20 Years as Dean The Legacy of R. Alan Culpepper
Tableaux Fall 2015 Special Issue
plural [ta-bloh]: A picturesque group of persons around a common table
From the Dean
10 th Issue
Celebrating 20 Years of Our School’s History
We weren’t quite sure what might happen around McAfee School of Theology on June 30 of this year when Alan Culpepper left the building. I headed home about 4:30 p.m. and, at 6:30 p.m., I was still receiving emails from him about various items that he wanted me to know about in my new role as interim dean. Aware that Jacque was at home eagerly anticipating his first evening as a former dean, I finally emailed him back: “Dear Alan, this is your interim dean. Please go home and celebrate with your wife and stop sending me emails!” He never responded to that one. But it speaks volumes about him and about his commitment to McAfee, its faculty, and its students and alumni. He couldn’t quit. He cares — passionately. He possesses a unique blend of humility, obligation, a keen intellect, and a deepJacque and Alan Culpepper seated integrity that has been poured into the place and that has shaped all of us for the better. I would tell you that he left the campsite better than he found it, except that there was no campsite here at all when he arrived. He cleared the land, hired the workers, located the students, and built the School (with some help, of course). His spirit and passion infuse the place. His humility is evident in the relationships that exist between faculty and students. His deep sense of obligation and calling is a model that drives us toward our vision of “Changing Lives and Transforming Communities.” His keen intellect pervades McAfee and continues to be reflected in our attention to research and scholarship. And his integrity has been breathed in by all of us and it drives us toward moral and spiritual excellence. I suppose you could say that he never really left the building at all on June 30 — and that he will never leave it as long as McAfee School of Theology remains true to his vision and his hope for it. This issue of Tableaux is a tribute to him. Alan, I speak for all of us who love McAfee School of Theology and this great University. We’re grateful.
Robert N. Nash, Jr. Interim Dean, McAfee School of Theology
by Kate Riney, former student and current Associate Director of Admissions for McAfee School of Theology
been the “steady hand at the rudder guiding the institution,” says his colleague and friend, Dr. Loyd Allen. Dr. Allen, a founding faculty member, says he is unable to express the amount of gratitude he has for his friend and leader. As a former student and now staff member, I am confident in enius, humble, warm, sharp, thoughtful, saying, we all feel the same way. When asked what words of genteel, determined, unshakeable ... these gratitude faculty would extend to are just a few of the Dr. Culpepper, they mentioned his complimentary words integrity as a leader, his commitment used to describe Dr. R. to the church, and his compassionate Alan Culpepper, the founding Dean support of the individual. of the McAfee School of Theology. Through the ups and downs of As McAfee quickly approaches its theological education Dr. Culpepper twentieth year anniversary, our acted as a pillar for students and beloved dean is entering a new phase faculty, reminding us of God’s of his career and life — retirement. faithfulness despite devastating global His season of tenure at the institution events and discouraging religious is markedly filled with fond memories trends. His tenure will always be for us and great achievements. A man of that pillar, calling us to turn our gaze such accomplishment and character and fix our eyes on God, to remember deserves much honor. As Dr. the many ways we have been blessed, Culpepper continues his service to the and to envision the church God is church, all he has done for McAfee will calling us to be today. We are indebted not be forgotten. to him, but resolved in our mission. The McAfee School of Theology For all that Dr. Culpepper has taught was established in 1994 and enrolled Dr. Culpepper and D. Min. student Betty Williams us has prepared us for the next phase its first class in 1996. For the nineteen offer communion at the 2013 Student, Staff and of life at McAfee. years that followed, Dr. Culpepper has Faculty Fall Retreat.
“The Founding Movement” by Dr. Peter Rhea Jones, Sr. A simple table in the Country Store. The setting beautiful Callaway Gardens. The annual “moderate couples retreat” just adjourned. The Takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention devastatingly complete. An impossible dream broached. A common hope born. A fragile dream that could not die. I can see that table on the front tier of the dining area. Seated there were Wallace and Pearl DuVall, Ann and Jim Ross, Floyd and Ann Roebuck, Ellen Jones and myself. Four men and four women. I brought up the idea of a new seminary, which we had discussed before. Floyd Roebuck brightened to the suggestion. An animated conversation ensued with everyone at the table. We talked about how we needed a new seminary and named daunting obstacles that threatened to intimidate us. The realistic possibility was uttered that it could not be done, an opinion we would hear again. On the face of it around that table the dream looked improbable and perhaps impossible. Whether it was possible or not we convinced ourselves we must do it. We left that table with a budding dream and enthusiastically shared it in the lobby and outside in the parking lot with the larger group. People started sharing
James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology Timeline
Mercer Board of Trustees approves plans to establish a School of Theology.
On Aug. 21, the first 44 students begin studies in the School of Theology.
