Blog Post

Campbellsville University & the KBC

Though no longer a Kentucky Baptist, I spent more than a decade serving Southern Baptist churches within the commonwealth. Over the past decade, I have watched with great appreciation as the Kentucky Baptist Convention has modeled winsome collaborative work, initiated their own Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and implemented its recommendations, and renewed their emphasis on serving the church by strengthening the ministries of the churches within the convention. Most especially, I have admired the leadership coming from the executive director’s office, formerly by Dr. Bill Mackey and now by Dr. Paul Chitwood. In many ways, the KBC has proven to be a model state convention in their collective witness for Christ and collaborative ministry efforts.

In a step of Christian statesmanship, Chitwood recently announced forthcoming meetings between the KBC and Campbellsville University. These meetings were deemed necessary in light of a recent contract non-renewal by the Campbellsville University administration, and the ensuing concerns and accusations that decision promulgated. The stated purpose of the meetings is not to probe the personnel decision, but to assess the ongoing compatibility of the two entities.

I have watched with piqued interest the circumstances surrounding Campbellsville and the KBC. I deeply appreciate the work of the KBC and, as a Southern Baptist educator, I bear a broader interest and responsibility, as all Southern Baptists do. Furthermore, in some ways, the scenario playing out between Campbellsville and the KBC intersects with topics of great concern to me, which I am currently addressing at in my For the Church: Theological Education, the SBC & the Future of Midwestern Seminary series. Therefore, offered herewith is something of a letter to Kentucky Baptists, submitted by a friend of Kentucky Baptists.

Like most every other onlooker, I am not privy to the personnel circumstances at Campbellsville University, nor should I be. However, in fairness to Campbellsville, one should note that declining to renew a contract is not necessarily tantamount to dismissal. In fact, factors beyond the professor, including program sustainability, curricular revisions, and budgetary and missiological concerns, often prompt non-renewal. Yet, if the refusal to renew the contract proves indicative of broader doctrinal dissonance between Campbellsville and the churches of the KBC, at least five considerations must be kept in mind:

First, when representatives of the KBC meet with representatives of Campbellsville University, they do not come to the table as negotiating equals. The former has funded, governs, and holds accountable the latter by approving their trustees. The posture of both should be one of openness and respect, but the KBC is not the supplicant. Rather, Campbellsville should eschew any inclination toward recalcitrance or obfuscation toward the churches of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, and treat their representatives with openness, cordiality, and deference.

Second, when representatives of the KBC enter the room, their Baptist forebears enter with them. This generation of Kentucky Baptists owes it to each generation prior to honor their stewardship and sacrifice for Campbellsville University. May deliberations honor not only present Kentucky Baptists, but may they honor those who throughout the decades have given their blood, toil, tears, sweat—and, yes, money—to Campbellsville. In a very real sense, this generation of Kentucky Baptists bears a fiduciary and ethical responsibility to “guard that which has been entrusted to them.”

Third, representatives of the KBC represent not only preceding generations, but also their posterity. Typically, when a conflagration occurs between an institution and their governing denomination, attention immediately goes to valuations of bricks and mortar and the size of the endowment. These concerns are not irrelevant, but neither are they paramount. The stewardship is about worldview, about the Word of God, about the gospel, about doctrinal faithfulness, about the Great Commission, and about how these beliefs and values will be instilled in succeeding generations.

Fourth, when Baptist colleges reference the relatively small amount the Cooperative Program currently contributes to their budget (in the case of Campbellsville, approximately 2%), they state an irrelevant fact and make a potentially misleading insinuation. The issue is not merely present funding, but past funding and, more importantly, present operational accountability. This operational accountability is principle and perennial, not seasonal or conditional, based upon the institution’s current need of those funds.

Fifth, every institution that in one way or another serves or is accountable to the church, be it a seminary or a state college, should assume a posture of deference and welcomed accountability. Kentucky Baptists are not morally obligated to investigate and demonstrate the doctrinal faithfulness of Campbellsville University. Rather, Campbellsville, and any other church-governed entity, bears the moral responsibility to demonstrate, prima facie, they are operating in good faith with those churches. If cleavage has occurred between Campbellsville and the KBC, it is Campbellsville’s moral responsibility to adjust accordingly.

We need to prayerfully await the outcome of the forthcoming meetings and, in the meantime, hope and believe the best. As we watch, I believe that Southern Baptists beyond the commonwealth should have their eye on this situation as well. The stakes are high, and there are ramifications for all of us. In a very real sense, we all are Kentucky Baptists now.


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