Friday, August 21, 2020

Three ACU Professors Discuss the Baptist Studies Center

As I've discussed on this blog repeatedly already (see here and here and here), early this year Logsdon Seminary in Texas announced that it would be closing. The students enrolled would need to transfer or go through a teach-out program. The seminary was the only such accredited Baptist school in West Texas, and so its absence would be keenly felt. In a move that surprised me, and I'm sure others as well, Abilene Christian University responded by forming a Baptist Studies Center. This would not only allow Baptist students to continue their seminary training, but welcome in new students from that tradition. Dr. Myles Werntz, formerly of Logsdon Seminary, was hired to direct the center. What makes this significant is ACU’s affiliation with Churches of Christ, which historically has been at odds with the Baptist churches (particularly in the South). 

The conversation below was arranged by the Nesti Center for Faith & Culture Ecumenical and Interfaith Sub-Committee at the University of Saint Andrew, and features the following guests from Abilene Christian University:
  • Dr. Ben Pickett, Executive Minister at West Houston Church of Christ and Adjunct Professor at Abilene Christian University
  • Dr. Tim Sensing, Associate Dean and Professor of Preaching
  • Dr. Myles Werntz, Director of Baptist Studies and Associate Professor of Theology
For anyone curious about this new arrangement, I highly recommend setting aside time to watch the video. We get an explanation for how the idea of the Baptist Studies Center at ACU came about, what is hoped that it will accomplish, and something of the broader view of Christianity held at the university than I found while studying at Harding University, another Church of Christ school, in the late 1990s. Dr. Werntz talks a bit about about the situation of the Baptist churches in that part of the country and indicates that a variety of Baptists, in terms of outlook, are interested in the program.

One part that seemed really very strange to me was when Dr. Tim Sensing said that while Churches of Christ hold a 'high view of scripture,' they don't hold to 'inerrancy.' That was certainly news to me. Although I was baptized and ordained among the independent Christian Churches, much of my ministry was within Church of Christ circles, including mission work in Brazil. Although there weren't statements of faith much to speak of, and the word 'inerrancy' might not have been heard specifically very often, the people I knew held to the idea. At Harding the people in the Bible program, professors and students, weren't pleased with the science department because of a professor who believed in a form of guided, theistic evolution. For them it was six days or periods, but no evolution could be contemplated within a Christian framework. 

Perhaps things have changed, or else matters are different where Dr Sensing lives and attends church. He's a member of Highland Church of Christ, which is very vague on its website about specific points of doctrine. This could also be a situation like that of David Lipscomb, who, when answering a question for the 1906 US religious census about the state of the Restoration Movement, included this odd bit: 

"There is a distinct people taking the word of God as their only and sufficient rule of faith, calling their churches "churches of Christ" or "churches of God," distinct and separate in name, work, and rule of faith from all other bodies of people

There is no record of any Church of Christ referring to itself as a 'Church of God,' and so this might have been a small flourish or hint of wishful thinking on his part. It could be something the same for Dr Sensing and his comment about how the Churches of Christ approach scripture. It certainly isn't the case at Dr Pickett's church, where among their core beliefs it says this regarding the Bible:

We believe that the Bible is God’s written Word. Although it was written by humans, it is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit and it is without error or mistake. Literally speaking, we believe that the Bible is “God breathed”, is without error and is the source of absolute truth in our lives. By reading the Bible, we can discover what it means to have a relationship with God, who God is and why he loves us! Simply stated, we believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God. We accept both Old and New Testaments as inspirational and authoritative in nature.

While the word 'inerrant' can't be found there, the doctrinal math still adds up to it. 

They refer to this as a sort of victory for ecumenism, and I suppose that it is within the context of Churches of Christ and Baptist Churches. As I've said, I wasn't expecting it. Dr Sensing talks in the video about the diverse denominational backgrounds of students that have attended the graduate school of theology, emphasizing Presbyterians. As I've noted previously, there have been Episcopalians has well, among others. I still can't help wondering if I'll be the first Unitarian Universalist.