The Evidence Against Rodney Reeves and Southwest Baptist University
I. Overview of Dr. Bass’ Dismissal
Clint Bass served as a professor of church history in the Redford College of Theology and Ministry at Southwest Baptist University from 2009-2018. Prior to November 28, 2018, he never had a negative review nor had disciplinary action ever been taken against him.
Early on in his teaching career at SBU, Bass observed certain signs suggesting that the Redford College in which he taught was not well aligned with the supporting churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Every now and then he logged examples to substantiate this view.
By 2015, pastors in the Missouri Baptist Convention suspected that there were doctrinal deficiencies in the Redford College. Without solicitation from Bass, Dr. Spencer Plumlee initiated contact and asked for a meeting. Bass agreed assuming that the subject of discussion would be historical theology. He was surprised when Plumlee began to raise questions about the doctrinal positions of faculty members within the Redford College. Bass spoke candidly. Plumlee, a member of the Executive Board of Missouri Baptist Convention, shared some of the information with Bass’ consent.
Under Plumlee’s leadership, a group of concerned pastors and alum met with Bass at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2016. Those who attended knew of problems within the Redford College through their own personal experience and shared their concerns with Bass. The hope and prayer was that action would be taken to begin to nominate trustees at SBU who would be both willing and able to engage in the doctrinal issues at SBU.
In January, 2018, the father of a prospective student emailed the dean of the Redford College in an attempt to doctrinally place the department in which his son was to study. The dean then sought the advice of his faculty.
Bass was curious about how others would respond because the concerned father asked rather specific questions about inerrancy, creation, and confessionalism. Ultimately the dean’s response to the father was evasive. The father was told that the institution was conservative but that the Baptist tradition is “no creed!” To Bass, this appeared to be an attempt to assuage the father’s concerns and gain a student; this was not an honest answer to the father’s questions.
Bass sent a response to the dean and the other Redford faculty critiquing the college’s handling of the situation, with particular focus on the exactness of the father’s questions: “He [the father] raised a question about the specific doctrine of inerrancy. Would it be wrong to reveal to him that, while some faculty (such as myself), affirm the doctrine, other Redford faculty are uncomfortable with it?” The following day, the dean of the Redford College accused Bass of sabotage.
In March, 2018, Bass’s pastor (a member of the nominating committee) asked Bass to join him in Jefferson City for a meeting with Executive Director Dr. John Yeats. Dr. Yeats had previously been informed of Southwest Baptist University’s doctrinal instability and was working with the nominating committee to appoint additional trustees who were both willing and able to engage in the systemic doctrinal issues at SBU. Dr. Yeats’s was thankful for Bass’s faithfulness and prayed to God on behalf of Bass, asking God to drive errant teachers away from Southwest Baptist University. Bass returned and continued to faithfully proclaim the Word of God in his classes.
In June, 2018, the dean of the Redford College informed Bass that SBU administration knew that members of his congregation had been reporting the doctrinal positions of Redford faculty to the Missouri Baptist Convention. Dr. Bass admitted that he had spoken with pastors who raised questions about the Redford College’s doctrinal soundness.
In August 2018, the dean of the Redford College held a meeting with the theology and ministry faculty. He revealed to them that a SBU faculty member had been in contact with the Missouri Baptist Convention informing the MBC that some Redford faculty do not believe in hell. He explained that this was part of an attempt to replace some of the trustees.
According to the dean, this plan had been “nipped in the bud.” Bass, knowing that the MBC has a fiduciary responsibility over SBU, was perplexed at the dean’s confidence that SBU could stop the MBC from appointing appropriate trustees.
On October 12, 2018, the dean of the Redford College informed Dr. Bass that administration had decided to deny his application for promotion.
The dean acknowledged that Bass satisfied the ordinary criteria for promotion (student evaluations, faculty evaluations, credentials, scholarship, service to the university, academic advising, church involvement, community involvement), but argued that Bass had compromised the integrity of the Redford College, citing three grounds: (1) Bass had attempted sabotage by critiquing the dean’s letter to the concerned father, (2) Bass had been in contact with the Missouri Baptist Convention, (3) Bass belonged to a meddlesome congregation (Southern Hills Baptist Church). The dean left Bass with one of two options: Bass could withdraw the letter and show greater support for the Redford College or Bass could leave his application in play and face denial. Bass chose the latter.
On October 30, 2018, Bass met with the president of the university and the provost. He raised questions about whether or not administration had violated procedural due process for promotion as outlined in the institution’s faculty handbook. He then suggested that the denial of promotion was actually rooted in doctrinal differences between himself and other colleagues within the Redford College.
Administration requested his notes but Bass, having the names of numerous sympathizers in his papers, was not comfortable with turning them over.
On November 7, 2018, the provost demanded Bass’ notes un-redacted by 9am the next morning. Bass did not see the email until almost 9am, November 8. Bass made it to the office of the provost by 9am but he was not in. Bass then scheduled a meeting at the provost’s earliest opening. At 3pm Bass once again described the theological positions of some faculty in the Redford College who were out of step with the Southern Baptists of Missouri.
