If still living, Duke K. McCall would have celebrated his 100th birthday this week. The centennial marker of his birth is a fitting occasion to reflect again on McCall’s influence and to reconsider, in particular, one aspect of his legacy.
Duke McCall was a titanic figure. He strode center stage on Baptist life for more than a half century. By age 37, he had pastored Louisville’s most prominent Southern Baptist church and served stints as president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and as the SBC’s top administrator—CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. At the age of 37, Southern Seminary’s trustees elected McCall the institution’s seventh president, a post he would hold for more than three decades.
I was honored to know Dr. McCall well during the last decade of his life. So much so that when he passed away on April 2, 2013, his family invited me to serve as a pallbearer at his funeral. I was pleased to so participate. At that time, I penned these words of tribute. Greg Wills’ sesquicentennial history of Southern Seminary devotes two chapters to McCall’s tenure, and well documents his leadership of the seminary and broad engagement in Baptist affairs.
Yet, as one leading a Southern Baptist seminary, I find Duke McCall’s inaugural convocation, delivered in Southern Seminary’s newly completed Alumni Chapel on March 11, 1952, especially noteworthy. The address has been largely forgotten, but it points to why McCall’s influence persists and merits renewed attention.
In “Southern Seminary and the Denomination” McCall set forth his vision for Southern Seminary’s future. After overviewing the institution’s history and summary references to the leadership and contributions of the previous six presidents, McCall sets forth a robust call for the seminary to serve the denomination’s churches.
Intriguingly, McCall’s address portended the 1958 controversy, which led to the departure of 13 theology professors, most all of whom landed at Southeastern and Midwestern Seminaries. The 1958 crisis was a tug-of-war between the faculty and the president over whether the seminary’s primary ambition should be to serve the churches of the SBC or to seek the approbation of the broader academy. According to McCall, the seminary’s constituency unequivocally would be Southern Baptist churches. Faculty with ears to hear had been fully apprised at McCall’s inauguration of where he intended to take the seminary.
“Southern Seminary and the Denomination” is a timeless address, which merits renewed attention, not only from those who serve in Southern Baptist seminaries, but by all interested in theological education.
Of course, in the final analysis McCall’s Southern Seminary deviated theologically from the churches of the SBC, thus straining his own vision of a seminary for the denomination’s churches. Nonetheless, this address is a compelling vision for theological education—a vision worth reconsidering on the centennial celebration of McCall’s life; a vision worth informing Southern Baptist theological education in the 21st century as it originally did in the 20th.topicsDuke McCall, Southern Seminary, theological education