NAE investigating possible Glorieta buyer

Questions relate not to Olivet University’s current president, former Southern Baptist missionary and seminary professor Bill Wagner, but to its controversial founder, Korean pastor David Jang.

By Bob Allen

The National Association of Evangelicals is studying the theology of a potential buyer of Glorieta Conference Center to guide staff leaders and trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources in deciding whether to sell the 2,100-acre encampment near Santa Fe, N.M., that has lost money 24 of the last 25 years.

The study is a “primary condition” regarding sale of the property to Olivet University, a school led by former Southern Baptist missionary and seminary professor Bill Wagner, according to a 5,500-word investigative news story in Christianity Today.

Questions about Olivet – which is unrelated to the similarly named Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. – focus not on Wagner, who served as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2003-2004 and finished fourth in a field of six candidates who ran for SBC president in 2008.

Instead, they center on the school’s founder – Korean pastor David Jang -- and murky connections to various Christian businesses including the popular news websites The Christian Post and Christian News Today.

Christianity Today reported on both sides of conflicting allegations that Jang’s teachings are influenced by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and that many of his followers secretly believe Jang is the “Second Coming Christ,” a messianic figure to complete Jesus’ earthly mission.

Wagner said he doesn’t believe the heresy charges and that if views attributed to Jang were true, he and most of the current faculty would have nothing to do with Olivet University and related missionary involvement by former students in the United States and Asia.

“We have been aware of concerns about Olivet University and its movement for some time,” LifeWay officials said in a statement responding to the Christianity Today article. “Those concerns are precisely why we engaged the National Association of Evangelicals to conduct a thorough review of their theological views to determine compatibility with ours.”

LifeWay and Olivet announced in July that they were working “with an evangelical third party” to ensure theological compatibility of the two groups before moving forward. Christianity Today identified the third party as the NAE, and reported the organization is keeping its review-team members and deliberations confidential.

LifeWay officials said they expect the review to be completed this fall, and then it “will be reviewed by our leadership and trustees.”

The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 local churches from over 40 different denominations as a united voice for millions of U.S. evangelicals, is a member of the World Evangelical Alliance. The WEA lists Olivet University as a “world partner.”

Along with other partner groups, including the Micah Network and World Vision International, Olivet serves as a “non-structured ministry partner … in a specialized field” to contribute to achieving the WEA's objective, according to the ministry website.

Christianity Today said WEA has close ties to Olivet and that organizations associated with Jang compose a third of its global partners and one sixth of its associate members.

Several high-profile Southern Baptist leaders are also identified with the Olivet movement through their connection to The Christian Post, which bills itself as “the nation's most comprehensive Christian news website.”

Wagner is listed as chairman of the Christian Post’s board of directors. Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is listed as executive editor. “Senior editorial advisers” include Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Christianity Today quoted Akin as saying he resigned from the board in late July.