An Open Letter to Southern Baptists
by Dr. Charles S. Kelley, Jr., President, NOBTS

Dear Southern Baptist Family:

    Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! These are days in which the Lord is richly blessing the ministry of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We have the largest student enrollment in our history, the most diverse faculty in our history and the happiest spirit I can recall during my twenty-five years of life on the campus.

    However, we regret deeply that these are also days in which tension clouds the relationship between some leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention. Unfortunately, in such an atmosphere of misunderstanding and mistrust, the positions of others are sometimes misreported or misrepresented. This makes it all the more crucial in such a day to tell the truth plainly.

    In recent days you may have read allegations from the seminary study committee of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and the Baptist Standard of Texas of things I purportedly said regarding the Baptist Faith and Message. Unfortunately, the Baptist Standard never called to confirm quotes attributed to me, to discuss any stand attributed to me, or to discuss any concern raised by the study committee about our seminary. Nor did the BGCT study committee send the seminary a copy of its report. Robert Campbell, chairman of the BGCT study, committee has already acknowledged in writing that they misquoted me at least once, and a retraction was published in the Baptist Standard. But as you know, retractions rarely garner the same attention as the original story. I have been asked from many quarters to give a response. Here is a summary of the rest of the story.

     1) From its earliest beginnings New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has required a confessional commitment from all members of the faculty. This means faculty members voluntarily agree to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the doctrinal statements of the seminary. Those doctrinal statements are the "Articles of Religious Belief" written when the seminary was established, and for many years now, the Baptist Faith and Message.

     2) In keeping with the practice of my predecessors, I am responsible for maintaining the same expectations for faculty today.

     3) It has been, is now, and always will be inappropriate for a faculty member to make this type of voluntary commitment and then ignore it in what they actually teach.

     4) After two "town hall" discussions and the opportunity for any faculty member to have a private dialogue with the President and Provost, the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary voted to affirm as a doctrinal guideline the Baptist Faith and Message as revised in June 2000.

     5) Every faculty member, current and new, has now signed the doctrinal agreement affirming they will teach in accordance with and not contrary to the current Baptist Faith and Message.

     6) No seminary student has ever been or ever will be required to sign any doctrinal affirmation. All students are encouraged to ask about, challenge, or explore any theological issue or denominational stance with their professors. Free discussion on issues included in the Baptist Faith and Message takes place regularly in relevant classes.

     7) All faculty members are hired on the basis of a commitment to handle with dignity, respect, and fairness any student who challenges the faculty member's convictions or the stance of the Southern Baptist Convention on any issue. Faculty members are also expected to be able to explain clearly and fairly a variety of perspectives on complex theological issues.

     8) All faculty members are required to participate in a professional scholarly society of their own choosing. One purpose of this requirement is to put faculty members in an academic setting with other non-Baptist and Baptist experts in their disciplines for the purpose of scholarly discussion on any topic and from any perspective of the faculty member's choosing. This is but one example of the freedom of our faculty for academic engagement on any topic of their choosing, including the Baptist Faith and Message. This specific example was shared with the BGCT Study Committee, but ignored in their report.

     9) The BGCT Seminary Study Committee, reporters for the Baptist Standard, and BGCT staff members apparently believe seminary professors should not be asked to make a voluntary commitment to teach within established doctrinal parameters. This is out of step with historic Baptist practice and with the article on Education in both the 1963 and the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, and therefore on this issue we will have to disagree.

     10) We welcome any Southern Baptist to come to our campus, talk to our faculty and students, and see what God is doing in this place. The BGCT Study Committee came to the campus reluctantly, and, at their request, spent the five hours of their visit in a meeting with me and just a few others. They did not talk to our students, they did not talk to our faculty and they did not attend any classes. When they came, they did not survey or talk to our Texas Baptist students or faculty.

     11) I did not make the statements attributed to me in the report of the BGCT Study Committee. The report contained many other inaccuracies and misrepresentations. Those factual errors and misrepresentations were pointed out to the study committee, but they chose not to include any of the corrections and responses in their report. Again, the Baptist Standard never called to confirm or discuss any quote or stand attributed to me in their publication or to confirm or discuss any charge against our seminary made by the study committee.

    Please know that this response is made reluctantly, and I offer it only because the statements attributed to me were so offensive and so inaccurate. I have a Texas Baptist heritage. I was baptized in a Texas Baptist church, called to the ministry at the Texas Youth Evangelism Conference, licensed and ordained in a Texas Baptist church, and educated in a Texas Baptist university. The passion of my life is not engaging in denominational controversy. The passion of my life is equipping leaders to grow healthy churches. Toward that end I am giving my life. For that purpose our faculty is training the God-called men and women who attend our seminary.

    Thank you for your support of the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.

                      Sincerely,
                      Chuck Kelley

 

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