By / Sep 22

We’re celebrating our bicentennial at Union. For 200 years, Union University has stood as a model of excellence in Christian higher education. A place where learning is integrated with our faith in Christ, where it is infused with the hope of Christ, and where it is transformed by the love of Christ.

Remembering the past 

From a small-town academy to one of the nation’s premier Christian universities —the story of Union University is one of faith, Christian commitment, and dedication to excellence. And, it is the story of how faithful people in faithful churches help sustain God’s ongoing work of educating our young people.

Union stands as a testimony to God’s faithfulness, and we remain committed to our mission of providing Christ-centered education that promotes excellence and character development in service to Church and society. That’s what Union University has been about for 200 years. Many schools have come and gone. Other schools have lost their biblical bearings and drifted to the siren’s song of the wisdom of the age.

But Union remains as resolute and committed to its biblical foundation as ever. At Union, we believe God has spoken to us through the Scriptures. We believe the Bible is trustworthy, reliable, and true. We believe Jesus Christ is our only hope for salvation. And we believe that pursuing him and loving him with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength is what God has called us to do. 

Union traces its origins to Jackson Male Academy, the forerunner of West Tennessee College, which opened on Feb. 3, 1823. Madison County had been chartered by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1821, and its county seat, Jackson, was created in 1822. As with other frontier communities, its people immediately began to establish the types of institutions that they had left. The good people of Jackson wanted the best education possible for their children. To obtain that objective, they established “a College of high standing and extensive usefulness,” relying on the “cooperation and patronage of the citizens of West Tennessee.”

The story of Union is the story of how two institutions—West Tennessee College and Union University at Murfreesboro—merged into one college, Southwestern Baptist University, and then Southwestern Baptist University changed its name to Union University and incorporated a third college, Hall-Moody Junior College of Martin, Tennessee.

God has proven himself faithful to Union University, time and time again. Through war and peace. Through fire and storm. Through prosperity and want. Through blessing and trial.

Looking forward to the future

As we celebrate our bicentennial this academic year, Union University stands on the brink of its third century. At the same time, we find ourselves in an increasingly secular, post-Christian society that disdains many of the beliefs and convictions Union holds dear. The higher education environment has never been more competitive, and institutions like Union must be equipped with the resources necessary to successfully navigate the cultural waters in which we sail.

Despite the challenges before us, we are confident that God has great things in store for Union. As we look to the future, we see the ways God has used the university over the past 200 years, and we dream of what he will do in the days ahead.

We dream of a campus that continues to attract students from all over the world—students who come to be taught and mentored by world-class professors who are skilled at instructing their students in how to think about their subject matter through a biblical lens. We dream of providing students with state-of-the-art facilities that will equip them to be excellent in their fields. We dream of being a campus, based in West Tennessee, that is a beacon to the world and that showcases the glory and the beauty of Christ.

We dream of Union alumni who will be the hands and feet of Jesus in every context imaginable: pastors, nurses, teachers, business owners, doctors, social workers, scientists, parents, community leaders, missionaries, musicians, engineers, coaches, accountants, artists, church members, and on and on the list goes. They will join the Union alumni around the world—now 21,000 strong—who are serving the Church and society and making a difference for the kingdom of God.

Ultimately, we dream of how God will use Union University to send out an army of alumni to be salt and light to a lost and dying world—alumni who will take the gospel with them to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.

Let us never say that we failed to dream big about what God can do through Union. Let us never say that we doubted the urgency or the importance of our mission. From now until Christ’s return, the mission of Union University will be vital and necessary in making disciples, in equipping students to serve, in supporting churches, and in reflecting and proclaiming the glory of the Lord to the world around us.

As we celebrate, we look back to what God has done in Union’s past, and we look forward with anticipation to what he will do in Union’s future.

Psalm 16:6 says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Union University does indeed have a beautiful inheritance. The Lord in his kindness has richly poured out blessing after blessing upon Union over the last two centuries. As we reflect upon God’s goodness to us, and as we dream about what God can and will do through Union in the days ahead, we pray that he will move the hearts of people during this pivotal moment in Union’s history to pray for us, to partner with us, and to help us sustain the mission of Union in the days to come.

In December 1874, a committee of Tennessee Baptists reported, “Thus far the School has more than realized our highest expectations and the future is hopeful.” Almost 150 years after that report and 200 years since our founding, we can say the same.

