Monday, August 12, 2013

OBU Honors Union University's David Dockery

We've wondered before about parallels between OBU and Union University, a Baptist college in Jackson, TN.  Longtime OBU President Bob Agee came to OBU from Union and retired to Jackson.  Union's president, the Reverend Dr. David Dockery, is widely considered to be the dean of Baptist college presidents.

At the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting in June, OBU honored Dockery for his contributions to Southern Baptist life over the past 20+ years:
OBU presented the Herschel H. Hobbs Award for Distinguished Denominational Service, named in honor of a legendary Southern Baptist pastor and denominational statesman, to Dr. David S. Dockery on Tuesday, June 11, at a reception in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. 
The reception was part of the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. 
Dockery, who serves as president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., received the award from Dr. David W. Whitlock, president of OBU. 
“David Dockery has had a profound impact on Christian higher education, generally, and OBU, specifically,” Whitlock said. “In the providence of God, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities paired me with Dr. Dockery in their first-year mentorship program when I became president of OBU. His wisdom and influence was so important to me in that first year, and I count it a blessing to consider him a friend.”
Forgetting, for the moment, how revisionist (and maybe even offensive?) it is to honor post-Takeover SBC elites in the name of Herschel Hobbs (who fundamentalists booed at the 1980 SBC meeting), now seems as good a time as ever to compare how OBU and Union relate to the SBC and its post-Takeover leadership.  We'll take up that topic in a series of blog posts this week.

Among the few dozen state convention-affiliated Baptist colleges, Union is clearly the darling of the SBC.  I can't even keep track of how many SBC seminary professors and high-level agency staffers have sent their own children to Union in recent years.  Whenever one of them gets married, graduates, or gets a job, the elite SBC Twitterverse becomes a virtual Union Alumni Association meeting.  We have to ask why so many post-Takeover SBC elites send their kids to Union.  Is Union objectively and uniquely better than all other Baptist colleges?  Or that good for these guys' careers?  Or is proximity to Nashville decisive?

Dockery has mastered one of the most delicate dances in evangelical life: keeping hardline constituents happy while also maintaining some mainstream legitimacy.  In addition to his prolific writing, Dockery has served on advisory boards for evangelical institutions, including Christianity Today and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

His involvement with the CCCU is noteworthy as we try to get a sense for where the CCCU stands on the recent spate of fundamentalist encroachments at Baptist-affiliated CCCU institutions.  I'm sure Dockery wants to stay above the fray, and at this point in his career perhaps he's earned the right.  But I can't help but wonder if he smiled or frowned when he heard about the firings at OBU in 2010 and 2011, the wholesale faculty exodus at Shorter in 2012, or the takeover of Cedarville in 2013.

In a future post, we'll look more deeply at how OBU and Union each relate to SBC leadership.  We'll look for answers to the question of why so many SBC elites send their kids to Union while so few (if any) send their kids to OBU.  And we'll consider OBU's prospects for success if it abandons its rich heritage just to try to win over a few dozen guys who are always going to prefer Union anyway.

Dr. Dockery, who will retire next summer after 19 years on the job, will continue to be relevant to SBC life, especially in his role as chair of the Calvinism Advisory Committee.  I, for one, will always eagerly listen to anything Dr. Dockery has to say about Christian higher education.  And I wish him and Union success in this transition period.

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