In April, the Board of Trustees approves plans to locate the School on the Cecil B. Day Campus in Atlanta. Mercer University President Kirby Godsey appoints Dr. R. Alan Culpepper founding dean.
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Former McAfee professor of New Testament and Preaching, Dr. Peter Rhea Jones with Dr. Alan Culpepper
this incipient vision with immediate excitement of their own. In secular terms it was an idea whose time had come, in theological terms it fell in the fullness of God’s time. We left the Country Store with a dream that would not let us go. From that moment forward it seemed that God was in the venture. Soon we would start using the “P” word, providence that is. To speak personally first a spiritual pivot came earlier while attending a Southern Seminary luncheon. The president of
The Board of Trustees approves naming the School of Theology for James T. and Carolyn McAfee in recognition of their substantial endowment gift.
McAfee graduates its charter class in May.
Southern, Roy Honeycutt, spoke with a particular passion as he anticipated the dread probability that the seminary would be overrun, that the values we cherished would be rejected. As per my memory he likened it to the hostile tribes at the gate of Rome. He dared to look beyond the takeover of a great seminary by those who did not love it. When it was all over there would be remains of the real school. He shocked me when he said, ”Southern Seminary may not be located on Lexington Road, but it will survive.” When he finished his stirring address I was on my feet and we gave him a standing ovation. A plaque on the wall of Norton Hall at Southern sprang to my mind as I applauded: “The seminary may die, but we will die first.” I made a promise in my heart that day. Somewhat later, however, I would receive a phone call from Associated Baptist Press asking if this new movement for a seminary was intended as a continuation of Southern Seminary. I told him that was my heart, but that our movement was definitely broader. I named names. Truett Gannon and Bill Self and Ches Smith were alumni of Southeastern, James Reed had New Orleans roots, Jim Ross and Jim Johnson graduated from Southwestern. We were about a new seminary that would embody the best of the several traditions we loved. As Johnny McKinney in a letter from Anderson, South Carolina, wrote, “I am convinced the southeast needs a vibrant theological institution which can serve the needs of free and faithful Baptists.” In pursuit of the dream at the Country Story we needed to tell our story. Floyd Roebuck and I set aside Thursdays, our days off, to campaign, to barnstorm as we called it. We had set speeches with Floyd covering some things and I touching
McAfee expands its program offerings to include community counseling and academic research. McAfee establishes a joint M.Div./M.B.A degree program.
McAfee receives full membership into the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) as an accredited school of theology.
on others. Gary Carver hosted us in Chattanooga. David Key did a great job of pulling several churches together at a Baptist dinner to hear about the dream. Tennessee moderates invited me to speak to their luncheon at the state convention. We spoke to other Georgia churches. By far the most exciting experience related to our barnstorming of Alabama, however. I refer to our airplane adventure. Earl Tillman, Baptist layman out of Rome and a pilot, agreed to fly us to four destinations in one day. We put down in north Alabama at Huntsville to tell the story to a great group. We flew on to Birmingham where we had a special gathering in a restaurant. From there it was on to Montgomery where we met a smaller group of friends in a church. We had one more destination to go on this frenetic day. The final leg took us to LA, lower Alabama, where we were to land in Dothan. I noticed that Earl kept looking out of the plane surveying the ground. When I asked him about it he casually explained that his flight training included canvassing alternative places to land. The oil pressure had plummeted out of sight. Earl managed to land the plane on the runway in Dothan with the engine smoking. When we deplanned he opened the hood and smoke billowed out. The engine was burned out so badly we could not fly the plane back. Pastor Philip Wise had gathered a good audience, so we did our thing again, spent the night in a cold house, and rented a car to return home. All in a dream’s day. I have named this words “The Founding Movement” because we soon had a virtual army on march. Movement implies something alive and spontaneous. Our movement was grassroots, something so compelling that it had to
McAfee establishes a joint M.Div./M.S. in Community Counseling degree program with Mercer’s Penfield College.
The D. Perry and Betty Ginn Lectures on Christian Faith and Modern Science are established.
McAfee adds a Doctor of Ministry degree program. On Nov. 3, James T. McAfee Jr. passes away unexpectedly after heart surgery.
