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2012: A School Odyssey

Nov 23, 2002 03:00 AM EST

Baylor strives to go where no Christian university has gone before—in ten years.

Waco once billed itself as "the Athens of Texas," but it is difficult to escape the impression that its best days are past. Its 22-story Alico Building, a Beaux Arts structure completed in 1910, was once the tallest building west of the Mississippi. The Alico survived the tornado that swept through downtown Waco in 1953, but little else did. Wacoans' urban renewal efforts notwithstanding, when you stroll through the downtown streets you almost expect to hear a movie director shout, "Cue the tumbleweeds!"

From the top of the Alico Building you can survey the signposts of central Texas—the McClennan County courthouse to the west, the rodeo grounds to the south, and just a few blocks away, hard by Interstate 35 and the Brazos River, the large golden dome of Baylor University's sports facility, the Ferrell Center. The campus bustles nearby.

Baylor, which already bills itself as the largest Baptist university in the world, has even bigger ambitions. In the words of the school's president, Baylor aspires to be "the finest Christian institution of higher learning on this planet." This is Texas, after all, so nothing is quite so important as scale. And Baylor has a plan—specifically, a 42-page document that articulates a vision and outlines a strategy to achieve it by 2012. "Within the course of a decade, Baylor intends to enter the top tier of American universities while reaffirming and deepening its distinctive Christian mission," reads the plan, called Baylor 2012. It rejects the notion that "intellectual excellence" and "intense faithfulness to the Christian tradition" are mutually exclusive, although it notes that not many universities have been able to do both effectively.

Baylor 2012 calls for, among other things, an Honors College with its own dean and faculty; at least 10 new doctoral programs in the social sciences and humanities (in addition to its existing 17 doctoral programs in a variety of disciplines); and a world-class faculty, with 200 new appointments over the course of a decade.

Additionally, Baylor's administration has hopes of locating the George W. Bush presidential library on campus. A $103 million science building is under construction. Baylor has embarked on what one faculty member calls a "huge building spree" of athletic facilities, and the university plans to construct a new residence hall every two years until 2012.

Some at Baylor want the university to become a "Protestant Notre Dame." The connection is not coincidental. Although there are no official ties between Waco and South Bend, faculty at the two schools (particularly the philosophy departments) have met for a number of structured conversations. Michael Beaty, a philosopher and director of the Baylor Institute of Faith and Learning, did his doctorate at Notre Dame. Both Baylor's president and his chief faculty recruiter acknowledge their intellectual indebtedness to Notre Dame's George Marsden—who warned about the secularization of U.S. higher education—and to the Notre Dame model.

"There are a lot of Protestants who want to see a university take its religious identity seriously," Beaty says.

New Sheriff in Town

Opinions at the school differ on whether Baylor 2012 represents a course correction or a new trajectory. Beaty sees it as the latter, while people like John Wilkerson, former chairman of the board of regents, take issue. Wilkerson acknowledges that the board and administration are more focused on the school's Christian identity than before, but he believes that Baylor has been trying to be a "first-class Christian university for a number of years."

The person anointed to safeguard Baylor's Christian commitment was something of a surprise. When Herbert H. Reynolds announced his retirement from the presidency in 1995, the board turned to a dark-horse candidate: Robert Bryan Sloan Jr., dean of Truett Seminary, Baylor's theological school.

Sloan had graduated from Baylor in 1970, earned the Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, and did his doctoral work at the University of Basel. There he studied under Marcus Barth. The late Kenneth Kantzer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School offered Sloan a teaching job there, but he declined. "Everybody has his or her own tradition," Sloan says, "and mine was among Baptists."

He taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1980 until 1983, then joined the faculty at Baylor. A decade later he became the founding dean at Truett. Sloan is a rangy Texan from Abilene with a crooked smile and a self-deprecating wit; a section of two-by-four on his desk carries the motto: "A thick skin is a gift of God." But there is nothing modest about his ambitions for Baylor.

Sloan became captivated by the notion of Baylor as a top-flight Christian university, and with a blend of charm, perseverance, and sheer audacity, he sold his vision to the board of regents. He sees Baylor 2012 as a reaffirmation of Baylor's founding principles.

"There's no question that Baylor was founded on a Christian commitment within the Baptist tradition," he says. "We're still a Baptist institution."

