Hardin-Simmons University associate professor of history, Dr. Carol Woodfin, was honored for her recently published book, An Experiment in Christian Internationalism: A History of the European Baptist Seminary, during a reception for local authors, hosted by the West Texas Book Festival, September 24, 2013.
An Experiment in Christian Internationalism: A History of the European Baptist Seminary tells the story of the International Baptist Theological Seminary, begun in 1949 in war-ravaged Europe. Southern Baptists announced plans to establish an international seminary to train ministers to serve across Europe. Despite initial skepticism surrounding the project, the seminary soon gained the respect of European Baptists.
The story unfolds against the backdrop of European post-war recovery, the rise and fall of communism, and greater Baptist interaction in Europe. The book chronicles the seminary’s weathering of financial crises, a move from Switzerland to the Czech Republic, theological controversies resulting in the defunding of the school by Southern Baptists in 1991, and the changing needs of theological education, all while continuing to serve as a unique academic center and community for European and world Baptists.
Her book is the culmination of her work and study as she lived in Zürich, Switzerland, as a journalist and editor at the European Baptist Press Service. Writing news and feature articles for over 50 Baptist publications around the world, Woodfin also studied at the seminary.
Woodfin explains that the title of the book comes from a statement by the seminary’s interim president in its first year. “George W. Sadler noted that the founders stepped out in faith to bring students and faculty together to help heal the wounds of World War II and provide excellent training for the ministry. He knew that the future of the seminary was anything but assured, but expressed his confidence in the ‘experiment.’”
In addition to work done while the seminary was in Switzerland, Woodfin did research at the seminary on two occasions after its move to Prague, and returned there in May 2013 for the European book launch and signing and a lecture on the seminary’s history.
“Since I spent much of my childhood and young adulthood at the seminary, where my father Yandall Woodfin was a professor, and where I studied, I have a deep interest in its history and ministry. I wrote my master’s thesis on the founding of the seminary and long dreamed of returning to the project and bringing it up to date,” says Woodfin.
“I began researching and writing in earnest in 2003, so the book has been over ten years in the making. Primarily I wanted to tell the story of the people who have been a part of this unique institution. But I also wanted to consider the role of theological education in missions, and the challenges of cross-cultural theological education.”
Woodfin notes that dealing with controversial periods in the history was one of the most difficult things about writing the book, “These include the 1991 defunding; the move to Prague; and a 1997 change in curriculum, when many good people disagreed fiercely on the seminary’s role.”
Surviving those growing pains, Woodfin asserts, “The seminary has continued to be a place of reconciliation and spiritual growth over six decades. In that time it has changed lives and challenged stereotypes as it brought together some 2000 students from dozens of countries. They have now served in a variety of ministries and professions in over sixty nations around the world.”
The experiment continues as the seminary makes plans to move to Amsterdam later this year in a joint venture with the Union of Baptist Churches in the Netherlands and the Free University of Amsterdam.
Woodfin says she hopes readers will learn not only about the seminary, but recognize that such an ‘experiment’ is worth the effort, in spite of the difficulty of the task.”
The book was published in April 2013 by the Baptist History & Heritage Society, which publishes several books each year. Books published by the BH&HS are often utilized in university and seminary classrooms, by church groups, and for individual study.
Woodfin graduated in 1978 from Hardin-Simmons University with a B.A. in history and political science. She completed a Master of Arts in History at Wake Forrest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1987 and a Doctor of Philosophy in European History at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, in 1997. She also earned a Certificate in Theology from the International Baptist Theological Seminary in 1986 and attended the University of Zurich.
Since coming to HSU in 2007, Woodfin has taught courses in United States history, western civilization, modern Germany, world history, modern France, and Europe since 1945. She taught Britain at war and world history in HSU’s London Semester in 2010 and returns there for the spring semester in 2014. Prior to coming to HSU, she taught for 14 years at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. She says her decision to return to her alma mater was based on her experiences as a student under professors who took the time to help and to care. She says she loves West Texas and has family roots in Cisco and Breckenridge.
Woodfin’s historical interests include modern Europe, especially Germany; women in history; cultural history; and religious history. Reflecting those interests, Woodfin’s portfolio of writings, workshops, and presentations include "Courage and Compromise: Protestant Women in Nazi Germany,” "Faith and Campus Culture: Are Faculty and Students on the Same Page?" "Integration of Faith and Learning,” and “Reluctant Democrats: The Protestant Women's Auxiliary and the German National Assembly Elections of 1919."