Earlier this month, Campbellsville University in Kentucky informed one of the professors in its theology department that his contract would not be renewed going forward. This notification would in effect make any application for tenure needless. While this decision was made by the trustees of the university, it no doubt reflected the input of the administration of the school. The professor, Dr. Jarvis Williams is a 5 point Calvinist. He was a key note speaker at the Desiring God National Conference in 2012, a movement spearheaded by John Piper. While the school and its officials are not at liberty to disclose pertinent information with respect to the reasons behind their decision, it is apparent that those on the outside can and have. Criticism has been leveled and public statements made revealing the disappointment of some over this trustee decision pointing to Dr. Williams’ theological position as the reason for his dismissal.
Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and has a long history of support from the KBC. Last week, Dr. Paul Chitwood, Executive Director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention announced his intention to lead a delegation from the KBC to visit with the leadership at Campbellsville to have an “open and honest dialogue. The purpose of this undertaking is to better understand the theological convictions that chart CU’s course and whether or not those convictions are still compatible with the mission our Lord has given the churches of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.” Dr. Chitwood acknowledges the KBC’s financial contribution indicating that one million dollars is given in support of the university annually. What Dr. Chitwood does not say is that while the money is given to the school, most of the money is given to students in the form of scholarships and discounts who are associated with KBC churches enrolled at CU. The scholarship and discount total that CU provides Kentucky Baptist students exceeds the KBC contribution by several million dollars.
Dr. Chitwood acknowledges the tenuous relationship that exists between all Southern Baptist conventions and their liberal arts schools. He writes, “Higher education, by its very nature, requires the kind of academic freedom and exploration that is sometimes difficult to envision being funded by mission’s offerings. But if academic freedom is no longer afforded to those who hold to “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) and teach a high view of Scripture (2Tim 3:16), the time for church support has clearly passed.
Is this the case for Kentucky Baptists and another of their historic educational institutions? I certainly hope not and appreciate the wisdom of God’s word where it says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17). Given the claims being made by CU’s detractors, open and honest dialogue is necessary to reveal the answer to this question.” Dr. Chitwood makes the following statement highlighting his concern with the school: “Claims, however, that CU retains other professors in the school of theology who reject biblical authority and professors in other disciplines who affirm evolution, are difficult for many Kentucky Baptists to swallow. This is especially true when well over $1 million of their missions offerings are helping pay the salaries of those professors every year.”
Campbellsville is a liberal arts university with courses in mathematics, sciences, languages, nursing, criminal justice, accounting, computer sciences, the arts, education, sports management, journalism and theater to highlight some of the courses offered in addition to those in its theology department. CU is ranked #74 in the 2013 US News’s ranking of Universities in the South. The university has 144 professors serving 3071 students apparently very well. Are there professors among this group that do not believe in the infallibity of the Bible; probably. Are there professors in this group that believe in evolution; probably. Is Campbellsville University an institution that the KBC can be proud of; absolutely. Dr. Chitwood does caution rushing to judgment and rash decisions and emphasizes the continued importance of supporting the Cooperative Program. Dr. Chitwood’s statement can be read in its entirety at http://www.paulchitwood.com/2013/04/20/campbellsville-university-and-the-churches-of-the-kentucky-baptist-convention/.
In an article posted at SBC Voices, Dave Miller who is currently serving as Second Vice-President of the SBC chimed in on the discussion. In his article, he made the following comment: “There have been some disturbing stories from colleges related to Southern Baptists at one level or another. The fiasco at Louisiana College has been pretty well documented. Some confusing things have happened at Cedarville University. In the last week or so, there have been some disturbing reports about the goings-on at another SBC-related school, one supported by the missions gifts of Kentucky Baptists.” While Miller does not state any direct association with the CU situation, his comment with respect to the Louisiana College’s “fiasco” had everything to do with the contracts of Calvinist professors not being renewed. Miller’s associating that situation with the CU situation seems at least to be a subtle hint that the same problem exists at CU. Miller’s makes the following comment on the importance of Dr. Chitwood’s visit that is indeed unfortunate; Miller writes, “He (Chitwood) recognizes both the problem and the seriousness of the problem. No polishing the rotten apple! He is meeting the issue head on.”
