Bill Hull identifies the leadership styles of Duke McCall and Roy Honeycutt and their responses to the Southern Baptist Convention controversy in his recently published book “Seminary in Crisis: The Strategic Response of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to the SBC Controversy.”
McCall counseled Honeycutt in 1984, his presidential successor at Southern, to lead trustees of the seminary to refuse to seat trustees elected by the SBC. This would have precipitated a struggle between Southern’s trustees and the SBC for ownership of the seminary. McCall saw this as the only strategy “to save” the seminary.
Honeycutt did not accept McCall’s suggestion and sought to compromise with conservatives as the best way “to save” the institution.
Hull’s portrayal of the two men, differing on the seminary’s salvation, is an interesting study in leadership and illustrates how one’s leadership perspective is deeply rooted in personal experience and personality.
The book fills in a few gaps in the McCall-Honeycutt story and provides significant insight into the thought processes of each man, from one who knew both well.
Hull places the McCall-Honeycutt saga in the larger context of James Boyce’s vision for theological education. As articulated by Hull, Boyce’s key insight was to provide theological education for Baptists of all persuasions at one institution. Thus, conservatives and moderates were educated in a broader environment than either might prefer.
As quoted by Hull of Boyce, students “should be so mingled together as to cause each class to recognize the value of the others, and thus truly to break down entirely any classification.”
Hull goes on to say, “Once polarization was overcome, confidence, affection and esteem could replace jealousies, suspicions and prejudices.”
Conservatives and moderates working together for a common cause is a grand idea. It is a grand 20th-century idea.
While I have the deepest respect for Hull, it is appropriate to note he casts the discussion about McCall and Honeycutt in the larger context of Boyce’s vision for theological education, which was introduced in the book’s first chapter and noted in the last chapter as Hull reflected on ways to make Boyce’s original vision a new reality in the years ahead. Thus, Hull makes the case “we can do more together.”
This theme was deeply rooted in the philosophy of the Industrial Age of the early 20th century, which gave birth to the automobile assembly line and denominational structures like the Cooperative Program. As applied to theological education, the philosophy of the Industrial Age built large regionally located seminaries – “We can do more together.”
The Information Age of the 21st century is headed in a fundamentally different direction: de-centralization, niche business and ministries, and a focus on individual priorities over against “doing more together.”
As applied to theological education, the philosophy of the Information Age will build two different kinds of seminaries. Large seminaries will grow around popular themes and trends, as opposed to classical or traditional themes in theological education (the Wal-Mart perspective). Modest seminaries will focus sharply on specific values, priorities and methodologies (the Panera Bread perspective). The basic philosophy of the Information Age centers in individual need, not “doing more together.”
In his last chapter, Hull asks, “Is it possible for conservative and moderates to work together in offering what Boyce called a ‘Common’ theological education?”
The answer is “No.” Not because moderates and conservatives are uncooperative (though that applies in some cases), but because foundational cultural shifts cannot be reversed. While Boyce’s vision was wonderfully suited for the pre-industrial/industrial days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American culture has moved into the Information Age where different cultural priorities hold sway.
Hull brings a wonderful strategic perspective to his writings. In many regards, he is spot-on. He struggles with the rest of us in understanding and embracing the cultural shifts of our time.
The old has passed. The new has come.