Who Killed Highland Park Baptist / Tennessee Temple Univ?

ttuWho Killed Tennessee Temple University?

Don Boys, Ph.D.

Every organization contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. That fact is obvious in the decay, dissolution, and death of Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. On succeeding days, the Chattanooga Times Free Press detailed the story at length with two major stories (one on the upper fold of the front page and the other, the upper fold of the second section) on TTU’s demise with three large color photos and a smaller photo.

After this semester, TTU will merge with Piedmont International University of Winston Salem, North Carolina a sister school started about the same time under similar circumstances. Both schools were started by strong Fundamentalist pastors of strong Baptist Churches. Both were tenuously connected with the Southern Baptist Convention but eventually became identified with the Independent Baptist movement. TTU was started by Dr. Lee Roberson, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church, and Piedmont Bible College was birthed by Dr. Charles Stevens, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Winston Salem.

The merger was leaked to the media by TTU athletes and others who were disappointed in the merger although Piedmont agreed to accommodate the 265 students with a big break in their tuition. The story revealed that more than half of TTU’s enrollment is made up of athletes! Does anyone see a problem here?

TTU president Steve Echols, making a valiant, though vain effort to put the “best face” on a bad situation said, “there is a huge difference in closing and merging.” Not much. The university of 70 years will no longer exist. Some of its students and faculty will end up at Piedmont but TTU will be kaput, finished, dead. Wonder who killed it.

Who killed Spurgeon Baptist College, Pillsbury Baptist College, and Atlantic Baptist Bible College? I know of 89 secular and Christian colleges that have closed in recent years. There are multiple reasons for the death of an institution. Many established schools have drastically changed their stand on personal separation, ecclesiastical separation, the Bible versions, accepted secular accreditation, etc.

TTU was one of the major universities in the Independent Baptist movement with over 4,000 students in the early 1980s. Roberson as pastor of Highland Park Baptist with more than 57,000 members and a high attendance of 10,000 promoted the school in various Baptist Churches every Monday and Tuesday night across the nation. After 40 years at the church and school the charismatic leader resigned. Following his departure Dr. J. R. Faulkner, longtime associate of Roberson’s, became interim pastor until Dr. Don Jennings, recommended by Roberson, was called to replace him in 1983.

Jennings didn’t last long since his preaching was far more exegetical than Roberson’s evangelistic approach. Jennings also made administrative changes that were not accepted especially by those affected. Following his departure Dr. J. R. Faulkner, took the helm. In about a year he was replaced by Dr. David Bouler. Bouler was trained as a Methodist although he had become convinced of the Independent Baptist position and had built an Independent Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Things seemed to stabilize under Bouler’s dynamic preaching that struck a middle ground between Roberson and Jennings.

In 2006, Dr. Danny Lovett V.P. from Liberty University became president of TTU replacing Bouler as president. The university was seeking secular accreditation and their rules prohibited a pastor to also function as president of a college. Lovett brought a lot of bells and whistles but that was not what the school needed. Later, Lovett also became co-pastor of the church. With Lovett’s arrival the music at the school became more contemporary followed by a relaxing of strict rules of personal behavior. Soon, the administration decided to join the Southern Baptist Convention although the church membership did not vote on that decision. After a minor national scandal of Lovett’s plagiarism he left his position at the university in 2011but stayed on as pastor. Later, he resigned from the church.

The ministry had been on the proverbial slippery slope for a long time and the speed accelerated as families left the church and students left the school. So did Pastor Bouler. He was followed by a very talented 28-year-old Southern Baptist pastor in 2012, Dr . Jeremy Roberts, who led the church to move far from its drug-infested neighborhood to their camp property north of the city. The church name was changed to The Church of the Highlands and they have plans to build on the camp property. The prestigious Highland Park Baptist Church was dead.

TTU was on its own struggling to pay its bills in a rundown area with fewer than 300 students and a bunch of rundown buildings. The Board of Trustees hired another strong Southern Baptist, Steve Echols to be their president. The bleeding continued and the president arranged to move the campus to the Woodland Park Church campus paying them $600,000 for some of the church property. Woodland Park needed money to finish their new church building and TTU needed a home.

