Not that I know them all, but I had a splendid time at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Here’s my account:
I was invited by Dr. William (Bill) Warren, who heads up the Center for New Testament Textual Studies — an honest-to-goodness study center actually doing textual criticism of the NT by collating manuscripts. Bill met me at the airport and then I saw some of New Orleans for the first time. It was hard to take in — houses with a spray-painted grid that showed the date the authorities had gone through the house for missing bodies and a “body count” number as well. I admit to being glad that I only saw houses with “0”. I’m grateful Bill took the time to show me the lingering devastation. About 40% of New Orleans is back to their homes. Vacant homes everywhere. Ghostly and ghastly at times; water lines 10 feet up the side of a home.
We went out to dinner that night with Dennis Cole (OT), Jeff Griffin (NT), Jerry Stevens (NT), and Walter Brown (OT). Good New Orleans food — and you know it doesn’t get better. The next night I went out to dinner with Jerry and Charley Ray, Jr. (I stayed Tuesday night because of snow back in Chicago — and Bill Warren kidded me that he had never shoveled snow. I’ll give him a tip about it in July when the weather is suffocatingly hot in the Big Easy.)
Honorable mention: Kris shoveled like a North Dakota farmer while I was gone.
I lectured on atonement theory (taking stuff from my forthcoming A Community called Atonement) to an early morning class — and they were happy to get out of a Greek quiz to make room for me. And then we had a packed lunch room for a chat about the emerging movement. My eyes lit up when one student told me had read Pete Rollins’ book three times. And then we had a public lecture on conversion theory (Turning to Jesus) — and there were some very good questions (and I hope I had some reasonable answers).
Whenever I do these things I get more out of it than they do. It was fantastic to see this oasis in the middle of a New Orleans neighborhood devastated by Katrina. (Did I mention that a tornado touched down near the school Monday night?) All of these students are required to be doing social work to help with Katrina restoration, but it will take a decade for New Orleans to gather its full steam again. NOBTS is playing a constant role in this and it occurs to me that some of us up here could coordinate with them in our own efforts to help NO recover. Everyone had a story — from knowing they found debris forty feet up in trees to local churches that are now meeting in homes.
OK, I’ve had my issues with what is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention these days — their tightening up on doctrinal statements and their turn toward a rigorous Calvinism — but I’ve said before my concern is with the larger evangelical movement than with the SBC. There are so many Southern Baptists — and they learned to access numbers from the first Mayor Dayley (vote early and vote often) — that they are influencing the evangelical movement in major ways. I’m hoping we maintain balance on the four major doctrines we can all agree on: Bible, cross, conversion, and activism. (By the way, I addressed two of those while I was there.)
NOBTS impressed me deeply — 2000+ students, nice facilities, committed professors who want to make their students think — and the profs I met were loads of fun (and what an accent!), and a world-class text criticism research institution with a professor (Bill Warren) who is writing what may well prove to be the textbook of the future for seminarians on textual criticism.
I sat in their text criticism study center and watched (and kidded) those who were collating Greek minuscules — fun to watch (glad I’m not doing it). They are registering results in Accordance (for Macs, praise the Lord!) so that users can see an instant display of more evidence than is available in Nestle-Aland.
Did I mention that Southerners have a knack at being friendly? I fit in like I had grown up amongst these folks. That’s the kind of knack we all need.