To Train the Minister Whom God Has Called
James Petigru Boyce and Southern Baptist Theological Education
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. James Petigru Boyce is rightly seen, not only as the founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and its first president, but also as the leading founder of the vision for organized theological education within the Southern Baptist Convention. This is an audacious but sustainable claim made from the vantage point of well over a century after Boyce’s famous manifesto, “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” which articulated with consummate clarity his vision for theological education. This vision was founded within the Baptist tradition and upon the impregnable rock of Christian truth.
By the sovereign providence of God, James Petigru Boyce was superbly equipped and endowed with gifts for ministry, incredible leadership ability, and the full measure of theological conviction. These attributes placed Boyce in the singular position as the Southern Baptist leader best equipped to articulate a founding vision and to draw together the necessary constituencies and resources in order to establish the institution which became known as The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina as the son of one of the South’s most illustrious citizens, James Boyce was in a privileged position to receive an enviable education. But Boyce’s father wisely prescribed a term of toil in his businesses working as a common laborer. Boyce, though equipped physically for physical labor, found that the experience increased his discipline as applied to classical studies.
Boyce’s background in education was matched by the unparalleled experience of growing up among the membership of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina under the tutelage of its gifted pastors. Among these, Basil Manly, Sr. exerted a tremendous influence upon Boyce, framing his theological convictions as well as offering a stellar example of Christian ministry.
The Charleston congregation was the first Baptist church in the South. It was a stalwart Baptist congregation founded on clear Baptist principles and confessing the faith in a constant line of Baptist conviction as articulated in the Philadelphia Confession, which had been formally adopted by the Charleston association as its own, and was commonly referred to as both the “Charleston Confession” and the “Century Confession.”
Basil Manly, Sr. was one of the most able exponents of Baptist theology and conviction as well as an able expositor of Scripture. He well represented the classical type identified by historian E. Brooks Holifield as “the gentleman theologian.” As John A. Broadus stated of Basil Manly, Sr.:
His preaching was always marked by deep thought and strong argument, expressed in a very clear style, and by an extraordinary earnestness and tender pathos, curiously combined with positiveness of opinion and a masterful nature. People were borne down by his passion, convinced by his arguments, melted by tenderness, swayed by the force of will.
Basil Manly, Sr. provided not only a stellar ministry and example for young James Boyce, but he also provided his son Basil Manly, Jr. as Boyce’s boyhood comrade and Sunday School classmate and, later, as his founding colleague at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Boyce experienced a happy and privileged childhood in Charleston, a city of great refinement and prosperity. He attended Charleston College from 1843-1845 and there studied under Dr. W. T. Brantly, another significant gentleman theologian of strong Baptist conviction who served as both pastor of the First Baptist Church and president of the college.
Brown University and Francis Wayland
A significant turning point in Boyce’s life came in 1845 when he moved to Brown University, which had been founded as a Baptist College at Warren, Rhode Island in 1765 and moved to Providence five years later. There Boyce came into sustained contact with Baptists from the North and, in particular with one significant individual who was greatly to mold his vision of higher education. That individual was Francis Wayland, who had been president of Brown University for 18 years when Boyce arrived as a student. Broadus commented that Wayland “made a more potent impression upon the character, opinions, and usefulness of James Boyce than any other person with whom he came in contact”. Wayland was one of the most significant educators in antebellum America, a man of tremendous gifts and very definite convictions concerning the educational enterprise.
So far as Wayland was concerned, education was primarily a matter of fine-tuning the intellectual endowments of his students and increasing their moral vision. Nevertheless, Wayland was not a Baptist figure who was greatly marked by definite theological convictions. It is at least fair to say that Wayland advocated a fluid notion of doctrinal development and was opposed to the very form of confessionalism Boyce himself would later represent.
It was perhaps Wayland’s view concerning ministerial education which was most formative on James Boyce as a student at Brown University. He was greatly stirred by Wayland’s lectures on morality, but he seems to have been much more impressed with Francis Wayland as a leader and administrator who understood the need for quality institutions of higher education, but also understood limitations represented by an institution which required classical preparation prior to entry into formal courses of study.
