The Future of Baptist Higher Education Conference wrapped up at Baylor today with some interesting sessions. Most notably, Martin Marty (in case you don’t know THE RELIGION SCHOLAR IN AMERICA) addressed the entire conference. Your intrepid reporter showed up at the session with four friends who are also Ph.D. students. For some reason, perhaps nobility of soul, Dr. Marty made a beeline for us and spoke to us corporately and individually for 5-10 minutes. He asked about our research interests and commented on each. Before walking away he whispered his email address as though to say, “Write me. I’ll actually field your questions and give advice.” Shocking stuff from a tremendously prolific scholar. I’m still composing my message in my head.
In any case, Marty attacked the standard account that claims America is secularizing in linear fashion. Nothing new there, but he was trying to blunt the alarm many of us feel about the trajectory of the American academy. He sees America as very religio-secular, in a good way, with more give and take about religion than ever before. In particular he points to the profusion of good scholarship relating religion to . . .well, everything.
We also had a concluding session by young Baptist scholars who convincingly criticized older lions for being stuck in the old Southern Baptist Convention war and completely absorbed in defending freedom and autonomy. Being Baptist better mean more than freedom and dissent, otherwise we can just don our baseball caps and be Michael Moore-ons. Not a pretty future, not for me, anyway. Sadly, that’s just what we heard from some conference speakers. Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University, gave an account of reality that sounded exactly like Moore in Bowling for Columbine. Happily, the young scholars in the final session offered hope for something other than freedom (surely the value that needs less defending than any other in North America) as a basis for Baptist life and scholarship.