Carson-Newman College - The Quintessential Already Compromised Baptist College - in their own words

The book Already Compromised by Ken Ham and Greg Hall provides an overview and summary of the results of a survey of key administrators of 200 colleges and universities that are considered to be Christian higher education institutions.  These 200 institutions in this survey represent a number of different denominations and religious affiliations, including Baptists.  Many of the survey questions focused on aspects of creation versus evolution.  The results of the survey are generalized, providing a big picture with insights into what these college administrators believe personally about the Bible and biblical authority, and also what they would like to believe about the worldview from which students are being taught in the classrooms of their campus.  Unfortunately for parents and prospective students, the individual survey responses provided by the administrators of any particular college or university that participated in the survey were obtained under a commitment to confidentiality, and are not available.


One of the colleges included in this survey was Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, TN.  In November 1929, six named incorporators affixed their signature to a legal document to begin the formal process of applying for a charter under the laws of the State of Tennessee for the co-educational college with the official name Carson-Newman College of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.  This document became the official Charter of Incorporation of the college when it was filed and registered with and certified by the Tennessee Secretary of State on May 31, 1930.  These six named incorporators constituted the first Board of Trustees of this new not-for-profit corporation.  This document provided that the successors to these original Trustees would be chosen by the Tennessee Baptist Convention.  A new document with the title Restated Charter of Carson-Newman College of the Tennessee Baptist Convention was filed with the Secretary of State on January 19, 1981, changing the official name of the corporation to Carson-Newman College, Incorporated.  This revised charter document continued to provide for selection of Trustees by the Tennessee Baptist Convention.  The Board of Trustees of the college is responsible for managing the affairs of the college and ultimately setting the theological identity of the college.  The administrators of the college are responsible to abide by, adhere to, and subscribe to the doctrines, tenets, and beliefs of Tennessee Baptists, as these doctrines, tenets, and beliefs happen to be interpreted by the Trustees.


The "compromising" of Carson-Newman College as an institution of higher education that would uphold the authority of Scripture was already in progress at least a decade prior to the time when the Trustees removed the words "Tennessee Baptist Convention" from the official name of the college.  In March 1995, Mercer University Press published an essay titled "A History of the Department of Religion at Carson-Newman College" written by Merrill M. Hawkins, Jr., a member of the Religion faculty at Carson-Newman.  This essay mentions incidents at Carson-Newman in the 1960s, when a faculty member who was firmly committed to the historical-critical approach to the Bible left the college under some duress, and when a group of Tennessee Baptist pastors voiced concern about the direction of the Religion department under its newly appointed department chairman.  This essay also describes incidents in the 1970s when this same department chairman organized a lecture partnership with a Southern Baptist seminary to bring several well-known liberal theologians to the campus for lectures on theology and biblical studies.


The Hawkins essay mentions the names of two of these liberal theologians who were invited to lecture on the campus of Carson-Newman in the 1970s.  One of them was Eric Rust, who, according to Jerry Sutton's 2000 book "The Baptist Reformation", presented a paper to Southern Baptists in 1959 titled "The Challenge of Modern Science" in which he referred to the story about Noah as a parable.  Sutton quoted Rust as saying that there was a kind of historical basis in the story.  "When glaciers retreated and the glacial age was finished, the ice melted and tremendous floods came down upon the plains.  The earth got flooded and men had to do something to escape and some men built boats, and obviously, more than one man built a boat, because there was Noah among the Jews, and among the Babylonians there was Amushtan and should you go all over the world, you would find this kind of story appearing about people who built boats to escape from the flood.  So quite obviously, there was a primordial flood and some people escaped in boats."  Can anyone claim that Carson-Newman College was not "Already Compromised" in the 1970s?


The "compromising" of Carson-Newman College continued in the 1980s.  The Hawkins essay describes in great detail the controversy involving E. Glenn Hinson, a professor of church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.  In 1977 Hinson had published a book entitled "Jesus Christ" that provided claims and conclusions that were far outside the bounds of Southern Baptist theology.  Hawkins conceded in his essay that the Hinson book claims that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John may contain theological reflection by the writers in addition to objective recording of facts; that the Virgin Birth has a theological message more important than the historical record; and that Bethlehem may not have been the birthplace of Jesus.


In 1979 Paige Patterson, who was president of the Criswell Seminary in Dallas at that time, began an attempt to survey current literary contributions from faculty members associated with Southern Baptist colleges and seminaries.  After completing this survey, Patterson released a white paper entitled "Evidences" that contained numerous citations from books written by neo-orthodox and liberal professors whose publications indicated that the authors no longer believe that the Bible is totally true and do not hold to the faith of our Baptist founding fathers.  Citations from Glenn Hinson's book "Jesus Christ" were among those included in Patterson's white paper.  As an example, Patterson quoted the following historical conclusion from Hinson's book:  "Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Jesus expected the return of the Son of Man and the consummation to occur within his own lifetime (Mark 13:30).  His 'error' was due to prophetic foreshortening.  So urgent was his sense of mission, it seemed as if God had to consummate his kingdom immediately."


Glenn Hinson published another book, "The Evangelization of the Roman Empire" in 1981.  These words from Hinson's second book appear to question the exclusivity of the Gospel:  "Today, it would appear, the covenant and thus the mission of the church could be defined with a greater measure of tolerance.  This would not necessitate an abandonment of monotheism nor the conviction that some sort of special revelation occurred through Israel and Christ and the church.  It might necessitate, however, the acknowledgement that the one God had disclosed himself in particular ways through other cultures and religions besides these."


In December 1985, Carson-Newman College announced that Glenn Hinson would teach a spring semester on-campus seminary extension class that would be open to anyone with a college or seminary degree.  The Glenn Hinson name quickly caught the attention of several theologically conservative pastors in East Tennessee who were familiar with Hinson's books and had serious concerns about Hinson's orthodoxy.  Thus began the so-called Glen Hinson controversy and thus continued the "compromising" of Carson-Newman College as an institution that was no longer upholding the authority of Scripture.


There are two sources for information on the Glenn Hinson controversy as this controversy developed over the next two months following Carson-Newman's December seminary extension announcement.  In addition to the Hawkins essay, the other source is multiple issues of the Tennessee Baptist Convention's Baptist and Reflector newspaper, dated from February 5 to March 5, 1986, and including a full-page editorial in the March 5 issue.  These two sources complement each other, with each source providing important details that are missing from the other source.  The full, integrated story of this controversy reveals how deeply the editor of the Baptist and Reflector was in collusion with William Blevins, chair of the Religion faculty at Carson-Newman, to defend Hinson from the charges made by the conservative pastors and to protect the college from criticism of its role in welcoming Hinson to the campus.  Cordell Maddox, the college president, claimed that Carson-Newman was simply providing space for the seminary classes to meet, and had no responsibility for selecting the curricullum and the teacher.  This claim appears open to question, since the evening class that met following Hinson's afternoon class was being taught by a member of the Carson-Newman religion faculty.  The controversy eventually led to a local pastor challenging Hinson to a public debate, with Hinson turning down the opportunity to defend his theology in a debate.  A debate was actually held at a local church, with a stand-in for Hinson.


In recent years, this writer has conducted extensive research into the comprehensive history of actions and events related to the compromising of Carson-Newman College and the enduring legacy of mistrust that has emerged following a specific action of the Trustees of the college in 1998.  The evidence of the compromising of the college can be confirmed using the spoken and written words of members of the faculty, as documented in official Carson-Newman publications available in the archives of the college library.  Stay tuned!

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