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The Seminary Takes Shape 

This article was written by Sherry Castello and published in the Fall 1993 issue of The Baylor Line.

No longer just a dream, the Truett Seminary soon will be training a new generation of servant leaders to proclaim the message of Christ.

Preaching from pulpits within four years will be pastors who are graduates of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, which is scheduled to open at Baylor University the fall of 1994.

If Dr. Robert Sloan, the first dean of that seminary, succeeds in his goals, these people will unquestionably be better preachers and better ministers because of their education at Truett Seminary. “They will be men and women who are rhetorically compelling and substantively engaging,” he says.

It was the preaching of Sloan himself that brought Baptist General Convention of Texas messengers to their feet in applause in Baylor’s Ferrell Center in 1991. His convention sermon, “The Church in a Changing World,” challenged Texas Baptists to be done with the controversies that have crippled their denomination and to unite in sharing the message of Jesus Christ with the world. (That sermon was printed in the January – February 1992 Baylor Line.)

He is concerned for the “almost-lost skill” of preaching and has ideas for teaching preaching and other ministry skills in non-typical ways. “I want to emphasize preaching across the curriculum so that it becomes integrated into the whole program. We plan to keep a ministry emphasis in all seminary classes – New Testament, theology, church history, or whatever; they are all matters that relate to ministry.

“I’m going to be utterly idealistic to make my point; I want our graduates to be Christian leaders who have the creative ability to anticipate and to change with the times, to be leaders without being authoritarian dictators, to be servant leaders who show courage and who can proclaim the word of God.

“We want to produce graduates who believed in Jesus Christ, who preach and share their faith, who feed the hungry, who take the message of Christ into the world.”

He also desires to focus on the spiritual development of the seminary students, foreseeing small spiritual formation groups of faculty and students to provide community and accountability.

Since the Baylor University Board of Regents voted on May 21 to begin the seminary and named him as dean, Sloan has given much thought to the kinds of people who can best achieve the goals of the seminary.

In August he announced the selection of Dr. J. Bradley Creed as associate dean. A 1979 graduate of Baylor, Creed has served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Natchitoches, Louisiana, since 1988. He earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was a teaching fellow in the Department of Church History. His wife, Kathy Harton Creed, was graduated from Baylor in 1980; they have two children.

Sloan said, “Brad has been active in pastoral and denominational work. He has a deep Christian commitment, and he has solid academic credentials.”

Sloan says he wants faculty members who have “theological substance,” preferably persons who have experience in ministry. He puts a high value on their being flexible enough to use interdisciplinary approaches and engage in team teaching, as well as to welcome ministers into the teaching process.

He expects to hire three or four faculty members, perhaps some adjunctively, for the first fifty students to be enrolled for 1994-95. Then a couple of professors will be added, along with fifty more students, in the second and third years, to bring seminary to its goal of 150 students.

Serving as Sloan’s administrative assistant in Dodie Jackson, a seven-year veteran employee of the religion department who in 1989 received her B.B.A. from the university. She has also served on the staff at First Baptist Church for nearly ten years.

The seminary will have only Baptist faculty and staff. The students will be “mostly Baptists,” he says, but will be men and women of wide ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

First Baptist Church of Waco has invited the seminary to use space in its educational building for offices and classrooms. Baylor has initially contracted with the church for five years there and will pay the bills for modifications, furnishings, and utilities. First Baptist, however, has made it clear that – in the words of one deacon – the seminary will be viewed “not as a tenant, but as a ministry.”

There’s a bit of déjà vu in the arrangement, since in the late 1880s one of the church’s early pastors, Dr. B. H. Carroll, taught young preachers in his study and consequently felt called by God to give himself wholly to that work.

He became chairman of the new Department of Theology at Baylor, expanded that into a theological school within six years and served as its dean. The school was moved in 1910 to Fort Worth as Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, with Carroll as its first president.

Southwestern is now the world’s largest seminary with an enrollment of more than 3,200 students. It is affiliated directly with the Southern Baptist Convention (not with the Baptist General Convention of Texas).

