The Godmakers: A Review Article

The Godmakers: A Review Article

Chad Brand

According to Shakespeare, the telling of history is sometimes full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. At those times it may not be the history itself that is problematic, but the telling of it. Anyone who assays to narrate takes on a difficult task, a task all the more challenging if the subject is as controversial as the one taken up by this volume. This review examines Bruce Gourley’s book, The Godmakers: A Legacy of the Southern Baptist Convention (Franklin, TN: Providence House, 1996), with three questions in mind. Is his research qualitative? Is his treatment of the material objective, in any measure? Are his interpretations of the data fair? In other words, how much is there in this book of sound and fury, and how much of significance?

The volume contains extensive research into both Baptist history and the controversy between conservatives and moderates in the SBC. The book includes a total of 411 footnotes, which, while not exorbitant, is impressive. Gourley himself teaches Baptist history at Yellowstone Baptist College and is a graduate of Mercer University and of Southern Seminary. One would expect to see good quality research in a volume such as this.

This book is essentially a critique of the “fundamentalist takeover” of the Convention. As such, the author refers repeatedly to the major players from the conservative side of convention politics, particularly Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, R. Albert Mohler, Richard Land, Jimmy Draper, Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, Jerry Vines, W. A. Criswell and Mark Coppenger. He repeatedly quotes these individuals and critiques them. But his quotations and his critiques are almost all from identifiable moderate sources. In such quotes and references, this reviewer could find only ten footnotes citing either primary sources or sources which might have been in sympathy with the person being quoted. Three of these citations were from James Hefley, one from SBC Life, one from the Indiana Baptist, one from an article by Paige Patterson in Review and Expositor, one from Albert Mohler and three from a book by David Dockery. Out of 411 footnotes, over three hundred of which actually deal with the convention controversy, only ten cite self-identified conservative sources. On the other hand, at least 272 of the footnotes cite self-identified moderate sources, most of them involving negative assessments of the conservatives listed above. A simple statistical observation tips off even the sleepy reader that this might just be a hatchet-job of second-hand criticism rather than a thoughtful analysis by someone who is admittedly from the other side. One has to wonder how historian Gourley could have considered his uneven research to be of the quality needed for intelligent discourse and analysis.

Gourley’s use of his sources is also problematic. Granted that he makes use almost exclusively of sources whose authors have a vested interest to critique the conservative resurgence. But does he use those sources accurately? In many cases he does not. In Chapter Four he critiques the conservative movement for its racism. “It is a tragedy, however, that the white God which Southern Baptists of the 1800s worshipped is still alive in the minds of many Southern Baptists, particularly in fundamentalist circles” (p. 75). As a prime example he presents this: “. . . Adrian Rogers, fundamentalist pastor and past SBC president, recently revealed his racist beliefs when asked about slavery: `Well, I believe slavery is a much-maligned institution. If we had slavery today, we would not have this welfare mess’” (p. 75). Gourley seeks with this quote to prove that Rogers is a racist in his attitude toward African-Americans. The footnote for this comment cites an essay by Cecil Sherman, former head of the CBF. But when one looks at the essay by Sherman, an entirely different perspective is apparent. Sherman asked Rogers the question about slavery in the context of their work together on the Peace Committee. But the question he asked was about slavery in the Bible, not the American institution of racial subservience. This is very plain in Sherman’s essay (“Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement,” in Walter Shurden, ed., The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC, p. 36). Sherman did not take Rogers’ comment to refer to the American institution of Southern injustice, and there is no reason why Gourley should have taken the text in this manner, either. One may disagree with Rogers’ statement in any event, but to twist his words willfully in order to score a rhetorical point is unconscionable reporting.

If that were the only example of bad research, it would be forgivable, perhaps attributable to a hasty reading of the document. But the volume is replete with this kind of investigation. In Chapters Eight and Nine he refers to a critique of fundamentalism offered by Jimmy Draper in his book The Church Christ Approves. Draper wrote the book in 1974 and the fourth chapter features a withering challenge to ultraconservatism. Gourley then claims that ten years later, though, Draper was “lured into becoming part of the very group that he so strongly condemned” (p. 131). But if Gourley had read Draper’s actual book, rather than reading only the pre-digested version of it in Grady Cothen’s narrative (What Happened to the Southern Baptist Convention?) to which all the footnotes refer, he would have known that Draper was critiquing classical fundamentalism of the J. Frank Norris variety (about which more will be said later in the review). Instead, Gourley sees Draper as critiquing the form of “fundamentalism” represented by people such as Criswell, a form which crystallized in the post-1979 “takeover.” But this is ludicrous! At the time that the book was published, 1974 (not 1973 as Gourley mistakenly notes, p. 143), Draper had just taken a position as Associate Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. The pastor of that church was the man referred to by Gourley as “fundamentalist W. A. Criswell” (p. 148). In fact, Criswell actually wrote a “Special Introduction” to the volume by Draper which levels such a strong criticism of classical fundamentalism. Is it likely that Criswell would have endorsed a book written by one of his own Associate Pastors–a book which, by Gourley’s account, assaults the foundations of all he held dear? Had Gourley looked at Draper’s book itself, rather than depending on a secondary reference, he might have saved himself from committing such an egregious error.

Further, the author’s use of the statistical work of Nancy Ammerman is extremely muddled. Ammerman lists five categories of theological/political alignment in her sociological study of the SBC (Baptist Battles). In appealing to this study, Gourley notes that only eleven percent list themselves as belonging to the group labeled “self-identified fundamentalist.” He then disingenuously co-opts the other eighty-nine percent for his cause. “The current fundamentalist leadership has consistently labeled as `liberals’ a large bloc of the eighty-nine percent with whom they do not fully identify” (p. 68, also p. 16). In other words, because only eleven percent call themselves “fundamentalists,” the author assumes all others are in opposition to the ideology of the conservative leadership in the Convention. This is simply a misuse of statistics.