The minutes from that meeting go on to say something important to emphasize today, “but let us not forget that in building up the University we are laboring not for our own selves alone but for the whole Baptist denomination . . . and let us hope that we are laying the foundation of an institution which we hope by the blessings of God to continue for the ages to come.”

May we never forget how important it is to continue to build up this institution for the glory of God and the good of mankind.

By / Aug 13

News broke yesterday of Union University’s decision to withdraw from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). The decision has been hailed as noteworthy for two main reasons. First, as the flagship institution of Southern Baptist higher education, Union’s influence looms large over the rest of evangelical higher education. Media, culture, and academic standards often treat Southern Baptists as a bellwether for broader evangelical moods and movements, and the decision by Union to withdraw may serve as a sign for what’s ahead as Christian colleges navigate the turbulent waters of confessional integrity amidst the growing acceptance of LGBT ideologies. Secondly, Union is the first of its kind to withdraw on account of CCCU’s dealings with two Christian schools that have stated their intention to hire non-celibate LGBT individuals. This decision signals that a coming dividing line in confessional education may have just been drawn.

Union’s decision has been criticized for any number of reasons, mainly whether the decision to withdraw was premature, abandoning opportunity for further influence, or evidence of a separatist, fundamentalist mindset. Southern Baptists aren’t perfect. Let me repeat that: Southern Baptists aren’t perfect. But for all our shortcomings, the SBC is often looked to for leadership when contentious issues arise that require leadership for charting future evangelical paths.

Personally, I know many individuals who have joined Southern Baptist churches within the last year. When asked why, these individuals have answered in common reply: For all the imperfections of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), on the whole, the Southern Baptist Convention is unwavering as far as doctrinal integrity and commitment. For this, I am thankful. Evangelical identity can no longer subsist on vague assumptions that culture no longer shares. The times we’re in demand clarity. This is most acutely observed in the cultural pressure to accommodate on issues of sexual ethics. In the face of mounting pressure, Union—and by extension, the Southern Baptist Convention—provides a bulwark in its steadfast commitment to biblical orthodoxy. The individuals I know who have joined the ranks of the Southern Baptist churches have joined for this very reason on these very topics. They’re looking for a denomination that is confessionally rooted and expect such confessionalism to persist no matter the headwinds. It’s from this vantage that Union’s decision should be evaluated.

I stand with Union’s decision, and briefly, here’s why.

The Southern Baptist Convention all too frequently is the whipping boy of broader evangelical currents. To elites, we’re too provincial. To centrists, we’re too quick to draw lines.

Critics of Union’s decision, however, are overlooking the role that institutional memory plays within the SBC. They criticize the SBC based on external standards of ever-evolving evangelical mores without considering the internal rationales and strictures that guide institutional thinking within the Southern Baptist Convention.  Critics of Union’s decision never fought the battles that defined a past generation of SBC leadership and decision-making.

The Southern Baptist Convention understands, more acutely than any other American denomination, the perils of institutional drift and haphazard attentiveness. For those new to this discussion, the SBC fought a two-decade battle in recovering institutions that had slowly drifted into heterodoxy. It took decades to unravel the errors of liberalism and to set our institutions back on a path toward biblical fidelity. Memory serves as a catalyst to prevent going down this path once again.

That’s the narrative in which to understand Union’s decision. By withdrawing, Union has communicated that a failure to deal decisively on matters of evangelical integrity will not be tolerated. This gets to another facet of the debate: the SBC and its institutions are often forced to play the unpopular role of gatekeeper because so few else are willing to. While I say this with no tone of gloating triumph, the sheer size of the Southern Baptist Convention catapults it to that position of influence and leadership regardless of whether it seeks such influence. It’s a messy, but necessary action to prevent the type of drift that accommodates unbiblical teaching.

It remains to be seen what exact action CCCU will take regarding these two schools. Many institutions and onlookers will reserve judgment on the merits of their decision until that time. But the moment of decision facing CCCU is a moment of decision that every institution will soon have to make. Every evangelical institution is going to have to decide on which side of the fence they’ll land on matters of sexual ethics. There is no third way. There is biblical fidelity; and there is disobedience. This means that the future of confessional education is going to require hard decision-making and a clairvoyance that refuses to nurse or re-litigate old battles. It is going to require bold leadership to maintain integrity to the Christian faith.