happen, a Spirit of God kind of thing. We would begin to have spontaneous meetings to chase the dream. We were possessed. We felt the wind of the Spirit. Dream meetings were held at Smoke Rise Baptist and hosted by Truett Gannon. Attendance soon reached more than a hundred. We developed a mailing list of over 400 interested individuals. Eventually we formed “Ministers and Laity for a New Seminary in Georgia.” Hugh Peacock served as clerk and Bill Scarbrough functioned as treasurer of both the parent organization and the Steering Committee. At every Dream session time for extended prayer marked all the sessions to a far more than perfunctory degree. We broke into groups and prayed for provision for the dream, for divine leadership and blessing. We prayed for the school that was to be, for its students and their ministry, for their teachers, for its mission. We envisioned a regional school, one centered in Georgia but relating to surrounding states, especially the contiguous states of Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. We set aside time in each program for regional voices. Cecil Sherman, who supported our effort early on, threw out the model of a three legged stool, with a moderate seminary in Virginia, Georgia and Texas, each relevant to its own section of the country. At our Dream meetings people showed up like Howard Olive of Tennessee, Charles Horton of Florida, and Nobel Brown from Carolina. They were allotted time at the Dream meetings to voice perspectives. Floyd Roebuck had fashioned a map we frequently used that depicted the Baptist demographics showing 37% of Baptists living within 250 miles of Atlanta. At the second Dream meeting (Sept. 21, 1993), as we
called them, Dr. Duke McCall, former president of the Baptist World Alliance, gave the main address. His opening paragraph galvanized the attention of the entire group. Speaking personally, implying his priorities, he commented, “This is an important meeting of historical proportions; otherwise, I would not be here. The moving trucks are right now in front of my house in Highlands, NC. This is the first time since retiring from the presidency of the BWA that wife and home have taken second place to my schedule. I believe that God is doing something here; so you and I have set aside other urgent matters to seek to be the instruments of His purpose.” Calling his address “No Competition Among Light Houses,” McCall insisted that institutional considerations were secondary to obeying the Great Commission. He went on to say he along with Louie Newton had fought to locate Southeastern Seminary in Atlanta, which would have occurred had not the campus of Wake Forest come open. In a telephone call two weeks earlier his former dean (St. Amant) reminded him that he (McCall) had said “the best place in the world for a Baptist theological school would be in Atlanta.” McCall’s address came as a resounding confirmation of our dream. The Interim Steering Committee, as it was called, actually scheduled a two day retreat, September 7 and 8, 1993, at Simpsonwood. It turned into a watershed event, a creative interchange. Many of the primary aspects of the dream surfaced in lively dialogue. The group coined the expression “ministry intensive” as an umbrella term indicative of the desired model. The group tended to favor a centrist theological
In the fall, McAfee initiates the Peter Rhea and Ellen Jones New Testament Lectures.
McAfee adopts the dual degree program of Master of Divinity and Master of Science in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in nonprofit.
In January, McAfee launches the Center for Teaching Churches. McAfee is given a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment to fund and study 27, two-year pastoral residencies over a five-year period.
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McAfee, in addition to a M.Div. with seven track options and a D.Min. with eight specializations, currently offers a M.A. in Christian Ministry and three dual degrees.
perspective of a progressive sort, at home with the classic over a million dollars the congregation made the decision statements of Christian belief and Baptist confessions but with to give $1,071,00 of the proceeds toward the starting of a a decided opposition to any forced creed. The crowd favored a new seminary in Georgia. This momentous decision in the high academic standard buttressed by freedom of inquiry and providence of God bolstered morale of the movement and expression. Some participants expressed love for their own transformed the dream into a beckoning reality. That which seminaries and appreciation for the high quality of theological could not be done took on a new hue. The dream was not will education. They affirmed their studies in Old and New of the wisp anymore. Testament, systematic theology, church history and pastoral The second highlight toward provisioning a new school care, but they registered a need for more practical help in order derived from the “Ministry and Laity for a New Seminary” to do well in the local church. Therefore, they wanted some itself. Our treasurer had collected our personal offerings faculty with ministerial experience. We wanted a seminary, along the way to cover expenses, primarily checks to First furthermore, where women would be received as equals in Baptist of Decatur to cover mailings. Now the moment of the seminary and in the church. We desired a place where Baptist distinctives would be championed, not lampooned. The suggestion of honorary alumni, those supporting the new seminary but who graduated from some other school, was advocated. Floyd Roebuck posited the idea of a Laity Board, a group of lay persons who would reflect to the dean the kinds of ministers needed by local churches. On the retreat program both discussion about continuity with the past and the creatively new were broached, both enthusiastically affirmed. The steering committee envisioned a community of supporting churches with the new seminary at its center, neither the Dr. Kirby Godsey and Dr. Alan Culpepper with founding benefactors, James and Carolyn McAfee churches nor the school existing only for its own benefit. Indeed, one of the emerging distinctives of McAfee among the new moderate truth had come. Would the churches themselves represented seminaries has been the existence of a supporting community by their pastors and some lay leaders step up and make an which not only aided in bringing it into being and but feels annual pledge to sustain the dreamed for school? We began a some responsibility for it, including economic support. McAfee discussion and eventually asked people to pledge informally has boasted practicing ministers such as John Claypool and and unofficially to make an approximate pledge for which they Truett Gannon who brought over a hundred years of pastoral would seek to gain congregational commitment. A stillness experience. The Lilly residence program gives new graduates hung in the air. Eventually pledges were spoken that came to direct and mentored experience on the firing line. Supporting over $200,000. More would follow as we dreamed of a 100 churches are still needed to step up and contribute annually to churches coming on board. These participants were not just the seminary. dreamers. These informal pledges represented a watershed As I look back and survey those invigorating months of an moment of an inspiring sort. David Key and Union Point inspired group moving toward a common goal I see three high became the first church to make an official church pledge. moments in the provisioning and making possible of McAfee. The third event, eventually the most important, came The first most certainly must be the support of the Emory when the McAfee family began to weigh in with a growing Baptist Church. They had made a valiant effort to keep their commitment. Ultimately Jim and Carolyn would catch a doors open. They had been engaged in vital ministry for over vision themselves and underwrite the venture to the extent fifty years. They made the determination to close. That valiant of endowing the school. Jim gave careful attention to the congregation, under the courageous pastoral leadership of quality of his legacy. Once this dear couple took such a Nelson Grenade, made the conscious decision to go out with a stalwart step, clearly in the providence of God, the dream was bang rather than a whimper. Lay leaders as “Red” Emmert had no longer in doubt. Nor was the school temporary. It was here attended the Dream meetings. The congregation, after careful to stay. I have had the privilege to know Jim and Carolyn since deliberation, took the decision to merge with First Baptist college days. They were outstanding then and they have only Church of Decatur, Nelson Grenade becoming associate pastor. grown in stature. We thank Jim and Carolyn from the bottom Selling their property to Emory University for well of our hearts.
