Why a former Harvard Professor, Professes Christ

In July, I got the chance to go to a Ratio Christi Staff retreat in Tennessee.  It was a great time to get to know some of the team.  One of the people I met was Larry Baxter.  Larry is one of those people you love as soon as you meet him. He is a tall gentleman, with a soft spoken voice, and real wisdom just pouring out with every word he says. For more about Larry’s education and story please visit his “people” page here.  

As you will see on his page you will see that he has a PhD Biomedical Engineer.  That isn’t the most impressive thing about Larry.  The most impressive thing about Larry is his heart! Larry is a true leader and I think you will see a piece of his heart coming through in his answers.

PIL-Thank you again for being willing to answer some questions for the Plugged into Leadership blog.  The first time we met you explained that you worked at Harvard Medical School. I was blown away by this.  I mean, you are a few things, one is you are brilliant but the other is you are passionate about your calling.  What were some of the things you were working on while at Harvard? 

Baxter– I was part of an interdisciplinary lab doing cancer research, with a focus on improving the delivery of anti-cancer agents to tumors while sparing normal tissue. I led a team doing mathematical modeling. It was very helpful not only in analyzing results but in making predictions about which of the many great ideas people had would have the most practical benefit if they were true. We also did some modeling on how to translate data from animal experiments to treating human patients.

PIL-It is rare for a Harvard Professor to hold on to a belief in God, let alone be a Christian. Can you tell us some reasons that you remain a Christian?  Be as specific about the evidence that helps you keep your faith. 

Baxter– Not many colleagues were Christians, or at least they weren’t talking about it. Surprisingly, people were far more tolerant back then, treating you more on the basis of your ability to do great research much more than on your personal beliefs. There are two main reasons I remain a Christian. First, I just don’t have the faith to be an atheist. Having extensively studied thermodynamics, kinetics and probability theory, I find the empirical data utterly lacking in support for naturalistic explanations of the existence of the universe, the existence of life, and the existence of humans. Second, when I was younger I was extremely bothered by hypocrisy, when the way you live your life does not match your professed beliefs. One day I was challenged that, as an atheist, my way of living did not at all match my beliefs that there was no God and that we were simply random collections of chemicals. I acted as if there was right and wrong, good and evil, as if love and purpose were true ideals. I sought a framework where belief and reason were tightly integrated with life, and found that biblical Christianity provided not only the best explanation of our universe, but a coherent worldview that provided a rational and satisfying basis for living. 

PIL-You now work at a church, working on your Doctorate of Ministry, and are trying to rally other Christian Professors through your work at Ratio Christi.  You have massive influence! What are you doing to continue to grow as a Leader.

Baxter-I’m a extremely strong advocate of lifetime learning. As I get older I have come to realize my greatest contributions will be through the people I am able to influence, so I enrolled in school once again to pursue a D.Min. in transformational leadership. I am challenging myself, and others, to understand the theory and practice of helping others maximize their potential for good. In our program, I’m striving within a close knit cohort topics like transformational servant leadership, the spiritual aspects of leadership, the vital importance of community, and what changes in our approach to leadership are needed to impact the next generation – particularly in the area of making disciples and missional living. Reading is a big part of this growth, but the reason I’m back at seminary is that learning in community with others passionate about a subject blows individual learning out of the water! I’m so excited to engage professors and help them to understand and live out their calling by becoming transformational leaders.

PIL-Why should the readers be passionate about Apologetics and Leadership? 

Baxter-These are two areas that are of the highest importance today, and yet are sorely neglected both in churches and in universities. Leadership is influence, helping others to have the motivation and tools to bring about good in an area important not only to your cause, but to theirs. Pastors and professors who see themselves going through a weekly routine focused on informing and teaching others ideas and skills do not understand their calling. Apologetics is very important in addressing a key issue I mentioned above: integrating faith and reason. This is vital both for reaching skeptics and for growing ourselves as Christians. The church has unfortunately given atheists a lot of reason to be skeptical, and has set the stage for students to lose their blind faith in college. We have lost our stress in teaching why we belief, or even how to think! Jesus modeled this, allowing his disciples to ask questions, to doubt, to fail, calling not coercing people to faith, and integrating reason and relationship in a powerful way.

PIL-What is the best advice you have ever been given, and how did it change you? 

Baxter– In some ways I’m a very fast learner, but in other ways a very, very slow learner. In my early career my focus was on myself, learning to have the right answers, and frustrated when others would not listen or follow. My emotional and relational intelligence was very low, and I didn’t even know it. One of the best pieces of advice I ever learned was this: you can be right, or you can be effective, but not both. This has had profound impact in my approach to both leadership and apologetics. When my main focus is on being right, on getting things done my way or winning an argument, I fail. It takes a different mindset to be effective, to persuade and motivate, and to actually bring about positive change. I’m on a journey now to better understand how to put this into practice. 🙂

Conclusion

Larry’s work with Ratio Christi is arguably more important than his work in cancer research.  As the CEO of Ratio Christi, Corey Miller, says “Professors are the greatest omission of the great commission”.  Larry is leading this charge for Ratio Christi.  If you are willing to support Larry in any way, please click on the link in the introduction and help him out.

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One thought on “Why a former Harvard Professor, Professes Christ

  1. I’ve known Larry for about a dozen years now, and I’d have to say that your initial impression of him is spot on. He passionately loves God and people with both his mind and his heart. I’m very excited to see the influence he will have in his role with Ratio Christi.

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