BSK: From Then and There to Now and Here
“A Kentucky Baptist seminary is badly needed—even imperatively so. We need a seminary where the truth of God can be sought and the whole truth of the whole Bible, where there is freedom of speech, academic freedom and responsibility and where people of differing views can work together in peace and respect for each other.”
These words of Dr. Wayne E. Oates are found in material announcing and promoting the founding of the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in 1996. Among the goals and purposes cited for Baptist seminary education were: the authority of scripture, the separation of church and state, the priesthood of all believers, local church autonomy, and the freedom of conscience under the Lordship of Christ.
As we approach the beginning of a new era in the life of BSK, we must remember and honor those who dared to step forward and found this seminary. On November 19, 1996, the articles of incorporation for the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky were executed. Article XI reads:
The initial Board of Trustees shall be composed of 11 persons namely:
Dr. Paul D Simmons, Louisville Kentucky; Dr. Robert Baker, Lexington Kentucky; Dr. Greg Earwood, Georgetown; Dr. Ron Higdon, Louisville; Dr. Charles Midkiff, Greenville; Judy Orem, Campbellsburg; Rev. Jo Garnett, Danville; Dr. William C. DeVries, Louisville; David L Peterson, Louisville; Chester Porter, Shepherdsville.
Later, Dr. Earwood was named first president of the Baptist Seminary of KY located at Calvary Baptist Church, Lexington. Under Dr. Earwood’s superb leadership the seminary moved forward against sometimes overwhelming odds. In June 2015 BSK received ATS accreditation for the Masters of Divinity degree.
Dr. Paul Simmons, now Professor of Bioethics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, was the first Chairperson of the Board of Trustees. In a recent meeting he had this to say about BSK, its beginnings, and why BSK is needed:
“The basic point that favored BSK was its location. Kentucky is the state that has for years been the focus for authentic Baptist doctrine and the life of the church. KY is a major source of the individualism that figures so prominently in soul competence and private conscience. Frontiersmen had no imperial overlords. They had only themselves to rely upon in the wilderness areas of the country. The east had the heavy influence of high-church Anglicanism, but frontier churches were informal and spontaneous in their worship and religious life. Prayer was personal and was important in the field of working with horses and sheaves as in the church when working with deacons and parishioners. Baptists understandably developed a low-church ecclesiology, which meant more personal and community oriented. Prayers and hymns were as vital in the field as in the pew.
Kentucky also came to be the “home” of the leading school in theological education, namely, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. It had influenced the development of the early leaders of Baptist denominationalism and provided the leadership for Baptist schools and local churches. It set the standard for the call for an “educated” clergy, without requiring or implying high-church formality.
The movement for new seminaries grew out of the sense that a wave of evangelicalism was misguided and basically contrary to what Baptists were all about. A stress on inerrancy displaced biblical authority; and the authority of the pastor displaced that of the congregation that emphasized the priesthood of all believers.
These and other factors lay behind the effort of church and theology-renewal that was so important to the movement to establish new seminaries when the older ones were taken over by those of an “alien” mind. The Baptist distinctive is biblical without being Biblicist and authentic without claiming absolute authority. Baptists are solidly for Christ while admitting their need for repentance and guidance; doctrine is to benefit better thinking in church circles while avoiding a dogmatic stress on the absolute truth of every word. Faith is personal, not an entirely rational belief in Christ and related to Scripture and the history of the Christian witness.”
We now move forward into a new and exciting time in the life of BSK. It is imperative that all who care about this unique institution step forward to support in every way the students, faculty, staff, trustees, and our second president, Dr. David Cassady. In place of grumblings let there be encouragement; instead of clinging to the memory of wrongs done, let their be repentance and forgiveness; and where there is uncertainty and doubt, let their be faith and hope that God can do what we find improbable or even impossible to accomplish. BSK is about God as revealed in Jesus Christ; let us reflect the Light of this revelation.
My first ten days as Acting President of BSK have been a time of finding my way. While I know little or nothing about hound dogs, I suspect I have something in common with them in that I have wondered off the path and under a few shrubs and into a few thickets only to discover that I was in the wrong place. I managed to escape without thorns in my feet or being anointed by a skunk (At least I think so as no one has crossed the street to avoid me).
