To begin, my name is Joshua Eldridge. I am a senior at Louisiana College in year five, majoring in Biblical Studies. I planned on attending for another year while my wife is finishing up her Bachelors of Nursing. My guess is, you are very busy, so I will try hard not to bore you with a wordy email flowing from a broken heart.
I contact you because I am told that you, my brother in Christ, carry a weightier voice than I with our campus president, Dr. Aguillard. Being at my wits end and my heart’s last tear, I am at a road to ask you to please add your voice to my cohorts in our effort to help Dr. Aguillard sense the beating rhythm our hearts have for our dear professors. It is at this point that I must assume that you are already aware of his recent announcement to let our beloved professors go to find a means to support their families elsewhere. This brings me to this letter. I am writing you, Dr. Hankins, that you may hear my broken heart, which in many ways emblematises the many broken hearts of my cohorts. As a result, I plead after you seeing my sincerity, that you would consider adding your weightier voice to ours as we plead with our president to let these men stay.
I would never expect you to remember who I am, a sinner among thousands of saints with whom you have interacted. I recently pastored a church in Dupont, La whose Director of Missions is Alan Knuckles. It was he who introduced me to you at the past SBC conference in New Orleans, where you and I had shaken hands.
It is because of Mr. Knuckles’ virtuous opinion of you that I have reason to remotely try contacting you with such a request. He told me that you love Jesus and you have a heart for missions. I would consider it a thing to be feared if we would support a man with the slightest difference in motives who filled the role of Executive Director for our LBC.
With you possessing a pure heart, filled with the Spirit of God, and an overflowing affection to see Christ Jesus magnified at Louisiana College—with this being a given, I would like to offer you a few other reasons to consider as to why pleading with Dr. Aguillard is a holy and righteous thing to be done.
(I) First, the rumble among the students as of right now is that if the contracts of these men are not renewed, many of these students will not return. So many of us are so tormented by what we feel is an unholy injustice to these men—our beloved brothers—and their families, that we would rather graduate from an out-of-state college to finish our degrees. Even if that means it would require an extra year or two. To explain why this is so, it helps to relate the devotion of these students to that of a seminary professor who is now retired. My Hebrew professor told me that when he was getting his doctorate, there was a flood of seminary students who had transferred from another seminary because they had to be with this one professor under whom my Hebrew professor was studying at the time. His previous employing seminary had pushed him away over hermeneutical differences. And although they had succeeded by pushing him away, they ultimately lost the whole department. Why? Because the devotion to that department was to that professor! My professor tells me now, “I have never seen a student-professor loyalty like I have seen between them.” Dr. Hankins, I fear that is what will become of the Christian Studies division, and Caskey Divinity School. But, is this not the schism we in the SBC have fought so hard against as we rallied together in New Orleans?
(II) Secondly, if these professors go, and so follow the students, this will leave a monumental hole in the Christian Studies department during the midst of our SACS review. With regards to the glaring light of SACS, the final decision as to where our accreditation stands will be made in December 2013. To have our Christian Studies department mangled and students to leave, how would this look when SACS returns to finalize assessment at the end of the year? The end of the year would be the first semester where these beloved professors and their faithful students would be absent. This would leave hardly enough time for the college to recover.
(III) Thirdly, these are our disciple-makers, not just our professors. To shed some light on just how great these professors are and how dear they are to our hearts, please consider my wife and I’s resulting development.
- First, for my wife, as a child she shared a home with a drunk relative who remains to cause great deal of pain to the family. I am sure that you can imagine how difficult it would be for her to forgive that person simply out of love. What ultimately did it for her? It was Dr. Jason Hiles’ lecture. The weeks Dr. Hiles lectured on the nature of Christ’s atoning sacrifice in our Faith and Values class, he taught us that true forgiveness was bearing all of the weight and pain of the wrong done to you without a morsel of a desire to seek revenge. Ultimately, the essence of such forgiveness found warrant in the way Christ forgave us. With his tender-hearted and sobering instruction, Dr. Hiles had moved my wife to close a decade of emotional torment by forgiving that person as Christ forgave you and me. To this day, her family members remain astounded at the kindness she has continued to show him. And when they ask “why?” Her answer is because that is the nature of how Christ forgave me.
