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Walter B. (Buddy) Shurden spoke twice at Campbell University this week. Both addresses were perceptive and challenging, worthy of a wider audience. I want to hit a few of the high spots from the Monday evening service of “Celebrating Our Baptist Heritage,” part of Campbell’s 125th anniversary observance.

Shurden is well known and often honored for his work as a Baptist historian, educator, and defender of bedrock Baptist principles. He is officially retired, but remains active as “Minister at Large” to Mercer University, through speaking and writing, and through volunteer activities, including his work as chair of the board of directors for Baptists Today. Shurden has often pricked the conscience of Baptist Christians, and continues to do so.

In reflecting on the history and challenges of Baptist higher education, Shurden focused on place, purpose, and people. “Place matters,” he said, noting that early Baptist schools across the south were intentionally secluded in rural sancuaries so students could focus on their studies and not be tempted by worldly allures.

While place matters, Shurden said, purpose is more important. No matter what requirements are handed down from accrediting agencies, he said, Baptist higher education should focus on teaching students to read critically, think logically, communicate effectively, honor mystery, and act compassionately. That string is worth repeating: a true education helps students learn to read critically, think logically, communicate effectively, honor mystery, and act compassionately.

Finally, Shurden offered, people are more important than either place or purpose. Ordinary people with passion can accomplish extraordinary things when they are willing to invest their lives in others, he said. Teachers who may remain completely unknown outside of their local setting can have an influence that reaches as far as their students will go.

As usual, Shurden’s comments were right on the mark, and I wished the audience, mostly students, had included more faculty, pastors, and other church leaders. Those are the kind of folks who would have benefitted most from his take-home observation that Baptist schools have graduated too many students “with unlimited certainties and limited sympathies.”

Good food for thought, that is.

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