In this conversation with Kindred Spirit, Dr. Mark Bailey, who has served as president of Dallas Theological Seminary since 2001, and Academic Dean Dr. Mark Yarbrough talk about the past and future of DTS. Watch their interview with Dr. Greg Hatteberg, dean of Enrollment and Alumni Services.
Kindred Spirit: Let’s talk about the past. What stories come to mind as you think of God’s hand sustaining DTS throughout these nine decades?
Dr. Bailey: One that has been bantered about goes back to Dr. Chafer’s time. One year several weeks before May graduation, the leaders had a few days to decide whether the school would continue.
Three people were awakened at 5 a.m. on a Saturday—Dr. William Anderson, a Dallas pastor instrumental in the Seminary’s founding; Dr. Chafer, founder and first president; and a donor. None knew the others were awakened, and each was impressed with the need to pray about the burden the Seminary faced. Only weeks later did they learn that all three had been awakened at the same time.
It took the donor about two weeks to get the money ready. And at the time it arrived, Dr. Lewis S. Chafer, Dr. Rollin T. Chafer, Dr. C. Fred Lincoln, and Dr. Harry Ironside prayed together on a Monday morning in an office. After praying they sat for a few minutes in silence. There came a knock at the door and a government bond for $10,000 arrived from an unknown banker in Illinois.
Some folklore has developed around this narrative. There was this story about a cattleman or a rancher. Somebody retelling it probably preached that “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” and that’s where cattle and a Texas rancher came in.
But the real story had nothing to do with a cattleman or a rancher. In reality, it had everything to do with “the God who owns all” sovereignly working in the hearts of a pastor, a president, and a donor. Three men prayed, and one had the financial means to give what the school needed to survive. In obedience, he sent it.
That story has been a faith-builder for many of us throughout the years. The prompting of the Spirit and the Lord’s provision at that time constituted a God-moment in our school’s history. Stories of answered prayer and God’s provision have continued across the decades.
Dr. Yarbrough: Another way I see God’s sustaining DTS is through the faithfulness of the leaders whom he has led here, including the one with us today—Dr. Bailey.
During Dr. Campbell’s administration, Dr. John Walvoord transitioned from the president’s office back to teaching, and I took a class from him on the doctrine of the rapture. There were about twenty-five students, and one guy had an attitude. He would challenge the professor, and several people confronted him, but to no avail.
About six or seven weeks into the semester, I was ready for Dr. Walvoord to put this student in his place. But Dr. Walvoord just kept loving on him. Instead of shredding the student’s little arguments and pet peeves, Dr. Walvoord just kept loving him and coming back to the text. When this student would have a hard attitude, Dr. Walvoord would have a soft attitude. And that happened all semester long. Eventually Dr. Walvoord won that man’s heart. And in that exchange, I saw that we had a leader who was concerned about the whole person.
I have seen that sort of character in the lives of all the presidents whom I have had the opportunity to know. The Lord has blessed Dallas Theological Seminary with leaders dedicated to Christ.
Dr. Bailey: God used each of the four men who preceded me in that each one brought something that DTS needed at the time. What a courageous vision Dr. Chafer had! He inaugurated a bold new departure in theological education, and that departure was that the central textbook would be the Bible—and not just the Bible, but the whole Bible.
Dr. Walvoord brought theological clarity. He could think quickly on his feet. Dr. Walvoord was a giant of a man, tall in stature. He was a giant in spirituality as well, but in intellect he was uniquely gifted.
Dr. Campbell brought academic organization and excellence to DTS. He brought us to accreditation, improved the quality of education, and cultivated faculty development for many years as the academic dean. He has also been a great model by tenderly caring for his ailing first wife, Bea, and now his second wife, Lavonne.
Dr. Swindoll gave DTS broader exposure to the general public through his Insight for Living radio broadcasts and the many books he has written. He is skilled at offering contagious communication of God’s truth with a heart for application.
As presidents, these four men had faith and trust in God. They have been stellar models for me, and they have provided a big wake behind the boat where I get to ski.
God and his grace have covered this ministry. I shared with some businessmen this morning that God owes us nothing. God doesn’t need to give us anything. That he would choose to use any of us is a gift of grace. Teaching here, administrating here, representing DTS, teaching classes—I’ve never gotten over the fact that the privilege to serve him is a gift from him. Grace.
