The conversation continues even now, with articles—some supportive and some heavily critical—appearing regularly in journals and on Web sites. It has been characterized as liberal and conservative, Catholic and Calvinist, Anabaptist and Anti-baptist. But to many readers, the document describes common ground.
“Curtis fills the important role with this of trying to find a medium ground,” says Randall Lolley, who was president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1974 to 1988 and now serves on the board of directors for Baptist House. “These issues can and should be hammered out by people with the ability to see and to synthesize. I'm glad that Curtis embraces the vision to see this sort of thing through.”
In 2001, Dean L. Gregory Jones recruited Freeman to join the Duke faculty and lead Baptist House, a program begun in 1989 to support the growing number of Baptist students attending the divinity school.
Freeman plunged into his new work with energy and skill, advancing scholarship—especially into Baptist practices from centuries ago—developing a strong network of academics and practitioners to aid Baptist House, and teaching students through classes, mentoring and special events.
“One of the things that is most impressive about Curtis is his thinking about the future, about where Baptist professors and church leaders are going to come from,” says Stephen Chapman, assistant professor of Old Testament at the divinity school and another member of the Baptist House board. “There is a need to encourage and support people to take the bold step of going into those ministries, and Curtis is absolutely committed to that.”
Fellow Baptist teachers from across the political spectrum affirmed Freeman’s work two years ago by electing him vice president of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. This year he became president of the professional organization, and he has used the office to establish a scholarship for Baptist doctoral students, among other initiatives.
He also has worked with other Baptist clergy and professors to create the Shiloh Network. More than 40 Baptist churches across the country have joined the network, pledging to help recruit and encourage young people to enter Baptist ministry.
Faculty and clergy note that Baptist House, under Freeman’s leadership, is well positioned to influence the Baptist Church for decades to come by forming students who are prepared for faithful service in the church and the academy.
“The divinity school is certainly enriched by the 100-or-so students in the Baptist House orbit, and Baptist House is helping to form the future of ministry,” Lolley says. “In forming the church of the future—certainly in the southern United States—this is a mighty important group. I think Curtis sees as clearly as anyone what these students can do for the church.”
And where that begins, Freeman says, is with helping students ask questions and guiding them toward answers, just as he was guided early in his career.
“We're helping to do for these students what others have done for us,” he says. “We’ve made some progress, and it doesn’t end with the school or with me. These students will see things more clearly than I do, and they will find a way to be positive and move the church forward.”
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