This year, Ouachita Baptist University awarded the Garrett Ham Scholarship to Mattie Dodson. This content uses referral links.
On February 7, 2019, the Carl Goodson Honors Program and the Alpha Tau Honors Society hosted their annual Black and White Reception. During the dinner, Mattie Dodson was named the 2019 Garrett Ham Scholar.
About the Garrett Ham Scholarship
2019 marks the eleventh year Ouachita Baptist University has awarded the Garrett Ham Scholarship. I established the scholarship in 2008 between my 1L and 2L year in law school.
As an endowed scholarship, it should remain a permanent fixture at Ouachita Baptist University going forward. Mattie Dodson joins a growing list of Garrett Ham Scholars that I anticipate getting bigger with each passing year.
You can find the application for the Garrett Ham Scholarship here, and I encourage any qualified Ouachita students to apply. This scholarship has funded a diverse number of research projects and academic pursuits, and I always enjoy hearing about how students choose to utilize the funds.
Past scholars have used the scholarship to purchase academic resources, attend reputable academic conferences, and travel abroad to places of scriptural or historical significance.
Ouachita’s Honors Council selects a recipient every year from among qualified applicants. Final approval, however, rests with the Dean of the Pruet School of Christian Studies. (Dr. Danny Hays has had the final say on the recipient of this scholarship since its inception.) This is both to ensure that the recipient’s proposed pursuit is in keeping with the mission of the Honors Program while simultaneously remaining grounded in Christian Studies.
Qualified applicants must be Christian Studies or Biblical Languages majors. (If no applicants meet this qualification, Christian Studies minors may be considered.) Preference is given toward funding proposals that support the completion of a senior thesis project.
I established the scholarship in response to my experience during my senior year at Ouachita. Very few Christian Studies majors were participating in the program. In fact, I was the only theology student to complete a senior thesis in 2007. I found this exceptionally disappointing, particularly at an institution that prided itself on the academic study of Scripture.
Mattie Dodson will join past recipients in helping to break this trend, serving as an example of the importance of academic pursuits within the study of theology with a work product that others after her can utilize and appreciate.
Scholarship and the Pastorate
I have always thought that excellent pastoral skills are dependent—not wholly but essentially—upon sound theology and robust scholarship. Much of the thin theological teaching today—the prosperity gospel immediately comes to mind—stems from ignorant scriptural understanding.
I also believe a failure to appreciate and to submit to the teachings of Scripture can lead to all sorts of error. Even on things that seem more practical, a proper understanding of Scripture is essential. The times when I have grievously failed to live up to the standards of my faith, it has usually stemmed from my losing sight of the teachings of Scripture and the Church or from a failure to appreciate and understand their lessons.
(While I established the scholarship in an attempt to remedy what I perceived to be a lack of scholastic focus among Christian Studies majors, I have recently come to appreciate how the academic study of Scripture without a strong grounding in the daily communal practice of the faith in the Church can lead to all kinds of error as well. My hope is that the academic pursuits this scholarship will allow in the context of the practice of the faith within the Ouachita community will help others avoid this error into which I and others have fallen.)
The more people who will grapple with the difficulties of Scripture, tradition, and reason, the greater the community of leaders for us to look to for direction. I hope that Mattie Dodson joins the likes of Augustine of Hippo and Athanasius of Alexander as someone from whose teachings and work we can all draw guidance. I am always encouraged to see students like Mattie Dodson take biblical studies and scholarship seriously.
Writing a Senior Thesis
Writing my senior thesis was the most enjoyable project in my life to date. I wrote it on the debate over open theism’s place within evangelicalism. While the issue has mostly died down as a matter of heated controversy, at the time, it was a pressing topic within evangelical circles. This was not too long after the Evangelical Theological Society brought to a vote a motion to remove Clark Pinnock and John Sanders from its membership rolls over the issue.
Writing this thesis not only allowed me to learn a great deal about the debate itself—obviously writing a research project about a topic will encourage greater understanding of that topic—it also helped me to develop more considerable skill in conducting, synthesizing, and analyzing research while moving toward the creation of a final argument of my own.
I hope that Mattie Dodson’s experience proves just as rewarding as mine did.
Purpose of the Garrett Ham Scholarship
As I alluded to above, I established the scholarship to encourage Christian Studies majors like Mattie Dodson to participate in the Honors Program and to produce a meaningful and high-quality senior thesis. Writing a thesis can be expensive, particularly if done well. Proper research may require the utilization of materials not readily available in the university library and travel to sometimes distant destinations.
I hoped in establishing this scholarship to alleviate the burden associated with writing a thesis and provide a means through which excellent students could produce a higher-quality work product. I was honored to receive the Ben Elrod Scholarship when I was a student. It provided me with a rewarding experience. I was able to spend nearly three weeks traveling through Turkey and Italy retracing the footsteps of Paul. I still treasure these memories quite deeply.
It is therefore very satisfying to support high-caliber students like Mattie Dodson. The scholarship provides approximately $1,300 per year, though it can vary from year to year depending on the endowment’s performance. I would someday like to increase the annual amount as I am able. In the meantime, I hope that it gives Mattie Dodson all the resources she needs to accomplish her academic goals.
About Mattie Dodson
Mattie Dodson is majoring in Christian Studies with an emphasis in Biblical Studies. She is from Arkadelphia, Arkansas and the daughter of Joey Dodson, former Associate Professor of Biblical Studies in the Pruet School of Christian Studies. (I believe Dr. Dodson joined the faculty in 2008 and left in 2019. He was not a professor there when I was a student, but he joined soon after I graduated. Unfortunately, my only familiarity with him is his apparent affinity for pork pie hats.)
