Maggiano’s Little Italy bustled with activity on Thursday, October 19, as about 180 supporters of Austin Graduate School of Theology gathered to relish delectable Italian dishes, enjoy good company and delightful entertainment, and celebrate 100 years of Austin Grad history.
In the course of the evening, those assembled heard about some highlights of the institution’s history and learned that a volume detailing Austin Grad’s century of service entitled A Cloud of Witnesses: A Centennial History of Austin Graduate School of Theology will be off the press near the end of this centennial year. This article summarizes highlights of that history.
The Early Years
What became in later years a remarkable and effective institution of higher learning had modest but promising beginnings. University Church of Christ elder G. H. P. Showalter in 1911 encouraged the church to consider establishing a Bible chair at UT Austin. The Bible chair pattern for teaching religion at a state university had been initiated by the Disciples of Christ in the late 1800s in Michigan, and in 1908 the first courses accepted for degree credit at The University of Texas were taught at the Texas Bible Chair, operated by the nearby University Christian Church.
In 1917, after some years of urging and preparation, an academic chair for biblical instruction at the university began operating under the aegis of the University Church of Christ, with classes the first year being held in the YMCA building and in the ensuing years at the church building. These early classes were taught by Showalter and Charles H. Roberson.
Though the effort had an enthusiastic beginning, leaders faced a continual struggle to raise support for operating expenses. Editorials in The Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation attempted to stir church members to recognize the need to support Christian instruction at the university level. For over a decade Showalter and Roberson taught classes for credit, but in 1928 the school ceased to function for lack of funds. This closure continued through the Great Depression and World War II.
In 1951 the Bible chair operated by the University Avenue Church of Christ reopened under the leadership of Ray McGlothlin, Jr., and it began a period of growth and expansion that has continued to the centennial mark. McGlothlin served as teacher, director, and campus minister during and after the completion of his master’s degree at UT. The work of Ray and his wife Kay evolved into a campus ministry, with students involved in a chorus that sang for weddings as well as many parties and other get-togethers.
After five years under McGlothlin’s leadership, enrollment was growing and the Bible chair had become strongly established again. McGlothlin left to work with his family’s business in Abilene, and Robert L. (Bob) Johnston and then Earle McMillan succeeded him in leadership during the years 1956 to 1959. Enrollment in classes and involvement in campus ministry were continuing to increase, and the elders of the University Avenue Church were solidly committed to supporting the Church of Christ Bible Chair (as it was then called) and enabling it to grow.
Years of Growth and Development
Over the next decade, a series of men came to teach and direct the operations of the chair. Gene Patterson came in 1959 to begin a twelve-year tenure as teacher and campus minister. Under Patterson’s leadership, the Bible Chair Journal, later known as Campus Journal, began publication in 1960 at the UA Bible chair to provide guidance to leaders of Bible chairs that were springing up across the country. In 1964, the Biblical Studies Center building at 108 E. 19th Street (now MLK, Jr.) was dedicated. Just three years later, that property was taken by UT Austin by right of eminent domain, and operations moved back into the church building for a time.
David Malone came as director in 1965, and during Malone’s service, an Advisory Development Council was created. Additional property at 1909 University Avenue was purchased and remodeled to become the new Biblical Studies Center building.
Enrollment in Bible classes at the Church of Christ Bible Chair during this period was the largest of the seven Bible chair facilities operating in the university area. Claude Hocott, a member of the Advisory Development Council, encouraged UA elders to consider expanding the lower-division offerings and hiring faculty with top-level academic credentials. He also presented hopes for the future: expanding the BSC curriculum to include upper-division courses and working to become a degree-granting institution dedicated to training individuals for ministry.
In 1970, Gerald Gafford began to serve as director of the Biblical Studies Center. He worked alongside Hocott to persuade Pat Harrell, then pulpit minister of the Bering Drive Church of Christ in Houston, to come to Austin and serve as a Bible professor. Support from that Houston congregation and its leadership were important factors in the years of amazing growth and development that ensued.
Harrell was an esteemed Bible professor from 1971 to 1978, during which time enrollment grew swiftly and the faculty expanded to include Allan McNicol, James Thompson, Michael Weed, and Tony Ash for lengthy periods of service during a time when 800 to 1000 students were enrolled in Church of Christ Bible Chair classes for credit at UT Austin each year.
Years of Challenge and Renewal
Meanwhile, Hocott and Bill Shive, also a UA elder and a UT professor, continued to work with elders and Advisory Development Council members toward the goal of developing an upper-division, degree-granting institution dedicated to training Christians for ministry. In 1975, Hocott was appointed the school’s first president, and the school became the Institute for Christian Studies. Tower Manor at 1908 University Avenue was purchased and remodeled into classrooms, offices, and student apartments. In that same year, an agreement was made with Abilene Christian University allowing students to earn a bachelor’s degree from Abilene Christian through courses taken at ICS as an extension campus of ACU.
In 1978, the two-year Program in Ministry was created with the goal of training ministers and church leaders. It was an upper-division program, granting a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies or a Bachelor of Biblical Studies to students completing the program as a second degree.
