Talbot School of Theology at Biola University
La Mirada, California

In 1908, Union Oil cofounder Lyman Stewart helped establish the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and the school soon became known for publishing The Fundamentals, a collection of tracts explaining certain essentials of the Christian faith. The tracts gave their name to "fundamentalism," which by the 1920s coalesced in opposition to mainline Protestant "modernism." 

One time I asked [former Fuller president] David Hubbard, "What's my most important job?" Without blinking an eye, he said, "The care and feeding of the board."

-- Clyde Cook, president, Biola University (BIOLA UNIVERSITY)

The school became Biola University in 1981 and is now associated with evangelicalism rather than fundamentalism, but Biola's identity as a "movement" school -- its affiliation not with a denomination, but with a theological movement -- remains secure. While its theological moorings have remained firm over 99 years, its structure has grown more complex. Biola now encompasses six schools, all with undergraduate and graduate programs, including the Talbot School of Theology.

At Biola, a single development office supports all the schools. Talbot School of Theology tuition is lower than tuition in the other schools, but the theology school's expenses are lower as well. A cost analysis several years ago determined that the theology school was not being subsidized by the university as a whole. Fundraising priorities are established at the university-wide level, and capital improvements for Talbot are currently near the top of the list.

It's of utmost importance to me as a Biola board member that the school's statement of faith is not just on a piece of paper, but that it really is affirmed ... from the heart of everyone involved with the school.

-- Jerry Rueb, member, board of trustees, Biola University (COURTESY JERRY RUEB)

In April, In Trust editor Jay Blossom spoke with Clyde Cook, Biola's president, who is retiring this year after 25 years at the helm of the university. Also taking part in the conversation were Dennis Dirks, dean of the Talbot School of Theology, and university trustee Jerry Rueb, lead pastor of Cornerstone Church in Long Beach, California.

At some seminaries and divinity schools that make their homes within larger universities, the university board of trustees takes a hand-off approach to the seminary -- perhaps because they don't understand or are not truly interested in theological education. I'm sure that this is not the case at Biola. Does your board take a special interest in the seminary?

Jerry Rueb, university trusteeAs far as the board is concerned, Talbot is not seen as something other than or to the side of, but it's seen as part of the entire whole of the university.

While we do not get involved in the inner workings of Talbot -- we have a saying, "noses in but fingers out," which means we don't really get involved in the workings or the management of the theological school or any of the other schools -- we have a high degree of interest in theological training because our purpose statement is theological.

Do you see the board as being the guardians to make sure the school doesn't slip from its theological anchor?

Clyde Cook, university presidentWhen I'm asked what has been the biggest blessing over the last 25 years, my answer is usually that we have been able to maintain a high academic standard with the utmost academic respectability without sacrificing our spiritual commitment. The board has played such a big role in that.

About 25 percent of our entire full-time faculty is connected with Talbot, so it's not an ancillary part of the program. And our trustees are very interested in the theological and spiritual depth and commitment of the school.

Rueb: It's of utmost importance to me as a Biola board member that the school's statement of faith is not just on a piece of paper, but that it really is affirmed, as much as we can ascertain, from the heart of everyone involved with the school. And it's important that we not move away from our doctrinal statement, which has been unchanged since 1913.

Do you think that any possible slippage would be more likely to take place at the Talbot School of Theology or in another school at Biola University?

Cook: Every faculty candidate in every school in the university is required to interact with our doctrinal statement. Candidates don't just sign a statement. Instead, the doctrinal statement is broken down into parts, so when the statement addresses the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the prospective candidate has to answer questions about the statement -- what does the candidate mean by inerrancy? What does the candidate mean by the deity of Christ?

Our seminary faculty members go over the prospective faculty members' responses, and if there are concerns, they raise them. The candidate also has an interview with the Talbot faculty or, on occasion, somebody else in the university who is theologically well versed.

Dennis Dirks, dean, Talbot School of Theology: Faculty who have applied elsewhere say they've never been through anything so rigorous as our process. In the school of theology, we nurture and work with a potential faculty member for 12 months to three years before we hire the person, waiting until we're completely satisfied that the individual is compatible with the mission and commitments of the university. 

In the school of theology, we nurture and work with a potential faculty member for 12 months to three years before we hire the person.

-- Dennis Dirks, dean, Talbot School of Theology (BIOLA UNIVERSITY)

You work with a candidate while still in graduate school? Or while the person is at another institution?

Dirks: We do it in both situations. We interact with them at various professional conferences. We interact via phone, by e-mail. This is the responsibility primarily of Talbot's dean of the faculty. It's such a thorough process that we have a high level of confidence that when they come, they're compatible. We've made some mistakes, but those mistakes have been rather few in the last 15 years.

Cook: Our board members have the same interaction with our doctrinal statement as our faculty. And we don't knowingly accept non-Christian students. I think that helps us not to build up a critical mass of students who don't subscribe to our mission. Once you have that, it's difficult to reverse.

The rigor of your statement has been very important to your identity. If you were giving friendly advice to colleagues in other schools, would you advise them to make their statements of faith more rigorous? Not necessarily to be like yours -- but to clarify their cardinal beliefs?

Dirks: It does help to give a sense of stability to an institution when those things are carefully articulated. I think that is very, very important for the life of the institution -- both internally and with various stakeholders -- to give them confidence.

Dr. Cook, you've been president of Biola for almost 25 years, and you'll be retiring at the end of this academic year. Any pearls of wisdom about working with board members?

Cook: Getting the right kind of board members is extremely important. Once you get someone on the board, it's very difficult to get them off if they don't want to go. Every president I know of has talked to me about that. So, I think selection of the board members is very important.

David Hubbard, the former president of Fuller Seminary, was a mentor to me. He talked often about concentric circles on the board. His inner circle included those who were most committed to Fuller -- they gave to Fuller; they were at every meeting; the seminary was in their estate plan. The second circle included people who weren't quite so committed. And the third circle --well, they might not be very involved. Hubbard had arrows pointing toward the center, and he said that his job was to try to move board members into the second circle and then into the inner circle.

One time I asked David Hubbard, "What's my most important job?" Without blinking an eye, he said, "The care and feeding of the board. You're the only one who can help the board understand the mission of the institution and improve the quality of the board."

He spent a great deal of time with his board. Looking back, I think maybe I'd spend more time with the board and cultivating them the way he did.

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