1One publisher, Smyth & Helwys, includes the following titles in its Fall 1993 catalogue. What Happened to the Southern Baptist Convention? by Grady Cothen; The Baptist Identity, The Priesthood of All Believers, The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC, all edited or written by Walter Shurden; Amidst Babel, Speak the Truth edited by Robert U. Ferguson; Our Baptist Tradition edited by William Tuck; Principles Worth Protecting by Gary E. Parker. Ralph Elliott published a first-hand historical overview of the controversy that bears his name in The “Genesis Controversy”. It includes his reflections on subsequent events including the current theological climate of the SBC. It is a 1992 publication of Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga.
2Bill J. Leonard, God’s Last and Only Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 68.
3Ibid., 98, 99.
4The basic pattern of early uniformity in doctrine to a progressive diversification is documented in Has Our Theology Changed? Southern Baptist Thought Since 1845, ed. Paul Basden. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994. Examples of statements made throughout the book: “Although Southern Baptists consciously adhered to Calvinism for their first sixty or seventy years, their most recent theologians have rejected it in favor of an Arminian approach to predestination” (p. 71); “Southern Baptist understanding of the atonement has moved from the Calvinistic formulation of Boyce” (110); “We have seen that the Southern Baptist Convention initially adhered to a view of perseverance of the saints in keeping with a moderate Calvinism. . . . [S]ome . . . believe that Moody’s interpretation of apostasy is biblical. . . . For the majority of Southern Baptists, who believe in perseverance of the saints, there are several options” (133). Basden indicates that the approach of the book was “to trace the development of those doctrines which Southern Baptists have seen change in the last century and a half” (2). Basden also says quite candidly “Southern Baptists have significantly changed their beliefs on many of the doctrines related to the Calvinist-Arminian debate” (3). Pertaining to that, two realities worthy of remark are, first, how unacquainted the last two generations of Southern Baptist laity have been about their strong “Calvinist” roots, and second, how tactfully this truth was ignored in theological education for two generations. Even though the book does not advocate a return to the theology of our founders, I am glad the book has pointed out the departure.
5 I do not use the term “moderate” pejoratively but in accordance with a stated desire to be called such. Robert Ferguson writes, “Now that the battle for control of the Southern Baptist Convention is over it is high time that we Moderates, as we prefer to be called, define ourselves.” This is in a publicity statement for his Amidst Babel, Speak the Truth advertised in the Smyth & Helwys, fall 1993, catalogue.
7Fall Catalogue, 1993: Smyth & Helwys issued by Smyth & Helwys, Macon, Ga., p. 6. The advertisement is taken from Parker’s first chapter. Gary E. Parker, Principles Worth Protecting (Macon, GA.: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 1993), p. 2.
8Parker pushes the non-creedal theory to new extremes in his chapter on the autonomy of the local church. In a paragraph amazingly divorced from the whole nature of biblical theology and the strategically foundational place of apostolic teaching in God’s formation of the church, Parker writes, “In his letters to the churches, Paul never expected conformity, and he never advocated coercion. Each congregation experienced individual problems and celebrated individual victories. Paul never tried to create a set of guidelines that each church should use as it lived out its worship and ministry life. He didn’t try to impose a uniform style of worship, doctrine, or structure upon local congregations. He recognized and respected the right of the local church to govern itself as it believed the Lord Jesus had commanded.” Ibid., p. 35. How this wild assertion can survive in the face of the following texts is a mystery: 1 Corinthians 14:37, 38; 15:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 10:1-6; 12:19-21 and 13:10; Galatians 1:6-10; 5:7-12; Philippians 3:17-19; 1 Timothy 3; et al. That Paul “never expected conformity” to his apostolic admonitions is an idea so absurd that one must think its writer is either joking, has ignored massive portions of the Pauline material, or wrote it when he was very tired.
9Stan Hastey, “The SBC, 1979-1993: What Happened and Why,” in Baptist History and Heritage, October 1993, p. 20.
10Ibid., 37. Leonard has a commendably candid discussion of the missions/theological unity issue on pages 37-39. Hopefully it can serve for some future helpful dialogue. He reiterates, “Clearly, Southern Baptists understood themselves in terms of both a missionary and doctrinal identity” (38). He includes a discussion of Boyce’s defense of the Abstract of Principles in this section. His discussion, I think, contains two flaws which leave him room to develop his picture of extensive theological diversity in early SBC life. First, he explains Boyce’s idea of the “fundamental doctrines of grace” as the “great evangelical doctrines of the Christian faith.” While that phrase asserts nothing positively erroneous, it does justice neither to Boyce’s true intention nor his personal perception of the doctrinal unity of Southern Baptists. Boyce was speaking of a specifically Calvinist soteriology, not a broadly evangelical one. The topics of the Abstract and Boyce’s own theological textbook indicate this. In addition, he did not think there would be any serious divergence from this among his Southern Baptist constituents. In his view, Baptists would be happy to send those preparing for ministry to a school where every teacher believed and inculcated a Calvinist understanding of the doctrine of salvation. Second, Leonard understands the provision “Upon no point, upon which the denomination is divided, should the Convention, and through it, the seminary, take any position” to include and permit more diversity than Boyce had in mind. Boyce recalled that the meeting (“convention”) in which the Abstract was adopted was dominated by non-Landmark people. They were not willing, though they could easily have done so, to exclude those advocating “Landmarkism” from either the support of or participation in the life of the seminary. Nothing like the diversity Leonard describes elsewhere (65 – 99; esp. 68, 69, 99) even seemed possible to J. P. Boyce in his view of unity. More on this below.
