Warning! Incoming Baptists!

Sometimes an email subject line can get your mind to wondering. Such was the case with one sent to me recently by Callie Davis, staff assistant for the Baptist House of Studies at Duke University Divinity School directed by Curtis Freeman.
Enclosed were results from a survey they conducted of Baptist students entering the divinity school in Durham, N.C., this fall. Some of the statistics, though not shocking, were interesting.
For example, half of the students entering Baptist House this year are age 24 or younger. Which even a non-Duke student might assume means half are age 25 or older.
Five percent are age 40 or older.
Males comprise 59 percent of the incoming Baptist divinity students.
Roughly one-third of the new students identifies with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship while a quarter of them claims to be Southern Baptists. National Baptists (from four predominately African-American conventions ) are represented by one-tenth of the new students. So are American Baptists.
Nearly one-third marked their denominational affiliation choice as “other Baptists.” There are a lot different Baptist groups around.
Ninety-five percent of all those surveyed said they had been called to Christian ministry. That’s encouraging.
All the students reported being active in church as children and more than 90 percent stayed involved during their youth and college years. More good news.
Pastors ranked extremely high in helping these students to discern their ministry callings and to make their choices about seminary education. Such nurture and mentoring from congregational leaders has a positive ring as well.
But it was the subject line in the email — “Incoming Baptists” — that first grabbed my attention and sent my mind into contemplation.
Before I realized the email contained a survey about incoming Baptist theology students at Duke, it registered differently with me.
Initially, it registered: “WARNING! INCOMING BAPTISTS!”
What do “incoming Baptists” — to a school, a community or anywhere else — bring with them? Should others be warned of their arrival?
While some Baptists are known to be judgmental, narrow-minded and exclusive, not all give that impression.
Historically, where someone’s religious liberty is threatened — anyone’s and any religious expression — an invasion of Baptists is most helpful. Warning! Incoming Baptists.
Where there is human suffering and despair — Warning! Incoming Baptists.
Where words of comfort and eternal hope are needed — Warning! Incoming Baptists.
Wouldn’t it be great if such warnings were met with open arms rather than fear of condemnation? Guess it depends on how the Baptist name is perceived — which, of course, depends on how we Baptists relate to others.


  1. I feel like I need to duck! Great posting!

  2. John:

    Glad you found the data encouraging. The 24 year old median age is consistent with that of the overall “incoming” class at Duke Divinity School. It is the youngest of any theological school in the nation. In terms of stewardship, the young age offers the opportunity to invest resources that may be extended through decades of ministry.

    The male-female ratio varies slightly from year to year, with women nearing 50%. This fact alone needs to be reflected on by search committees and discussed in church meetings. Many moderate Baptists churches call women to ministry. Few call them back to minister.

    The CBF, SBC, “Other” Baptist categories need a little closer examination. The number of students that self-identify as CBF continues to grow, which suggests that though CBF may not think of itself as a denomination, students do. The “SBC” designation reflects students who come from churches that are SBC. In truth, most CBF related churches are also connected with SBC. Moreover, these who checked “SBC” said more about the identity of their congregations of origin than their personal theology or ecclesiology.

    Finally, “Other Baptist” around Duke has now become a quasi designation that I employ and many of the students adopt. It says less about subdenominations not named in the survey and more about being “Other”. What these three fields suggest is that a growing majority of the incoming Baptists each year at Duke are “moderate” in the sense that they find affinity with the alternative to the those churches asssociated with the “conservative resurgence” in the South.

    You might take a peak at the list we’ve compiled “What Are Baptist Alumni of Duke Divinity School Doing Now?” You’ll find a link to it at the bottom of our web page entitled “Ministry Placement.” It’s by no means a complete list, but it gives some sense of what Duke graduates are doing in ministry in ways that connects with and supports Baptist life.

    Thanks for your interest in our school and our students. And thank you for the work you do with Baptists Today.

    Your “Other Baptist” Friend at Duke,
    Curtis Freeman


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