I was surprised and appreciative to receive an invitation from the PR department of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for today’s official Press Conference announcing the election of the new President (specific thanks to Gary Myers, NOBTS Director of Communications). I attended as a correspondent from SBC Voices and as such, I decided to not only report the event itself but also share my personal feelings about this new era in the life of the SBC’s first seminary founded by the direct action of the Southern Baptist Convention.
So here’s the news, this morning the trustees voted to elect Dr. Jamie Dew as the 9th President of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. You can read more about him HERE and HERE. Southeastern Baptist Seminary also posted about it HERE and New Orleans’ Statement is HERE with the full BP story HERE. Marilyn Stewart also wrote a great article about Dew’s first year in office. You can find that HERE.
Now on to the commentary…
As the self-proclaimed “Chief NOLA-Phile” (NOLApologist if you will) of the SBC I have taken it upon myself to extol the virtues of this wonderful place to all who would listen. New Orleans is the historic, culinary, music and festival capital of the United States and just a few years ago was voted a “World’s Best City” by Travel and Leisure Magazine. People from around the globe are familiar with America’s most European city and its unique culture. Movies are made in it, documentaries are made about it and in some cases the city is its own character in film.
In 2002 I was enticed by a then music professor at NOBTS (while on a music mission trip to France) to “come the Big Easy to finish my education and make an impact on its people.” At the time the idea seemed foreign and uncomfortable to me (little did I know how truly “foreign” and uncomfortable it would be) but “hearing Him call to our hearts, we followed the Lord” and made the move. New Orleans has shaped and changed me and my family for the good and we are forever grateful we came to this special place.
Back in early February, I expressed my ideas about the type of person I thought we needed to lead our School of Providence and Prayer. I am happy to announce that it appears the Search Team had some similar ideas and those ideas have been fleshed out in the form of a philosopher from North Carolina.
Let me begin by saying that today was my first time meeting Dr. Dew. I have never spoken with him before today and only knew him from his impressive academic reputation and from the kind words of mutual friends. With that said, ultimately, I am ecstatic about his selection and am looking forward to his Presidency at NOBTS.
ON THE MINORITY ISSUE
I am on record as saying:
“Of all the entities of the SBC, the city of New Orleans is clearly the most “non-white” place we have a charter. As a convention, we have stated our resolution to be deliberate in our intention to include men and women from panta ta ethne in leadership roles within the SBC.
…what a profoundly impactful testimony it would be to the city of New Orleans if this school which at one time did not allow God-called men of African descent to study theology here, were to happen to choose a God-called man of African descent to become its 9th president. What a statement that would be!”
I was one of the early proponents of seeing this position filled by an African-American brother. I can still say I would love to have seen such a historic selection happen at NOBTS. I even had a few names in mind for the role. Of the final four candidates interviewed by the search team, it was to my great joy to come to understand that one of the candidates was a brother from this ethnic background. I’m certain it is not for me to disclose the name of that candidate but he was an exciting candidate with a unique call and ministry holding impressive credentials himself.
This might be of little consolation to my black brothers and sisters but let me say this, which I think is an important step (and one for which Dr. Frank Cox and the NOBTS search team should be commended), from what I understand, over the last 7 entity-head openings in the SBC, THIS search team was the first to interview, as a finalist candidate, a man from African descent. Friends, I know there is much to lament in that statement, but I have to believe that there is also a shred of something to celebrate. I choose to see that act as a step forward. Hopefully, one day soon we will see our hired leadership across the SBC looking more and more like the panta ta ethne Scripture calls us to model.
With that said, (and having come to know who the finalists were) it is clear to me Dr. Dew was the most qualified of the candidates… by a significant margin. His vitae and specific academic experience placed him head and shoulders above all the candidates of which I am aware.
DEW’S IMPRESSIVE VITAE
When I first heard who made the original recommendation for Dr. Dew to NOBTS I was immediately encouraged (apparently there were numerous submissions of Dr. Dew’s name). The recommender I know is a man I hold in high regard. In fact, he is the academician I have been most impacted by during my time in theological higher education. Thus, I was intrigued by his recommendation and trustingly-hopeful in the qualifications of his candidate.
So, I dug in and did some research. I came to find out the candidate and I had a couple of mutual friends and I heard very encouraging things about his personality, then about his leadership… then I saw his curriculum vitae. There is a Hebrew word for it… WOW!
Friends, I implore you to take your time and read through his vitae. Without hyperbole or auxesis, I’m going to posit that there is not another sitting entity head in the SBC, including any other seminary president, who had as impressive, substantive and significant a vitae upon election to their chair than does Dr. Dew.
It’s not just that he is a philosopher (which would likely have endeared him to me anyway since that discipline is my main interest area). It is that his work in the academy is respected and considered substantive.
With all due respect to our other seminary presidents, and as impressive as some of the hires are at our sister schools, I firmly believe that five years from now we will look back and see that this hire announced today will confirm that the trustees not only made the right decision this morning but that New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary will be one of the most healthy, academically challenging and robust institutions of higher learning in the world.
Dr. Dew has served on faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary since 2011, as Dean of the undergraduate College at Southeastern and then in 2014 was named Vice President for Undergraduate Studies and Distance Learning.
Along with those administrative duties he also served as Associate Professor of Philosophy and the History of Ideas.