The intellectual tensions Sloan felt in his youth had their part in his embarking on the mission of remaking Baylor into both a top-tier and an unapologetically Christian university, he says. As a high school student he had many questions, "and it was very difficult, except within my own church, to find people to talk about my intellectual doubts."

Sloan's questions resurfaced when he arrived at Baylor, where he majored in psychology and religion. "I struggled a lot as a college student," he says. "I had deep intellectual anxieties." He was shaken to the core by the behavioral psychology of B. F. Skinner and by the God-is-dead theology briefly popular in the 1960s.

"I had professors here at Baylor who were very helpful," he says, "although some were on the question side, and some were on the answer side." Sloan became more personally integrated and centered in the Christian faith, but his intellectual challenges continued at Princeton Seminary. There he encountered everything from Marxists and agnostics to evangelicals.

"One of the first New Testament intro lectures I heard was by an unapologetic neo-Bultmannian, who stripped away everything, beginning with the resurrection. He essentially dismissed what I call the cross-resurrection frame of reference."

Sloan remembers that first semester as "a real dark night of the soul. I nearly lost my faith. I came as close, humanly speaking, as you can come." On the verge of leaving seminary, somehow, he persevered. "The Lord brought me through it, not just spiritually—I had to bite the bullet intellectually as well." Sloan credits C. S. Lewis, especially in Miracles, with helping him to develop a Christian worldview.

Recruiting a Recruiter

Like other Christian schools, Baylor during Sloan's undergraduate years pushed hard to attract Ph.D.s to its faculty. "But where do Ph.D.s come from?" he says. "Well, they came from state schools, by and large." The provenance of the faculty, therefore, made it all the more difficult to incorporate a Christian worldview into the curriculum.

"It was more by culture that professors maintained their faith," Sloan says. "They had to do it on their own." This led, in his view, to a separation of faith and learning—a compartmentalizing of intellectual and spiritual life.

Baylor 2012 envisions something different: in Sloan's words, a truly Christian university. "Some of its functions would be pretty similar to those of a secular university," he says, "but with a different set of assumptions." Sloan shifts in his chair and glances briefly out of the window. "When you make the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, in a sense what we're doing here as a Christian university is trying to figure out what that means."

In his inaugural address on September 15, 1995, Sloan interpreted his charge as being "faithful to our heritage," ensuring that Baylor's facilities "are of the first rank," and providing "the very finest faculty anywhere on this planet."

Such dreams are costly. How does Baylor propose to finance them? For decades the people who ran Baylor believed that

it competed for students with the University of Texas and Texas A&M, both state schools with large endowments and access to state funding. As a consequence, Baylor kept its tuition lower than other private institutions.

Beginning with the 2002–03 academic year, though, Baylor is imposing the first of a series of tuition increases that, together with an aggressive fundraising program, will enhance revenues significantly. Baylor projects an endowment of $1 billion by 2005, and double that by 2012.

"There's a lot of wealth in Texas," Beaty says.

Much of the income will go toward faculty recruitment and development, and Baylor's point man for building the faculty is David Lyle Jeffrey. A native of Ontario, Jeffrey attended Wheaton College before going on to an academic career in literature. Out of the blue he received a phone call from Baylor—would he consider taking a position there as a distinguished professor of literature and the humanities?

"I knew not a soul in Waco, Texas," Jeffrey says, "but the caller said, 'Would you pray about it?' " That got Jeffrey's attention. "When we met Robert and some of the faculty here, and saw what they were doing, we felt a real conviction about it. I realized that I needed to try to help these guys."

The prospect became a mission. "In the oldest and corniest sense—because I was raised a Baptist, though I'm now an Episcopalian—I realized it was a calling," Jeffrey says. "I felt there was something to do here that was extremely worth doing, something that had not been done elsewhere."

He was on campus only six months when the administration asked him to take on the task of faculty recruitment and developing intellectual vigor at Baylor.

Anti-intellectual Strains

Jeffrey believes that Christian higher education in America has taken place in the context of a liberal arts college, at least since the mid-19th century. As much as places like Wheaton and Calvin have achieved, Baylor is dramatically transferring that progress from a college culture to that of a university, he says.