Mercer’s Theology School: A Memoir of the Early Years
by Dr. Loyd Allen
his is a short memoir, not a history, from my personal point of view. My aim is to give a sense of one person’s view of the beginnings of McAfee under the leadership of Dean Alan Culpepper. The summer of 1991 was the first time I thought of Mercer University in connection with a school of theology. I was a faculty member at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Board of Trustees was becoming increasingly unfriendly to the seminary’s administration and faculty. I boarded a van full of Southern Seminary faculty members recruited by Professor Glenn Hinson to travel down to Georgia for an informal conversation with Mercer’s President Kirby Godsey. The seminary professors initiated the meeting to consider starting a renegade progressive Baptist seminary in the buildings on Mercer’s Tift campus. (Alan Culpepper had left Southern for Baylor already.) The talks were genial, but nothing came of them. Back in Louisville, the idea died for lack of support from sufficient faculty. Most thought it either too risky a leap of faith or believed things would surely get better where they were. I was disappointed. I liked the idea of a seminary in Georgia. The next time I heard about Mercer starting a theology school, I had escaped the crisis at Southern Seminary and was teaching at Mississippi College. Peter Rhea Jones came to Mississippi to preach a revival for one of his former students. I met him for lunch, and he told me Mercer was in the process of starting a theology school to supply the future staff needs of nonFundamentalist Baptist churches. (He didn’t suggest I apply for a job.) I later learned he and a group of moderate Georgia Baptists on a retreat were eating at a table in a restaurant near Callaway Gardens, when the topic of Southern Seminary’s swing to the right came up. Somehow the idea arose to start a school in Georgia. This time the idea didn’t die. By 1995, Mercer University’s trustees had approved a school of theology, and Kirby Godsey had convinced Alan Culpepper to
“I’ve experienced more of God’s Providence at McAfee than I used to believe in.” 8 Tableaux |
become its founding dean. I signaled Walter Shurden, Mercer’s Christianity department chair, of my willingness to serve at the future school. In the early fall of 1995, I was home on a Wednesday evening when Alan Culpepper called me. He asked if I would come to Atlanta to consider joining the faculty he was putting together. I gladly agreed to do so, and we set a date in October. When my wife, Libby, got home that night, I excitedly shared with her that Alan had called, and we were going to interview in Atlanta. She asked for the date. At that moment, I realized Alan’s call had so bowled me over that I had neglected to write
The Mercer University School of Theology building was completed in the fall of 1996.