Wayland, who had been pastor of the First Baptist Church in Boston prior to his election as president at Brown, is in many ways best described as a pragmatist in terms of ministerial education. Many of his students at Brown had been called into the ministry and would leave the university in order to study at one of the existing seminaries in the North. Wayland was not opposed to this. Indeed he felt that men who had received the benefit of a classical education and university could and should extend their study through the formal academic programs of a theological seminary. Nevertheless, Wayland was insistent that based upon Baptist conviction, the ministry should be seen as open to all those whom God called into the service of His church, regardless of their academic preparation.
Wayland was an exemplar of the democratic impulse in antebellum America. He was fully convinced that the genius of Baptist expansion would be found in the reluctance of Baptists to place artificial requirements, educational or otherwise, upon those whom God had called into the ministry and leadership of His church.
Put plainly, Wayland placed high confidence in the Baptist understanding of the Christian ministry. He was an ardent congregationalist, and insisted that each congregation was fully capable of calling out one of its own number to serve as pastor and minister. These ministers who would be called out by churches on the frontier or rural settings were unlikely to have benefit of classical secondary education or formal programs of higher education. Wayland insisted that theological education based upon the model of Andover Seminary should not become the expectation of Baptists as their movement spread across the growing nation.
But Wayland’s concerns regarding theological education went beyond this congregational impulse. Wayland was convinced that theological seminaries were inclined to produce sterile, passionless, and overly intellectual graduates who had little power in the pulpit.
As Wayland reflected in a letter to James W. Alexander, son of Archibald Alexander and himself a former professor of Princeton Seminary:
The tendency of seminaries is to become schools for theological and philological learning and elegant literature, rather than schools to make preachers of the Gospel. With every year the general tendency is in this direction as I think I have observed.
Interestingly, Wayland seemed to exempt Princeton Theological Seminary from this critique, at least in this correspondence with one of its former professors, who was also the son of Princeton Seminary’s founding figure.
Near the close of his life Wayland reflected upon his reputation as a critic of theological education. His intention, as he understood himself, was not at all to oppose theological seminaries, but rather to protect the congregational convictions held among Baptists and to argue for increased attention to developing a passionate ministry as well as a cultured ministry of refinement. As Wayland stated near the close of his life:
I was said to be opposed to ministerial education because I held that a man with the proper moral qualifications might be called to the ministry by any church and be a useful minister of Christ and that we had no right to exclude such a man because he had not gone through a nine or ten years’ course of study. God calls men to the ministry by bestowing upon them suitable endowments, and an earnest desire to use them for His service. Of these thus called, some may not be by nature adapted to the prosecution of a particular course of study. Many others are too old. Some are men with families. Only a portion are of an age and under conditions which will allow them to undertake what is called a regular training for the ministry, that is, two or three years in an academy, four years in college, and three years in a seminary. But does not every man require the improvement of his mind in order to preach the Gospel? I think he does.
Through a review of Wayland’s Memoir, one gains an understanding of the formative influence Wayland exerted upon young James Boyce.
Though Boyce had received the benefit of a privileged formal education, he was well aware that many of his Baptist brethren were bereft of such preparation and would have no opportunity to pursue such courses of study. In a passage which would be echoed in Boyce’s famous address at Furman University, Wayland wrote:
A theological seminary should be so constructed as to give the greatest assistance to each of these various classes of candidates. Some may be able to take a smaller, others a greater amount of study. Let each be at liberty to take what he can, and then the seminary is at rest. It has done what it could. The rest is left to Providence.
Though Wayland experienced a remarkable influence upon James Petigru Boyce in terms of academic vision and understanding of the Christian ministry, it is important also to realize that the influence of Francis Wayland extended to Boyce’s own conversion. The Second Great Awakening had spread from Yale College to Brown University while Boyce was enrolled there. Boyce, though raised within the fellowship of the First Baptist Church in Charleston, had not yet been converted. This he held in common with several other members of his junior class at Brown University-a fact which caused no little distress to the University’s president.
