Criswell College officially separates
Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Baptist Press
August 03, 2010

Criswell College officially separates

Criswell College officially separates
Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Baptist Press
August 03, 2010

DALLAS — Criswell College

marked the beginning of a new era Aug. 1 as the school officially separated

from First Baptist Church (FBC) in Dallas.

W.A. Criswell, a former pastor of the renowned congregation, launched a Bible

institute 40 years ago that he said would be “based on conservative evangelical

Christianity as practiced in our church” to train leaders for ministry.

“Criswell College operated under the ultimate authority of the members of First

Baptist Dallas. This new structure enables the college to expand into new

opportunities under an independent board and leadership,” leaders said in a

joint release issued at a signing ceremony July 29 in the office of interim

president Lamar Cooper.

In 1991, the campus was relocated less than two miles east from the facilities

of the church, which remains in downtown Dallas.

Emphasizing the shared past and future vision, the release stated, “Both

institutions hold steadfastly to the core values on which both were established

and built. Both institutions will continue to apply these critical values, the

college in the development and training of the next generation of pastors and

ministry leaders — the church in sharing the gospel with the city of Dallas.”

The fate of radio station KCBI-FM is spelled out in the release, noting the

station “has served both the college and the church and will continue to be a

dynamic ministry to the Dallas-Fort Worth market.” Management of the radio

station will move from the college to a new nonprofit organization, First

Dallas Media Inc.

Criswell College expects to gain several benefits from the separation without

losing the legacy that W.A. Criswell established.

“There will be no change in our commitment to the Bible as God’s infallible and

inerrant Word, nor to any other doctrinal position,” Cooper told the TEXAN

newsjournal. Calling the separation a historic moment, he said, “We are greatly

indebted to the vision of our founder, Dr. W.A. Criswell, and to the members of

First Baptist Church Dallas who embraced that vision.”

Cooper said the separation would give the school a new identity, no longer

viewed as a church school that is an appendage of the historic downtown church.

“It will therefore make it easier to recruit students for on-campus and our new

distance education programs,” he said.

He also expects the separation to help development and fundraising, attracting

donors who, prior to the separation, “incorrectly surmised that the college was

supported largely by budgeted allocations from First Baptist Church of Dallas.”

“As an independent entity, we look forward to our continued cooperation with

the church in reaching common goals appropriate to the Kingdom’s work,” Cooper

said. “As a cooperative affiliate we also look forward to a closer working

relationship with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the churches of

our convention.”

Under terms of the separation, the school immediately operates under the

authority of a new board that includes members elected from the Southern

Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and the W.A. Criswell Foundation, both of which

are affiliated with the college.

In addition to eight trustees nominated from each of those entities, the

college names five at-large members and the new board is responsible for

ratifying all 21 people.

Previously, the bylaws stipulated at least 12 of the 21-member trustee board

were to be drawn from among FBC members.

Serving as chairman of that new board is Jimmy Pritchard, pastor of First

Baptist Church in Forney, Texas.

“This is a unique opportunity for Criswell College

to build in a significant way upon the foundation of its past,” Pritchard told

the TEXAN. “A new day always brings exciting possibilities as well as special


He expressed hope that the school would “rise to make the most of the new

opportunities” as well as confidence in conquering any challenges in the coming


Terms of separation were approved by members of the church and the school’s

trustees last summer, paving the way for a transition team to draft a

Separation and Contribution Agreement. Church and school representatives signed

final documents early this year.

Legal documents were ratified Feb. 2, awaiting

approval by the Federal Communications Commission and Internal Revenue Service

for the go-ahead that allowed separation Aug. 1.

Having served as chairman of the prior governing board since 2005 and a board

member since 1998, Dallas attorney Michael Deahl described the separation

transaction as “undoubtedly the most significant milestone in the history of

Criswell College” apart from its initial founding, “and certainly the most

challenging transaction I have ever been involved with.”

While the concept had been informally considered for many years, discussions

began in earnest in January 2008, he said. He recalled the hurdles that had to

be overcome to get to this point, including the satisfactory agreement of terms

of separation, particularly the disposition of KCBI and other radio stations,

approval of the transaction by college trustees as well as church deacons and

members, approval of the change in governance by the school’s accrediting

agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, as well as approvals

from the FCC and IRS.

First Dallas Media Inc. has the college and First Baptist Church as its sole

members. FBC will exercise control over the nonprofit entity through the

election of its trustees. The church will continue operating the radio

ministry, utilizing income generated from program support and donors. The

college will receive guaranteed annual income from station revenue.

“I realize that many members of the college’s constituency have been waiting

and watching to see if the separation was really going to happen,” Deahl said.

Now that it has occurred, he said the school’s independent status and alignment

with the SBTC and the W.A. Criswell Foundation “will serve as an impetus for

the college to broaden its influence and ministry in the years to come.”

Deahl was eager to recognize the entire Criswell College and KCBI family “who

remained focused on the work of the ministry throughout the ups and downs of

the past several years; my fellow trustees at the college who took their

responsibilities seriously, always held me accountable and were a privilege to

lead; the church staff and deacon leadership who were instrumental in enabling

the separation transaction to be completed in a spirit of cooperation and

harmony; and college interim president Lamar Cooper, who has provided solid and

stable leadership at the college for the past two years.”

After the separation agreement papers were signed, Jim Richards, executive

director of the SBTC, told the TEXAN, “A new day has dawned at Criswell

College. The rich heritage of First Baptist Church Dallas will always be a part

of the college’s legacy.”

Richards expressed confidence that the future of the school “is as limitless as

the promises of God,” and pledged the state convention’s commitment to helping

Criswell College transition “to the greatest days of ministry yet.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN,

newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)