On November 9, the provost demanded that Bass submit all of his personal notes related to the doctrinal status of the Redford College or he would face dismissal. Bass complied submitting his personal log as well as seven letters of testimony from graduates and pastors and the names and phone numbers of other pastors who could testify about the doctrinal deficiencies of the Redford College.
On November 15, 2018, the provost interviewed Bass for three hours. It was suggested that Bass had simply misunderstood his colleagues. The provost reported that the faculty who had been accused of theological aberration had denied the allegations.
On November 28, 2018, Bass was fired. The president and provost cited five grounds for dismissal:
1. Deliberate and serious violation of the rights and freedoms of fellow faculty members by collecting evidence and ascribing views to them often without personal interaction.
2. Failure to observe the ethical and professional canons of the teaching profession by use of non-credible information to formulate accusations against fellow faculty members.
3. Failure to observe the ethical and professional canons of the teaching profession by not conversing with colleagues about asserted concerns.
4. Failure to abide by the University Principles and Expectations, which speak to “understanding of Scripture and a commitment to its authority regarding all areas of Christian faith, learning, and living.”
5. Failure to follow Matthew 18 in addressing your concerns with your colleagues directly. As supporting information, the provost and the president pointed to Bass’ notes, Bass’ testimony, and the testimony of Redford faculty.
Despite the fact that Bass presented administration with seven letters of testimony and the names and phone numbers of five pastors who could testify further to the doctrinal faults of the Redford College, administration did not reach out to anyone.
II. Evidence Suggesting a Lack of Doctrinal Alignment between Redford faculty and the Missouri Baptist Convention
1. Signs of deficient alignment as Redford appears more aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The department chair of the Redford College (Don Denton) is actively involved in a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church (University Heights, Springfield MO). The Redford College has regularly employed a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship pastor as course instructor (Danny Chisholm).
Above all other graduate programs, Redford faculty have consistently recommended a CBF endorsed institution, Truett Seminary. This was Bass’ experience both as a student and as a professor. The Southern Baptist seminaries are often portrayed as schools for unthinking preacher-boys.
In August 2016, the Redford College hosted a ministry conference in which they invited Cooperative Baptist Fellowship minister, Dwight Moody, to be the keynote speaker. In one of his talks, Moody spoke proudly of rescuing a student from Boyce College and drawing him away to CBF endorsed Georgetown College. It is also a longstanding practice that the Word and Way (Baptist paper which, under moderate influence, severed ties with the Missouri Baptist Convention) be distributed through the Redford College offices. The Missouri Baptist Convention’s paper, The Pathway, is not distributed within the Redford College.
2. Signs of deficient alignment: the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture.
In October, 2013, dean Rodney Reeves communicated to Bass that understanding Barth was the pivotal moment in his theological education. Reeves attested to Barth’s tremendous influence on his thinking. Bass also listened to a lecture in which Reeves suggested that elaborate defenses of the historicity of the gospels (naming specifically R. Bauckham and N.T. Wright), were unnecessary pursuits. Instead, he preferred a Barthian approach.
Similarly, during lectures promoting Barth’s threefold form of the word of God, Don Denton revealed to the class that he embraced Barth’s approach to revelation (academic year 2017-18).
During a prospective student visitation day, the Redford faculty were questioned by a father about the inerrancy of Scripture. Before a crowd of parents, the dad asked each faculty member to indicate whether or not they held to inerrancy. All Redford faculty nodded in approval. Once the parents vacated the room, many faculty expressed anger towards the dad. Rodney Reeves coached the faculty that in such situations always just say yes. Bass defended the dad’s efforts, and in response to this, one faculty member suggested that no one actually understands what inerrancy is, no one can define it.
While reflecting on recent conflict over inerrancy at Wheaton, Reeves dismissed the relevance of the doctrine as a matter pushed by those “still caught up in that battle.” In the same conversation, Reeves spoke critically of the Evangelical Theological Society, suggesting that they pursued a devotional approach to study rather than an academic approach (March, 2017).
Reeves claimed that he was once interviewed for a position at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but he was not granted the position because “he was not a political inerrantist” (conversation with Bass, September, 2015). Mike Fuhrman suggested to Bass that the doctrine of inerrancy took on emphasis among Protestants only when the Roman Catholic church accepted papal infallibility as official dogma (a point that Bass contested).
In both August of 2013 and August 2015, Bass engaged Zach Manis in discussion over the canonicity of Scripture. Bass defended the traditionally Protestant view that Scriptural authority is derived from inspiration and that the church merely recognized an authority intrinsic to the inspired books. Manis assumed a Roman Catholic position, tracing Scripture’s authority back to the church’s councils. In May 2018, Rodney Reeves declared that, when in heaven, he would not be surprised to find that 2 Peter was not Scripture. He went on to reassure the class that it was worthy of study because the church had deemed it Scripture some 2000 years ago.