Dew’s extensive experience in the area of undergraduate studies is sure to be a significant help to NOBTS. I have felt for a long time that Leavell College could be so much more than it currently is. Strengthening it as a recruiting tool for the graduate program would be a boon to the seminary but even more so, what a significant instrument for the Kingdom it could be as an accessible, serious, Christ-driven, institution for the New Orleans area. Considering the growth at the College at Southeastern under Dew’s leadership, I am encouraged for what might be in the future for our own Leavell College. I asked him today about his plans for Leavell College and he explained during the press conference that it will be his primary focus for the first year of his presidency. I couldn’t be more happy about that.
I also asked him about his availability for teaching. He was very quick to say, “I am who I am and I’m gonna be myself.” He went on, “If you took me out of the classroom it would completely kill me.” No doubt students will be happy to know they will be able to take courses from the president but only after his first year. He intends to spend the first year working through administrative and organizational details. Then he hopes to teach one seminary course and one PhD seminar per year.
Dew has also served as a local church pastor. I know early on there was much talk from a certain segment of folks who desired to see a big-time, high-profile, mega pastor come to take the reins. It appears to me that the reason was two-fold. First, a big-shot pastor would be a personality draw for students. Second, a well-known pastor would likely do well as a fund-raiser. For me, it shouldn’t be about personality, although I did express that it could be beneficial to have a “big name” come in. Rather, my take was to score a high-level academician who also understands the pastorate. Further, I am convinced that donors get behind a student body that is excited about their school. I’ve been around higher education long enough to note that positive buzz and students showing excitement for their studies tend to draw donors… and the right kind of donors. The right president will help to create the right buzz. I think we are on track for that with this selection.
As a pastor myself, the shepherding aspect will always be important to me if for only the tone and tenor the new president would set with the students. I am thankful that Dr. Dew has spent significant time serving the local church as its pastor. His experience in this area should set everyone’s mind at ease. It is apparent to me from his bio that Dr. Dew knows and loves the local church and has continued to serve it even while he has served in significant areas of administration in the academy. Just after his name was announced as the final candidate, a fellow pastor from here in Louisiana messaged me one of Dr. Dew’s sermons from a chapel service at SEBTS in which mt friend was specifically impressed with Dew’s “pastor’s heart” and the humility with which he preached the sermon. In my time affiliated with NOBTS, the school has always been desirous for its profs to have spent time in the pulpit and have placed significant emphasis on pastoral experience when hiring faculty. I would expect that will continue to be the case. Glory to God.
THE BIG UNKNOWN
This is a hard place to live. Whether you’re a valet at Monteleone, a young professional in the tech industry, a middle-aged oil industry worker or the president of a seminary, it’s tough. I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Tara a question about whether or not she had any fears regarding coming to New Orleans. Her gracious and articulate response noted the wisdom expressed by her children and the comfort of God putting their hearts at ease over these last few weeks. She also explained that the “Dew Krewe” (with the right spelling, mind you) knows this is a family effort and that even their children understand that they are coming to serve as missionaries in their new home. That is exactly the right heart to have for coming to this place.
The culture is different here and it is often a difficult adjustment for those of us who have come from “outside.” With four young children, schooling will be an issue. Adjustment related to parade routs, the stifling heat, crime rates and questionable assistance in some segments of the service industry can all be areas of frustration and lament.
How will the Dews adjust? Will they engage with the culture, go to Jazz Fest and become faithful members of the Who Dat nation? Will they learn to make groceries, boil crawfish, catch coconuts from Zulu and shoes from Muses? Will they embrace this wonderful place with all its challenges, idiosyncrasies and weirdness? Will the day come when upon retirement they will truly “Know what it means to miss New Orleans?” I’m not sure about the answers to these questions, but you can bet that there are a number of us here who are praying to that end and are available to help them fall in love with this “city that care forgot.”
Dr. Dew articulated four “major areas of emphasis” in year one of his presidency:
1) Leavell College
2) Enrollment (all aspects)
3) Marketing and Communication
4) Denominational Relationships
I love these areas of focus and pray that God will grant him favor to fulfill these goals.
Had he not won me over by this point, he surely did when he noted, “I’m a little upset that Southern Baptists don’t think more highly of this city than they do. I’m a little upset that Southern Baptists don’t think more highly of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary than they do, because I see potential dripping off of this place.”
He is singing my song!!!
In an article on November 26, 1914, Platus Iberus Lipsey wrote the following article asserting the need for a seminary in New Orleans:
“A seminary there would…rally the Baptists and put heart into them and equip them for their work as nothing else could. This is missionary territory in every direction from the city. Louisiana is probably the neediest mission field in the Southern Baptist Convention and has never had the attention it deserves. New Orleans is destined to be the greatest city in the South. Why not do whatever we can to make it not only a Baptist city but a center of influence to radiate Baptist life in a needy and important field? There is no surer way to make it a great blessing than building here a great seminary.” (Seventy-Five years of Providence and Prayer, NOBTS, 1993, p.10)
I pray Lipsey’s words continue to ring true throughout the tenure of Dr. Jamie Dew. I’m excited to be welcoming North Carolina’s “Mountain” Dew down to the Bayou and I’m looking forward to witnessing the future of the New “Dew” Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
I don’t care…
Let’s Dew this!
*photo credit to Boyd Guy and the PR group