Echols initiated a fundraising drive to raise $2 million but only $65,000 was realized! Everyone was shocked that less than one percent of the 17,000 alumni responded. Hence, the Piedmont merger. Echols is scheduled to take a position with Piedmont’s administration. It will be interesting to see if he will wean Piedmont away from their longtime association with Independent Baptists (such as the GARB, ABWE, BMM, etc.) and produce another Southern Baptist school that can enroll students from Southern Baptist Churches that are only passively SBC. That is Liberty University’s role.

The meager response from the alumni shocked everyone but it should not surprise anyone. After all, thousands of former students and church members put thousands of dollars into the HPBC ministry only to see (1) their leaders get into bed with the SBC; (2) the ministry taken over by double-minded leaders; (3) millions of dollars spent unwisely and (4) the church infiltrated and taken over by “progressives.” Additionally there are thousands who wanted even more change from the fundamentalist tradition.

The Times Free Press quoted Echols as saying “All earthly institutions eventually fade. They dissolve. But changed lives are forever.” That is observably true. All schools and churches, no matter how great, have the seeds of their own destruction. But what killed Tennessee Temple University and Highland Park Baptist Church?

No doubt most, maybe all of the above personalities were sincere and well intentioned. They were all well-educated leaders and confident men but such men can make devastating mistakes in judgment.

Dr. Roberson often said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Of course, that is true and he proved it true! Roberson was a friend of mine and, like me, must be held accountable. Those of us who loved, respected, and appreciated his ministry do him a disservice by not honestly evaluating his ministry. He was a strong preacher but an evangelistic preacher who did not prepare his members by systematic preaching of the Word. He was a magnificent evangelist and motivator; but alas, most Christians don’t study on their own and need to be taught Bible truths. That was the heart of the Don Jennings affair. He preached verse by verse and some shallow Christians did not want to think and be challenged every week. They were used to hearing: You need to get saved; you need to be baptized and join the church; and you need to be faithful in witnessing and tithing. All of that is good and necessary but there is much, much more in the Scripture.

One of the most singular failures of Roberson was his mishandling of an erring associate who had affairs with some college students. He received a firm slap on the wrist when he should have been corrected, chastised, and sent into exile. It devastated the student body and many did not return. But then, this is a major flaw in many Independent Baptist circles.

There is no doubt that the major shift in musical standards helped kill TTU and HPBC. My wife and I were members at HPBC from 1987 to Feb. of 2005. I worked out of the church as an evangelist, family conference speaker, and Christian Apologist until our departure because of the massive changes. Dr. Bouler promised me that the contemporary music then used in the university would not invade the church. He did not keep that promise. Moreover, he told me he was not going to take the church the way “Jerry did in Lynchburg.” He did not keep that promise.

In the interest of full disclosure I have dear friends and family who are members of SBC churches. My uncle was the first Christian I ever knew and he left WV for Ohio and helped start a SBC church. Many SBC preachers are far more effective than I, far more godly than I, and accomplished far more than I; but they are wrong to serve in a denominational church.

What a tragedy that the flagship church of Independent Baptists returned to its origin as did First Baptist, Fort Worth, Thomas Road Baptist, Lynchburg, etc. I knew there was a “Back to Rome” movement but it seems there is a “Back to Nashville” movement among Independent Baptists. However, I’m not going! I’d rather fight than switch.

Who killed TTU and HPBC? They were killed by good people and bad people; sincere and insincere people; dedicated people and opportunists; maybe I contributed to their death by half-hearted support. We will all face our aims, actions, ambitions, and accomplishments (or lack thereof) at the Bema Judgment.

Whatever the reasons, two great ministries that impacted my life and thousands of others are dead. One thing for sure: Satan is rejoicing tonight.

Reprinted by permission: Copyright Dr. Don Boys, – www.cstnews.com

22 thoughts on “Who Killed Highland Park Baptist / Tennessee Temple Univ?”

    1. That’s possible but I’m the wrong one to ask. That particular article was submitted by Dr. Don Boys. When I attended TTU, Dr. Roberson was still at the helm and Highland Park set the standard for the Christian community.