Upon his arrival at Brown, Boyce found himself the concern of many of his fellow classmates who prayed for his conversion. Furthermore, Dr. Wayland himself was anxious concerning the conversion of Boyce and several of his classmates. The college held its usual fast on the last Thursday in February of 1846. Dr. Wayland himself led in morning worship and delivered a powerful sermon in the afternoon addressed to those who had not yet been converted. Shortly thereafter Boyce returned by steamer from New York to Charleston and during that voyage struggled greatly with the state of his own soul. By the time Boyce arrived in Charleston he was as Broadus later described him, “deeply under conviction of sin.”
Boyce’s conversion came under the preaching of Dr. Richard Fuller, who had come from Beaufort to preach in Charleston. The gracious mercy of God as demonstrated in his loving providence was made clear in the life of James Petigru Boyce. As Broadus later reflected, “let us pause to notice that young James Boyce had thus, by the age of nineteen, been brought under the special influence of six of the most notable Baptist ministers in America,-Manly and Brantly, Tucker, Wayland, Crawford, and Fuller.”
Princeton Theological Seminary
After completing his course of study at Brown, Boyce became editor of The Southern Baptist, located in Charleston. The paper had been established in May 1846 by parties related to the First Baptist Church. Boyce became editor by November 22, 1848, when his name first appeared on the masthead. He was introduced by a notice which stated: “Mr. Boyce is a graduate of Brown University, a licentiate of the First Baptist Church in Charleston, and possesses qualities of mind and heart which give promise of distinction and usefulness in the new field of labor he has entered.”
The pages of The Southern Baptist were filled with news of interest related to Baptist life in the larger Christian community. More importantly, the mark of Boyce’s editorship was found in the serious attention given to doctrinal and theological concerns. In particular, an extensive series of articles entitled “On Imputation” appeared in successive issues of the journal. This was later found remarkable by no less than John A. Broadus.
An unusual article appeared on March 28, 1849 which advocated the establishment of a “central theological institution” for all Baptists in the South. This issue was not entirely new to Baptist discussion but it reflects without question the thoughts of the editor as he prepared to leave Charleston to attend Princeton Theological Seminary.
James Boyce enrolled at Princeton in September 1849. By God’s providence, he arrived at a critical moment in the life of that institution. The faculty of Princeton at that time included its first professor, Archibald Alexander, and his two sons, James and Addison. Dr. Samuel Miller, the second professor named to the institution, had been elevated as emeritus professor in 1849-the very year of Boyce’s arrival, though he continued to teach.
In 1840 Archibald Alexander had relinquished the chair of didactic theology to Dr. Charles Hodge. Thus, Boyce entered the life of Princeton Theological Seminary just as it was reaching the very height of its elevation as the center for convictional theological education in the Reformed tradition.
Without doubt, the influence of Charles Hodge is most notable in the theological lectures later offered by James Boyce. Boyce learned the Princeton Theology from its very fountain. He imbibed from Charles Hodge and other faculty colleagues an intense hunger and thirst for theological substance based solidly within the exposition of Scripture. The Princetonians were ardent systematicians. They were unwilling to leave theological truths as unrelated or marginal issues in relation to the marrow of the church. To the contrary, they exhibited in themselves and inculcated in their students an understanding of the unity of truth.
Though Professor Samuel Miller was to live for only a brief time after Boyce’s arrival at Princeton, his influence on Boyce’s later thought can scarcely be exaggerated, and yet it has been neglected. Miller was a sturdy and committed Presbyterian and an ardent confessionalist. He was also a prophet vindicated by later events within the Presbyterian denomination. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Miller was already convinced that American Protestants were in the process of abdicating their theological heritage and diluting the convictions which established the bedrock unity of the true Church. In 1824 Miller published his most important book, The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions. The book, later published under the title Doctrinal Integrity, is one of the most forceful and significant arguments put forth by any American theologian concerning the importance of confessional statements and their application as regulative creeds binding members of a church or Christian fellowship together on the basis of truth. Many of the passages from Miller’s Doctrinal Integrity were reflected in Boyce’s address, “Three Changes in Theological Education.”