it down. I had to call him back! When we got to Atlanta, Alan told us this was no interview. He knew who he wanted. Now he wanted us to believe in the idea he was trying to make a reality. He hired all his faculty that way. By Thanksgiving of 1995, I was associate dean at the new Mercer School of Theology, as well as professor of church history and spiritual formation. It is hard to remember now how frail the whole enterprise seemed in those days. Before accepting the job, I called a trusted friend who had worked at a Southern Baptist Seminary and had been president of a Baptist college. He cautioned me against taking the job, saying he didn’t think the folks at Mercer realized the resources it took to make a new seminary sustainable. Libby and I decided to take the chance. It was the best vocational choice I ever made. In January of 1996, six faculty sat around a table in the Davis Building on Mercer’s Atlanta campus and began to plan a school. Besides myself and Dean Culpepper, there was Paul Duke, professor of Left to right, William Loyd Allen, Paul Duke, Nancy deClaissé-Walford, R. Alan Culpepper, preaching and New Testament, Nancy deClaisséRonald Johnson (seated) Walford, rookie professor of languages and Hebrew Bible; Ron Johnson, veteran professor of evangelism; and Ann that winter when he proposed that ministers needed to know White Morton, theology librarian and original member of the some things, be able to do certain things, and be a certain kind Callaway creative thinkers. Dock Hollingsworth was on the of person. Knowing, being, and doing became our guiding road recruiting students and church supporters. theme. We set about taking a free and faithful theology school Those were giddy times. President Godsey met with us from an idea to an institution. To give a sense of the task, once. He pointed to a white board in the room and told us to Dock Hollingsworth, our admissions director, had to recruit draw up a school on it as we felt led. Then he told us Alan had students for that first class of 1996 without having an answer hired us, he trusted us, and it was our job to do what we were other than “I don’t know yet,” to such questions as: What’s the called to do with complete freedom. President Godsey said it curriculum? How much will it cost? When will classes start? was his job to keep us free to do our work; he would take care By fall of 1996, those questions were answered, and a group of of any criticism that came our way. I felt like a caged rabbit risk-takers who believed in our idea and were called to serve whose door had swung open, liberated but a little afraid to Christ formed the first class, making us a school. venture out of my box. But venture we did. Within a year, James and Carolyn McAfee provided a Dean Culpepper gave us a golden thread to follow one day financial gift large enough to ensure the future of the Mercer School of Theology. Mercer responded by renaming it the McAfee School of Theology. I went to work that day knowing that thanks to the McAfees’ faith and generosity the idea of those folks at that restaurant in Callaway Gardens had a solid, tangible future. Twenty years later, I still wake up some days with the sense that I am the most fortunate professor in theological education because the mission of McAfee fits my calling so well. As Alan Culpepper has been known to say, “I’ve experienced more of God’s Providence at McAfee than I used to believe in.” At the core of those heady, sometimes anxious days, Alan Culpepper stood at the center of all that is good about McAfee. He has been the imperturbable captain of our ship, holding a steady course through storm and calm alike. Few will remember how frail our craft was in the early years. Dean Culpepper Mercer trustees and administrators break ground for the School’s new facility. leaves it strong and ready to sail into a better future.
Fidelity: A Tribute to R. Alan Culpepper The following speech was given by former student Dr. Mikeal Parsons, professor and Macon Chair in Religion at Baylor University, during a May 19 dinner honoring Alan and Jacquelyn Culpepper at the Cherokee Town Club.
by Dr. Mikeal C. Parsons, Baylor University Eight minutes to sum up a 35-year old relationship is a daunting task, but here goes ... Like many of you perhaps, I first “knew” Alan Culpepper by reputation. When I arrived in Louisville in the fall of 1980, Alan and his family were on sabbatical in Cambridge, England. But I heard from other students about this “boy professor” who had returned to Southern in 1974, fresh from doctoral studies at Duke. He was already a favorite among the more “serious” Southern students. By the time I entered the doctoral program in New Testament in 1982, Culpepper was back and while Southern Seminary in the early 1980s may not have been “Camelot” for everyone, it certainly seemed that way to this redneck son of a sawmiller from the rural Piedmont region of
Brian Wright, 2003 M.Div. graduate, with Dr. Alan Culpepper
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NC! The New Testament faculty was next to none: John Polhill, David Garland, Roger Omanson (RIP), Gerald Borchert, and Jim Blevins. In addition, Senior Profs, Frank Stagg and George Beasley-Murray, were still roaming the halls and offering the occasional J term course. But at the center of it all was Alan Culpepper, with new and revolutionary ideas about how best to interpret the Gospels. Those were exhilarating times. In Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (1983), Culpepper introduced us to narrative criticism, a way to hear the theological and rhetorical subtleties of the Fourth Gospel’s narrator, whom he dubbed the “whispering wizard”. That book has become a classic and is still, thirty years later, THE introduction to narrative criticism for biblical studies students. (On his fortieth birthday, we convinced Jacque to wear a t-shirt that read, “I love Alan’s Anatomy!”). I spent nearly three years as Alan’s Garrett Fellow, what we called teaching assistants at Southern. My first seminar was on the resurrection narratives, team taught by Culpepper and Borchert. Alan was a wonderful seminar teacher and an exacting and patient scholar who expected the same of his students. He taught us not to draw conclusions the weight of which the evidence would not bear. I remember when I received my first seminar paper back from Alan. At the end of the paper in which I had drawn some unsubstantiated conclusions, Alan wrote one word in his familiar neat and minute script (surprisingly legible for a left-hander): “Careful!” His scholarship is characterized by a balanced mix of careful and measured research and independent and creative insights. So very often he has seen what everyone else has seen and thought what no one else has thought. He has insisted on the same kind of careful and creative scholarship from his students. He always tried to help us become the best scholars we could be without trying to form a “school of thought” that mirrored or aped his own work. He is a scholar’s scholar,
and he has left a legacy of doctoral students, some of whom have flourished as professors or administrators in the academy and others who have held pastoral position in significant Baptist congregations. But Alan has never been an ivory tower intellectual living inside his own head. He is, as all who know him know, a man of many talents. A world-class scholar, yes. But also a serious fisherman whom I once heard get into an hour long vigorous debate about the best way to clean a fish. A builder of boats and decks. For a Ph.D., Alan knows a lot of practical stuff! If there were ever an academic version of “Survivor”, in which the top 153 Johannine scholars in the world were marooned on an island, my money would be on Alan! Alan has been a wonderful mentor, gracious and generous. He helped me get through my dissertation; then, he helped me get it published. He helped me get my first (and only) teaching post at Baylor. He read my pre-publication manuscripts (encouraging my creativity while sometimes writing “careful” in the margin), and he has written endorsements for my books. But our relationship has gone far beyond that of academic mentor/apprentice. And I am not alone. For every one of his doctoral students, the time came when each of us was no longer called student, but friend. And Alan has been a great friend. He taught me how to play racquetball. He taught me how to fish. He was my confidante and confessor during the “dark night of my Soul.” He was the best man in my wedding. So many of the good things in my life have Alan Culpepper’s fingerprints on them. Let me end with two short anecdotes, both from the racquetball court.