During my pensive moments, those moments were the voice of reason sometimes disguises itself as the voice of God, I have found my self asking why am I here or, for that matter, why are any of us here at this preacher-teaching, under-funded, sometimes-conflicted, and in-conflict-with-itself school? Reason says, “It is time to move on!” But please read on.
I have had on my desk since college a copy of Pascal’s Pensees. As an undergraduate student trying to discern “Where to from here?” I spent a lot time thinking about and analyzing what I was doing with my life; I still do. In my $1.25 edition of Pascal’s thoughts I have underlined #277-278 and I have read it more times than I can remember: “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things…It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.” (In another thought he says those who serve God are “reasonable and happy.”)
What I want to say is this: The Baptist Seminary of KY is a heart thing: it always has been; it always will be. It cannot stand all the tests of man’s reason, but it will stand as long as we seek the mind of God.
We need funding for the present and the future. I will be sitting down in front of some hopefully likeminded people and asking (as in begging). The worst thing that can happen is to hear a “No!” but I will, with certainty, be able to get off my knees and continue begging. Speaking of knees, I have not been one to pray on my knees, that is, until recently. I suppose that is why I have been doing quad strengthening exercises at Fitness 19 the past several months.
I want the Board of Trustees to know (again) that we have a God-called faculty, called to teach our present and future pastors, chaplains, and teachers. They need the continuing love and support of each and every member of the Board of Trustees. The faculty is here to teach so that others might hear and be taught. Through them, we join in that calling.
Thank you for your prayers, your understanding, and your gifts. Some of you are giving an enormous amount of time as you share your expertise to help us through these difficult days. I think it is out of reasons of the heart that you do so. Pascal would have liked you.
For ten weeks in the summer of 1965 I worked at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly. Nearly every night I heard the singing of “O for a thousand tongues to sing my dear Redeemer’s praise, The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of his grace!” As I drive I-64 back to Louisville, that song keeps intruding on my awareness and becomes my prayer.
Grace and Peace to you,
Acting President, BSK
I have never been very good at anything mechanical, anything requiring manual dexterity, or anything requiring a high degree of organizational skills. I have a workbench and more tools than I need in my garage. Over the span of the 37 years we have lived in our house on Beyroth Court more than little A+ blood has trickled down on my workbench. At one point my wife and I agreed that if she heard me working in the garage, she would alert the Hand Surgery ER at Jewish Hospital to be on stand-by. I have yet to develop a sense of certainty when working with a circular saw.
When I started my neurology training at the University of Kentucky’s Albert B. “Happy” Chandler Hospital in 1977, I had the same feeling of uncertainty that always accompanies me to my workbench. I had come from seven years of pure pediatrics. My first assignment at UK was the VA Hospital on Cooper Drive. In one day I went from babies with colic, respiratory infections, and a garden variety of childhood ailments to old soldiers with strokes, neuropathy, seizures, and dementia. My first night on call became the source of recurring dreams much like those I had in college—you know, the ones where you cannot find something or you show up in class only to note you are wearing no trousers. When I beheld my first unconscious patient in need of nutrition, I was uncertain as to whether to start him on very thin cereal and 20 calories per ounce formula or the ugly looking brown solution I saw hanging near so many beds in the chronic care area. Should I also write for a protective diaper area coating, such as Desitin, PRN? Somehow I got better at meeting their needs and my patients survived me.
But I was always at my highest level of sensed incompetence when one of my patients would suddenly start to die right in front of me. While the living were looking on, I would have to initiate CPR. It always seemed like forever before the cardiologist and anesthesiologist and other members of the Code 300 team would arrive and take over the life-saving efforts. During my last fall at UK, I helped in two unsuccessful resuscitations of fans that should not have braved the climb up the steps to the high altitudes of Commonwealth Stadium’s cheap seats. All I could do was chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth—that is another story. To some extent I think I quit going to football games so I would not have to do more CPR on UK fans. Besides, the Wildcats usually lost.
As I write I have just finished my first week as the acting president. I might have just as well have been in the garage with a circular saw in my hand, or standing at the bedside of an aging veteran and wondering what I should do to best meet his needs, or starting CPR in the bleacher seats of Commonwealth Stadium with no tools other than my hands, mouth, and excellent lung capacity. That same sense of incompetence has come back to haunt me.
