There are times when the Baptist way of doing things just makes you wonder what is going on. This is one of those times.
Surprise! This week comes an announcement from the BGCT that it has established a new position on its staff, that of “Theologian-in-Residence,” and has opened a new “Center for Informed Faith.” This is a surprise because, to my knowledge, there was not much advance announcement made of its establishment. Through the entire state convention meeting last year, I did not hear so much as a peep made about such a position being added to the staff, nor of the creation of a “Center for Informed Faith.” I’m guessing that such news, coming at a time when the budget belt was being strained, and in the wake of declining Cooperative Program receipts, would have met with a whole lot of questions about the necessity for such a position and institution.
I did take notice that Denison’s salary is being funded by donors. That’s fine, except, once again, during a time of financial cutbacks, it seems just a bit irregular to put funding into something like this when essential mission ministries have taken a hit, the entire building is operating on 90% of what it was budgeted to receive last year and people who work there are genuinely worried about their jobs.
The question that is the elephant in the room here is simple. Why do we need a theologian-in-residence and a Center for Informed Faith?
Baptist churches are independent and autonomous. The last thing we need is a state convention setting up an organization to provide “guidance” related to theology. Though the descriptive language in the news reports is couched in terms to make it seem benign, this is a step that a state convention, or even a national body, does not need to make. We do not need a theologian in residence, nor an institution connected to a state convention to “help” churches with theological issues. This could easily be interpreted as a veiled attempt to influence theology in the BGCT in a particular theological-denominational-political direction, and I don’t think it would be wise to leave that impression.
How did this all come about? Did the BGCT seek candidates for the position? I did not see it advertised. I have absolutely nothing against Dr. Denison. He was one of my favorite seminary professors at Southwestern, in the area of apologetics, teaching while he was a doctoral candidate. I’ve read all of his books on the subject and am waiting for more, but if this is a BGCT position, then I have to ask if the opportunity was afforded for any interested party to seek the position if they felt led to do so. Likewise, was the same opportunity afforded to others with regard to the jobs that the Center for Informed Faith will provide? Obviously, opportunities were made available to staff at one church in particular. It seems that the way this was handled certainly opens the door for speculation and questions, and in the news releases that have come out so far, I don’t see many answers.
It would seem to me that in a time of financial difficulty and austerity, the wisest course of action would be to say thank you to the donors, and if they could not be convinced to assist in another way, to politely decline the offer at this time. Either that, or do the courtesy of bringing this proposal to the messengers at the convention to decide whether such a position or center is needed.