Professor’s history molded him for new task at Southern Seminary

Communications Staff — April 22, 2004

The pilgrimage of Ken Fentress is proof that God’s providence is often seen most clearly in retrospect.

Fentress, dean of a new Intercultural Studies program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says God was fitting him for his latest task even before his birth in 1963.

Born to a teenage mother unable to care for the needs of an infant, Fentress was legally adopted and raised by his maternal grandfather, a man he would soon come to call “daddy.”

His grandfather was born in 1893, barely a half generation after the United States had been torn asunder by war and slavery, a scant few years after Reconstruction sought to put the pieces together again. “Daddy” fought for his country in World War I and witnessed massive historic turning points such as World War II, the Cold War and the struggle for Civil Rights.

Though the hardscrabble world in which his grandfather lived did not always exist in harmony, Fentress said the rich history through which “daddy” lived taught him the critical nature of selfless love.

For Fentress, the elder has served as a living parable for the younger, proclaiming a lesson central to the Christian faith, a lesson Fentress seeks to impart to the contemporary church through Southern’s new initiative.

“Daddy was a walking history book and he taught me to love people,” said Fentress, addressing Southern Seminary’s board of trustees.

“I don’t know anybody that my daddy hated. His teaching and training and firm rearing of me has had a profound impact on my life. I am very thankful to God for the privilege [Southern has] given me because in a very real sense, my life has been wired for this.”

Fentress was saved at age 17 and later surrendered to the call to the ministry. Fentress pastored a diversity of churches that have been, along with his grandfather’s example, formative in his view of a biblical Gospel that demolishes the walls of ethnic separation.

“I started out as a new Christian in an all-black Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas,” Fentress said.

“I have served more recently as a senior pastor of an all-white Southern Baptist church in a semi-rural area in Maryland. I have pastored churches in-between. One I think was the best example of multicultural ministry and another that was not such a good example of multicultural ministry.”

Fentress was appointed assistant professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Southern in 2003. It was a homecoming to the institution from which he obtained his master of divinity degree. Fentress earned an undergraduate degree from Criswell College and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Fentress said the appointment by seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. to lead the Intercultural Studies program brings him full-circle to the calling for which Providence has been preparing him for generations.

“We do believe that God has called us to this kind of work of modeling for the church, for churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, for Christianity at large, what it means to reach out to one another, what it means to be one as Paul says in Eph. 2,” he said. “God is making one new man, one new people … to identify as one family, as one body of Christ. This initiative is consistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I am thankful to God that He chose us to return to Southern Seminary, to come back home.”

The twin truths of the exclusivity of the Gospel and the universal call of the Great Commission serve as Fentress’s driving imperatives.

“We have to be intentional to break down the walls that Satan has perpetuated to keep us divided,” he said.

“The mission is to go and make disciples of all nations. That leaves no one out. The Gospel is for everyone and the Gospel brings everyone together. It is a universal message that is for all but it is exclusive, it is specific, that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, the only life. We believe that with all our hearts.”

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