As Miller argued, “The necessity and importance of creeds and confessions appear from the consideration, that one great design of establishing a Church in our world was that she might be, in all ages, a depository, a guardian, and a witness of the truth.” Miller sought to answer the opponents of creeds and confessions by suggesting that any opposition was inherently linked to a desire, conscious or unconscious, to compromise and dilute the truth. The arguments against creeds and confessions most often voiced within contemporary Protestantism, and in particular within the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years, were hardly new to Samuel Miller in the nineteenth century. His arguments stand irrefutable:
It will surely not be said, by any considerate person, that the Church, or any of her individual members, can sufficiently fulfill the duty in question, by simply proclaiming from time to time, in the midst of surrounding error, her adherence and attachment to the Bible. Everyone must see that this would be, in fact, doing nothing as `witnesses of the truth': because it would be doing nothing peculiar, nothing distinguishing, nothing which every heretic in Christendom is not ready to do, or rather is not daily doing, as loudly, and as frequently as the most orthodox church.
Miller’s arguments for the usefulness and critical importance of creeds and confessions are argued throughout Boyce’s call for what became the “Abstract of Principles,” which is the confessional basis for all teaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Upon Boyce’s return from Princeton, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina. During his ordination examination Boyce was asked if he had committed himself to the pastorate for the remainder of his life. Boyce answered in the affirmative but added “provided I do not become a professor of theology.”
Boyce enjoyed a happy pastorate in Columbia where he was able to see his young and small congregation grow consistently. In Columbia he was in close proximity to the Presbyterian Theological Seminary there and he had opportunity to come to know James H. Thornwell, George Howe and Benjamin Morgan Palmer, who were all leading figures in the Presbyterian church of that day. They represented continuity with the Princeton tradition, to which they added the genteel approach common to the South.
Boyce’s caveat uttered during his ordination council was brought to the fore when he was elected professor of theology at Furman University in July 1855. At Furman, Boyce quickly distinguished himself as a professor. As John G. Williams, one of his students reflected: “Dr. Boyce taught us systematic theology (using Dick’s Theology as a textbook), church history, Greek New Testament exegesis, and Hebrew. It was easy to see then that theology was his strong point and had already taken a strong hold on him.”
The Birth of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Magna Carta of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was set forth in July 1856 when Boyce delivered his inaugural address as a professor at Furman University. The address, entitled “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” set forth a bold, innovative, and thoroughly comprehensive vision for a central theological institution to serve the needs of Baptists in the South.
The address was perhaps the most important single contribution toward an understanding of theological education in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Boyce laid out a vision which incorporated the democratic impulse of Francis Wayland, the academic and scholarly commitments of the most ambitious educational cultures, and a clear mechanism for ensuring convictional fidelity. The address must have stirred those who heard the young theology professor speak both from the clarity of his mind and the passion of his heart. In any event, his message set in motion and accelerated the move toward a centralized theological institution for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Hopes for a denominational theological institution had been voiced even during the organizing sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Nevertheless, the young denomination turned first to the tasks of Home and Foreign Missions and it was not until fourteen years after the organization of the convention that its first institution was established.
Events led to the report of a Committee on the Plan of Organization, which brought its report in 1858. The committee brought forth a draft of the Fundamental Laws of the institution and stipulated that an Abstract of Principles was to be set in place as a safeguard. As described in the report, the Abstract of Principles was to be “selected as the fundamental principles of the Gospel, shall be subscribed to by every professor elect as indicative of his concurrence in its correctness as an epitome of Biblical truth; and it shall be the imperative duty of the Board to remove any professor of whose violation of the pledge they feel satisfied.”
Boyce’s vigorous vision for theological education was set forth by the three changes he suggested in relation to theological institutions. The changes reveal the depth and breadth of Boyce’s visionary hopes.