At McAfee’s 2014 Founder’s Day, Dr. Alan Culpepper announces that he is stepping down as dean.
Story #1. I’ve heard lots of explanations as to why Alan left the stable and comfortable environment of Baylor to take the risk of becoming founding dean of an institution that existed only in the mind of Kirby Godsey. 1) The psychologist would say that Alan could not resist the winsome and persistent personality of Dr. Kirby Godsey. I do not know Dr. Godsey well, but from what I’ve heard, I would not dismiss that as a possibility. 2) The financier would say that it was a matter of money. Mercer simply made Alan an “offer he couldn’t refuse.” I know Alan well enough to know that the appeal of creature comforts alone would not be enough. 3) The educator would say that Alan was always committed to Baptist theological education, and he couldn’t resist this invitation. Again, this rings partially true. 4) The pious person would say simply God called him, and who am I to argue with Providence?
But there is another dimension heretofore never revealed, and it’s time to draw back the curtain. Toward the end of his Baylor tenure, Alan and I played doubles racquetball 2 or 3 times a week. The third player was Chris Caldwell, then a graduate student and gifted athlete and now Pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. The fourth player was a Baylor colleague whose star at the time was rising on a dizzying trajectory of administrative ascendancy. At a critical moment in a Friday afternoon match, from the back corner of the court Alan launched one of his signature 100 MPH “kill” shots intended to land on the front wall just millimeters above the floor. Instead, the ball was “intercepted” by the backside of our colleague (not Chris), in a spot my daddy would have described as the place “where the sun don’t shine”! The match ended abruptly and our colleague hobbled off the court and went home to nurse his wounds. Such events are not soon forgotten. (“He who saw this has testified so that you
may also believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.”) Not long afterward, as history unfolded, our colleague landed on the very top rung of the Baylor administrative ladder, and shortly after that Alan announced that he had accepted the invitation to become the founding dean at Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps, we should paraphrase the old proverb, “For lack of a nail, a horse was lost, for lack of a horse the rider was lost, for lack of a rider the message was lost, for lack of the message the battle was lost, for lack of the battle, the kingdom was lost.” The paraphrase would be simply, “Because of an errant ‘kill’ shot, a Dean was found!” Story #2. On another less eventful afternoon of racquetball, we were deep in conversation over various issues of life (the kind brought on by oxygen deprivation). Alan said that, after all was said and done, he hoped he would be remembered simply as a faithful man. And while I hope we are both a long ways from needing to engrave anything on a headstone, it does
seem to me that at this moment of transition from Dean back to regular faculty member, that epithet is apt. Alan has been and is a faithful man — faithful to his life’s partner, the irrepressible and unsinkable, Jacque; faithful to his children, Erin and Rodney and their families; faithful to his parents, whom he moved with him in Abrahamic fashion from Louisville to Waco to Atlanta; faithful to his church and larger Christian family; faithful to his partners in interfaith dialogue; faithful to the institutions that have employed him; faithful to his colleagues; faithful to his students; faithful to his God. So on this grand occasion, I wish to say simply thank you, Alan, for your friendship and your faithfulness!
