The late Rev. W. A. Criswell, legendary pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, founded Criswell College in 1970 as a bulwark of conservatism. The school and its leaders were prominent in conservatives' rise to power in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Now some say the college's future is threatened. Conflicts between college and congregational leaders over who owns the school's assets culminated in the August 5 resignation of president Jerry Johnson. Officials said Johnson had "philosophical differences" with First Baptist's leaders, particularly with Criswell's chancellor and First Baptist's senior pastor, Robert Jeffress.
Johnson made the months-long feud public in a news release August 1. In it, Johnson claimed that Jeffress "has been trying to cannibalize Criswell College to fund his building program at the church." Johnson and Steve Washburn, a Texas pastor and Criswell trustee, said Jeffress wanted to transfer the college to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Fort Worth, sell the campus and its radio station, and use the profits to finance a new sanctuary for First Baptist.
Jeffress denied all accusations, saying there was no plan to sell the college or its radio station. He also said that to link the possible transfer of the school and sale of the radio station to a building program that is still in the planning stages was erroneous. However, Jeffress rankled some Criswell supporters by saying he wanted to launch a study to assess the "true condition" of Criswell's finances and enrollment and see whether it still has a viable niche.
"Things have changed since the school was started," Jeffress told Christianity Today. "Back then none of the seminaries had undergraduate colleges like Criswell. Now most, ...1