to it than that?

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Alex Guggenheim's picture

T Howard wrote:

Jim,

David Cloud's article is less about TT than it is about CCM.  Typical Cloud.


This is factually very far off. Indeed Cloud refers to changing music standards but this reference only comprises about 1/10 of the entire article. Cloud does a commendable job covering many of the weaknesses of Temple and Highland Park which can be said of a sizable portion of the independent fundamentalist Baptist movement during this era while acknowledging the evangelistic strength. But even in acknowledging the evangelistic strength he points out the problem or the weakness of quick prayerism.

Jonathan Charles's picture

When I went to Temple in 1989 Steve Green was considered edgy.  I guess I'm getting old.