The first of these changes was reflective of the influence of Francis Wayland. Boyce was concerned that most theological institutions had become elitist and removed from the life and work of local Baptist congregations. Though Boyce made clear from the onset his insistence upon the vital importance of education and the dignity and utility of graduate education, he nonetheless feared that Baptists would be sidetracked into a false sense of educational aspiration. Should this aspiration be transformed into standards for ministry in the churches, Boyce felt that both Biblical imperatives and denominational advance would be compromised. As Boyce stated:
The Scriptural qualifications of the ministry do, indeed, involve the idea of knowledge, but that knowledge is not of the sciences nor of philosophy nor of the languages, but of God and His plan of salvation. He who has not this knowledge, though he be learned in all the learning of the schools, is incapable of preaching the Word of God. But he who knows it, not superficially, not merely in those plain and simple declarations known to every believing reader, but in the power as revealed in its precious and sanctifying doctrines, is fitted to bring forth out of his treasure things new and old, and is a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, although he may speak to his hearer in uncouth words or in manifest ignorance of all the sciences, the one belongs to the class of educated ministers, the other to the ministry of educated men, and the two things are essentially different.
In this regard, Boyce compared John Bunyan with Theodore Parker. Better to be a preacher unlearned in the worldly sciences than a well educated minister who distorts and manipulates the Word of God. Boyce’s point here is easily misunderstood. This was hardly a call for lowering educational standards or for minimizing the importance of theological education. To the contrary, the issue was not the value of theological education but access to theological education.
In this respect, Boyce significantly advanced beyond the argument of Francis Wayland. Boyce called for a change in theological institutions that would open them to those who were without benefit of a classical education in order that such students might better understand the Word of God and prepare themselves for ministry. As Boyce argued:
Let such a change be made in the theological department as shall provide an English course of study for those who have only been able to obtain a plain English education. Let that course comprise the evidences of Christianity, systematic and polemic theology, the rules of interpretation applied to the English version; some knowledge of the principles of rhetoric, extensive practice in the development from texts of subjects and skeletons of sermons, whatever amount of composition may be expedient, and full instruction in the nature of pastoral duties-let the studies of this course be so pursued as to train the mind to habits of reflection and analysis, to awaken it to conceptions of the truths of Scripture, to fill it with arguments from the Word of God in support of its doctrines, and to give it facility in constructing and presenting such arguments-and the work will be accomplished.
Thus, the theological seminary would train those who came with the benefit of a classical education and study in Greek and Latin, but would train as well those who came with a basic education in English.
This would constitute a virtual revolution in theological education. Boyce’s vision transformed the concerns of Francis Wayland into the glory of an institution which would train both the academic elite and those who had no background in classical scholarly aspirations focused upon the former, his full sympathy rested with the latter.
Boyce’s second change can be seen as the complementary parallel to the democratic impulse reflected in his first concern. Boyce’s concern in this regard was the class of educated men who had no access to theological education designed specifically to train the preacher and minister of the Word of God. If his concern related to the first change was access to theological education for those who had no classical training, his second change called for the development of a quality theological institution which would call forth and train the most highly qualified minister of the Gospel.
Boyce was concerned that churches were calling educated men who were not educated ministers. Or, as Boyce argued, though these ministers are “familiar with all the sciences which form parts of the college curriculum, they are ignorant for the most part of that very science which lies at the foundation of all their ministerial labors.”
Boyce was greatly concerned that these “educated men” who were not yet “educated ministers” would do great damage to the church. He listed concerns which ranged from “unsettled” doctrines and theological error to ill-fed congregations. Boyce prescribed a comprehensive course of theological education based upon the finest and most faithful scholarship, which would include study of the biblical languages including Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldee. These individuals would be expected to study theology and church history from Greek and Latin primary sources. The benefit of classical education would be put to direct use in their study of the whole counsel of God.
Beyond this Boyce called for the development of a superior theological library within such a seminary which could rival the great theological libraries of Europe. To this Boyce added a call for the scholars who would emerge from such a seminary to take on German scholarship and other continental scholars through writing, research, and teaching.