While Miller states the purpose of his article is not to question the decision of the university directly, Dr. Williams he notes is “by all accounts a bright young scholar, one who teaches (and believes) in line with the BF&M 2000. Disturbing reports indicate that the reason he is being released is that he is considered too conservative by other professors at Campbellsville. Miller goes on the state, “he (Dr. Williams) has received the highest endorsements from some of our best scholars.” While Mr. Miller says he has no intention of speculating as to CU’s decision, it does appear obvious that Miller can see no reason for their decision to dismiss such an accomplished professor. Miller in the comment section of his article acknowledges that the reason the KBC needs to meet with CU is the money. Miller says, “What is at stake is the money the KBC gives to the college.” Miller’s article and the interesting comments to it can be read in their entirety here: http://sbcvoices.com/when-a-leader-leads-dr-paul-chitwoods-response-to-campbellsville-university/
This week, Dr. Jason Allen, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri decided to weigh in on the situation as well. He too praises the KBC for its proactive, innovative work with the churches and speaks highly of its leadership, stating that he believes “the KBC has proven to be a model state convention in their collective witness for Christ and collaborative ministry efforts.” Allen acknowledges and applauds Chitwood’s announcement to meet with the university in an effort to “assess the ongoing compatibility of the two entities.” Obviously the only “ongoing compatibility” between the two entities is related to the continued financial support the convention gives to the university.
Allen acknowledges a couple reasons that contracts with teachers are not renewed. He admits that he is not privy to the trustee’s decision in this particular case. He also fails to acknowledge there are many other reasons a contract may not be renewed. It is clear that Allen does not see this issue as being an insignificant one, especially where Kentucky Baptists are concerned. He goes on to list what he identifies as five considerations must be kept in mind not by the KBC delegation but by the university representatives.
Notice Allen’s first consideration: “First, when representatives of the KBC meet with representatives of Campbellsville University, they do not come to the table as negotiating equals. The former has funded, governs, and holds accountable the latter by approving their trustees. The posture of both should be one of openness and respect, but the KBC is not the supplicant.” In layman’s terms, what Allen has said is this: of the two groups meeting, the KBC is the one that has all the clout. The KBC is “not the supplicant;” they are not the ones coming to this meeting as a petitioner or humbly seeking an explanation. Allen says, the KBC does not come to the table as “negotiating equals.” Allen’s position in this article is clear; it is not the representatives of Campbellsville University that need to explain where they stand; it is the KBC that needs to explain where they stand and CU needs to listen and take note. This is an interesting perspective indeed. If this position were to be adopted and employed by other state conventions and the SBC with respect to the various entities that are charged with the task of serving the churches of those various conventions as Allen suggests here, there would no doubt be serious cries from the leadership of several of the entities.
Note Allen’s fifth consideration: “every institution in one way or another serves or is accountable to the church, be it a seminary or a state college, should assume a posture of deference and welcomed accountability. Kentucky Baptists are not morally obligated to investigate and demonstrate the doctrinal faithfulness of Campbellsville University. Rather, Campbellsville, and any other church-governed entity, bears the moral responsibility to demonstrate, prima facie, they are operating in good faith with those churches. If cleavage has occurred between Campbellsville and the KBC, it is Campbellsville’s moral responsibility to adjust accordingly.” Allen concludes with the following statement: “In a very real sense, we all are Kentucky Baptists now. – See more at: http://jasonkallen.com/2013/04/campbellsville-university-the-kbc/
Dr. Allen makes a very critical mistake in his reference to Campbellsville University; He suggests that CU is a “church governed entity.” That statement is simply not even close to being true. The entities of the SBC as well as those in the various the state convention, are controlled by their trustees and not the conventions, much less the churches that send messengers to the various conventions. Consider the following example. In 2011 the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention voted in favor of a resolution instructing Lifeway to remove the 2011 New International Version of the Bible from its shelves. In February of 2012 the trustees of Lifeway later reviewed the issues and voted unanimously to keep it. That is what Lifeway did. That move sent a clear message to the convention and to the churches for that matter, that the entities are trustee governed and not convention governed nor are they church governed and as such the trustees can and continue to do what they believe to be in the best interest of the institutions they are charged to serve. The same is true of CU.