Apart from differences of scale, Baylor has graduate programs. "It wants to penetrate the intellectual culture through high-quality training for people who then can be teachers—not just for Christian liberal arts schools, but for people who can move into state schools or top-tier schools," Jeffrey says. In short, Baylor seeks "a much more vigorous representation of the Christian mind in the larger intellectual world."

Jeffrey himself came from an anti-intellectual strain of Baptists; his parents resisted his decision to attend Wheaton. "My dad said, 'David, you show me an educated Baptist, and I'll show you a backslider.' " Jeffrey believes that those sentiments have been part of the tradition among Baptists in Texas.

Even the "very anti-intellectual culture which I grew up in" has recognized in the last 15 years that theological problems, church dissension, and the church's confused witness to the world "were all compounded by the lack of a clear intellectual vision," he says, "a theological tradition that could carry the church forward rather than allow it simply to disintegrate."

Jeffrey believes that Baptists, given their history of the last several decades, are especially aware "that there is a certain ruthless logic to Reformation thinking that will lead you, in the end, to a church of one."

Roger Williams, founder of the Baptist tradition in America, provides a case in point—he died separated from all denominations because none were "the true church." Jeffrey believes that a growing number of Baptists are aware of this conundrum, laity as well as clergy and academics. "They have begun to realize that what is needed in the Baptist world and in the evangelical world generally is a Christian intellectual community."

Because Baylor has articulated the vision for such a community, Jeffrey says, a large number of Baptists have shown a willingness to fund it. What the Baptist tradition needs, he says, is "a theological mind as well as a biblical heart."

Into that breach rode Robert Sloan, whom Jeffrey describes as "a different kind of Baptist preacher who has serious academic degrees from serious places." His vision, Jeffrey believes, is that the church needs to have "an intellectual community that is vibrant, that is able to be of service to the church in the wider world, and evangelicals need that more desperately than most folks."

You Bet Your Life

Jeffrey stresses that this direction has "not come from an educational theorist somewhere," but from a grassroots movement—"from the bottom, which is what you'd expect from Baptists." If successful, Baylor's efforts will offer something not only to the Christian intellectual world but to American higher education in general, he says. "That's why I came here."

Can such an ambitious agenda be realized? Jeffrey acknowledges there's much to do in 10 years. "But when these Texans put their mind to something, you look out because they get it done. I not only think they can do it, but I've bet the next 10 years of my life on it."

Baylor, under Jeffrey's guidance, has already made some impressive appointments to the faculty—recruiting Stanley J. Grenz from Carey Theological College and Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia—and high-level administrators say that several more are imminent, including Nobel laureates.

Grenz cited Baylor 2012 as his motivation for coming to Waco. "I believe that we are living in an opportune time to rekindle the ideal of the true university that has been shared by a great legacy of Christian thinkers," he says.

Roger Olson, another evangelical theologian, left Bethel College to teach at Baylor's Truett Seminary. "This has a real shot of being the first real evangelical Christian research university," Olson says of Baylor. Sloan and the Baylor 2012 plan captivated Olson. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't admire him," he says.

This year Baylor also nabbed C. Stephen Evans, a philosopher and a Kierkegaard scholar, who joined the Baylor faculty from Calvin College. Evans says he likes Sloan and has confidence in him, but his conversation with David Jeffrey is what persuaded him to make the move. "David said, 'You've been writing your whole life about a Christian university—here's your chance,' " Evans recalls. He decided that "even if it failed, I wanted to be part of it."

That Jeffrey was able to offer a faculty appointment to Evans's wife, who recently completed a doctorate in Spanish literature, didn't hurt, either. "I really felt like they needed me," Evans says.

Disgruntled Old Guard

Not everyone applauds the course Baylor has charted. "A lot of people were happy with the old Baylor," one of the newly recruited university professors notes. The old guard wasn't expected to publish or to keep up with current scholarship. "They wanted it to remain a sleepy Southern school."

Some faculty members criticize what they see as Sloan's autocratic style. "It's like being on a plantation in the 19th century prior to the Civil War," Henry Walbesser, professor of computer science and former dean of the graduate school, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "You have an overseer doing whatever he darn well pleases."

