Baptists Today honored James M. Dunn with its ninth annual Judson-Rice Award April 24. More than 270 persons attended the dinner event at Bridger Field House in Winston-Salem, held between sessions of a regional New Baptist Covenant celebration meeting in Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University.
Dunn, currently Professor of Christianity and Public Policy at the Wake Forest University Divinity School, is best known as former director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (now Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), where he served from 1981 until 1999.
Baptist historian Bill Leonard, dean of the WFU Divinity School, said Dunn “personifies the Baptist witness” through the power of an uncoerced faith grounded in a free church, recognizing the inevitability of dissent. Dunn understands that religious liberty is a “fragile fortress” that protects both believers and unbelievers from the state as well as from de facto establishments that seek power, he said.
As a defender of religious liberty, Dunn “has discomfitted purveyors of religious and political privilege from the time he was promoted from the primary to the junior department,” Leonard said, referencing names for children’s Sunday School departments commonly used in the mid-20th century.
Leonard said Dunn is also “one of the most amazing mentors I have ever known,” noting that many former students “would not have made it without the tangible financial help and personal encouragement of James and Marilyn Dunn.”
Acknowledging the partnership he shares with wife Marilyn, Dunn said the award was for both of them, accepted “with heartfelt humanity and heartfelt humility as a merit badge of being the most stubborn.”
Dunn said “I believe that every human being made in God’s image has access without filter or formula to the divine.”
“We live the truth in gospel freedom,” he said: “We sing ‘I know whom I have believed – not what.’”
“It’s unblinkered balderdash” to think that soul freedom is a threat to the church, Dunn said. Of greater concern, he said, is the danger of “falling for the sin of certainty, and forgetting the certainty of sin.” Uncertainty is invevitable, he said, and must be faced with the theological virtue of hope. Citing 1 Cor. 13:13, Dunn said “Hope and love are still Christian virtues. May they be ours.”
Baptists Today editor John Pierce, honoree James M. Dunn, and Baptists Today board chair Gary Eubanks pose with a plaque signifiying the Judson-Rice Award.