President Reynolds is pleased with the location of Truett Seminary at First Baptist, especially since the university will thereby be spared the worry of having to raise funds immediately for a new building. But he has planted the thought with university regents that the old Edgefield Park Location on Bagby Street would be about the right size for a European-style permanent facility with classrooms, offices, and a dining area for the seminarians surrounding an interior courtyard.

He says he hopes that a donor will come forward by the end of the decade to contribute the $15 million to $18 million required to build the permanent facility, or at least to make a lead gift toward its construction.

The origin of George W. Truett Theological Seminary can, without question, be traced to thoughts of President Herbert H. Reynolds in 1990 as he sat at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans with a growing sense that a point of no return was being reached.

Arriving back at Baylor that June, he was firmly convinced that it was a historic moment in the historic moment in the history of the university, a time when the seawalls had to be built that would ensure the institution’s safety from the roiling tumult of the denomination. His good friends Winfred Moore and Dewey Presley were his confidants and advisors as he pondered strategies and timing. 

Not only did he set in motion the historic rechartering of Baylor University with a new board of regents, but he immediately took the first steps toward establishing a seminary at Baylor by proposing its name to the trustees, who filed it with the Texas secretary of state in July. The charter change, which took effect September 21, in effect opened the door for the seminary, because Baylor no longer needed approval by the Baptist General Convention of Texas to begin offering seminary education. 

A mere three years later the seminary is in the final stages of birthing. The fifteen members who were named to the seminary’s board of trustees in 1991 essentially put themselves out of office in May when they took regents their recommendation that the seminary be activated in 1994 as a school within the university. (After that time the regents will have full governance over the seminary.)

Nonetheless, the seminary trustees, chaired by Baylor alumnus Dan Vestal, have shaped the coming seminary by the foundation they have laid. From the outset the group has made clear that the seminary will be, in Reynold’s words, “very inclusive, belonging to men and women of all ethnic and racial and cultural groups who want seminary education.”

Reynolds is quick to point out that there were two women on the board, two blacks, two Hispanics. And he still quotes the comment of trustee Louie George, who is black, who said at the first meeting, “We may have ourselves a seminary!”

Additional preliminary study was conducted by an ad hoc committee regents, chaired by Judge John Boyd of Amarillo.  Last March that committee made their recommendation for activation of the seminary to the regents, who then voted to move forward as soon as proper funding and facilities could be found.

Funding has been a major concern among many constituents who did not wish to see other university needs bypassed in order to begin the seminary. Even faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary privately confided their hopes that Truett Seminary would not tap into their financial resources.

President Reynolds, who has increasingly given high priority to fund raising in the last few years, found two families willing to commit to Truett Seminary major gifts that will not only underwrite its first ten years but that will, with an agreed-upon financial strategy, give the fledgling institution a substantial endowment at the end of that period.

“The two couples who have made possible the activation of this seminary are John and Eula Mae Baugh [of Houston] and Paul and Katy Piper [of Memphis, Tenn., and Waco],” Reynolds told the Baylor Line in July. “They have not only guaranteed that we can operate for the first ten years, but their combined gifts of $15 million will be managed so that we will be able to use needed funds while building at least $15 million in quasi endowment by 2004,” he said. 

Seminary students will benefit directly from these and other philanthropic gifts, which will provide scholarships to cover about half of the normal tuition charges, on average. Thus, if the seminary were open at the 1994-94 tuition rate of $215 per semester hour, seminarians would pay an average of $107.50 per hour, or approximately $3,210 for the thirty hours normally taken in one year. The three years of classes normally required for the M.Div. would cost about $10,000 in tuition, and students could also receive other assistance through the university’s financial aid programs. The current rate at Southwestern Seminary is $80 per hour, or approximately $7,200 for the courses required for the M.Div.

What benefits will the new seminary offer to its students? Dan Vestal, who chairs the trustees, President Reynolds, and Dean Sloan all tick off the same list: the seminary’s context within Baylor University increases the academic opportunities surrounding the students; Truett will provide a unique focus on apprenticeships, internships, and practical applications; and the new institution will be a Baptist seminary whose vision from the start will be multiracial and multicultural.