Indeed, Sloan has made some missteps—and seen his largely unilateral initiatives either shouted down or altered. Early in his tenure as president he came close to selling Baylor's Medical Center in Dallas for more than $1 billion, a sum that would have accelerated his plans to transform Baylor into a top-tier university. As word of the impending sale leaked, however, it aroused such opposition that he was forced to retreat.

Nor was Sloan, on his own terms, able to launch a science-and-religion center—a grave matter for faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences that became known as the William A. Dembski debacle. In 1999 Sloan approved establishing the Michael Polanyi Center under the aegis of the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning and hired Dembski as director. Dembski is an advocate of Intelligent Design theory, which posits that the origins and development of life are so exquisitely complex that (non-Darwinian) evolution itself must be the work of some active intelligence.

The Baylor faculty senate, which was not consulted about either the center or Dembski's appointment, was livid. It voted overwhelmingly to ask the administration to dissolve the center, in part because Sloan failed to consult the religion, science, and philosophy departments.

"I have never seen faculty as upset over any issue," says Charles A. Weaver, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. "It's just sheer outrage." Faculty in the sciences charged that Dembski was a garden-variety creationist who sought to embellish his views with pseudoscience. The Baylor administration agreed to convene an outside committee to review the center. The committee recommended that a faculty advisory panel oversee the science and religion components of the program and that the center drop the name of Michael Polanyi, a philosopher and chemist who died in 1976.

Sloan consented, acknowledging that he "should have handled more effectively the program's implementation." Dembski, however, was less than conciliatory, issuing a press release in which he gloated that the "dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo." Dembski was promptly relieved of his duties as director of the center, whereupon he accused the Baylor administration, which had supported him, of "intellectual McCarthyism." Dembski is quietly completing his five-year contract at Baylor as an untenured "associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science."

Baptist Battles

In the hallway of Baylor's administration building, Pat Neff Hall, named for a former governor of Texas, a plaque reads:

BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

CHARTERED IN 1845 BY THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS

PRO ECCLESIA

PRO TEXANA

The Pro Texana sentiment is more than a bromide. Bert Dominey, who joined the Truett faculty from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, emphasizes that he's a Texas Baptist. "I consider myself alienated from the Southern Baptist Convention," he says.

Baylor has a long and not always harmonious history with Baptists in the South. While still an undergraduate, J. Frank Norris, a member of the Baylor class of 1903 who came to be known as the "Texas Tornado" for his fervid fundamentalism, led an uprising against the school's president, O. H. Cooper. When some students smuggled a dog into a chapel service as a prank, Cooper angrily threw the howling animal out the window.

Enraged at the president's loss of control, Norris brought the matter to the attention of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and to Baylor's board of trustees. Cooper resigned.

More recently, the conservative shift in the Southern Baptist Convention in June 1979 sent shockwaves through the ranks of Baptists in Texas—and nowhere more so than at Baylor.

By the mid-1980s, after conservatives began appointing their own loyalists to the boards of Southern Baptist agencies and schools, Baylor Baptists prepared defensive measures. University President Herbert H. Reynolds did not want Baylor to become secular, the fate of many other religiously founded universities. But neither did he want the school to succumb to the fundamentalism of the Southern Baptist Convention. He prepared a legal challenge for such a contingency.

The threat came in 1990 when the convention began turning its attention to statewide organizations—beginning with Texas. Reynolds was prepared with a charter change that would abolish the trustees and establish a new board of regents, one-fourth of whom would be appointed by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the other three-quarters by the board itself. The university trustees secretly approved of the charter change in September 1990, with Reynolds assigning Baylor personnel to clog phone lines and follow any board member who left the room to ensure that conservative activists did not block it with a court injunction.

The thwarted fundamentalists predicted that Baylor would slide down the slippery slope to secularization.

Texas Baptists generally have rallied behind the new, more intentionally Christian Baylor. Even Sloan's decision in 1996 to allow dancing on campus for the first time in Baylor's history passed with nary a hitch.

Keith Bruce, coordinator of institutional ministry for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, pronounced himself "very thrilled" with the Baylor 2012 vision statement. The editor of the Baptist Standard says that Sloan is "widely respected" by Baptists throughout Texas, although one reporter for the paper says the Baylor president remains something of an enigma to him—he doesn't fit easily into the traditional Baptist categories of moderate or conservative.

