Norman brings passion for theology to SBU
BOLIVAR – R. Stanton Norman, theologian and author on Baptist identity and ecclesiology, has heard the phrase “Mr. Baptist Goes to Bolivar,” an endearing way to explain why a 43-year-old academic from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary would journey to a small town institution like Southwest Baptist University (SBU).
Norman, who has been serving since Jan. 1 as SBU’s vice president for university development, is to the point.
Author of/contributor to seven books and co-editor of another, Norman has written about “what constitutes a biblically faithful, theologically sound New Testament church. I am very overt in my book ‘The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church.’ I believe a healthy church is a Baptist church. If Baptist church is done right, it’s a New Testament church.”
Development implies fundraising. How might a theologian do that?
“There are different ways to do theological education, and one is as a theologian, in the classroom, teaching theology,” Norman replied. “I did that for over 10 years. Another way of doing it is to be a part of a leadership team and helping to guide or erect structures that facilitate theological education.
“SBU is a liberal arts school (with) a liberal arts curriculum. We are unapologetic about that. But we are Christian, we are Baptist and we weave those two elements throughout our liberal arts curriculum. I wanted to be a part of a team that does that—that truly integrates faith and learning.”
Erecting structures in his job description likely means he will be building a lot of bridges on behalf of SBU President C. Pat Taylor.
“I want to be able to take the story of SBU and to go into churches, to meet with pastors, directors of associations, state convention people, regular Baptists in regular churches, and talk to them about the unique mission of SBU and to cast the vision that Dr. Taylor and the trustees have established theologically, winsomely and passionately,” he said.
“I am hopeful that my background as a theologian can help in articulating who SBU is and building healthy relationships.”
Norman does not presume to be a special member of the president’s cabinet. Less than two months into his job, he emphasized that he has a lot to learn—particularly from the other members of the cabinet. Still, his duty is evident. He was chosen to give the devotion at the Feb. 6 trustees’ meeting.
In an interview in his office following that meeting, Norman never strayed very far from theology as he explained how he aims to partner with churches and community leaders for the sake of the university.
“We have a director of church relations, and I hope that I’m able to assist him in building relationships with churches,” he said. “We want our churches to know we want to serve them. We want to partner with them in their ministry.
“I heard one president of another sister institution say that we really represent the academic arm of the church. That opens up an entire discussion on what that means, but if we take Jesus’ commandment that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then what we do here at SBU as a liberal arts school is an attempt to fulfill that Great Commandment. And so I want to help churches understand.”
He sees his role in the area of development as that of a servant.
“The phrase ‘university development’ occasionally invokes in the minds of some people unpleasant images of someone who begs for money on behalf of a university,” he said. “Although this depiction may in fact represent the experiences of some, this kind of activity does not accurately represent the ideal. ‘To develop’ means to grow, expand, enhance or mature. When understood this way, university development is the growth, enrichment, and maturation of a university community through diverse activities and meaningful partnerships.
“Development is a two-way activity. On the one hand, I hope in my role to build relationships with those who desire to partner with SBU and help the university grow and mature in its mission. On the other hand, I also hope, with my abilities and experiences, to build relationships with churches to assist them in whatever way I can in their ministry and mission.
“I am thrilled that God has led me and my family to be a part of the SBU family. I pray that our development efforts will credibly serve the best interests of the SBU family and Missouri Baptist churches in our shared kingdom mission.”