Interview with Dr. David Dockery: Part One

Tim Brister —  January 22, 2007 — 9 Comments

As I begin my interview with Dr. Dockery, I begin with a couple of the driving passions in Dockery’s life, namely Union University and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As the interview continues throughout the week, we will discuss wide-ranging issues from one of the most respected men in the SBC.  We begin with brief opening statements.

Opening Statements

Brister: Dr. Dockery, I want to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on various issues in evangelical and Southern Baptist life.  As I have been in dialogue in various arenas of evangelical life, theological education, and the Southern Baptist Convention, without exception the name David Dockery has risen with great admiration and respect.  It is a privilege to have you here at Provocations and Pantings, and it is my prayer that this interview will glorify God and serve the Church of Jesus Christ.

Dockery:  Thank you, Timmy. I am honored by your invitation. We will pray that this interview will be helpful for many.

About Union

Brister:  Union University has become one of the premier Christian universities over the past decade. Can you tell us how that has happened?

Dockery: Obviously, the answer is that God has chosen to bless Union and show His favor to us. It has been amazing to watch. Union is one of the fastest growing private institutions in the South, having grown from 1975 students a decade ago to 3156 this year. Union has been recognized as a Top Tier institution by US News & World Report each of the past ten years. The numerical growth and academic reputation has been exceeded by the seriousness with which Union has attempted to reclaim the Christian intellectual tradition, seeking to bring a Christian worldview to bear on all aspects of our work. We have been blessed to see the campus begin to develop as well. More than $50 million has been invested in the campus since 1998. During this time Union has sent more students to Baptist seminaries and to serve with the Mission Boards than any Baptist University in the country. Chuck Colson, one of the outstanding Christian leaders of our time, has on more than one occasion said, “Union is one of the few universities in America that is intentionally setting out to bring a Christian worldview to bear on education and understanding.” With each passing year I think we make progress toward seeing the faithful integration of faith and learning across the entire campus. For all of these things we give thanks to God.

UU & Recent Publications

Brister: Can you describe the recent publications that have been used to help advance the Union mission?

Dockery: The mission of Union University is to provide Christ-centered higher education that promotes excellence and character development in service to church and society. We have published two books, The Future of Christian Higher Education and Shaping a Christian Worldview, which were campus-wide projects. Both have been well received in the academic community, for which we are most grateful. I just completed a new manuscript, which will be published by Broadman & Holman in the fall of 2007. This book, Renewing Minds:  Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education, reflects the development of my thinking about distinctive Christ-centered higher education over the past decade. I am very excited about this new book and hopeful that it will have a positive impact to bring renewal to many campuses, particularly Baptist institutions. If that happens to any degree I will be most grateful.

Gospel Unity

Brister: Recently, you wrote a pamphlet called “One Gospel: Toward a Baptist Consensus.”  Could you share why and how you came to the development of this piece?

Dockery: I grew up in a Southern Baptist world that was united by a strong programmatic and pragmatic consensus, which had developed out of the “Million More in ’54 campaign.” The cultural and programmatic identity of Southern Baptists was unmatched by other denominations. It provided a kind of intactness that is hard to imagine for us in 2007. But, unfortunately, it was a consensus shaped by a cultural and programmatic understanding, which no longer exists. Having gone through the cultural unrest of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the “Controversy” of the ‘80s and ‘90s, we largely entered the 21st century as a gathering of loosely connected groups, which includes:  fundamentalists, evangelicals, revivalists, purpose-driven churches, programmatic denominationalists, Pietists, quasi-charismatics, culture warriors, social justice types, some young missional emerging churches, and Calvinists. In recent years liberals have departed to align with other alliances and fellowships. We are a convention that hardly knows Furman, Manly, Johnson, Boyce, Broadus, Carroll, Moon, Armstrong, Robertson, Mullins, Conner, Scarborough, or Dodd. We barely know Criswell and Hobbs. We need new statesmen to help point the way forward. The recent pamphlet was an attempt to encourage us to realize the importance of rebuilding a consensus. I believe this consensus must be grounded in our shared commitment to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am grateful that the message of this pamphlet has been well received.