Dr. Yarbrough: Not only grace, but also mercy. In his letter to the Romans, Paul starts chapter 12 by saying, “in view of God’s mercy….” The great charge out of that text is to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Doing so is predicated on God’s mercy. All of the truth we love in that wonderful passage finds its foundation in God’s mercy. We can do nothing without him and what he has done. So what motivates us is who God is and what he has done. If we’re leading in our own strength, we’re in big trouble. The grace and mercy of God are our foundation. And if that is what drives DTS, we will continue to experience God’s blessing.
KS: What other Scriptures or lines from hymns have sustained and driven you?
Dr. Bailey: We’re here because of God’s faithfulness. So “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” based on Lamentations 3:22–23, is always a moving hymn to me. And another of my favorites says, “I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” It’s a paraphrase from one of the epistles to Timothy from Paul (see 2 Tim. 1:12). I love knowing that the God I serve will do his will and accomplish his purposes, and I can commit myself to him because of what he’s committed to us. He has given us so many promises that accompany our salvation, empower our work in the church, and guarantee our hope for the future. So those two hymns and the passages out of which they echo are big ones for me.
Another passage comes to mind, as well. It first resonated with me at a point in my life when I was teaching at a Bible college, and a speaker quoted from 1 Timothy. I heard, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith,” (1:5, NASB), and I understood the difference between the means and the ends for a Bible teacher. That recognition changed my whole perspective. I saw that the goal of teaching and preaching is life change—how we love God and how we love others. Jesus said that on these two hang all the Law and the Prophets. And so our motto that appears in Greek on the Seminary seal (in translation) says “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). DTS’s slogan that we’ve been using in recent days is “teach truth, love well.” This motto comes out of that text and out of the heartbeat that drives the application of it.
This past spring those reviewing us for accreditation noted that this phrase is now part of the Seminary’s DNA. It goes with the quality enhancement plan that we are implementing in the next few years—a focus on compassionate love as a vehicle of entry into community and into sharing Christ. That passage has become a “lifer” with me. Its emphasis is on the integration of truth and relationship, on grace and truth. So much of Scripture revolves around that holy balance.
KS: What about the future? What challenges do you see?
Dr. Yarbrough: Whatever is happening in the church worldwide affects us. The gospel is exploding in Latin America, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia. The primary developments of the church will come from those parts of the world. That’s not happened in the lifetime of Dallas Theological Seminary, so it will be new for us. That will have an impact on us in terms of international students. Our graduates in other parts of the world see what’s happening in the West. We are watching, and certainly the church at large is beckoning the West, saying, “Do not lose your way.” There is a call to the centrality of the gospel, to biblical authority.
We are also seeing the role and rise of distance education in its multiple forms. We have made some strategic moves relating to our Houston campus. We’ve also placed an individual in Washington, D.C., to direct our extension there. When you have a diverse student body and numerous locations, what does that do to your faculty? We have some “road warriors” who travel a lot to places where we have mobile cohorts and online students, so we can stay in touch. But providing quality faculty at distance locations will challenge us as well.
Degree program review is especially fresh on our minds as we have just come out of the accreditation process. Assessment is biblical. We want and need to improve. Our students need preparation on new topics that no one needed to address thirty years ago. How do we deal with that from a curricular standpoint while also realizing the press for time, money, and the rising cost of education? Meanwhile, students want to finish faster and with less expense—and understandably so. How can we accommodate their needs and better prepare them?
Dr. Bailey: We’re wrestling with education in general. Consider that only our older students have ever seen a typewriter. The rest have learned differently from how most of their instructors learned—by a page of outline that we filled in as the prof talked. Now we can give students all of that content on a portable data storage device and spend class time differently. Each of us has our favorite way to learn, but that’s not necessarily the way students learn. They research using the Web. When I did my dissertation, I did not have to know how to cite an Internet source.
Worldwide, 80 percent of the people prefer to learn by listening or watching, not by reading. The Bible is a book. Yet the earliest audiences heard the Word. Their learning was all aural. And we can recover a lot of beauty we have missed by reading instead of hearing the Bible, especially in the original languages. One member of our faculty tells me that Leviticus has a cadence in the original text through which a worship theme manifests itself that we would never get in English. So we must address issues of how students learn and how we will teach them.
While we adapt, some things must always remain central: the authority of Scripture as God’s Word; the majesty of Jesus Christ as the God-man, and all that implies; the need for personal conversion and new life in Christ in the sense that without justification there is no righteousness; and fulfillment of the Great Commission, taking the gospel to the world. When any one of these core elements gets lost, believers get into trouble. So DTS has a robust doctrinal statement for our faculty and board, and we remain unswervingly committed to it. These Christian doctrines are embedded in our bylaws. They have and will drive DTS—by the grace of God—until Christ returns.
Read a short history of DTS with red-letter dates.