Friday, November 04, 2016

Wayland to Boyce: “a Fair Opportunity of Doing Well”

[I prepared this transcription of a letter by Francis Wayland with a few introductory comments for the SBC Heritage web site in 2012, and am now posting it here. Francis Wayland was a long-time president of Brown University in Providence, RI. According to Al Mohler, he was “… one of the most significant educators in antebellum America…”[1]  He was a mentor to James Petigru Boyce (founder and first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). By letter Wayland responded to the ideas set forth by Boyce in his Inaugural Address at Furman University – Three Changes in Theological Institutions – delivered before the Board of Trustees, July 31, 1856.[2]  Wayland, who was both a Baptist minister and an experienced educator, saw a tendency in the institutions themselves that contributed to their decline. He thought he saw hope in Boyce's plan of organization to blunt that tendency. See also Boyce’s Two Founding Principles for Southern Seminary.]

Providence, January 26, 1857
My dear Professor Boyce,--I have read with great interest your Inaugural Address. It is the first common sense discourse on theological education I have yet seen. I like it for several reasons. In the first place, it does not take it for granted that the Theological Seminary is a stereotyped institution from which nothing is to be taken and to which nothing is to be added in all coming time; in the next place, it takes it for granted that a seminary is made for the church and not that the church was created by Christ for the seminary and especially for professors; and then it recognizes the fact that there is a Baptist church now existing, as a matter distinct from other churches, which has been in fact almost ignored, that Baptists are capable of understanding what they want and of devising the means for supplying it; and again, that educating the Baptist ministry does not mean educating a little band who shall form a clique separate from their brethren, of whom they may speak in public as almost interlopers; and finally, that that is not the best education for us which by its own necessity reduces the number of those who receive advantages to the lowest possible number.
Whether seminaries and theological schools are the proper places to educate the ministry, I know not. It is a matter of experiment in our day, and time alone can decide it. Their tendency is to raise intellectual above spiritual qualifications, and such it has thus far proven. Of old, they have I think proved to be, after a generation or two, schools of heresy. In this country, from the errors I have intimated, they have not had a fair chance. Your plan is the only plan I have seen which gives them a fair opportunity of doing well. You embrace the whole ministry, you mingle them all together and treat them all as brethren equally honored and honorable if God has called them to the ministry, and you give them an opportunity to learn something of pastoral duties before they enter upon them.
I wish you every success. I hope you will be well sustained, and that Baptists, as they have done before, may show other Christians how the church of Christ is to be built up by following more closely the steps of the Master. I am yours truly,
F. Wayland

[2]  Printed in the Religious Herald (VA), 11 January 1872

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