Brister: Approximately eight years ago, Christianity Today developed a document entitled “The Gospel: An Evangelical Celebration.”  You were one of the original signers who endorsed this document in order to bring an evangelical consensus with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Do you believe this exposition of the gospel is adequate and tailored to the kind of consensus you are looking to bring within the Southern Baptist Convention?

Dockery: I was pleased to be invited to sign that document. I thought it was a fine summary and exposition of the Gospel. It was signed by those who are Reformed, Wesleyan, and Baptist. While all of us could have changed a word or two, or placed the emphasis elsewhere, I thought the statement accomplished well its purpose of developing an evangelical consensus. About six or eight of us were invited to write brief columns for Christianity Today as a follow up to reflect the portion of the statement we wanted to emphasize. I wrote a little piece on the Gospel as gift.
       As Baptists, I hope we agree on our need for the Gospel because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I trust we all believe that we are justified by the redemptive work of Christ (Rom. 3:24-26). We receive this salvation “by grace through faith,” which is a gift of God. Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, for there is “no other name under heaven” by which we are saved. We know that Particular Baptists, General Baptists, Landmarkists, and revivalists have had different points of emphasis, but I trust we can find commonality and shared identity in the essence of the Gospel.

[part two coming tomorrow]

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  • “We are a convention that hardly knows Furman, Manly, Johnson, Boyce, Broadus, Carroll, Moon, Armstrong, Robertson, Mullins, Conner, Scarborough, or Dodd. We barely know Criswell and Hobbs. We need new statesmen to help point the way forward.”
    I think Dr. Dockery is an excellent candidate for establishing a Baptist vision for the future with steadfast ties to our past.

    “I believethis consensus must be grounded in our shared commitment to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
    Quintessential, Dr. Dockery! I have always admired the fact that he is foremost an evangelical & a Baptist who seeks to center his vision around the Biblical Gospel instead of sectarian movements.

    Looks great, so far, Tim, I think it’s gonna be a good week.

  • Thanks Adam! I think you are right about Dockery as an excellent candidate for such statemen in our convention. While the younger generation know little of the men aforementioned, it is also true that many they do know, they unfortunately don’t like. That said, in order to keep our Convention from being splintered into the sectarian movements with emphasis on non-essential matters, we need a commanding voice who will stress the essential message of the gospel by which we can unite. This younger generation in the SBC “pants” for things like Together for the Gospel and is “provoked” with the politics of yesteryear like resolution #5 (among others). Dockery has the listening ear of both camps and has the ability to reach into the hearts of this younger generation as well as open the eyes of some from the old guard who quickly are losing their following.

    I don’t want to get ahead of my sharing my post-interview reflections (which will be posted with a summary on Saturday), but I felt it was worth “amening” what you said. 🙂

  • David Kerr

    Really great that you got this interview with Dr. Dockery!

    Have you seen this?

  • David,

    I have seen that blog as I referenced it in a “quick hits” post early last week. I have not seen the conference, however. The panel looks pretty impressive with McGrath and Craig (among others). Are you going?

  • Tuned in & enjoying. I am already wondering what the other questions will be!

  • David Kerr

    I’m pretty sure the thing with McGrath is a different event. They have not announced who will be on the panel to discuss Lemke’s paper. The title of his paper is what caught my eye. “What is a Baptist? How to differentiate a Baptist from a Presbyterian.”

  • An Anonymous Baptist

    The event David Kerr is referencing is the annual Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Lecture sponsored by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. You can find more information by going to The Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry is co-sponsoring the event, where Lemke’s paper will be discussed. This year’s Greer-Heard topic is entitled “The Future of Atheism” and should be very interesting.

    An Anonymous Baptist

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