COVERING 1947-1999


In 1947, Herbert Leuhrs, a young World War II veteran, a fellow member of the Temple Baptist Church in Baltimore, and a B.D. student here at the seminary, invited me to visit him on Eastern's campus. I was then a sixteen year old high school senior looking for the right college to start my preparation for Christian ministry, and Mr. Leuhrs thought Eastern's undergraduate division deserved my consideration. I excitedly accepted Mr. Leuhr's invitation and visited Eastern for a weekend.

But I was not prepared for the reception that awaited me. Within minutes after my arrival I was asked by a seminarian, "Are you a fundamentalist?" I did not understand his question. (I knew there were Baptists and non-Baptists, but I did not know about "fundamentalists" and "conservatives," for theological controversy was unknown to me in my Southern Baptist church.) My failure to understand the question was proof enough to the interrogating seminarian that I was not a "fundamentalist." Consequently, my reception by the seminarians became chilled and as a "non-fundamentalist" I was under a cloud of suspicion throughout my weekend visit. This chill contributed to my selecting the University of Richmond, with its warm southern hospitality, and Baptist nomenclature, as my college of choice.

By the time I came to Eastern in 1951, for the B. D. degree, the climate of suspicion on Eastern's campus had waned and the atmosphere was quite comfortable (now that I had become familiar with theological labels used in the North). Most of those for whom the word "fundamentalist" was paramount had transferred to the newly formed Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver. The Eastern of the 1950's was definitely Baptist and evangelical, and trust had come to replace suspicion and division. This trust permitted the seminary to address social justice issues, as well as evangelistic zeal. I remain deeply indebted, for example, to Dr. Culbert Rutenber for making me aware of my silent and hidden racism and for preparing me to abandon my lingering unconscious hatred of the Japanese, instilled during World War II -- which, subsequently, freed me to go in love to Japan as an educational missionary from 1956-1961 and 1966-1969.

Although Eastern's curriculum from the start focused on the English Bible, in the 1950's and the early 1960's, the biblical professors, Dr. Carl Morgan, Dr. Everett Griffiths, and Dr. Edward Dalglish, inspired seminarians to study Greek and Hebrew in order to "rightly divide the Word." They mentored many and modeled the best in classical biblical scholarship, opening the doors for Eastern graduates to complete doctoral degrees in biblical studies and enter professionally into theological education as peers -- with two of their students succeeding them in September, 1969, when Dr. Glenn Koch and I joined the faculty, along with Dr. Carl Henry.

During the early 1970's, theological controversy and an atmosphere of suspicion resurfaced in the seminary community and lingered until the arrival in the mid-1970's of Dr. Manfred Brauch as the Academic Dean. Some of the seminary family perceived critical biblical studies as embraced by the young Bible professors to be inconsistent with the seminary's doctrinal statement about the authority and inspiration of Scripture, while others thought the doctrinal statement required a clarifying affirmation of biblical inerrancy. Dr. Norman Maring, speaking as a church historian "who had been there" in Eastern's early years, clarified the seminary's longstanding openness to constructive critical biblical studies and its reluctance to embrace inerrancy as a litmus test for theological correctness.

Dr. Brauch as a respected evangelical biblical scholar in his own right provided reassuring leadership which diffused the suspicions and permitted a refocusing of the seminary's energies to the affirmation of diversity -- not only theological diversity, but denominational, racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. In 1976 and 1977 Eastern appointed its first African American adjunct professors: Rev. William H. Gray, III and Rev. William T. Kennedy -- and Rev. Frank B. Mitchell was honored with the D. D. degree. This refocusing on diversity received strong faculty support, as expressed in Dr. William Thompson's motion, adopted on November 17, 1978, "that the Dean convene two task forces to investigate specific concerns related to the seminary's education for women and for African-American Students."

Faculty recommendations to the Board of Directors over the next two decades were grounded in the work of these task forces, including the "minority"appointments of : (1) female colleagues, Eloise Renich Fraser [1983], Ruth Hennessey [1987], Nancy Lammers Gross [1991], Leah Fitchue [1992], and Melody Mazuk [1992]; (2) African American colleagues, J. Deotis Roberts [1980], Wallace Smith [1980], Dean Trulear [1986], and Gerald Thomas [1991]; (3) an African Jamacian colleague, Horace Russell [1989]; Latino colleagues, Orlando Costos [1980], Samuel Escobar [1985], and Angel Gutierrez [1989]. Even with the appointment of six "majority" Anglo-male professors (Stephen Brachlow [1984], William Brackney [1986], Erich Ohlmann [1990], Raymond Bakke [1995], Will Barnes [1995] and Graig Keener [1999]), the seminary's commitment to diversity is evident by the thirteen non-Anglo-male appointments.

Back in 1977, an African-American gentleman walking by the seminary angrily shouted at me, "Eastern is a racist school!" In defending the seminary, I said, "No! we now have two Black pastors as adjuncts!" Having said that, I knew I had just proven his point. In fifty-two years (1925-1977), only two African-American adjunct professors had been appointed, and then only in 1976 and 1977. More recently, in 1997, when I was in cardiac-care at the Bryn Mawr Hospital, one of the nurses's aides made the a similar charge about Eastern's being a racist school. I was pleased to share with her how Eastern has been changing. I invited her to come on campus, to visit my classes (even to come to a faculty meeting!) and experience our rich diversity -- racial, national, denominational, theological, gender, and age -- as well as our Christian unity.

With Eastern's 75th anniversary year at hand, I am thankful for my 52 years of association with the seminary, including 31 years as the Old Testament professor. Recollections abound as my retirement in 2001 approaches. The good years at Eastern are behind us; but the best years for the Seminary are yet to come!

Published in InMinistry, 1999