This week my travel took me to Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas where I attended the Currie-Strickland Lectures in Christians Ethics, and attended the board of trustee meeting. Since 1889, Howard Payne University has been faithful to its calling of equipping the next generation to change the world. This small Baptist university located in the heart of Texas has done a remarkable job of preparing young leaders for the challenges of extending the work of the Kingdom of God around the world.
The Currie-Strickland Lectures in Christian Ethics were established two years ago by the generosity and vision of Dr. and Mrs. Gary Elliston. It was their dream to establish the lecture series to honor two men who significantly shaped their lives Dr. Phil Strickland, and Dr. David Currie. This year’s lecture was on the relevant topic of “Ethics and Evangelism and the Problem of Hunger.”
The guest lecturers were Dr. Bill Tillman, T.B. Maston Professor of Ethics at the Logsdon School of Theology, and Dr. Jim Denison, Theologian in Residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Also in attendance at the lectures were Carolyn Strickland, 1st vice president of the BGCT, and wife of Dr. Strickland, and Bobby Broyles, 2nd vice president of the BGCT. Both Carolyn and Bobby are significant advocates for the need for Texas Baptists to step up to the challenge of addressing the hunger needs in Texas and around the world. In some opening remarks, Carolyn Strickland reminded us all of some significant insights of her late husband who often asked “Do you believe the earth God created can feed us all?” She closed by vividly reminding one and all that Phil Strickland believed that “hunger is a moral outrage.”
In this context, Dr. Tillman and Dr. Denison challenged the participants with how the claims of Christ and the Bible speak to the issues of hunger and poverty today. Dr. Tillman laid out the case for action like a lawyer making his case in court. His insightful analysis left practically no stone unturned. He concluded his remarks with what he called “Tillman’s Overly Simplified Approach” or ( TOSA as coined by Dr. Denison later). He pointed out as followers of Christ there are five options in response to hunger:
- Thou Shalt Not: In other words, believers should follow all commandments to not overlook those in need.
- Thou Shalt: All believers should work to feed the hungry as an act of obedience.
- I Must: All believers need to recognize their God-given duty to care for the least of these.
- I Will: All believers need to internalize the truth of God’s word and make it the wellspring of life and creativity in their response to the needs of others.
- I Am: All believers need to become like their Lord in the core of their being.
These insights challenged and convicted me. As a people we need to seek to internalize and live out the claims of Christ in our values and everyday lives.
Dr. Denison took this theme and applied it to the local church and our work together as churches. Denison pointed out three imperatives that defines and directs the response of the followers of Jesus.
- Obey Scripture: Believers need to respond to the hunger needs of others in obedience to Christ’s commands and the demands of scripture. He pointed out how this theme of caring for the poor transverse the whole of scripture.
- The church must respond to the hungry to reach the hungry: If the church is to be the church and to accomplish its “Great Commission”, it must follow Jesus’ example of placing bread in the hand before introducing the bread of life into the soul. He quoted Randel Everett, Executive Director of the BGCT, who recently said, “I don’t have the right to preach to someone who is hungry.” Denison pointed out we earn the right to preach by our actions of compassion and care.
- The church must respond to hunger if we are to earn the right to reach the culture: Denison pointed out we live in a very skeptical and secular day. No longer do the claims of the Bible resonate with this society. Religion as we know it is slowing losing its grip on our society. Even though there may be a Bible in practical every home, this does not mean the claims of the Bible direct the values and thoughts of our land. He noted a Pew Survey that observed that 25% of young adults between the ages of 18-29 have no religious values at all. He also pointed out that on any given Sunday only 23% of Americans attend church. In a world where “truth is personal and subjective”, the church must step up to the challenge of earning the right to speak by showing in acts of compassion that its faith is relevant and effective in a day like today.
I was deeply moved and challenged by Denison’s comments. I jotted down this question as I reflected on what he said: “Is First Baptist Church of Canyon relevant?” and “Is the Baptist General Convention of Texas relevant?” I am convince if we are going to claim our future we must be able to say yes, but more importantly those who we seek to touch must also say yes!
Two closing comments:
- In a few days, Dr. Lanny Hall, president of Howard Payne, will be assume the post of president of Hardin-Simmons University, a sister Baptist school. HPU owes a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Hall for his faith and effective service to HPU. Dr. Hall has demonstrated the finest qualities of Christian leadership during his days at the helm of HPU. As president of the BGCT I am thankful he will continue his Kingdom work at Hardin Simmons, but he will be greatly missed in Brownwood. Please pray for the Presidential Search Committee of HPU, in these uncertain times, it is absolutely critical the right leader step up to lead HPU into the future.
- At this meeting of the trustees, the annual budget for HPU was adopted. Due to the financial struggles of the BGCT, the contribution from the convention to the work of HPU is projected to drop by over $200,000. This continues a downward spiral in support over recent years. This is a trend that must stop and be reversed if we are serious about higher Christian education. Private schools are feeling the pinch of the recession more and more. In a time when charitable giving is down, the higher costs of education must be passed onto the students in the form of higher and higher tuition. As tuition costs escalate the challenge of recruiting students to our Baptist schools only gets harder and harder. It is incumbent on us as Texas Baptists to step up to the challenge and to continue sacrificially support the mission of our universities. Investing in the next generation of young Baptist leaders is essential if we are serious about changing the world.