Do we want a Maverick Baptist College?

Simon Carey Holt has written a blog piece where he speaks favourably of the current climate of Whitley College. Simon is currently the Senior Pastor at Collins Street Baptist, and for many years he taught at Whitley.


It is good to hear Simon’s perspective. There is much that can be said in response, but here are four thoughts for now.

First, it is important to understand the role Simon attributes to the college.

For example, he states, “Theological educators must be prepared to stand on the sidelines of the church and call it to account. Like those pesky prophets of old, courageous theologians call the church to be different than what it is, a challenge to a radical transformation and a critique of the status quo.

While putting it in a rather gentle way, Simon is essentially saying, the College’s role is to speak down on the churches, telling us what we are doing wrong.

Yes, we need a theological college with academic rigour, where students are encouraged to think deeply and engage with a broad spectrum of theological persuasions. We also need a college that is anchored to the ‘faith once for all delivered’.

The question is, is it the role of the college to “call churches to account”, or does the college exist to serve the churches? When a former lecturer portrays the college as a maverick with a stick, he only reinforces concerns and exemplifies how out of touch they are with the Baptist community (and with Baptist polity!).

Second, Simon believes the college listens to the churches, but is that the case? I have no doubt that a few churches are listened too, but if the College was truly listening to the broader churches, we would not be hearing concerned voices from a growing number of churches and pastors.

Which leads to a third point,

Simon suggests, “As a priestly community, the theological college is one that nurtures and enables the local church”.

This is a noble desire, one which is worth pursuing, but as I mentioned last week,  many of our churches do not have confidence in the College to train and teach the next generation of Gospel ministers. This is demonstrated by the fact that churches continue to send their people to alternative theological colleges in Melbourne and interstate.

Fourth, Simon said,

In my experience, criticisms like these often hold a kernel of truth mixed with a good dose of ignorance and clichéd hyperbole. Too often such criticisms are leveled by those who have never sat in a class, never pursued a sustained conversation with a teacher, and never read anything of substance written by those they deride. Sadly though, when mud is thrown it sticks, deserved or not.”

This may be a fitting description for some scenario somewhere, but here it is nothing more than a straw man. The reality is, some of the concerned baptists have sat in classes, they have conversed with teachers, and they have read publications. And many who made the decision to study at other theological institutions have engaged with Whitley College in other ways over the years.

I notice that Simon does not deny the theological discord between the College and Churches; indeed he admits Whitley promotes ideas and teachings that are incongruent with those of the churches. His rationale is, the College is  a prophetic voice speaking to the BUV, “like those pesky prophets of old, courageous theologians call the church to be different than what it is, a challenge to a radical transformation and a critique of the status quo”.

I guess Hananiah was a prophet of sorts! Should not prophets contend for the faith, rather than contravene the faith? In fact, professionalising prophecy was the error of the kings of Israel and Judah. While God may use a voice from the college in a ‘prophetic’ way, assuming the mantle of prophet is dangerous, and is certainly not the role ascribed to it by the BUV.

In conclusion, we want to see a faithful and growing Baptist College in Victoria, which is able to serve our Churches well. I agree with Simon in that a change of leadership is opportunity to ask hard questions. Hard questions have been asked this year; what remains to be seen is how they will be answered.

5 thoughts on “Do we want a Maverick Baptist College?

  1. Hey Murray, great post.

    I think a theological college can and must call the church to account but not because they are uniquely the prophetic voice. As you’ve pointed out, that is a disturbing and wrongheaded mantle to assume.

    The authority the college has to call the church to account is the same authority the church has to call the college to account: the prophetic word inscripturated.

    So I’m happy with Simon’s statement, “Theological educators must be prepared to stand on the sidelines of the church and call it to account. Like those pesky prophets of old.” But only if he sees that role as reciprocated by the church as we all sit under the word together.

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    • Thanks for the comment Stu

      I absolutely agree, the authority over the Churches and college is the same, Scripture. It’s important point to establish

      I think though, the college/churches relationship requires more nuance.

      The issue not only concerns the content of this ‘prophetic voice’, and the sheer arrogance of this posture, but the posture itself is not congruent with baptist ecclesiology.
      Simon’s perspective implies the college has a position over the churches, instructing what we should be believing and practicing, when it does not. Rather, the college is meant to stand alongside the church as a servant of the churches.


  2. Well yes, I think we are, in fact, in impassioned agreement.

    I was conservatively trying to suggest a critique of his view that the theological educator is uniquely prophetic. I clear misstep on his part, I think.

    But you want to emphasize the wrongheadedness of his basic positioning of the theological college as somehow over and above the church. And again I agree with you wanting to call Simon out on this. Particularly disturbing in his original post is this, which you’ve already drawn attention to:

    “courageous theologians call the church to be different than what it is, a challenge to a radical transformation and a critique of the status quo. If the theological college is simply made in the image of the churches it is called to serve, it has failed to embrace its vocation.”

    Sure, at times the theological college may be called to be exactly as described here but it shouldn’t be the norm and it isn’t particularly healthy. If a college is doing a great job of passing on the faith that was once for all entrusted then there should be remarkable continuity between the college and the grads it produces. And the college’s voice should be utterly predictable.

    And so yes, the fundamental vocation of the college is as faithful servant, behind the scenes, pumping out robust graduates anchored in the gospel and fit for service on the front line: the church. When it’s lost this calling, it’s lost the plot.

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