Allen’s initial statement in his fifth consideration should be one to remember. He states “every institution in one way or another serves or is accountable to the church, be it a seminary or a state college, should assume a posture of deference and welcomed accountability.” This is the way things ought to be but sadly that is not the case today, either. Take this issue at CU. The outrage and the criticism that has been voiced publically in response to CU’s decision with respect to Williams’ contract has been focused solely on his espousal of Calvinism. This has been publically suggested as the sole reason for William’s contract not being renewed. It must be noted that the school has made no such suggestion. Here is what has happened. A vocal segment of the KBC and beyond has made this an issue because of Williams’ position on Calvinism. This is an effort of a vocal minority to send a message to colleges and universities that are associated with SBC and its affiliated state conventions that such dismissals are not going to be taken lightly. The accountability issue here has very little to do with the churches but rather everything to do with the vocal proponents of Calvinism and its revival of popularity in the educational system in Southern Baptist schools. It is time for the SBC to deal with the issue of Calvinism and the ramifications of its continued revival of influence in the entities of the SBC. It is clear that those espousing and promoting Calvinism in the SBC are intent on protecting their hard earned positions of influence at all costs.
It is time to move this discussion into the open arena and come to some conclusions with respect to the future of the SBC and the state conventions as well the churches they serve. Go back to Miller’s comment with respect to Dr. Williams’ credentials, Miller says that Williams is “by all accounts a bright young scholar, one who teaches (and believes) in line with the BF&M 2000.” There is one group in the SBC that continually makes reference to being in agreement with the BF&M2000; it has become the battle cry of Calvinist Baptists, especially the New Calvinists almost exclusively. It is time for Southern Baptists to clarify themselves on this issue. Calvinists believe that it is God and God alone who decides who gets saved and who does not. They believe God and God alone decides who will spend eternity in heaven and who will not. They believe a person is born again just like a person is born physically; the individual has nothing to do with the process. When you were born, the doctor popped your rear end and you took your first breath and you were born alive. When you were born again, God did it all once again; you automatically became a child of His and because He chose you, you chose Him. Welcome to the family of God. It does seem to be a stretch to associate this kind of theology with the BF&M2000 but that is now the case for the New Calvinists.
If Southern Baptists want this kind of theology being taught in its schools and being foremost in its new church starts and being the theological flavor of the hour in the literature at Lifeway, then so be it. As Dr. Allen has suggested, “every institution in one way or another serves or is accountable to the church, be it a seminary or a state college, should assume a posture of deference and welcomed accountability.” The time has come for the church to stand up and ask the tough questions to the entities of the SBC and the various state conventions concerning the continued influence of Calvinism in its entities and in the respective conventions. As Allen suggests, we have a responsibility to past generations and to our future generations that will be influenced and impacted by the ministries of the entities that have been given the trust to lead our convention’s effectiveness to the generations to come.
Two final comments. With respect to the issue of the KBC’s interest and involvement with Campbellsville University, should it choose to withdraw the money they give to support what seems to be an excellent institution, it is certain that there will be someone in the state who will welcome that money. Dave Miller is indeed correct, “What is at stake is the money the KBC gives to the college.”
A second observation. One should not miss the praise being given to Dr. Chitwood and his involvement in this situation in contrast to Dr. David Hankins’ involvement in what Miller calls the Louisiana College “fiasco.” Hankins is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Both seem to be equally involved as each seeks to serve the church’s interests in helping to bring some kind of resolution to the various situations. Both situations share a common issue; both are being criticized by the same group for the same reason. One state director is being praised for his involvement while the other is being heavily criticized for his by the same group. One is more sympathetic to and supportive of the Calvinist position than the other.
It is time for resolution. This battle is not going to go away. All indications point to a heightened intensity as Calvinists continue to voice their disapproval for anyone that dares make a move against one of their own.
May God help the SBC though these very troubling days that definitely lay ahead.