Institutional change in an ecumenical protestant seminary

Institutional Change in Theological Education: A History of Brite Divinity School. Mark G. Toulouse, et. al. (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2011).

BriteBrite Divinity School is a graduate level theological seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, historically related to Texas Christian University and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The permutations of this triangulated relationship form the major plot line of Institutional Change in Theological Education: A History of Brite Divinity School.

A second set of relationships also runs through this narrative: cultural changes in American life, especially in Texas, and the evolving consensus of the theological academy (including the professoriate and accrediting agencies).

The university started first. It was founded as Add-Ran College in 1873 by a small group of people who were committed to the religious movement associated with Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone.  In 1902, this little school became Texas Christian University.

From the university’s beginning, the education of ministers for its sponsoring church was a leading purpose. This interest led the university to establish a college of the Bible, which in 1914 was incorporated as a separate institution closely related to the University with the name Brite College of the Bible. In 1963 that name was changed to Brite Divinity School.

One of the notable aspects of the TCU-Brite history is the prominence in each generation of small cadres of leaders whose personal visions for university, seminary, and church were played out in the internal politics of these two institutions. In the early years of the twentieth century, Frederick D. Kershner and L. C. Brite were the central figures.

As university president and a leading Disciples theologian with conservative leanings, Kershner wanted to develop the seminary and protect it from undue influence by the university. He found an ally in Brite, a west Texas cattleman who had been converted at a cowboy camp meeting conducted under the leadership of a preacher sympathetic to the religious movement that supported the university. In addition to making generous financial contributions, Brite participated for many years as a theologically and institutionally conservative trustee and advisor.

Kershner’s later history is an interesting counterpart to the TCU-Brite story. A few years after leaving the Texas schools, Kershner became allied with William G. Irwin, an Indiana industrialist whose family had long supported Disciples-related church and educational enterprises. Together, Kershner and Irwin established an inter-connected university-college of religion system at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Benefiting from his Texas experience, Kershner counseled Irwin to develop the relationship so that the College of Religion would have full control over faculty, curriculum, admissions policies, and financial resources. The Indianapolis seminary, which in 1958 was reincorporated as Christian Theological Seminary, avoided many of the struggles over university-seminary control and freedom that continued to complicate the Brite-TCU partnership until recent times.

While Brite’s institutional history and struggle to attain independence is important to people connected with TCU and Brite, many of the readers of this history will be drawn to other elements of the story. Three are important to note. Read more. . .Brite Divinity School

 

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