12Thomas Armitage, “Baptist Faith and Practice” in C. A. Jenkyns, ed. Baptist Doctrines (St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1882), p. 34.
13Francis Wayland, Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches (Watertown, Wisconsin: Baptist Heritage Press, 1988; reprint of original publication, New York: Sheldon, Blakeman and Co., 1857) p. 15.
14Both Wayland and Armitage enjoyed exceptionally effective ministries. Armitage became a Baptist in New York after serving for a period in the Methodist Episcopal church. He came to doubt their doctrines one by one and eventually, after witnessing believer’s baptism twice, adopted the Baptist position. He initially doubted their view of “sinless perfection,” then “falling from grace,” and then the ordinances. It is clear that his negativity toward creeds is not the same as laxness toward doctrinal unity. Nor was Wayland’s proverbial love of freedom marked by a carelessness on matters of doctrine. His presidency of Brown University, a Baptist school without any confessional guidelines, flourished under his 28 year presidency both academically and spiritually. He pioneered in university education by expanding curricular offerings and preached weekly in the chapel and promoted revival on the campus. His views of ordination called for a careful examination on “some of the cardinal doctrines of revelation.” Wayland argued that “the strictness of this examination would depend much on the advantages of the candidate. The greater his advantages, the stricter should be his examination” [Principles and Practices, p. 116]. An unworthy time of examination gave Wayland cause to fear for the future of Baptist ministry. In describing an ordination procedure he witnessed he remarked, “The questions were such as any person who had studied the word of God carefully, should be able to answer on the instant, and yet I heard them spoken of as constituting a very searching examination” [Ibid., p. 118, 119]. Neither of these great leaders decried visible doctrinal unity. Their experience approved the careful, detailed, coherent expression of biblical truths set in systematic form.
15David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists (New York: Sheldon & company, 1860), p. 144.
16A case in point is the loss of Brown University to any evangelical cause. Although the original idea came from the Philadelphia Association, and its necessity was argued from the need for a trained Baptist ministry, the denominational diversity of the Rhode Island constituency prompted incorporation of the principle, “Into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests.” All of its faculty [from all denominations of Protestants] were to experience “full, free, absolute, and uninterrupted liberty of conscience.” The eventual separation from “sectarian” status informed B. H. Carroll’s purpose to provide “Safeguards for the Seminary” as he explained the necessity of a confessional standard for the newly formed Southwestern Baptist Thelogical Seminary. Although one could cite instances of the abuse of creeds in eating up liberty of conscience, the Brown case is an example of the abuse of liberty of conscience devouring doctrinal distinctives.
17J. P. Boyce, Three Changes in Theological Institutions (Greenville, SC: C. J. Elford’s Book and Job Press, 1856), p. 41.
18Ibid., p. 35.
19Leonard, p. 76.
20Ibid., p. 81.
21Al Mohler discusses the issue of theological comprehensiveness in his article “Has theology a Future in the SBC” in Beyond the Impasse, ed. Robison James and David Dockery (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992). pp. 98-110.
22Leonard elsewhere acknowledges the reality of this restricted kind of confessionalism when he remarks that “such dogmas as limited atonement, unconditional election, and irresistible grace, [are] doctrines which may create serious problems” for what he terms the “highly Arminianized” conservative constituency. He wants to know how the inerrantist position of the founders can be so important while “the rest of their Reformed theology” is ignored. His remarks are in History and Heritage, October 1993, p. 15. Basden makes a similar comment in saying, “the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention has embraced biblical inerrancy, which comes out of Calvinism, but has shunned predestination, which is the most characteristic Calvinistic doctrine” (Has Our Theology Changed?, p. 72). He is wrong in stating the biblical inerrancy comes out of Calvinism for it has been the position of the church since the first post-apostolic generation. His point that the acceptance of our theological heritage is selective and therefore truncated is, however, accurate.
23E. Y. Mullins, Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention 1923.
24B. H. Carroll, Commentary on the English Bible, Ephesians 4.
25J. B. Gambrell, Ten Years In Texas, 2nd ed. (Dallas: The Baptist Standard, 1910), pp. 128, 129. The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message includes this same principle in article XII entitled “Education.” The conclusion of the article reads, “Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the preeminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.”