- While I was a student of Dr. Hiles, I was during that time vehemently opposing Calvinistic endeavors as the Freshmen and Sophmores were all abuzz about it in 2008 when we joined LC. I could not articulate for you what a Calvinist might believe; I just knew that my pastor and youth pastor had opposed it, and therefore I should as well. Dr. Hiles wore his soteriological positions so reservedly that I actually approached him in a conversation once as though he opposed Calvinism with me. For five minutes, he patiently and lovingly listened to me enumerate what I felt like was “evidence” against Calvinism. He had every right to tell me I was wrong just based on the sheer logical fallacies inherent in my arguments. But, he did not oppose me that day based on either logic or his now alleged soteriological bias. Rather, he did the logical thing. He challenged me as any good professor should. He challenged me via the Socratic method. He asked me a question that I had never considered that I should go home with to wrestle. In all honesty, I thought Dr. Hiles was opposing me because I saw that my logic was faulty. I still could not tell from that point that he might have affirmed a doctrine against which I was waging war. In fact, it was not until years later that I found out where he stood; and it was only because I needed to be rebuked and corrected for arrogantly assuming the wrong understanding of his held theology. In all, my point is that in no way has Dr. Hiles ever pushed his theological positions on me.
- The last testimony I want to share of my disciple-makers is of Dr. McFadden. Two noteworthy things. (i) He is like Dr. Hiles in the sense that he has never pushed Calvinism on us in anyway. In fact, I will testify the memory, which would be verifiable by all of my classmates, of one occasion where we were struggling with a particular text in Greek. It was not the syntax however that we had struggled with; it was the theology that the Greek text was implying. A student brought up the difficulty one day because it seemed to be implying Calvinistic doctrine. The very first thing that Dr. McFadden said was “Before I go any further in answering his question, I must make sure that everyone here is okay with discussing Calvinism. Will anyone be offended?” One student spoke up that day. He said, “Not at all. I’m not a Calvinist, but it’s not like I ever feel threatened.” The way Dr. McFadden handled things that day was so weighty, it played a formidable role in me and how I now interact with this sensitive topic. (ii) The second way that Dr. McFadden played a formidable role in my life was how he took me under his wing in his office. I was born and raised in New Orleans. Jesus took everything away from us through Katrina while my father was serving a year in Iraq. And it was during that time that I found salvation. Unfortunately, two years later, even as a Biblical Studies major, I still had some of that crass New Orleans arrogance remaining in the wetness behind my ears. As I mourned on Dr. McFadden’s shoulder over how I struggled to foster friendships, he offered to help me work through my personality difficulties. In all, he was gently working towards helping me see that I had some pride issues that needed to be eviscerated. As a result of this slow and necessary discipleship, he has exhorted me towards loving all men in humility. This of course, played a pivotal role as I learned to love the people I shepherded in Dupont, La.
In retrospect, I can tell you that if it was not for the way Dr. Hiles and Dr. McFadden treated us in class, we would not have students like myself who are fighting for unity over theological differences. And if any students are calling for a division over them, it is not because of these professors. It is because they are poor students.
Dr. Hankins, as a fellow brother in Christ who labors to live by “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”, I pray that you hear this from me. Paul so often referred to those he discipled as his children. That was so real for him, that you can see the bittersweet emotions that ran through his veins when he was away from them. He would declare how God was his witness that he would long to be with his disciples again. After discipling a church myself, the small and faithful sheep have affected me so much that I think of them everyday. I grieve to be with them as though I were grieving for my toddler. As a man of ministry, I know you have experienced this leader-disciple bond. It is with that in mind that I say this: if Dr. Aguillard takes these men away from us students, he is taking away our Fathers in the Faith.
These are my reasons why, Dr. Hankins, that I plead with you to influence Dr. Aguillard with your weightier voice than mine. Please, take to him the broken hearts of these students and plead that they may not be orphaned from their Fathers in the Faith.
An unworthy disciple,
—J. A. Eldridge