The small scale of the new seminary will also be part of its appeal. Reynolds likens it to “an elegant hummingbird.” With only 150 students, Truett will have only a little more than 1 percent of the Baylor student body and less than 5 percent of the enrollment of Southwestern.

The idea of a seminary within a university setting is not new. Neighboring SMU has Perkins Divinity School; TCU has Brite Divinity School. Harvard, Duke, Chicago, and Yale also have schools of theology or divinity. In fact, seminary education in Europe began as part of the university education; it has only been in recent years in America that seminaries have become independent institutions.

Sloan says the choice for calling Truett a seminary, as opposed to a school of theology or divinity, was made thoughtfully. He thinks the word seminary communicates better the idea of a professional school with a full range of offerings. He leans toward the idea of offering only the traditional Master of Divinity degree, with concentrations in other areas, such as education, music, and theology.

Since the university already has a strong religion department with twenty-three full-time faculty members and nearly seventy students in its well-established Ph.D. program, it seems wise to emphasize the different natures of the two divisions, he says. In fact, religion chair Dr. Glenn Hilburn says that most Ph.D. students come to Baylor after receiving degrees from seminaries. The Truett Seminary will not be offering doctoral degrees.

A person of cheerful, easy-going demeanor, Sloan was busy in his religion department office on the sixth floor of Tidwell this summer, doing a lot of dreaming and planning, he said, as he awaited moving to the new offices at the First Baptist Church.

“A few years ago I could not have imagined ever being in this position. But here I am, at Baylor University, doing this . . . it really is Providence,” he said.

His journey to the deanship began when he came to Baylor in 1983 from Southwestern Seminary, where he had been an instructor of theology. President Reynolds says he came to be uniquely impressed by the alumnus who had returned to teach in the religion department.

“Each time I had any contact with him, I became more and more convinced that he was a very special young man of God, with a winsome quality to his Christian devotion,” Reynolds says.

In 1990 Reynolds asked the regents to name Sloan the George W. Truett Professor of Evangelism at Baylor. He has said often that he considers Sloan to be very much in the mold of the seminary’s namesake, the Rev. George W. Truett, a Baylor graduate who pastored First Baptist Church of Dallas from 1897 until his death in 1944.

Sloan will admit to an awareness that for a time he received an unusual amount of publicity for his more conservative associations. However, the breadth of his education and the scope of his writing refute any easy labeling of his theology position. He says he thinks of himself as “theologically conservative and methodologically innovative.”

He grew up in Abilene, the middle child of parents who placed a premium on higher education. Although his father, an insurance representative, lacked a few hours to complete a college degree, he passed both the CPA and Texas Bar exams. His mother, and educator, went through two doctoral programs minus the dissertations. 

As a youth, Sloan’s life revolved around school, Little League baseball, and his church – Pioneer Drive Baptist, a small church in those days. He was baptized at the age of nine.

A high point in his young life came when as a high-school junior he was selected to be a part of a group of thirty from his school who took a three-week bus trip as exchange students to Massachusetts, also visiting sites in other East Coast cities, Chicago, and Canada. 

“When I came to Baylor in 1967, in the back of my mind I had a sense of God’s leading me to ministry, but I didn’t want to do that. By the spring of my freshman year, several things – friendships, being at Baylor, my roommate, and Ronnie Littlejohn, the guy across the hall – had come to influence me toward being more open to that possibility.”

He went back home for a weekend, and his pastor, John Ridlehoover, preached a strong sermon on the call to ministry. Sloan went forward at the close of the service to commit his life to Christian ministry. The pastor later told him it was the only time he had ever preached on the subject and that he felt, in retrospect, that the sermon had been called forth especially for Sloan.

“It was a watershed moment that brought my vocational struggle to an end,” he says. He added religion to his psychology major and continued his honors program studies at Baylor. His honors thesis, written under religion professor Dr. John Davidson, was on the religious ideas in Sigmund Freud’s writings.

He and Sue Collier, a Baylor classmate, were married in January 1970. Sue graduated in August; he, in December – both completing their degrees in three years. “The high school trip had set the stage for my wanting to go out of state for seminary; so when Princeton accepted me, we were both excited to be heading for the East Coast. It was only my third trip out of Texas,” Sloan says.

