DALLAS (ABP) — Three drastically different ministerial schools in Texas claim to be in the tradition of B. H. Carroll, a towering figure in Baptist life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ironically, all three are right to some degree, according to Carroll biographer Alan Lefever, but none has taken on all of the enigmatic leader's characteristics.
Each school represents one aspect of Carroll's vision for educating ministers, according to Lefever, director of the Texas Baptist Historical Collection. “The problem is that Carroll never articulated a single vision for theological education. It was a progression in his thought.”
Founders of the new B. H. Carroll Institute say they want to create a theological education model involving “teaching churches” and mentors. That resonates with Carroll's desire to see theological education centered in the ministry of the local church, Lefever explained. From the early 1870s until the turn of the century, Carroll trained ministers at First Baptist Church of Waco, where he was pastor.
George W. Truett Theological Seminary is part of Baylor University. The last time Baylor was home to a seminary, Carroll was its dean. Truett Seminary is reminiscent of Carroll's commitment to a theological school that had access to the broad resources of a liberal arts university, Lefever noted.
Carroll led Baylor Seminary to pull away from the university and relocate from Waco to Fort Worth primarily due to a struggle over financial resources. “He liked to be able to call the shots and be his own man,” asserted Lefever, author of “Fighting the Good Fight,” the definitive Carroll biography.
When Baylor's seminary became a freestanding institution and moved 90 miles to the north, Carroll became founding president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Southern Baptist Convention school that claims Carroll as its godfather.
When he was inaugurated in October as Southwestern's eighth president, Paige Patterson pledged to lead that institution toward “a full and thorough reaffirmation of the doctrine of B. H. Carroll and the founders” of the school.
In his inaugural address, Patterson particularly singled out the missionary and evangelistic zeal of Carroll and other early leaders of the seminary. He mentioned 15 key doctrines of the founders, including the incarnation and atoning work of Christ, commitment to expository preaching, and emphasis on the sanctity of marriage and the family.
In his charge to the new president, SBC Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins challenged Patterson to follow the example of Carroll as a man of courage, conviction and consistency.
Founders of the new Carroll Institute, on the other hand, picked up on another aspect of the Carroll legacy at a press conference announcing the school's inaugural faculty.
Jim Denison, pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, pledged that his church would be one of the first of what organizers hope will be 100 “teaching churches” affiliated with the institute. Describing Carroll's approach to educating ministerial students in the context of a local church, Denison said, “We are returning to his vision and advancing his vision.”
Without a doubt, it is a return to one aspect of Carroll's vision, but it's not necessary “advancing” the vision, according to Lefever. In fact, it may be “a step back,” he said.
While Carroll used the mentoring approach and taught ministers in a local church for a number of years, the influence of a single instructor produced “Carroll clones,” said Lefever, who teaches part time at Truett Seminary.
The Carroll Institute will avoid the trap of students “emulating a single style pastor or teacher” by offering a “blended learning approach” that combines personal, face-to-face classroom and mentoring experience with Internet-based distance learning, according to Bruce Corley, president of the institute. The distance-learning component will grant students exposure to “a broad range of experience,” he added.
“We're not going to replicate old models,” Corley said. “We intend to take up the vision of B. H. Carroll by making post-baccalaureate education affordable and accessible for any person and relate it to congregational experience.”
Lefever noted his respect for the people involved in forming the Carroll Institute. He went on to say he applauded the Carroll Institute or any other theological institution that could help “train ministers in historic Baptist principles,” regardless of the chosen delivery system.
Even so, Lefever observed, “I think the ideal model is a theological school tied to a university setting, like Truett or Logsdon, where students have the chance to gain a more well-rounded education.”
In a statement released after four senior professors left Southwestern Seminary to join the Carroll Institute, the president of the Fort Worth seminary questioned whether the new school was aptly named. “People are, of course, free to employ whatever name they wish,” Patterson said. “Whether this is done with integrity depends on whether the principles of the one whose name is thereby invoked are honored and espoused.”
“While one may question the justice of using the name of the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in a competing effort against that seminary, the real test will be whether they have honored Carroll's name or just used it,” Patterson said.
Lefever asked which “principles” of Southwestern's founder the school's current president wants to see honored and espoused. Carroll unquestionably was theologically conservative. But the only prescribed guide for faculty at Southwestern under his tenure was the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, a relatively broad statement compared to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, he observed.
When Patterson was asked to elaborate on what he meant regarding steering Southwestern toward a return to the doctrine of Carroll, he declined any comment beyond a listing of the 15 points in his inaugural address.
The problem with predicting how Carroll would respond to any of the institutions claiming his legacy is that he was such an independent thinker and complex personality, Lefever asserted.
“No one could speak for B. H. Carroll but B. H. Carroll. He's one of the most difficult people in Baptist life to pigeonhole,” he said. “I don't have a problem with any of the schools claiming 'a legacy' of Carroll. But I don't think any of them can claim 'the legacy' of Carroll.”
Many are quick to latch onto favored aspects of Carroll's personality, but few are willing to embrace every part of the hot-tempered, cigar-smoking, post-millennialist's life, Lefever asserted.
“Would someone who struggled with alcoholism as a young man, who was divorced early in life, and who had women deacons serve in his church in the 1870s fit in at Southwestern Seminary today, not just as a student but as an instructor and even as the president?” Lefever asked. “If the presidency of Southwestern Seminary were open, would Carroll be considered?”
“If you're going to be a B. H. Carroll fan, take all of him.”
Who was B.H. Carroll?
— Born Dec. 27, 1843 in Mississippi.
— Died Nov. 11, 1914 in Fort Worth.
— Enlisted as a Texas Ranger at the start of the Civil War to guard the Texas frontier. Later served with the regular army.
— When the war interrupted his college studies, Baylor University granted him a BA degree. He later received honorary doctorates from the University of Tennessee and Keatchie College.
— Became a born-again Christian in 1865 following a period of skepticism. Joined a Baptist church in Caldwell, Texas.
— Ordained to the gospel ministry in 1866. Served as pastor of rural churches and taught school for three years.
— Pastor of First Baptist Church in Waco from 1870 to 1899.
— Taught theology and Bible at Baylor University from 1872 to 1905.
— Organized Baylor Theological Seminary in 1905.
— Led in the founding of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, chartered in 1908. Served as president of Southwestern until his death in 1914.
— Authored “An Interpretation of the English Bible,” a 13-volume commentary, as well as a number of sermon collections.
(Source: Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, Volume One)