Winds of change were being felt on the UT campus, as atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had moved to Austin and established the base for her atheist agenda here. She soon set her sights on the Bible chair arrangement at the university and began public attacks on the program as a violation of the principle of separation of church and state. As a result, the university administration began placing stringent curtailments on Bible chairs.
Two significant positive developments came about at ICS in the early 1980s. One was the first publication in 1980 of what was originally called Faculty Bulletin but was later titled Christian Studies: Scholarship for the Church. This journal has been in continuous publication from that time to the present. The second development was the institution of the Annual Ministers’ Sermon Seminar in 1982, which also continues to the present day. Both stand as legacies of an institution dedicated to serving the church and bringing honor to God.
In 1983, the Institute for Christian Studies was granted certification to award degrees by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. In 1985 the school achieved candidacy status by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and in 1987 that body granted accreditation to ICS.
In 1985, Thompson had been named president and Jack Wright, who had taken early retirement from business and worked tirelessly to build support for ICS, was named vice president. After the death of Harrell in 1978 and the return of Ash to ACU, Paul Watson, Rick Marrs, Pat Graham, Douglas Gragg, and Gary Holloway all served terms as professors in the 1980s, each eventually departing for other academic and ministerial roles.
The timing of the achievement of accreditation in 1987 was providential, as the following May an opinion was issued by the Texas Attorney General that the Bible chair arrangement with The University of Texas could violate the constitutional separation of church and state. The Bible chairs at UT Austin ceased operation in May of 1988.
The Institute for Christian Studies was growing in enrollment and influence. More space was needed, so construction began in 1989 and a new ICS building at 105 E. 20th Street was dedicated in 1991. Mark Shipp joined the faculty in 1992, and David Worley was named president that year when Thompson left for ACU. Jeffrey Peterson came to the faculty in 1993. ICS now offered master’s degrees through ACU.
An independent Board of Trustees for ICS was established in 1995, and that board has served as a strong and visionary advocate for the school since that time. Its membership has been consistently supportive, and its leadership— John Davis, Mike White, Terry Koonce, Fred Strietelmeier, and Jerry Christian, all of whom have served as board chairmen since 1995—has directed a vigorous and stable course for the school.
Austin Graduate School of Theology
In 2001, Carson Stephens became the school’s fourth president. David Worley was named chancellor and Dave Arthur vice president. During Stephens’ presidency, the name of the school was changed to Austin Graduate School of Theology, and the school was accredited by SACS to offer the Master of Arts in Theological Studies.
Stan Reid became president in 2003, with Arthur and Worley continuing to serve in their roles and Jack Wright being named vice chancellor. Reid worked with the board and administrative team toward finding, remodeling, and opening in 2008 a new home for Austin Grad at 7640 Guadalupe Street. That same year, Todd Hall joined the faculty as librarian. During these early years of the 21st century, the school was doing research and making preparations toward offering online coursework.
Other changes on the faculty during this period occurred when long-time professors Weed and McNicol retired. Keith Stanglin and Daniel Napier were appointed in 2012 and continue to serve to the present day along with Shipp, Peterson, and Hall.
Shipp’s trips to direct archaeological study tours and his leadership of the Timeless project, producing new “ancient psalms for the church today,” are exciting faculty developments. Peterson’s seminal work in launching the online learning program has transformed many aspects of the school. Hall’s oversight of the library has brought it to new levels of excellence. Stanglin’s publications and his leadership as editor of Christian Studies continue to make a name for the Austin Grad faculty in the theological world. Napier is known as an outstanding teacher and preacher and is publishing research on the writings of Augustine. An outstanding faculty continues to place Austin Grad in the forefront among theological schools in the conservative Christian community.
Into the Future
One remarkable dynamic of current-day Austin Grad is the demographic makeup of the student body. In the 1970s and 80s, the composition of the student body began to shift. Throughout the 1990s and the early 21st century, that dynamic increased, as a range of students interested in training for ministry heard about the program, enrolled, and spread the word. Student enrollment continues to be exceptionally diverse in gender, age, ethnicity, and representation of Christian traditions. A visit to a Friends’ Day gathering provides an encouraging view of this diverse student body, as representative students speak about their experience at Austin Grad and its profound effect on their spiritual life and their ministry to the church.
It is our prayer that God will continue to bless and guide the faculty, staff, and supporters of Austin Graduate School of Theology as they continue their efforts to know, understand, and practice the Christian faith into their second century.
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Austin Graduate School of Theology is an Austin seminary offering B.A. and M.A. ministry degrees, and Austin Grad is accredited by the same agency that accredits Abilene Christian University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University, Texas State University, The University of Texas, and others. Austin Grad -- one of the top Christian colleges in Texas and among the top seminaries in Texas -- is affiliated with the Church of Christ and is in conversation with all who confess Jesus as Lord. Austin Grad promotes faith seeking understanding and is committed to providing a high quality education for those who desire to be equipped to expand the Kingdom of God.