  1. I preached in the HPBC pulpit once. Granted it was probably five minutes max and I must have been 8/9 at the time. Still, sad to see a part of my childhood (and a foundation for the community) crumble.

    1. Yes, I have to agree with you. FIB Christians and colleges seem to be on the decline. While I don’t feel that it is necessary to shun anything and everything that culturally contemporary, (ie: pastors refusing to use Power Point or consider a worship song or two every once in a while) I do feel that we need to uphold a certain Christian standard and many churches, including those who call themselves FIB, are abandoning that standard to be popular. Such a shame.

  2. I appreciate this article. I value the time I spent at Tennessee Temple in the mid-1970s. I wish that Dr. Roberson had maintained good relations with alumni; things might have turned out differently.
    My life has been enhanced by what I learned at Tennessee Temple.

  3. I became a Christian at the age of 37, and enrolled at TTU in 1980. I remember telling my wife, that Pastor Lee needed to teach us how to live for Christ and not get us saved every service. Three points and a poem does not cut it when your life falls a part.

  4. I attended Temple from 77-81. It helped shape me in so many ways but ironically I learned that you need to preach and study the whole council of God while at Temple. You weren’t fed from the preaching at Temple as much as I respected Dr Roberson it just wasn’t solid food. And as long as Temple lived in the past and was afraid to change with the times because it was deemed liberal or becoming like the world Temple was destined to fadeaway. Most fundamentalist churches don’t exist today because of that. And the fact that they were never accredited led to its demise as well. Most colleges would not accept your grades and credits because of that if you chose to transfer.!I loved Temple! I met my wife there. I have great friends all over the country today that I met at Temple. I’m grateful for my time there. But it’s lack of willingness to change is what killed it.

    1. I totally agree. I was there as a freshman in 1979. Me and 4 other freshman students were caught drinking one beer in the next state of Georgia. We sat in the church and were rebuked for one week during spring Revival before they decided to suspend us instead of expel us so that we could come back next year needless to say after that none of us went back. Our mistake was a $3,000 proffit to Tennessee Temple University

  5. If that is what killed TTU then why is Liberty doing so well. Write about that. They must have leaders that are almost angelic according to your conclusion: good leadership equals success.

    1. Tom! After reading your comment, I recalled reading the biography about Lee Roberson. According to the author, Jerry Falwell visited Lee Roberson for advice on starting Liberty University. I do not remember Lee Roberson’s advice to Jerry Falwell. He apparently had influence on Liberty.

    1. Jerry; The Ivies were killed a long time ago. None are still true to their Christian/denominational roots. In the book “The Sacred and the Secular University,”authors Roberts and Turner state:


      Tennessee Temple was started as a conservative Independent Baptist church and later school/college/university. Unfortunately, those roots are long decayed.

  6. They are not true to their heritage. I struggle with why God allowed them to stand and allowed TTU and others to close. They deserved the same demise. I only went to TTU my senior year. I transferred from Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College, a BBFI college. It was in danger of closing for the same reasons as TTU. I went to two Christian colleges that closed. I hate to tell others I went to them. I went on and got a masters from Regent. I have learned that a bachelor’s from a regional accredited university is considered more important than a masters from a regional accredited university. I am working on a bachelor’s from a regional accredited college, Excelsior, so I will have two degrees worth the paper they are written on. After hearing about Hyles Anderson and FBC Hammond concerning Jack Schapp, I am wondering why God allowed them to survive. I think Hyle’s mistake was treating the ministry like a family inheritance. It deserved the same demise as TTU.

  7. By the way, thank you for responding to me! I forgot to check the boxes on the above post. Please feel free to respond. It has been hard for me to accept why God allowed the ivies and others that deserved TTU’S demise to remain standing. The ivies train our Al Gores, Hillary Clinton’s, and etc. I have sworn that I will never go to anymore Christian colleges unless they are like Liberty, Regent, and others that are regionally accredited. I wanted to see TTU and PCBBC get into the 21st century and succeed. Schools cannot be never-changing and expect to survive.