Charles Wade was pastor of First Baptist in Arlington for more than 23 years before becoming executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. "We're excited about Baylor's vision," he says.

Still, Wade believes that Baylor faces the twin dangers of theological liberalism on one side and fundamentalism on the other. "You can fall into the ditch on either side," Wade says. "Jesus had more problems with the legalists than with anybody."

Sloan has had his share of conservative opponents. "Don't send your kids to Baylor," Tom DeLay, majority whip in the House of Representatives, admonished an audience at First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas, last April 12. His concern was that Baylor did not teach creationism, although he later tried to distance himself from the comments. (It later emerged that, before embarking on his successful career as an insect exterminator, DeLay had been expelled from Baylor in 1967 for a series of behavioral infractions.)

Evangelical or Baptist?

The theological battles that have wracked the Southern Baptist Convention are raging just below the surface in Texas, according to William Brackney, who chaired Baylor's religion department for three years before returning to teaching and scholarship in June 2002. He sees the school as a key battleground. "Baylor is emerging as the Alamo," he says.

But Carey Newman, director of the Baylor Initiative for Baptist Identity, believes that anyone who finds echoes of the Southern Baptist struggle in the battles at Baylor is working with an outdated paradigm. The charter change under Reynolds put those questions to rest several years ago, Newman says.

"The real question is whether Baylor can be a tier-one school that holds together an ecumenical evangelicalism without losing its own specific ecclesiastical heritage," he says.

Baylor administrators have sought to keep their eyes on the prize. "Baylor's mission is larger than Texas," Beaty declared. "It's to be a first-tier Christian university, so it must see its horizons as bigger than Texas."

Indeed, Baylor is swimming against the tide. Among evangelicals, stories of the religious demise of such schools as Harvard, Princeton, and hundreds of other less-prestigious institutions have become cautionary tales.

Evangelicals have derived various lessons from this slide into secularity. Some distrust learning altogether, flirting with a kind of anti-intellectualism that was characteristic of fundamentalism in its early years. Others, like Marsden, who laments that such institutions were stolen from the faithful more than a century ago, downplay the fact that people of faith have managed to survive—even thrive—in what he characterizes as an unrelentingly hostile academic world. Still others, like the folks at Baylor, believe that the path of reclamation lies in rebuilding a Christian university in the model, more or less, of those schools that lost their way in the 19th century. Such an enterprise places a great deal of confidence in institutions as the guardians and the guarantors of faith. It also assumes that Christian faith functions better, not at the margins, but in the centers of power and cultural influence. But for many Christians over the centuries, the desire for cultural respectability is a sign of compromised faith. Along with Tertullian, they have asked, "What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?"

Those who do share the vision of a Christian university are a diverse group, to be sure, of evangelicals and Baptists and evangelical Baptists. Some of them consider themselves exiles from the larger academic world. Others are lured by the idealism of an intellectual community organized around commitment to a common faith. Amid this mix, one of Baylor's biggest challenges lies in grafting evangelicalism onto an institution so thoroughly rooted in Baptist culture.

One professor laments, for example, that "Sloan is trying to turn Baylor into a Northern evangelical institution."

The two traditions, evangelical and Baptist, though theological kin, are different enough to arouse mutual suspicions. Skeptics will point out that the experience and self-perception of Northern evangelicals and Southern Baptists are radically divergent.

Evangelicals in the North still bear the scars of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1910s and 1920s. They persist in seeing themselves as an embattled minority, whereas the Baptist tradition in the South is tantamount to an established religion. Reconciling these two mentalities will be more difficult than it looks, with Baptists accustomed to cultural dominance and evangelicals habitually trading on their perceived status as marginal.

Those who want to see the glass as half full, on the other hand, believe that Baylor can combine the best of both worlds. The prospects are enticing. The university can tap into the newfound intellectual vitality of evangelicalism, for example, while at the same time reaffirming its Baptist roots by reminding evangelicals—not to mention leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention—about the importance of liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state.

In the area of equality for women, even the modest progress of evangelicals in the North edges out the minimal gains of Baptists in the South. Evangelicals have been slow to admit women into the councils of leadership, and they lag far behind the standards of 19th-century evangelical feminism. But recent pioneers such as Roberta Hestenes, past president of Eastern College, and Edith Blumhofer, head of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, have at least cracked the so-called glass ceiling of evangelical leadership in discrete places.

