By Joe Wooddell, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.
The big news at Criswell College this year is twofold, and the two stories combine in our vision of whole-life discipleship. First, the college was blessed to open its first-ever residence hall. And that building serves as a launchpad for our second piece of big news: Criswell 360°, a four-year undergraduate common student experience where freshmen grow, sophomores go, juniors serve and seniors launch.
Several elements of the new Criswell 360° experience support a whole-life discipleship model of Christianity. Every undergraduate student at Criswell is a double major, and the first major for every student is Bible & theology. Students declare their second major toward the end of their sophomore year, ultimately graduating with knowledge and skills in both. During the summer between sophomore and junior years, students have an international ministry experience – normally to Israel and Jordan. The trip is preceded by an academic course. The trip also includes not only evangelism, but gaining an understanding of the politics and culture of that place. Juniors mentor younger students, serve in a local setting – normally urban, which is where we are, after all, close to the center of Dallas – and bring their theology to bear on daily life. Finally, seniors get connected to a professional community, tying theory and praxis together in a way that teaches them how to earn a paycheck and promote the common good.
Whole-life discipleship is part of the college’s ethos, and the new residence hall is a means to that end. Life together in physical proximity – not just online – is essential. Yes, the pandemic changed many things. The college finished spring 2020 online, and did not have a normal in-person graduation. And rather than the international summer trip normally required of all undergraduates, students had an international experience locally, in Dallas. In-person classes, however, resumed in August 2020, and currently, it looks as if that will continue.
Founded in 1970, our campus has been a commuter school until this semester – spring 2021. Our five-story dorm, officially the Mary L. A. Stanton & Lance Ouellette Hall, but known simply as “Lance’s Hall,” can house 110 students. That blessing now combines with Criswell 360° in holistic curricular and extracurricular activities. At the March 6 ribbon-cutting ceremony, the lead donor for the new dorm committed to an additional gift of the same size, starting in 2025, toward building another structure. God is blessing the college, and we are grateful to him, and for the friends he is using to advance the gospel through Criswell.
Criswell has always been a place for students who want to give their whole life to Jesus. As such, the college’s mission and vision comport well with the Oikonomia Network’s student outcome goals. Admitting only professing Christians and requiring a local church endorsement for each applicant, Criswell offers associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. For most of its fifty-year history, the only bachelor’s degree was in biblical studies. In the past decade, however, we have added education, “PPE” (philosophy, politics and economics), Christian ministry, and psychology. We also offer master’s degrees in Christian studies, Christian leadership and counseling, as well as the Master of Divinity degree.
Doctrinal integrity, service experience, academic engagement and cultural influence have always been the college’s core values; biblical inerrancy its core doctrine; and urban Dallas its context. We are relatively small – just a few hundred students and fifty or so graduates each year. But our footprint in Southern Baptist life specifically, and evangelicalism generally, has been disproportionately large, not merely in what has traditionally been called “ministry.” Always bearing witness, missionaries, evangelists, pastors and church staff comprise many of our alumni, yet Criswell graduates also include business executives, attorneys, counselors, elementary school teachers, college and seminary presidents and professors, and Ivy League graduate students; and the list goes on. It is difficult anywhere in Baptist life not to find someone who has been associated with Criswell College.
To highlight some examples: Graduates from Criswell’s PPE program have interned for the Texas governor and worked on a congressional campaign, interned at the Cato Institute, become a Dallas assistant district attorney, and attended Harvard Law School (serving also on the Harvard Law Review). Education and counseling graduates have a 100% first-time pass rate for state certification and licensure, respectively; the former serving in both public and private schools, the latter serving in churches and private practices.
In recent months, students and administration worked hard to serve the common good by helping a local church clean up after severe tornado damage. Students, staff and faculty are regularly involved in serving the local community. Most importantly, they understand that while the things just mentioned are ministry, so is going to work every day, creating a good product or service, and sharing the gospel in word and deed. The college partners with local churches for student mentoring, and its fifteen-hundred-seat auditorium serves as a draw to the community. Criswell regularly hosts nearby Baylor Nursing School’s White Coat Ceremony (celebrating the students passing their first labs and getting to treat real patients). When faced with the option to move out into the suburbs, Criswell College chose to stay downtown and educate students on navigating an urban environment as believers and professionals.
Criswell College has been experiencing enormous blessings. Our hope, prayer, and plan is that whatever paths our graduates undertake, their professions would advance their divine vocations, and that they would live those callings in the Spirit’s power as ambassadors, cultivators, peacemakers, problem-solvers and professionals – bearing God’s image, bearing witness, and bearing fruit for the glory of Christ and the good of our neighbors.