I do whatever I do best when I somehow connect it to my views of what life is about, views that grew out of the best and the worst times of my seventy-three-plus years. The following is an excerpt from Remembering Brook Street, an essay I wrote for admission to a writing seminar at Spalding University in 2014:
It was just a few months later that one of the most significant encounters in my life took place in that living room. I had attempted to scale the fence on our side yard, thereby gaining entry to the fortress next door. In 1955 some fences had sharp projections, almost like barbed wire, that these days are bent for safety reasons. Just as I thought I was clearing the fence, I impaled my right arm on one of the barbs. I freed my extremity but had sustained a three-inch laceration on the anterior surface of my forearm. As I returned to our apartment I was already feeling lightheaded. I stretched out on the couch barely hearing my mother’s lecture on such foolishness, foolishness that would now cost us a trip to the Norton Hospital three blocks up Oak Street, consuming money that we did not have.
As I rested on the sofa, there was a knock on the door. Two bald men in suits and ties stood in our doorway. Mother let them into our house, an act that would set the course of my life for years to come. They were from the Walnut Street Baptist Church at Third and St. Catherine. “We have come to invite your family to Sunday school and church,” they said to my mother. Mother, hardly hearing or understanding their words, replied, “Talk to Billy here. He needs something.” Then came the offer, “Come to Sunday school at last twice per month and you can play on the church basketball or softball team.” And I, on the verge of either passing out or vomiting, agreed with the plan. They said a prayer and exited. Little did they or I know then that they had set in motion a journey that would continue for a lifetime. Later I would see them in the same light as the visitors to Abraham’s tent who came as messengers setting the course of his journey. Over the span of the next fifty-two years at WSBC I was baptized, learned to study scripture and pray, ordained a deacon, taught Sunday school for 30 years, and experienced a call to ministry, a call that further determined the course of my life. I do not recall the identity of those two visitors. If I were allowed admission to that room today, I would take off my shoes for I would be standing on Holy Ground.
When I was an eight-year-old I was invited to our neighbor’s home for a Royal Ambassadors meeting, aka, RAs, a boy’s group sponsored by the church. Learning about missions was central to the group. That night is burned into my memory circuits. The leader asked us to form a circle for prayer. Each boy was to offer a sentence of prayer. For sure there had been no time in my life up to that point where I had publicly uttered anything that even remotely resembled a prayer. In fact, at one point I had been banned from the yard and very house in which I stood that night because I had repeatedly used profanity as we played in the front yard. Before my time to pray came, I leaned over and whispered into the ear of my friend, Gary, “What do I say?” I received no answer, and I have no recollection of what I said when my turn came. I do recall what Gary said to me after the prayer circle ended, “Billy, never speak aloud when people are praying; God might not hear them.” It was then I recalled what I heard in the prayers that night: “Be with the missionaries in China, the soldiers in Korea, and with everyone who is sick.” Beyond feeling that God was about to be very busy, I was left with uncertainty about what to say to God. I still have some uncertainty about what to say to God, but I am OK with that now. I am more interested in what God has to say to me. I am guilty of having a hard time hearing God due to my noisy heart (Wayne Oates).
So why do I share this? I mean to say that the life and ministry of the church, specifically the local church, has played the major role in shaping who I am, what I think, what I write, and what I do. So I am at BSK now because someone from a church came to my door, a pastor and a youth minister reached out to me, and then, despite having good reason to do so, did not give up on me or dozens of other kids living along the Brook Street corridor in the nineteen-fifties and sixties.
Do I still get that feeling of incompetence at times? One of my mentors had the habit of saying “Sometimes our best is none too good.” I had a strong sense of such this past week until I remembered again the Presence that empowers us to do whatever it is God calls us to do. No, I don’t believe God will reach into the life of BSK (or any other life) and moves things around like a master chess player. But I do believe that from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 we hear God exhorting us and promising an ever present Spirit that calls us to be and do.
Our calling is to do the best we can even as we face uncertainty. There may well have been some of that same uncertainty that accompanied two men up the steps to an apartment door on Brook Street in 1955. It was a call to go on a journey and be taught something about God.
God is still calling women and men to go on journeys that may well be filled with times of uncertainty. For some that journey leads them to BSK where they might ask, “What now? What do I do now? What do I say?” This I know with certainty: a Spirit-called faculty stands ready to teach them; they know what to do and say.
Acting President, BSK
January 24, 2017