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
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.)