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Reforming academic regalia at Southwestern Seminary

I would not have believed it had I not seen ample evidence to convince me that this report is true. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated its centenniel convocation yesterday with the faculty wearing black felt cowboy hats instead of the more traditional toppers usually associated with such occasions.

My incredulity stems not from any sense of loyalty to academic tradition or attire. Rather, this just seems too silly for a serious academic institution. It sounds like a stunt.

But, it’s not a stunt, according to Dr. Malcolm Yarnell. He contributed an apologia for the new, western look among the faculty by writing (I am not making this up),

Now, honestly, what is more relevant and dignified in a Texas free church setting: A cowboy’s hat, reflecting our ministry to and identification with our people? Or, a priest’s biretta, indicating we are ontologically superior to our people? Is it not part of our Baptist Reformation heritage to alter mere trappings as we see fit? We are neither in Roman orders nor under Roman custom. We are Southern Baptists, and as free churchmen, we are free to reform our customs and habits as we deem fit.

Certainly, Baptists are free to deviate from traditional regalia in their academic or any other settings. But leaving off for the moment what this new look says to the many Native-Americans in the great state of Texas, I cannot help but wonder why they stopped at the hat, if the desire is genuinely to break with “Roman orders” and “Roman customs?” Why not lose the robes as well?

Spurgeon’s sentiment (in the voice of John Plowman) is shared by many a Baptist:

An ape is ne’er so like an ape
As when he wears a popish cape.

My friend, Wyman Richardson, who alerted me to this development, has written a response that reflects my own attitude. It is worth reading. He closes his thoughts with this summary:

Let’s just call this what it is: “Don’t Mess With Texas” run amuck in what used to be the world’s largest Southern Baptist seminary.

Not that I really care…

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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