Friday, January 18, 2008

Reforming academic regalia at Southwestern Seminary

I would not have believed it had I not seen ample evidence to convince me that this report is true. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated its centenniel convocation yesterday with the faculty wearing black felt cowboy hats instead of the more traditional toppers usually associated with such occasions.

My incredulity stems not from any sense of loyalty to academic tradition or attire. Rather, this just seems too silly for a serious academic institution. It sounds like a stunt.

But, it's not a stunt, according to Dr. Malcolm Yarnell. He contributed an apologia for the new, western look among the faculty by writing (I am not making this up),
Now, honestly, what is more relevant and dignified in a Texas free church setting: A cowboy’s hat, reflecting our ministry to and identification with our people? Or, a priest’s biretta, indicating we are ontologically superior to our people? Is it not part of our Baptist Reformation heritage to alter mere trappings as we see fit? We are neither in Roman orders nor under Roman custom. We are Southern Baptists, and as free churchmen, we are free to reform our customs and habits as we deem fit.
Certainly, Baptists are free to deviate from traditional regalia in their academic or any other settings. But leaving off for the moment what this new look says to the many Native-Americans in the great state of Texas, I cannot help but wonder why they stopped at the hat, if the desire is genuinely to break with "Roman orders" and "Roman customs?" Why not lose the robes as well?

Spurgeon's sentiment (in the voice of John Plowman) is shared by many a Baptist:

An ape is ne'er so like an ape
As when he wears a popish cape.

My friend, Wyman Richardson, who alerted me to this development, has written a response that reflects my own attitude. It is worth reading. He closes his thoughts with this summary:
Let's just call this what it is: "Don't Mess With Texas" run amuck in what used to be the world's largest Southern Baptist seminary.

Not that I really care...


Timmy Brister said...

SEBTS makes a statement by pioneering some of the best conferences and speakers in the SBC as seen in the Convergent Conference and Building Bridges Conference.

SBTS makes a statement by putting together the best faculty of any seminary in the world.

SWBTS makes a statement by wearing cowboy hats and calling it contextualization.

Need I say more?

Andy said...

Sadly, this ridiculous development seems to portray in snapshot form the continuing downgrade of a once great institution. It would be laughable if it were not so pathetic.

Times change and so do seminaries... for good and for ill.

I am truly grateful for my time at Southwestern, for the men I studied under, for the friendships forged there, and for being there over 25 years ago!

Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

J.D. Rector said...

I can't help but ask... (and if you think this comment is inappropriate Tom, pleased delete it!), did the President come riding in on a "great white horse"?

Yippee Ki Yay!
J.D. Rector

JDBrewer said...

Southern Baptist Cooperative Program dollars at work? I hope not, but seriously, how much did those hats cost and who paid for them? I pastor in Kentucky, so I was wondering if I should preach in the spirit of Daniel Boone and wear a buckskin suit topped off with a coonskin hat?


Adam Winters said...

Ironically, it strikes me as the sort of thing B. H. Carroll would appreciate. Anyway, in light of this being a centennial celebration, it looks like this will only be a one time thing.

B Nettles said...

Black hats: they've officially designated themselves as the "bad guys." At least now the pressure is off those sneaky Calvinists!

Black felt? What's "Texas" about felt? Why not black leather! Wool is for baseball caps! That's what they need at Golden Gate.

Of all the statements I've read and listened to from Dr. Yarnell, this is one of them. Might even be his best.

A Davis said...

From inside information, I have found out that the hats cost $100 each, but the quantity purchased allowed the seminary to take a $25 discount making the total $75.

As for where the money came from, that I am not sure. I sure hope it did not come out of my tuition or the cooperative program. Think about it: $75 a hat x 100+ professors = over $7500. That does not include the boots worn by Dr. Patterson.

I also know that the professors are supposed to keep the hats for the rest of year. That means that we have not seen the last of them. I think the faculty will be required to wear them at graduation and other events throughout the year. YEAH!!!

I attended an evangelical event for professors last year. At the conference, people were hearing about Southwestern's faculty wearing the hats to convocation and quite possibly graduation. Needless to say, it became the talk of the conference. Professors from other seminaries and colleges could not keep from snickering or down right laughing. So much for contextualization.

WOW, I am so glad that Southwestern is my alma mater. I can just feel the value of my degree increasing.

Jerry said...
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Jerry said...

I am embarrassed.

I think that I will see if there is some way that I can cover up the "W" and the "Western" on my MDiv. diploma.

Bill said...

I think that those cowboy boots are pinching their toes too much, and that they can not think clearly on the issues at hand.

But then again, I grew in Kentucky, so maybe that coon skin cap is squeezing my brain too much.

Chris Jordan said...

I have read the concerns, and I usually agree with much of what is posted here on this blog... but I guess on this matter I am more like William Shakespeare... this is "Much Ado About Nothing."

Looking forward to future posts on more weightier matters.

gavin said...

What makes one seem "ontologically superior" is when one uses a turn of phrase like "ontologically superior" to describe the impression that one is trying to avoid.

kradzo said...
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Jesse said...

Will Doctors Yarnell and Patterson be so accommodating if the graduating students wear black cowboy hats at commencement? If this truly is much ado about nothing, let's throw all tradition out the window.

Sparrowhawk said...

You are, Dr. Yarnell, under Roman orders and Roman customs. You refuse to admit it. See your priestly leadership's positions on the Will of Man, Sovereignty of God in salvation, etc.

You know this drill, sir.

And as for "free church", if we are in Christ we are bought with a price. We are not free, in a real sense. Only if you subscribe to the god of Autonomy do you conclude the accuracy of your statements. The only thing free we have to offer God is our sin, apart from his intervention, and if not apart from his intervention, we are dead and do not seek him at all.

My dad was a semi-pro Cowboy at the FW Stock Show rodeo (and regional circuit) from 1947-53.
My dad respected the difference in black and white hats...