The third change for which Boyce contended in his famous address reflected his sincere concern that doctrinal compromise would in fact threaten both the theological seminary and its denomination. As he stated, “The change which I would in the last place propose is not intended to meet an evil existing in our theological institutions so much as one which is found in the denomination at large, and which may at some future time injuriously affect this educational interest.” In order to meet this concern, Boyce called for a “declaration of doctrine” which would be required of all those who would teach within the institution. Boyce quickly reviewed the legacy of heresy which had called forth this imperative. Even in his own day, Campbellism and Arminianism had already infected many Baptist churches, “and even some of our ministry have not hesitated publicly to avow them.”
Southern Baptists should hear with proper rebuke and reproof the words with which Boyce stated his theological concern:
That sentiment, the invariable precursor, or accompaniment of all heresy-that the doctrines of theology are matters of mere speculation, and its distinctions only logomachines and technicalities, has obtained at least a limited prevalence. and the doctrinal sentiments of a large portion of the ministry and membership of the churches are seen to be either very much unsettled or radically wrong.
Boyce warned of a “crisis in Baptist doctrine” which he saw close on the horizon. Those who would stand for historic Baptist convictions and essential evangelical doctrines would have to do so against the tide of modern critical scholarship, which was even by that time beginning to erode conviction among the churches.
Boyce made clear that his concern was for the integrity of the theological seminary in the midst of doctrinal decline. The one who would teach the ministry, “who is to be the medium through which the fountain of Scripture truth is to flow,” stands before God with a much higher responsibility and accountability than any other teacher. Boyce argued that it is only proper that such a teacher should be held to a formal and explicit confession of faith which would set forth without compromise, and without forsaking clarity, precisely what would be taught within the institution.
This Abstract of Principles constitutes an unbreakable bond and covenant between the seminary and its churches through the denomination. This covenant would in no way compromise the appropriate freedom of the theological professor. To the contrary, that freedom is located within the liberty of the confession itself. That is, the theological professor is fully free to teach within the boundaries and parameters of that doctrinal covenant. The professor is not free to violate that covenant either through implicit or explicit disavowal. As Boyce argued,
The theological professor is to teach ministers, to place the truth, and all the errors connected with it in such a manner before his pupils, that they shall arrive at the truth without danger of any mixture of error therewith. He cannot do this if he has any erroneous tendencies, and hence his opinions must be expressly affirmed to be upon every point in accordance with the truth we believe to be taught in the Scriptures.
Particular obligations lie upon those who would teach the ministry. Such an individual is entrusted with great responsibility, for a theological professor would affect and influence not just one congregation, but multitudes of churches through the generations of ministers who would sit in the classroom.
Theological error was pervasive even in the mid-nineteenth century, and Boyce put forth the historical argument that doctrinal error begins in most cases with one individual who had been entrusted with influence and authority. Such an individual would be dangerous in the extreme, as was Alexander Campbell, Boyce’s chief illustration in this regard.
The doctrinal integrity of the seminary surpassed all other institutional concerns. Doctrinal fidelity surpassed every other institutional concern. Doctrinal integrity was more important than finances, facilities, and all other related factors. The theological institution, no matter how healthy by all other organizational barometers, would be only injurious to the church if it did not stand under this covenant and confession of conviction.
Boyce was neither embarrassed nor hesitant to identify the Abstract of Principles as a creed. Though he rejected the authority of any secular power to infringe upon the Christian conscience, he asserted that the imposition of a creed upon the one who voluntarily taught within a theological institution was in no way a compromise of Baptist understanding of liberty. His statement is of such importance that it deserves citation in full:
It is, therefore, gentlemen, in perfect consistency with the position of Baptists, as well as Bible Christians, that the test of doctrine I have suggested to you should be adopted. It is based upon principles and practices sanctioned by the authority of Scripture and by the usage of our people. In so doing you will be acting simply in accordance with propriety and righteousness. You will infringe the rights of no man, and you will secure the rights of those who have established here an instrumentality for the production of a sound ministry. It is no hardship to those who teach here to be called upon to sign the declaration of their principles, for there are fields of usefulness open elsewhere to every man, and none need accept your call who cannot conscientiously sign your formulary. And while all this is true, you will receive by this an assurance that the trust committed to you by the founders is fulfilling in accordance with their wishes, that the ministry that go forth have here learned to distinguish truth from error, and to embrace the former, and that the same precious truths of the Bible which were so dear to the hearts of its founders, and which I trust are equally dear to yours, will be propagated in our churches, giving to them vigor and strength and causing them to flourish by the Godly sentiments and emotions they will awaken within them. May God impress you deeply with the responsibility under which you must act in reference to it!