She will be using the funds to spend two weeks in Italy this summer with the sisters of San Luca while studying the life and legacy of female saints. I look forward to seeing what her research produces. I wish Mattie Dodson the best of luck.
The 2018 Garrett Ham Scholars
Mattie Dodson succeeds Colton Sims and Cole Jester, who shared the Garrett Ham Scholarship in 2018. Colton Sims used the funds to travel to Israel as part of a biblical studies trip with the Pruet School of Christian Studies. Cole Jester used his share of the scholarship to conduct research at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
The Carl Goodson Honors Program
The Carl Goodson Honors Program provides an opportunity for motivated and high-performing students to enrich their academic experience through more challenging course work and more personalized research projects.
I found participation in the program very rewarding. I would consequently encourage any student at Ouachita who takes academics seriously to participate. In addition to providing a boost to your academic transcript for graduate school applications, it will also provide an excellent foundation for more advanced scholarship. I found what I learned while participating in the Carl Goodson Honors program to be an invaluable asset during law school.
The extra work and effort—in addition to the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with high-quality students such as Mattie Dodson—cannot help but to make you a better student and scholar. In addition, since taking over as the chair of the program, Dr. Barbara Pemberton has done extraordinary work in advancing the program and its mission. Current perks of participating in the program, such as honors trips abroad, early move in and registration, and an honors lounge, were not available when I was a student. They testify to Dr. Pemberton’s efforts to improve the offerings at Ouachita.
I am glad students like Mattie Dodson have the opportunity to study under her direction. I further hope that Ouachita will provide her with all the support she needs to make the program all that it can be. (If for nothing else, I would imagine that the type of student who would be inclined to participate in the program would be more likely to become the type of alumnus who gives money.)
About Ouachita Baptist University
Ouachita Baptist University—not to be confused with “the other OBU,” Oklahoma Baptist University—is a liberal arts university located in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. I received a bachelor of arts in Christian Studies from Ouachita in 2007. I loved my time there, and I try to make it back to campus at least once a year—though that will likely become more difficult with my recent move to New England.
Ouachita taught me how to explore ideas, how to develop an openness to contrary positions, and how to consider my opponent’s point of view in its strongest light. While obviously evangelical in its outlook, it did not push a fundamentalist or close-minded perspective, and it allowed freedom to engage with other viewpoints.
As a result, I believe that Ouachita has been able to produce individuals ready to think and engage with the broader world, rather than retreating into closed-off sects with isolationist tendencies, thinking of those outside the evangelical mindset as an “other” to be avoided. The pastors coming out of Ouachita can preach beyond the choir.
Ouachita prepares its students for future rigorous theological education. Several students have attended Duke Divinity School. In fact, Chris Redmon, the 2013 Garrett Ham Scholar, received his Master of Divinity at Duke Divinity School and is currently a Ph.D. student at Duke’s Graduate Program in Religion, one of the most selective and arguably the best program of its kind in the world. I myself intend to begin studying at Yale Divinity School in the fall.
But the quality of Ouachita’s education is not limited to theology. Philip Williamson, another past Garrett Ham Scholar, went on to receive his Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia, one of the best in the country. Another friend of mine at Ouachita, who minored in Christian Studies, received hers from Harvard Law School.
Mattie Dodson is in good company, and I look forward to seeing all that she will accomplish.
Ouachita’s Intellectual Rigor
The products of Ouachita’s open-minded approach may not always be what Ouachita would desire. Some of the best students I knew during my time in the Pruet School of Christian Studies left the Baptist Church.
I know three who are now Anglican priests and another who is a Methodist minister. Others, however, have gone on to make significant contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention. One of my best friends from my college days serves as the senior pastor at a Southern Baptist Church and even served as the second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Ouachita equipped me to hold onto my faith through all the difficulties that I have experienced through life. And when I have failed, deviated from the demands of my faith, or hurt those whom I loved, it was because I lost sight of what I learned and experienced during my time at Ouachita. I have seen horrible evils in my professional career, particularly in my job as a prosecutor. Without the foundation that Ouachita provided, it would have been much more challenging to hold onto my faith.
I hope that Ouachita makes the same kind of difference in the life of Mattie Dodson as it did in mine.
Clearly, Ouachita is not Harvard. I usually have to provide an explanation as to where it is located when I tell others where I went to college. But its obscurity outside the state does not undermine the quality of education it provides. And a great educational institution tends to produce notable alumni.
The alumnus most often in the news today is probably Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the recently departed White House Press Secretary. I remember Mrs. Sanders, who I believe was the Student Body President—or President of the Student Senate, or whatever we called it then—when I was a freshman, though my sole interaction with her was running into her buying cereal in the early morning hours at Walmart.
Other notable alumni include Mrs. Sanders’ father, Mike Huckabee, who was the Governor of Arkansas while I was in college—and high school, and junior high, and middle school.
Leon Green, while not nearly as famous, was a preeminent legal scholar who I understand was a mentor to the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, as well as professor to three United States Supreme Court justices and dean of the Northwestern University School of Law. Additionally, Judge Bobby Shepherd currently serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Perhaps Mattie Dodson will one day be counted among the school’s notable alumni.
Dr. Ben Sells is the current President of Ouachita Baptist University. He succeeded Dr. Rex Horne, who gained fame as Bill Clinton’s pastor during his tenure at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas and who was the President of the university during my last three years there. I am grateful to have had the chance to come to know Dr. Horne, and I am forever thankful for the kindness he showed me while I was a student there.
I loved every minute of my time at Ouachita, and I would recommend it to anyone. For more information, please visit http://www.obu.edu/. I’d encourage anyone who has had the chance to experience all the good that Ouachita does to consider donating to the University as well.