Tribute to Alan Culpepper family, I was able to witness the immense respect significant scholars of the New Testament accorded him. It was during that time that he wrote the groundbreaking Anatomy of the Upon the occasion of his retirement as Dean, I join many Fourth Gospel. others in celebrating the good work R. Alan Culpepper In more recent years, Alan has offered leadership in has conducted at the McAfee School of Theology. He has Jewish-Christian relations. As one who accomplished what venerable has wrestled with the contested testimony seminary president David of John’s Gospel, it is only fitting that he Tiede observes as most bring his formidable scholarship to bear important: “getting out of on this urgent agenda. Indeed, he has the job alive.” Because of his proven himself a skilled interlocutor with extraordinary capacity to rabbinic colleagues and helps balance extensive interests craft a new rhetorical — and he has many — landscape for Jews and Alan leaves the legacy of a Christians to traverse. remarkable school, yet has The decades of the robust energy to add to his Southern diaspora have life’s work. seen key leaders such as Bill I hold Alan Culpepper in Leonard and David Garland the highest regard, having and Alan Culpepper go to observed his life for forty Dr. Alan Culpepper publishes his notable new schools (or, in my case, years. Scholar, administrator, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel in 1983. an old one) offering their colleague, and friend, Alan splendid gifts in the service of has set a worthy standard for the rest of us in theological the church through shaping ministers. Alan has remained a education. Treasured for his wisdom, he has kept on imagining steady helmsman, and reminds us of the myriad ways God has how preparation for ministry might better be accomplished. I preserved our vocations and called forth our best when “not have gained greatly from his perceptive insight. our choice the wind’s direction.” I had the good fortune of spending a semester at Cambridge I can only wish my dear friend good sailing in these coming University in 1980 while Alan and his family were devoting years. I thank God for his faithful life. a sabbatical year there. Not only did I get to know his dear
by Molly T. Marshall, President, Central Seminary
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Making a New Beginning Ezra 3:8-13 Dr. Culpepper’s last sermon as Dean to the students of McAfee was a call not to remembrance, but to dreaming about the future. With great wisdom and insatiable passion, he exhorted the 2015 McAfee graduates to take their commissioning seriously and to be what the church of this generation needs so desperately. With both exigence and hope, Dr. Culpepper’s words call us to be the ministers the Church has been waiting on. Graduates, tonight we commission you to lay a new foundation and make a new beginning, so let me speak to you first. We challenge you, like those brave souls in Ezra’s day, two and a half millennia ago, to go out and lead the people in rebuilding the place where they have met God. Hear their story again.
I. Hear the Call to Make a New Beginning When Judah fell to the Babylonians in 588 B.C., Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, and the leaders of the people were deported to Babylon. There the cry was heard, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” But over time they settled into their new surroundings and raised families. Fifty years passed. Any Israeli sociologist in the year 540 B.C. would have had serious doubts that Judaism would survive, at least in Palestine. But then God intervened in a surprising way. Cyrus the Persian came to power and decreed that the Jews could go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and the city walls. Some did not want to leave Babylon. Others heard the call, packed up their families, and made the long trek back to the land that had been given to their ancestors, to be part of this new beginning — to build a new temple! Graduates, the church today is not in ruins, but it is severely challenged. I can’t remember a time in my lifetime when the church was in greater need of dedicated, educated, capable and compassionate spiritual leaders. Lavish buildings, built to serve churches in their heyday, forty, fifty, or sixty years ago, no longer fit the needs of the church today, and in many instances just keeping up the church buildings takes a disproportionate share of the church’s resources. Many churches have a majority of older members, perhaps with some young adults in their twenties and thirties, but not many leaders in their forties and fifties. Changing social patterns, more sports events on Sunday, other ways to find community through the internet and leisure activities, and disaffection with organized religion have greatly
impacted church attendance in America. Just this week, Pew Research published findings that show a marked decline in church attendance and a rise in the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation since 2007. One out of four adults in America did not go to church even once last year. Many others attend irregularly. As a result, the church is in decline. Bill Wilson, at the Center for Healthy Churches, said recently that every church in America that is forty years old or older and has less than 1,000 members is in decline. There may be exceptions, but the pattern is there. Many churches are under stress, therefore, looking for ways to stay afloat and reach out to their communities. Some are finding new energy in going back to their roots, others are becoming centers for community ministries, and others are finding growth through offering distinctive worship experiences. There is no one key to success. Each church is different and each success story is different, so it is a time that calls for the best in new leadership. Tonight, we challenge you, graduates, like the Jews in Babylon centuries ago, hear the call to rebuild the community of faith. Will you take on that arduous challenge? It will almost certainly require personal sacrifice. You will be frustrated at times by the church’s lack of vision, commitment, and support, but I can think of nothing more urgent, more fulfilling, or more important that you can do with your life than step out in faith to be one of a new generation of builders wherever God leads you.
