The latest front in the Baptist battle over Calvinism and Arminianism has opened at Louisiana College, where the administration has decided not to renew the contracts of three faculty members – Jason Hiles, Kevin McFadden and Ryan Lister. The latter two have doctorates from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, while Hiles’s doctoral degree is from Southeastern Seminary. While President Joe Aguillard has not addressed the non-renewals directly, a recent blog post by him acknowledged that his “love for all Baptists including Calvinists, does not constitute our approval of its being advocated at Louisiana College.”
Critics also allege that the college has blocked websites critical of the administration, including The Daily Bleat and lcstudents.org. Two current students, Joshua Breland and Drew Wales, have said they are under investigation by the college for violations of the student code of conduct, specifically for “making disparaging comments” about the college and administration.
The college’s board of trustees held an emergency meeting regarding the controversy Monday afternoon, but apparently no press coverage was allowed. Reports Monday evening indicated that Aguillard will remain as president.
Former faculty members have spoken out against the administration and its policies, their complaints and charges often predating the latest non-renewals. Scott Culpepper, a Louisiana College alumnus and former faculty member, calls for Aguillard’s immediate dismissal for “public and private dishonesty, spiritual manipulation and intimidation, irresponsible anti-intellectualism, and presumptuous attempts to implement poorly conceived pipe dreams rather than responsible planning.”
Given my WORLD Magazine coverage of the David Barton controversy, I found fascinating Culpepper’s account of a dispute over Barton’s address at a college commencement:
My first direct encounter with Aguillard’s style of managing subordinates came in the spring of 2009 when I voiced concern…about comments made by David Barton at the spring commencement. Mr. Barton made several comments at the ceremony that were erroneous…I had already communicated to the administration before the event Barton’s well known reputation for distorting facts and his nearly universal repudiation by Christian academics. I requested that Aguillard allow us to present the other side of the argument…The response was bizarre. Dr. Chuck Quarles had also written a letter in which he echoed some of my concerns about Barton’s presentation. Aguillard requested that his personal assistant, Joseph Cole, vet my letter and Dr. Quarles’ for factual accuracy because we probably “misunderstood Bro. Barton.” Cole was a music major with no background in history who had not even completed his undergraduate degree. Aguillard finally called me in for a rather strange conversation in which I tried to convince him with historical evidence that Barton was incorrect, and he responded by continually asserting that I would believe otherwise if I felt the spiritual vibe at Barton’s headquarters in Aledo, TX. The meeting ended with Aguillard saying that he forgave me for my letter. When I tried to diplomatically say that I stood by the letter and was not apologizing for its content, Aguillard said it would be best for my long term future at Louisiana College to forget about Barton. [read Culpepper’s whole letter here]
As I have written previously, the debate over Calvinism’s place in the Southern Baptist Convention is one of the most fractious since conservatives took control of the denomination and its seminaries by the 1990s. If (as is widely alleged) the dismissals of Hiles, McFadden, and Lister are motivated partly by hostility to Calvinism, then we have a test case of whether a theological dispute will translate into faculty purges of those not supporting Arminianism. But as Culpepper’s letter makes clear, the accusations against Aguillard’s administration go far beyond just the Calvinist and Arminian divide.
For more, see The Town Talk (La.), “Louisiana College president’s comments, loss of theologians, prompt spirited debate”
Thomas Kidd is a contributing scholar at Kuyperian Commentary. He teaches history at Baylor University and is Senior Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. Article Originally Published at Patheos.