Monday, August 06, 2007

Rest in Peace Dr. Wiggins

Baptists in the South who read ABP News and particularly those in North Carolina who read the Biblical Recorder, no doubt heard of the death last week of Dr. Norman Adrian Wiggins, the Chancellor of Campbell University. Dr. Wiggins had been the president of the university from 1967-2003. He retired from the presidency and was named chancellor in 2003 because of his battle with cancer, which finally took him after a valiant struggle.

If you want to read more about Dr. Wiggins, you can find the story on the Campbell University website at

If you want to read a good analysis of his funeral service yesterday, see this site:

I am grateful to Dr. Wiggins for several things. First, he was president of Campbell University in 1994 when I was hired to teach in the Religion Department. I am grateful that he had enough trust in me to allow me to stand in the classroom and do what I sincerely love to do: teach college students about religion. Then, in 1999 he had enough confidence in me to approve my promotion to chairman of the Religion Department. Finally, even though Dr. Wiggins was very conservative theologically and politically, he had a very strong sense of academic freedom.

Dr. Wiggins was always kind to me and cordial whenever I saw him around campus. But there is one story about Dr. Wiggins that I will forever appreciate. During my first or second year (I can't remember now), when I was just getting my feet wet as a religion professor, I encountered a problem that many religion professors at Baptist colleges and universities have to deal with. Several students got it in their minds that I was too "liberal" in my theology and didn't belong as a professor at Campbell. One of the students made an appointment with Dr. Wiggins to discuss me. Of course, I was not invited to the meeting, but a friend of mine, our campus minister at the time, was present.

The conversation went something like this:

The student lodged his complaint about my theology and teaching with Dr. Wiggins. Dr. Wiggins responded by asking the student if he was currently in my class or had had me for the class in the past. The student responded that he had not. Dr. Wiggins then inquired about whether the student had ever sat down with me to talk with me about these concerns. The student responded that he had not. Dr. Wiggins then asked the student how he knew that I believed and taught such things. The student responded that he had a few friends that were in my class that were talking about me. Dr. Wiggins then said, "you mean that you have not personally heard Dr. Jonas teach those things and have not personally talked with him about your concerns?" The student said, "No." Dr. Wiggins then said, "Son, do you know what slander is?"

This was all told to me by my campus minister friend. And, I will always appreciate Dr. Wiggins' defense of me. He could have responded to the student's concern in another way. But, he chose to trust me and defend me.

Rest in peace Dr. Wiggins. Campbell is going to miss you!

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