  8. They are not true to their heritage. I struggle with why God allowed them to stand and allowed TTU and others to close. They deserved the same demise. I only went to TTU my senior year. I transferred from Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College, a BBFI college. It was in danger of closing for the same reasons as TTU. I went to two Christian colleges that closed. I hate to tell others I went to them. I went on and got a masters from Regent. I have learned that a bachelors from a regional accredited university is considered more important than a masters from a regional accredited university. I am working on a bachelor’s from a regional accredited college, Excelsior, so I will have two degrees worth the paper they are written on. After hearing about Hyles Anderson and FBC Hammond concerning Jack Schapp, I am wondering why God allowed them to survive. I think Hyle’s mistake was treating the ministry like a family inheritance, handing the pastorate over to his son-in-law. It deserved the same demise as TTU. I read comments of Hyles Anderson students about the scandal. One said that there were drugs, homosexuality, and fights at the school. It sounded like there were dysfunctional students there. I remember one TTU student who talked about transferring there. I jokingly asked him if I would make it there. He told me they would throw me out on my ear. They probably would have. Today I declare myself a moderate Christian. I try not to go too far to the right or too far to the left. I want to keep myself on an even keel.

  9. TTUs original purpose was to train preachers after WWII. Along came PCC, Crown College and West Coast BC. Then also TTU was in the worst neighborhood in Chattanooga. If your campus is ratty, people won’t take you seriously. They should have relocated decades ago.

    1. I definitely agree with the neighborhood comment. It wasn’t great when we were there back in late ’79-’83. It was going downhill then but they had finished the new auditorium and weren’t going anywhere for a while.

  10. Interesting article. I attended TTU 1975-1976. My home church was Calvary Baptist Church In Ypsilanti, MI, and Don Jennings was my pastor there, before he went to ABWE.
    I ran into Dr Roberson at a revival service many years later in Wheaton, MD.
    Dr. Roberson’ direct quote to me was, ” Dr Jennings RUINED that school !! Ruined it ! ”
    That was in 1994.
    I never knew why he said that with such passion…J. Don Jennings was a wonderful pastor at the time he served in my home church.
    All churches have their problems I guess, and I have stayed away from Baptist churches, after Truman Dollar ( former pastor at TEMPLE BAPTIST, Detroit MI ) was dismissed with the help of Jerry Falwell and others, because of Truman Dollar carrying on an affair with a woman at his former church. Dollar later committed suicide.
    I am now an Anglican, and find myself in the company of many former Baptists.

    1. Interesting; you (Sharon Hallman) arrived at TTU the year after I left Chattanooga to go to college elsewhere. My wife went to a Catholic University, and we compromised by joining the local Episcopal church (which had a good school for our son) until the national church insisted on forcing its new doctrines on all congregations and that was too far for me to stretch. Half of the Episcopal churches in South Carolina’s upper diocese now call themselves Anglican, and the lower diocese (Charleston and the coast) seceded from the national Episcopal church. History repeats itself if we don’t learn from it.
      We now attend the local Methodist church, which has a fantastic Youth ministry and offers both traditional and contemporary worship services.
      Truly, in the last couple of decades the Body of Christ has come under increasingly effective attacks from without and from within. It’s difficult to love unconditionally and also without compromise.

  11. The statement in Don Boyd’s article stating that Dr. Roberson allowed “an erring associate who had affairs with several students” is not true. I was there; I knew firsthand the associate and the lady involved (who was not a student) and both were fired from their positions. I repeat, there were NO students involved. Dr. Boyd must have been misinformed by slanderous gossip. I was there when the associate thought suicide was the only answer. My wife and I sat in his home with he and his wife while the telephone rang constantly only to hear vulgar messages being uttered by those who claimed to be Christians. Thank God a restoration process was initiated by a well known and respected Christian counsellor for both who were involved. Check out Galatians 6:1 and the verses that follow.

    1. Bro. David; I have to agree with you somewhat. What I knew of Dr. Roberson (I was there from ’79-’83) the ‘slap on the wrist’ as Dr. Boys puts it was probably Biblical discipline and restoration. Without knowing the whole story as you and Dr. Boys do, I cannot comment further. And yes, there are always those ‘Christians’ who are quick to discipline but slow to restore. Shame on them.

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