3. Signs of deficient alignment: the afterlife.
Rodney Reeves has self-identified as an annihilationist. He communicated this to students. During a public forum which two Missouri Baptist Convention pastors attended, Reeves claimed that he was a 55% annihilationist. When a student pointed out that his position seemed to conflict with the Baptist Faith and Message Article X, Reeves retorted that Baptists are not creedal.
In a Redford faculty meeting (August, 2018), Reeves stated that someone could believe in hell even if they did not hold to the doctrine of everlasting punishment. Bass pointed out to the provost, Lee Skinkle, that Reeves’ position conflicted with the faculty handbook (Christian Worldview, article which mentioned “the eternal consequences of sin.” Skinkle then suggested that annihilation was an everlasting consequence.
Zach Manis has described his own view as purgatorial. Manis had several lengthy conversations with Bass about the subject (August 2013, August 2015). Manis argued that humans must be made fit for heaven, but they cannot be instantaneously switched without their personhood being destroyed. Thus, purgatory is necessary for this process of purification to take place. Manis also expressed sympathy with inclusivist interpretations of Christianity and with those who believed in second-chance type positions on the afterlife.
On August 27, 2015, Manis engaged Bass on the doctrine of everlasting punishment. Manis defended Rob Bell’s Love Wins while attacking scholars who held to everlasting punishment (specifically John Piper). Manis declared that he was not prepared to regard universalism as a heresy. His research had persuaded him that there was greater Scriptural evidence for universalism than there was evidence for the traditional view of everlasting punishment.
4. Signs of deficient alignment: the doctrine of justification by faith.
Zach Manis’ purgatorial view of the afterlife does not allow for the doctrine of imputed righteousness. Manis expressed on several occasions (August 2013, August 2015) his preference for the doctrine of deification. He argued that there was as much Scriptural evidence for Rome’s view (faith and works) as there was Scriptural evidence for the traditionally Protestant view (faith alone).
5. Signs of deficient alignment: the doctrine of the church.
Rodney Reeves has argued that the Scriptures do not affirm a particular system of church government: Polity is to be determined by circumstances. Addressing the subject of the Lord’s Supper, Reeves commented on his blog: “I’m still not sure if Paul believed the table was reserved for believers because he is always concerned about the impression outsiders will have of the assembly. Plus, the earliest reputation Christ believers earned was their unique hospitality.”
In August 2013, Manis took issue with Bass’ strong emphasis on regenerate church membership. Manis expressed his belief that the Roman Catholic practice of confirmation was capable of accomplishing what Baptists gain in emphasizing conversion as a prerequisite to baptism. Manis claimed that the absence of Scriptural proof for infant baptism was equal to the absence of Scriptural proof for an age of accountability.
In a Redford faculty meeting (Spring, 2014), Manis expressed concerns that Bass’ proposed courses might make the graduate program too baptistic.
6. Signs of deficient alignment: women and the office of pastor.
Mike Fuhrman has been pushing an egalitarian agenda in his courses over the last twenty years. It is a well known fact among the Redford students that he promotes women as overseers of congregations. He commented to ministry students, “One day Southern Baptists are going to be very sorry they did not use 50% of their population for the pulpit.”
7. Signs of deficient alignment: the Redford College’s anti-confessionalism.
In January 2018, Rodney Reeves told Bass that confessions were not the right instrument to unite the Redford College. Instead, it would be united “relationally.” Reeves explained the Redford College’s position to a parent: “Much in the Baptist tradition (no creed!), we do not require our faculty to sign a doctrinal statement.”
Reflecting on his rejection of confessionalism, Reeves claimed to have been scarred by the conservative resurgence. The provost, Lee Skinkle, also stated to Bass that he had observed good professors driven out of Southwestern by an administration bent on subscription to the BFM 2000.
Similarly, during a Redford faculty meeting, Rodney informed the faculty that a trustee had been calling for the university to require confessional subscription among Redford College faculty. Zach Manis complained that this would create a toxic work environment if it ever passed. At least six of the eight Redford faculty belong to Baptist churches that do not affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
One Redford faculty member suggested that if parents of students expected strict adherence to the BFM 2000, they would not be satisfied at SBU. Another Redford faculty member, Don Denton, stated that if parents wanted greater doctrinal specificity than what is afforded in SBU’s Principles and Expectations (which is only about ethics), then they would not be comfortable sending their students to SBU.
On October 22, 2018, representatives of administration met with the Redford faculty. They asked two questions: What should never change at SBU and what should change at SBU? The department chair of theology, Don Denton, asserted that the “short list” of required doctrines should not be expanded (this “short list” is a no list as no Redford faculty member has ever had to sign a statement of faith).
His demand of doctrinal latitude was affirmed by Mike Fuhrman who then critiqued the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as being too narrow. Rodney Reeves joined in and suggested that the BFM 2000 was “politically restrictive.