When I began my doctoral studies at Baylor University in 2003, I was full of excitement over the 2012 vision cast by the university’s president Robert Sloan. I was also interested to meet Francis Beckwith, who had just joined the program where I’d be studying. In my mind, I was going to a place where a renaissance in Christian higher education would occur. New leadership. New scholars rising. I felt as though I was joining a great historical movement.
About five minutes after I got there, it began falling apart. News vans parked all over the campus. The presidency of Robert Sloan was under siege, as was the vision for a great Christian university. On a smaller scale, similar things were happening in my department. Francis Beckwith came under attack almost immediately from members of an old and distinguished Baylor family. I also became aware of dynamics within our department that would cause trouble for Beckwith when it came time to apply for tenure. To his credit, Beckwith never believed me when I told him there were forces conspiring to deny his tenure. He found out the hard way. He also fought tenaciously to win the tenure he deserved. And he eventually prevailed. You can get Beckwith’s story on the affair (including a few references to yours truly) in his Return to Rome.
It was in this boiling cauldron of university politics where I found myself trying to gain the notoriously elusive doctoral credential, the union card for college faculty. I began with Beckwith as my adviser and my future dissertation chair, but as I have noted above, I realized he might be tied up in other difficulties. I had to figure out how to move forward. Who could guide me? Who could I count on to make sure I was treated fairly? The choice was simple: Barry Hankins. Hankins was one of my first professors at Baylor. The simplest thing I can say by way of describing him is that he struck me immediately as an intellectually honest man. He reinforced that impression many times over during the next few years. I was terrifically blessed by his willingness to help me.
Hankins has been a prolific author during the past few years. I had the privilege of serving as a research assistant for him while he was writing Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America. Hankins is a scholar studying Schaeffer, while I’m more of a sold-out fan. His treatment of the revolutionary Christian activist preacher and thinker is highly informative. I learned many things I hadn’t known before. The big difference I had with Hankins while he was writing was that I saw more of a continuous Schaeffer while Hankins saw a great voice fall off stride a bit in a detour with the religious right of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Hankins’ point of view is probably the more well-accepted one.
I strongly recommend his book. Working with him on it hardly felt like the usual grad school drudgery. Hankins is an academic with a gift for direct, simple expression. I consume his books. Put his Francis Schaeffer on your shelf next to his masterful Uneasy in Babylon which was written about modern Southern Baptists. Once you buy a book by Hankins, you’ll quickly want another.