At Baylor, one of the half-dozen principal administrators in the university's makeover is a woman. None of the dozen or so distinguished and university professors appointed thus far is female, but women have already tallied gains during the Sloan administration: Two senior vice presidents and 24 of the 65 new faculty recruits this year are women.

Then there is the issue of money. As long ago as 1922, Charles A. Blanchard, then president of Wheaton College, dreamed of "a Christian university: faculties of arts, theology, law, medicine, and technology, with ten thousand students; every faculty manned by avowed Christian men." Evangelical intellectuals have fantasized for decades about creating a truly Christian university, but those dreams have always foundered on the shoals of financial stringency. Baylor, with access to the deep pockets of Texas Baptists, may finally provide a safe harbor for those dreams.

Can money buy a Christian university or the integration of faith and learning? "I think it's good to dream," says Jim Barcus, former chairman of the English department.

Another Baylor faculty member, who did not want to be identified, resents Sloan's attempt to "George Steinbrenner-ize the place" by "trying to buy Christian scholarship." Still another professor familiar with both Northern evangelicals and Baptists in the South worries that Sloan sees the entire enterprise as a product rather than a process.

Sloan's partisans heatedly dispute the charge that Baylor is out to buy the integration of faith and learning. They argue that the new class of distinguished and university professors are more than high-priced billboards advertising the school's intellectual integrity. They point out that the Honors Program, the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, and the Great Texts Program are programmatic attempts to combine faith with learning.

Still, the newly arrived Evans concedes that Wheaton or Calvin, two places where he has taught, might be able to better integrate faith and learning if they had the resources. "Sure, Baylor is throwing money," he says, "but they're throwing it in the right direction."

'We've Turned the Corner'

It will take more than money. Nathan O. Hatch, provost at Notre Dame and arguably the highest-ranking evangelical in American higher education, characterizes Baylor 2012 as an "intriguing, impressive experiment." Although he has met Sloan only once, Hatch says that "Sloan's depiction of the place is pretty compelling."

What will it take to make Baylor into the Protestant Notre Dame? "It will take a lot of resources," Hatch says, though he adds that sustaining Christian identity is a more realistic goal than attaining academic excellence.

He believes that making Baylor into a top-tier undergraduate school is within reach, but "the mission to excel in graduate education is more difficult." Hatch, vice president for graduate studies before becoming provost, suspects that Baylor faces the same problem he encounters in luring top-flight scholars to Notre Dame. "Neither school is located in a metropolitan area," he said. "It's not easy attracting the best professors to South Bend or to Waco."

Baylor's audacious vision is only now coming into focus, but Sloan has reason to smile. "I've still got plenty of folk, both internally and externally, who occasionally question my sanity, but that's just the nature of the university," he says. "People have to be free to make their comments and raise their objections, but I'm firmly convinced that, by and large, our faculty and staff are on board."

He pauses. "I'm not apologizing that Baylor is a Christian institution, that by policy we hire people of Christian or Jewish faith, that the university is committed to a Christian worldview and to trying to shape our students that way," he says. "That's our heritage, and those who try to chafe against that or who don't like that really, as a matter of honesty, ought to go elsewhere."

Indeed, some professors have gone elsewhere, and others are desperate to leave. One by one, departments are falling into line with Baylor 2012, whether by attrition, a change of leadership, new appointments, or some combination.

The recent economic downturn has retarded plans somewhat—even Texas Baptists are not immune to recession—and those who champion the enterprise at Baylor acknowledge the long road ahead. The naysayers are still around, according to Michael Beaty, but their numbers are dwindling. "We've clearly turned the corner," he says.

Evans asserts that all Christian intellectuals, even those who decline to come to Baylor, should be applauding this project. "I recognize that it might fail," he adds, "but I think we've got a good chance of pulling it off."

Carey Newman, assistant to the president and a Baylor alumnus, is even more optimistic.

"The excitement of being at Baylor right now is like hearing the clicks on the track of a roller coaster," he says. "You know that the thrill of the first hill is up ahead, just around the corner."

Randall Balmer, ChristianityToday editor at large and the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of American Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University, is the author of The Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism (Westminster John Knox) and Protestantism in America (Columbia).

By Randall Balmer