Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, Iowa, and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Plymouth, Minn., have announced a possible merger of the two institutions, according to recent votes from both seminary boards.
The merger proposal calls for maintaining Central Seminary’s Master of Divinity program at the Minnesota campus shared with the historic Fourth Baptist Church, while moving postgraduate programs to the Ankeny campus.
“The potential in this merger is amazing,” says Kevin Bauder, president of Central Seminary. “Both schools have wonderful faculties. Both emphasize the centrality of the local church as the leading partner for ministry training. Both bring real strength to the relationship. We have a long way to go before a merger can be completed, but the prospect is energizing.”
Noting that many academic mergers are driven by financial difficulties, Bauder describes both seminaries as “still relatively healthy.”
“Faith has received some phenomenal backing in the past few years, and Central has had the steady support of our constituency in Minnesota,” Bauder says.
James Maxwell, president of Faith Seminary, agrees, describing the process as “a merger for mutual growth,” a term coined by James Martin, author of Merging Colleges for Mutual Growth.
“We believe it would be hard to find a better match between seminaries than that of Faith with Central,” Maxwell says. “In theology, philosophy of ministry, and institutional convictions, the two seminaries are already one. Yet each institution would bring to a merger unique strengths that, when combined, I believe will form one great institution.”
Kevin Bauder laughs when he says, “I’ve been cautioned to avoid hyperbole when describing the merger, but I really think we will come out with the best faculty possible within today’s fundamentalism. The merger will create the kind of seminary that Baptist fundamentalism has rarely enjoyed.”
Maxwell says the conversation first began in the summer of 2006, well before the current financial crisis and closing of other private colleges. When John Hartog III, provost at Faith, taught for a week at Central Seminary, he discussed the proposal informally with Bauder over dinner.
“Then both Kevin and I were speaking at the American Association of Christian Colleges and Seminaries meeting in February in Detroit,” Maxwell continues. “Kevin arranged to have Pastor Matt Morrell of Fourth Baptist Church join us. There was just a sweet spirit in the meeting. The attitude we all brought to the table was, ‘We only want this if God wants it.’ ”
The two seminary presidents then arranged for a series of meetings to discuss governance, finances, curriculum, staff, and accreditation. Some of the meetings were held with faculty from both seminaries gathering at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp, located in Ventura, Iowa, halfway between the two institutions.
Bauder says the initial conversations were motivated by a “push and a pull.”
“The push comes from a multiplication of institutions in fundamentalism, a shrinking movement that cannot sustain all of its colleges and seminaries. By multiplying institutions, we have diluted our educational excellence,” Bauder says.
“We don’t have enough teachers to do an excellent job in all of the areas we need to address.”
Bauder also describes the “pull” that draws the two seminaries together—connections extending much further than their doctrinal statements. Bauder is a graduate of Faith Baptist Bible College, and several Faith faculty members are graduates of Central. The two seminaries have frequently shared faculty members for module courses, even sharing brothers who teach at the respective institutions: Doug Brown at Faith Seminary and Daniel Brown at Central.
“Over the years, there has been a lot of camaraderie between our two schools,” Bauder says.
According to Bauder, “all of the big philosophical questions are out of the way,” but the two boards were continuing to discuss “the thorny questions that are the standard factors in any academic merger.” Bauder lists the matter of combining the two boards, selecting administrators, merging administrative functions, and hiring faculty.
Two more issues also remain unresolved: the formal name of the merged institution, and the matter of seminary leadership.
“I have no desire or intention to be president of a combined institution,” Kevin Bauder says, with James Maxwell adding that the leadership team will include administrators from both seminaries.
Both seminaries are keenly interested in preserving their accreditation through the merger process, the two presidents said. Faith is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association and the Association for Biblical Higher Education. Central is accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
“We have informed HLC/NCA that our goal for the merger is September ,” Maxwell says, noting that the merger is proceeding with a series of “defined goals” as benchmarks rather than specific calendar dates.
“Faith had already intended to apply to its accrediting associations for a change of status that would grant the right to offer the ThM and DMin degrees. This will accelerate this process,” Maxwell says.
Both seminaries share common roots in Baptist fundamentalism. Faith Baptist Bible College began as Omaha Bible Institute in 1921, then adding the Baptist name to reflect its growing constituency. The college moved from Omaha to Ankeny, Iowa, in 1967, and added a seminary in 1986. From 1956 to 2000, the college and seminary were officially affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, after which the GARBC dropped its approval system for academic institutions. The seminary maintains many unofficial ties to the association of churches, and James Maxwell continues to serve on the GARBC Council of Eighteen.
Central Baptist Theological Seminary was founded in Minneapolis in 1956 under the leadership of Richard Clearwaters, who was serving on the board of Northwestern Schools when financial pressures forced the closure of Northwestern Theological Seminary, founded by William Bell Riley in 1935. The new seminary opened with the participation of many faculty and students from the previous organization.
Central Seminary has historically enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Minnesota Baptist Association, an association of Baptist churches founded in 1859. Originally known as the Minnesota Baptist Convention, the state association withdrew from the Northern Baptist Convention during the -fundamentalist-modernist controversy that also influenced the formation of the GARBC. Kevin Bauder is currently on the board of the MBA, and several MBA pastors serve on the Central Seminary board.
“We come out of slightly different milieus. Faith comes historically from the Regular Baptist movement, and Central comes from the very conservative wing of the Conservative Baptist movement. Over time, these two branches have grown much closer together,” Bauder says. “One of our goals in the merger is to bring closer together two constituencies that never should have been separated in the first place.”
James Maxwell agrees, saying, “We want to do all we can to preserve the heritage and constituencies of both groups.”
Kevin Mungons is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin.