Criswell College celebrates 40th anniversary; draws SBC dignitaries, alums from across US

DALLAS?Southern Baptist leaders, pastors and alumni of Criswell College celebrated the school’s 40th anniversary at the Dallas school on Oct. 5. With 1,807 graduates and additional alumni serving worldwide, and 365 students enrolled this semester, the school has remained faithful to founder W.A. Criswell’s vision of “intensive Bible study, based on conservative evangelical Christianity as preached and practiced” in the church he pastored.

Highlighting the day’s festivities were sermons delivered by the co-pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., Roger Spradlin, who also is chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, and former Criswell College professor David Allen, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of theology and professor of preaching.

The bulk of Criswell College alumni have either planted or served in local churches. Numerous others have risen to positions of significant responsibility in the SBC.

Allen, like Spradlin, modeled the expositional sermon style for which Criswell College is noted.

Through a series of leaders who upheld the vision of W.A. Criswell, the college has maintained its founding and declared allegiance “to the inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration and authority of holy Scripture,” Allen said.

Former leaders of the school committed to such tenets include the college’s first academic dean, James W. Bryant; and its first president, H. Leo Eddleman, as well as successive presidents. They include the institution’s longest-tenured leader, Paige Patterson, who now presides over Southwestern Seminary, Richard Melick (now at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary), Richard Wells (now at Union University), President-elect Jerry Johnson (now at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Interim President Lamar Cooper.

Preaching from Numbers 9:15-23, Allen said the presidents, boards of trustees, faculty, staff and students of Criswell College have not always known exactly where God is leading and what God is going to do. “But in these 40 years we’ve never lacked for God’s leadership, his direction.”
Providing an exposition of the pastor, Allen reminded, “God is with you always and will guide you always as long as you obey him.”

“Never forget the manna always falls and the water always flows where the cloud moves. Our job is to find God, where he is, and obey him, and watch him work.” Allen said.

Included in the day’s activities was the annual practice of all Criswell College officials signing the school’s articles of faith, which are patterned after the Baptist Faith & Message.

Criswell College asks staff and trustees to affirm its statement, which also incorporates distinctives that Criswell endorsed.

After the longtime Dallas pastor announced in 1969 plans to launch the school the next year, Bryant told him they needed articles of faith. He quoted to the chapel audience Criswell’s response that, “‘We don’t need articles of faith. Just find professors who believe like I do.'”

While Criswell agreed the BF&M would be a good starting point, he tasked Bryant with tweaking the popular statement to incorporate the founder’s convictions in four of the articles:

  • specifying the Bible to be “inerrant and infallible in its original manuscripts which are to be taken as verbally inspired,”
  • reflecting a pre-millennial return involving a pre-tribulation rapture,
  • adding the statement that “the tithe is to be considered the starting point of Christian stewardship,” and
  • adding the conviction that “the greatest contribution the church can make to social betterment is to bring individual men to a heart-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.”

Prior to a luncheon, Cooper asked Jimmy Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Forney, to pray. Pritchard is chairman of the Criswell College board of trustees, the International Mission Board’s trustees and the IMB’s presidential search committee.

Pritchard asked God “to allow us to keep our lives plugged into that place you have for us in fulfilling the Great Commission, and allow us to do all we can to make certain that this school remains in its place in fulfilling the Great Commission and your great plan for the world.”

Keynoting the luncheon was Alan Streett, professor of evangelism who in 2008 was awarded an endowed chair and appointed to be the W.A. Criswell Professor of Expository Preaching. Distance education dean Barry Creamer also informed the audience of opportunities to teach students beyond the walls of the Dallas campus through online instruction.

Addressing his assigned topic?”The Uniqueness of Criswell College, Past and Present”?Streett first noted the difference between an institution’s distinctiveness and uniqueness, saying that uniqueness means “one-of-a-kind … like no other.”

“We’re unique because we’re the only college in the world that bears the name Criswell. And that’s not a little thing…. This college bears the image of Dr. Criswell,” Streett said.

Criswell College also trains men and women “at a seminary level, but for a college degree. And I don’t know of any other college in the world that does that.”

During the 1970s and ’80s, the college was unique for another reason: “It was the nerve center for the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention at a time when SBC leadership had moved leftward, which was a reflection of the six SBC seminaries.”

“When the battle was won at the national level, the war continued at the state level,” said Streett, citing the school’s affiliation with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as a budgeted SBTC ministry.

With some 17 full-time faculty and a number of ongoing part-time/adjunct professors, the student body this fall includes 365 students from more than 30 states and 30 countries. Initially utilizing downtown facilities of First Baptist Church of Dallas, the school relocated in 1991 to the Gaston Avenue property acquired through the efforts of Ruth Ray Hunt, a longtime supporter of the school.

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