II. Call a New Generation of Levites The first temple had been built by King Solomon, and it was magnificent. The temple was built with stone that was finished at the quarry, so the building took place in silence — no hammer, ax, or chisel was heard on the temple mount while the temple was being built. The interior walls were lined with ornately carved cedar panels. The inner sanctuary housed the ark of the covenant, which contained the tablets of stone that
Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. It was inlaid with pure gold. The altar also was overlaid with pure gold. Solomon put two giant cherubim in the inner sanctuary, with wing spans that reached from one wall to the center and touched the wing of the other cherub, so that together their wings spanned the sanctuary and made a covering over the ark. They too were overlaid with gold. The floor was gold, and the doors were olive wood, carved with more cherubim, palm trees, and flowers. You can read more of the details of its ornaments in I Kings 6 — enough to say that it looked, well, it looked for all in the world like heaven. The covenant with King David had been fulfilled, and God’s presence dwelt with Israel. Could there ever again be such a magnificent temple? Here is where the passage I just read from Ezra 3 picks up the story. In the second year after their return, it says, Zerubbabel “made a beginning.” The people who had returned from Babylon, apparently together with some of those who had been left in Jerusalem, the priests, and the Levites gathered, and they did a remarkable thing: they appointed the Levites “from twenty years old and upward, to have oversight of the work on the house of the Lord” (Ezra 3:8). They did not just tell them to carry wood and set stones — they appointed the young Levites to be overseers of the work! Apparently they lowered the age for Levites perhaps because they needed more overseers. Before that, Levites had to be thirty in order to serve (e.g., 1 Chronicles 23:3). Now let me speak not to the graduates but to the rest of us who have gathered to celebrate their accomplishments. The returning exiles were able to make a new beginning because they made a place for a new generation of leaders. We have been excited to see more churches calling younger ministers and female ministers this year. Doors are opening, and here is where you can make a difference. Trust in the commitment and the abilities of these graduates and their peers in seminaries around the country. We need their leadership now more than ever. It is time to hand over leadership to a new generation with fresh energy and vision, capable young leaders who can make a new beginning. If the church today suffers from a lack of leadership, it is not because there are no leaders but because the church is unwilling to give them a chance. I challenge you to be part of this new beginning. When you are looking for someone to lead your church, be an associate minister, or lead one of your ministries or mission efforts, call a young minister — or call a female minister. The challenges we face are too urgent for us to go on denying female ministers an opportunity to serve, and refusing to give younger ministers a chance to rise to the challenge.
III. Sing a New Song Now let me speak to all of us. When the foundation was laid, Ezra tells us, they held a great celebration. The priests blew their trumpets, and the musicians clashed their bronze cymbals. There was a great shout from the people because the foundation of the house of the Lord had been laid, but not everyone was excited. Many of the priests and old people who
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had seen Solomon’s temple fifty years earlier wept. Haggai 2:3 may help us understand their response. The prophet says, “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” The foundation was not nearly as grand as that of Solomon’s temple. Many of the older people could remember how it was fifty years earlier, and this new temple was not at all like the old one. Maybe they were also put off because the celebration was different too. Instead of the ram’s horn, the shofar that had traditionally been blown, the priests’ trumpets were long, thin, silver instruments, and they were sounding cymbals — cymbals! — which only appear in the temple liturgy after the return from Babylon. Perhaps the music was too brassy for those who remembered the dignity of Solomon’s temple. Still, Ezra is careful to tell us that they followed the direction of King David. They sang Psalm 118, the same psalm the Levites had sung when Solomon brought the ark to the temple (2 Chronicles 5:13). And then there was the tension between those who had returned from exile and those who had been left in Judea. Eventually, Ezra and Nehemiah forbade the returnees to marry any of the local population (Ezra 10; Nehemiah 13). So, while some shouted for joy, others wept. They sang a new song, but their shouts were mixed with the cries of those who wept, and the noise was so great that even those at some distance away from the temple could hear them. Here, at the end of the chapter, we meet a new group: those who were not part of the rebuilding of the House of God, those who lived in the area and watched what was happening at the temple. Do I need to draw out the parallels between this passage in Ezra and what is happening all around us? Last year an old friend in Arkansas — who is 84 now — called me and asked, “Do you know that these younger ministers are different? They see and do things differently than we used to!” In some churches we have an eighty-thirty split, and the older generation weeps because the new beginnings do not look anything like the church the way it was in their younger days. The younger generation is leading in non-traditional directions, singing a new song, and breaking down social barriers that have stood for too long. But both generations are deeply committed to the church. Both shouts of celebration and tears of distress arise not from indifference but from deep commitment. The church is negotiating what to keep and what to build new, where to follow tradition — the psalms of David — and how to sing new songs — with trumpets and cymbals. Both the old wisdom and the new voices are important, and those who live around us are watching to see what will happen. Can we find a way to work together, and build on old foundations but build new structures? Can we make a new place where we and those who live around us can meet God in our own time? I believe we can. Tonight we start a journey to make a new beginning. We commission a new generation of leaders for the church and join in singing a new song. The church is waiting. The world is watching. Let’s go! We have work to do!
Co-Sponsored by CBF Alabama, CBF Georgia, CBF Tennessee and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
October 4 — 6, 2015 New Location The Chattanoogan Hotel and Conference Center Chattanooga, Tennessee Keynote Speaker
Dr. Tom Long
Bandy Professor of Preaching Candler School of Theology
For more information, contact Diane Frazier at (678) 547-6470 or email@example.com.