First, Bauder thinks fundamentalism has too many seminaries:
Bauder says the initial conversations were motivated by a “push and a pull."My interpretation (and I speak as a Maranatha alumnus): There is no compelling justification to start another conservative fundamentalist seminary, particularly when the movement is already bleeding out more and more guys to places like Southern.
"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.
By my count, there are at least ten seminaries serving conservative, non-KJVonly fundamentalism. Depending on how strictly you define "seminary" and "conservative fundamentalism," you might get even higher. I can't document their their combined full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment, but I'd be utterly flabbergasted if it's more than 2,000. I'm guessing closer to 1,000, and that may be high.
By contrast, the SBC operates six seminaries with a combined FTE enrollment of 7,750. At least two, and perhaps as many as four of them by themselves are larger than all the conservative fundamentalist seminaries combined. That doesn't mean the SBC's getting it right, but it does display a stark contrast. The data reinforces Bauder's arguments that multiplication has unnecessarily diluted resources and faculty. Whether that long-standing trend reflects the Fundamentalist impulse to splinter, or merely the natural outgrowth of a movement that skews more to independence than cooperation, I'll leave to the historians to settle.
That leads to the second reason this merger looks like a good thing on the surface: It's reversing the Fundamentalist splinter impulse:
“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.”Other groups and constituencies never should have been separated in the first place either, but this is a start.
James Maxwell agrees, saying, “We want to do all we can to preserve the heritage and constituencies of both groups.”
Now the question:
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.This makes me wonder what the philosophical issues were. My sense is that Faith has historically held a quite rigid position on dispensationalism. Central has not, at least not to the same degree. Faith specifically affirms (PDF) traditional dispensationalism. At least from time to time, some faculty at Central have advocated some form of, well, non-traditional dispensationalism.
For all my arguments that churches have no justifiable grounds to exclude members over many millennial or tribulational views, I believe a seminary bears no such obligation to tolerate differences. But that doesn't make rigid unanimity prudent. I have no inside information whatsoever, but I wonder if diversity on dispensational views was one of the philosophical questions. Is it possible that even some variations under the already narrow umbrella of "premill, pretrib" might be excluded? I hope this merger doesn't dilute the educational experience of the students by imposing an artificial, unnecessary unanimity.
True, institutions must grapple with the parameters of their own identity and their target constituency. But students who don't hear thorough presentations of opposing views aren't equipped to refute them. And frankly, traditional dispensationalists haven't offered convincing explanations for all the biblical data. To be fair, maybe no one has, and that's all the more reason to draw the lines at least as broadly as Central has, historically.