Seminary leaders cite distinction between belief and advocacy

FORT WORTH?Southwestern Seminary’s theology dean, David Allen, doesn’t expect any surprises from faculty when he sends them a memo soon about a new trustee statement regarding the neo-charismatic practice of private prayer language.

Prospective faculty members have been quizzed on the subject for years, Allen said.

If a current faculty member practices “a private prayer language” as one trustee alleges five of them do, then the pertinent question becomes whether that view is advocated in the classroom.

“I would not bring that professor in and say, ‘You cannot say that outside of class.’ I’m not going to restrict anyone in that way.”

“The statement said we will not knowingly endorse private prayer language,” Allen explained, taking that to mean advocating that practice.

The newly passed statement reads: “As it concerns private practices of devotion, these practices, if genuinely private, remain unknown to the general public and are, therefore, beyond the purview of Southwestern Seminary. Southwestern will not knowingly endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including ‘private prayer language.’ Neither will Southwestern knowingly employ professors or administrators who promote such practices.”

Allen draws a distinction between the statement by which a seminary operates and the freedom of an individual pastor.

“A pastor at a local church is not an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention. They are by definition autonomous, as is their pastor. However, a seminary is a different animal,” he said, because of the responsibility it has to its churches through elected trustees.

Prior to his election to the faculty and administration, Allen served as a trustee throughout the previous seminary president’s administration and takes issue with McKissic’s characterization that the newly passed statement represents a theological and philosophical shift that will exclude many practitioners of tongues.

“During the entire Hemphill time, as a board member, if a person articulated to me that they had charismatic leanings and inclusive of that was a private prayer language, it would be very unlikely I would have been supportive of faculty status.”

But a faculty member who privately discloses a sympathetic view toward the practice of a private prayer language won’t be hauled into the dean’s office.

“I would not bring that professor in and say you cannot say that outside of class. It’s not going to restrict in that way. If we have people who do that here we’re certainly not going to try to move for their dismissal,” Allen said.

Nor should the statement pose a problem for any of the students, he added.

“We have lots of students who aren’t Southern Baptists and some are charismatic. We do not expect our students to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Under no conditions would any such student be unwelcome here,” Allen stated.

“On the other side of the coin, we can be careful in whom we do hire. We will not hire anyone knowingly who affirms that which the vast majority of Southern Baptists disavow.”

“As long as it remains private, it’s not problematic to me because I don’t know,” agreed Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson. “If it does become known to some people, but is not a matter that is advocated or advertised and the reputation of the school is not harmed thereby, then it’s not a problem.”

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