This week, Save OBU has been exploring the wider world that OBU is involved in -- the Shawnee community as well as the worlds of Southern Baptist and Christian non-denominational higher education. So let's get down to brass tacks. While I believe deeply in the ideals of a liberal arts education and theological training for all, by and large colleges and universities are measured by their ability (1) to prepare students for the job world and (2) to get their students into noteworthy graduate institutions.
I was both a philosophy and biblical languages major who went on to seminary and a practicing youth minister while at OBU. Therefore, today and tomorrow, I will be talking about how OBU prepared me for graduate school and for ministry--both expressed purposes of (what was then) the School of Christian Service. Through each of these aspects of my time at OBU, I engaged the Shawnee community and Christian higher education.
When I left Shawnee in August of 2006, I visited my parents briefly in Texas before moving to New Jersey to attend Princeton Theological Seminary. I was neither the first OBU graduate to take this route nor the last. Another student from my class went with me (he is now pursuing a Ph.D. at Notre Dame), and a second colleague came after a couple of years later. In fact, one reason my application was so well received was that OBU had been sending a steady stream of students to Princeton for several years.
What is most remarkable about my time at PTS is how fluid my transition from undergraduate to graduate education was. In the first week on campus, I took tests to determine whether or not I would be exempt from Greek and Hebrew language courses. Thanks to OBU, I was the only student that year to pass both tests. One of the biggest shocks to new graduate students is the amount of reading they are expected to complete in a week. Thanks to OBU, I found out that the reading was less than I expected and sometimes less than the religion and philosophy professors had required. Seminary students often come from academic backgrounds other than religion, and much of their degree is taken up with introductory courses in theology and church history. Thanks to OBU, I was exempted from nearly all of my introductory classes. In fact, about two-thirds of my graduate coursework were electives, so long as I took the required number of hours for each area of study.
To say that OBU prepared me for work at this level would be an understatement. I stepped immediately into Greek and Hebrew exegesis courses with second- and third-year students. Yet, under the guidance of OBU professors, I had already read much of the New Testament in the original Greek and dabbled in the Septuagint. I engaged the foundational theological and philosophical questions of the nature of God, evil, and human knowledge. Still, these were not new to me. I dug deep into the religious history of the United States, learning from one of the preeminent scholars in the nation. But before I left OBU, I had already won the Mercer Baptist Heritage Award--open to both undergraduate and graduate students. (The previous two winners were both OBU alumni who were studying at Princeton.)
More importantly, in all these accomplishments, I was not unique. I was simply another graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University.
My time at OBU was the defining experience of my academic life. Looking at my résumé, most would assume that the diploma that I am most proud of would have "Scholæ Theologicæ Princetoniensis" boldly written across it in Latin. Actually, I keep that diploma in a drawer of my desk in a cardboard tube. The lessons that I learned at OBU are what I carried to graduate school and what I still carry with me today. Certainly, I learned a lot at Princeton, but that learning clarified and built upon what OBU taught me.
Where does that leave us, then, especially in regards to Save OBU's mission? There are a couple of takeaways from my experience that I would like to leave with you:
For one, I intentionally chose not to attend a Southern Baptist seminary. Frankly, I was not alone as most of my classmates in the religion and philosophy departments made similar decisions. When I graduated in 2006, the SBC seminaries had long been under the influence of fundamentalism. My original goal after OBU was to earn a Ph.D. Southwestern, Southern, New Orleans, and Southeastern seminaries simply were not options if I wanted to be respected among Christian academics. Whereas these were once vibrant schools (with Southwestern and Southern widely recognized for excellence), fundamentalism and ideologically-centered education were the new norms. The professors whose teaching still defines my life had studied there (mostly before the fundamentalist takeover was complete), but if I wanted to pursue a career like theirs, I would have to look elsewhere.
The same fundamentalism that has befallen the Southern Baptist seminaries is knocking at OBU's door. If the school hopes to remain vital and relevant to Christian higher education, separation from the BGCO is essential. As OBU loses academic relevance, it will also lose the quality of students it has become accustomed to. Let us be clear, OBU earned its reputation in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. OBU will also earn its reputation if it continues down the path towards fundamentalism and chooses ideology over scholarship. (Already, the two forced dismissals and the faculty's mistrust of administration are becoming widely known. So is the fact that Wheaton just hired a Princeton New Testament Ph.D. (and OBU alumna) that OBU passed over in favor of a more conservative [male] candidate against the wishes of the entire religion/philosophy faculty.)
My preparation for graduate education was equal to the best that is offered in the nation. Many of my classmates, both in the School of Christian Service and in the other colleges, have taken advantage of that education and gone on to prestigious academic institutions in medicine, law, divinity, and other fields. I pray and work in the hope that future OBU students are offered the same quality that we were.
Note: Clayton graduated in 2009 with a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently earning a Master of Education through Montana State University.