Princeton was “heady stuff, a fabulous experience,” he recalls. He thrilled to the lectures of church historian James Hastings Nichols, Pauline scholar Chris Beker, and New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger. He pastored a Southern Baptist home mission church; and he and Sue made many trips to cities on the East Coast, delighting in the cultural opportunities of the area during the two and a half years he was in seminary, earning his Master of Divinity degree. He wrote his senior thesis on the role of John the Baptist in Matthew.

“Because the East had been so important to us, Sue and I wanted to make the next step in Europe. We sold everything we had – furniture, cars – took our $3,000 and headed to Bristol, England. We thought the money would last two to three years; it lasted one,” Sloan recalls. Their first child, their daughter Charissa, was born that year.

Sloan had started work on a Ph.D. in seventeenth century English Puritanism but soon found he was missing New Testament studies, the area he began to believe was his call. They moved to West Germany and worked as house parents in a dorm for missionary kids so that he could begin studying across the border at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He remembers, with obvious joy, gatherings during those years with fellow students in the home of his adviser, Swedish New Testament scholar Bo (pronounced Boo) Reicke. Sloan received his Doctor of Theology degree in 1978. 

He accepted the call to become a pastor of the First Baptist Church of Roscoe, Texas, upon returning to the U.S. and served there until 1980, when he accepted the teaching post at Southwestern.

He and Sue, a special education teacher in a resource school for disadvantaged girls, have seven children – Charissa, 19 (a Baylor pre-med and German major); Bryan III, 17; Eraina, 16; Michael, 14; Alathea, 12; Sophia, 9; and Paul, 6.

“When Sue and I look back on our lives, the time at Princeton – and in the East – and the four years in Europe were the decisive, formative times for us. In essence, we lived constantly in another culture for seven years. It has, in the words of Frost, ‘made all the difference,’” Sloan said.

Now he is looking forward, with a bit of awe, at the challenge ahead. “I have a sense that Truett Seminary has a unique opportunity to be a significant voice for Baptists and American Christianity, for several reasons.

“The circumstances of Baptist life in the last fifteen years – the controversy, Baylor’s unique role in all of this, the near disarray in theological education in America, and the rapidity of change in modern culture – all of these combine to give us a unique opportunity to make a special contribution to the world.

“It’s not an emotional high I feel these days so much as a sense of awe. I’m a bit overwhelmed by the task that lies ahead; it’s bigger than any one person can handle. Like any thoroughly Christian task, it truly cannot be done in human terms but requires faith, risk, obedience, and dependence on God. I move forward with a sense of responsibility as a steward of this opportunity for the Lord’s work, for Baptists, and for Baylor,” he said.

How does he answer those who want to know the theological flavor of the new seminary? Conservative? Moderate?

“It depends upon your sphere of inquiry,” he says carefully. “We will be conservative and confessional in the sense that we believe in Jesus Christ, the risen Savior, as the source of salvation. We believe in preaching the Gospel and that the Bible is the Word of God.

“With respect to denominational relationships, or goal is to tie into Baptist history in its broad tradition. George Truett represents to me a commitment to religious and individual freedom expressed in a person of lively intellect and powerful biblical preaching. We also want to tie into the black and Hispanic Baptist experience in America as well.

“Chiefly, I want to avoid being a single-issue advocate. Single issues will divide us, if we allow them. We are committed to focusing on the centrality of preaching Christ.”

In mid-July President Reynold’s enthusiasm for the new venture was not daunted by the Texas heat. He was about to mail to the university regents a “Bear-Gram” message containing a quotation attributed to George Marsden, which he said he felt spoke eloquently to their decision to activate the George W. Truett Theological Seminary:

“If religious groups want to have short-term impact, they should concentrate on the practical; if they want to have long-term influence as well, they should also invest resources in building centers for constructive Christian intellectual life. The two are not mutually exclusive.

“The Puritans were second to none in practical piety and in practical culture-building. Intellectual centers without such a practical spirituality would be arid and of little use. But without true intellectual centers, religious movements may burn brightly for a time, only to fade too often into obscurity.”

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