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