Thus would the theological integrity of the institution be established.
The Abstract of Principles came primarily from the editorial pen of Basil Manly, Jr., who had been assigned the task of drafting the confession. Manly drew from the very finest and most faithful Baptist tradition by turning to the Charleston confession and its Reformed Baptist orthodoxy. The Abstract of Principles stands as a brilliant summary of Biblical and Baptist conviction. It is solidly based within the confessional tradition of the Baptists and was, as acknowledged by those who set it in place, a faithful repetition of the central truths found within the Westminster Confession.
Thus the great truths of the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace were incorporated within the heart of Southern Baptists’ first theological institution. Here was to be found no lack of doctrinal clarity and no ambiguity on the great doctrines which had united Baptists to this date. Sincere and earnest Southern Baptist who wish to understand the true substance of our theological heritage need look no further than the Abstract of Principles for a clear outline of the doctrines once most certainly held among us. Let there be no doubt that in the years to come Southern Seminary will be unashamedly and unhesitantly committed to these same doctrinal convictions as set forth in this incomparable document.
The Legacy of James Petigru Boyce
As the Southern Baptist Convention celebrates its sesquicentennial, it is most fitting that we draw attention and honor to this giant of our heritage, who gave birth by heart and calling to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. By the sovereign providence of God, James Petigru Boyce was used to awaken the hearts of Southern Baptists to the need for a theological seminary and, of even greater importance, to understand the requirements that should be made of such an institution in order to guard its integrity for the benefit of the churches. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary stands in tribute to those founding fathers who brought this institution into being, shared those convictions which shaped its substance, and gave of their lives, their fortunes, and their affections in order that this institution might serve the churches.
The first change called for in Boyce’s famous address was realized most fully in the openness of Southern Seminary to persons of all educational backgrounds. Southern Seminary was the first theological institution to offer formal course work in the English Bible. This was a revolution in theological education which was fiercely criticized by sister seminaries at the time. Nevertheless, within twenty years almost all theological seminaries in the country had followed Southern Seminary’s example. A further development of this concern was reflected in the establishment twenty years ago of the Boyce Bible School, to meet the contemporary needs of God-called ministers who had not yet been able to attain an undergraduate education and thus be qualified to enter the graduate programs of the Seminary.
Boyce’s second change, his concern for scholarship, was realized in the fact that Southern Seminary is this year celebrating the centennial of her doctoral program. The institution awarded its first Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1894, the very first non-university based institution in the United States to offer such a degree. Southern Seminary must represent unquestioned and unparalleled theological and Biblical scholarship.
But, as Boyce recognized, that scholarship must ever be in defense of the Word of God and never at the expense of the Word of God. Thus the Abstract of Principles stands. In our present generation, which has experienced moral and doctrinal decline beyond James Boyce’s most dreadful imagination, it is absolutely and undeniably vital that these doctrinal commitments be restated clearly, loudly, and consistently. For, we now live in the midst of a generation suffering from theological and historical amnesia concerning the Baptist heritage. Ours is the task to train, educate, and prepare a generation of God-called ministers of the Gospel who will stand for these convictions without compromise, and exhibit by their faithful exercise of the Christian calling their testimony to the glorious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and see the conversion of souls as God adds to His Kingdom.
This was the passion of James Petigru Boyce. May Southern Baptists of this generation give our proper respect to that legacy, and leave for generations which will follow the same deposit of truth, and an equal commitment to its perpetuation.