This list could be enlarged many times. He refers to other works for support of his claims, though it is often the case that those works offer no such support. Gourley claims, for instance, that Jerry Vines’ comments in 1988 about his appreciation for Jerry Falwell “sent chills through the mainline SBC conservatives and moderates” (p. 133), citing Nancy Ammerman’s volume again. This reader looked in Ammerman’s book to find out what these “conservative and moderate” individuals thought about Vines’ statement. But Ammerman does not even mention this. Gourley often makes grandiose claims about history and interpretations, while offering no substantiation whatsoever to his assertions. For instance, “Today, `pharisaic’ is a term sometimes used to describe . . . ultraconservative or fundamentalist Christians who are overly legalistic in their beliefs and practices” (p. 142). Used by whom? He does not say. If these comparisons are being made, the reader ought to have the benefit of knowing who is making them. Is it Herschel Hobbs? Bill Clinton? Jesse Jackson? William F. Buckley? Jimmy Draper? It might make a real difference to our appreciation for his claim if we knew who held this view. Gourley does not tell us. This is simply a rhetorical ploy disguised as research. Logical fallacies and poor reasoning abound in this work. Noting that Paul Pressler gave an interview to theonomist Gary North in 1986, Gourley interprets this as indicating “an openness to Christian Reconstructionism.” He then asserts, “Pressler’s association with North in regards to this interview . . . bodes ill in the eyes of mainline conservative and moderate leaders” (p. 139). If giving an interview to someone indicates an acceptance of the interviewer’s beliefs, then every moderate leader in the Convention who ever answered a question posed by Jim Hefley is, in reality, a “fundamentalist.” (That is the term he uses for Hefley.) The logic of such reasoning escapes this reviewer.

It should be clear by this point that there are decided difficulties in Gourley’s use of sources and his research methodology. But beyond that, does the book attempt to be objective in its treatment of the controversy? Two lines of probing ought to reveal the answer to this question. First, does the author use rhetorical devices inappropriately in his exposition of the views of either side? Second, is he even-handed in dealing with controversial subjects on both sides of the controversy?

As to rhetoric, one does not have to read far to discover that Gourley is not happy with the conservative resurgence. The conservatives are “intolerant” (15), “militant” (54, 56), “unethical” (58, 162, 182), “usurpers” (59), “unscrupulous” (62, 129), “conniving” (62), “crusad[ers]” (65), “racist[s]” (75), “decept[ive]” (114, 118, 153, 161), “idol[atrous]” (119), “humanistic” (124), “legalistic” (145), “hypocritical” (150), “self-righteous” (154), “sinister” (160), “extremist” (160, 190), “dishonest” (161, 180), “ungodly” (162, 164), “prideful” (164), “vicious” (174), “malicious” (174), “paranoid” (182), and “un-Christian” (182). They have exercised a “coup” (59, 177), won elections by evoking “emotional responses from their hearers” (67), they are not “concerned about . . . spiritual matters” (60), they are deceptive (75), “pope-like” (89), and possess a “flagrant disregard for God’s truth” (103), while believing that “God verbally dictated the Bible, word for word” (105). They are “ax” wielders (63, 65), they loathe the seminaries (64), they are like the communists (65), they manipulate numbers (67, 91), “flagrantly mangle Baptist history” (69, 121), “bend Scripture to their liking” (95), and are “absolutely terrified of modern scholarly biblical research” (100), while “more than a few” (how many that is, he does not say) “rest their very salvation on the belief that the King James Version is the only accurate translation of the Bible” (102). They “lunge” at their opponents (120), are “outraged” (62), are “insolen[t]” in their claims to absolute knowledge (121), are “power brokers” (122), place their “human opinions” above the Bible (124, 182), persecute others (125), and have developed ties with theonomists, who espouse “a complete overthrow of democracy and installation of a government based on” the Mosaic code (127). These fundamentalists foster “witch-hunt[s]” (128, 182), worship a “Falwellian god” (134), give only “token support” to the Cooperative Program (158), and regularly make “illegal” moves (58, 180). Further, they were supporters of Ronald Reagan, “who will long be remembered for his lack of integrity” (135). (Curiously, there is no mention of the integrity factor of the current administration in Washington or of the support given it by Southern Baptist moderates.) This is only part of the list of intemperate terms used to describe conservatives. No negative appellations are used to indict moderates, on the other hand. Rather they are “respected” (55), “spiritual” (59), “just” (81), honest (99), “educated” (100); they are “appalled by partisan politics” (159), are people of “integrity” (163), and have “love and compassion” for others (192).

Beyond rhetorical language, does Gourley treat the issues of the controversy in a fair manner? How does he interpret the various events and debates that have arisen over the last eighteen years? Since the book is full of such expositions, a complete examination would require a book of similar size and scope to the one being reviewed. That is not possible. A sampling will have to suffice.

Gourley attempts repeatedly to smear conservatives with the taint of racism. He claims that the “current CLC” has “at times, displayed openly racist attitudes” (75). To the casual reader, such an allegation would seem serious. And it would be, if that were the whole story. It is not the whole story. The author, though, simply leaves it there. Those who follow such events know that he is referring to a statement made by one of the trustees of the CLC. But they also know that the Commission dealt with this matter swiftly and summarily. The author of this volume conveniently fails to note that fact. But there is more. Gourley does not inform the potentially unwary reader that Richard Land sponsored a forum on racism in which he invited several key “moderates” to speak. Nor does he note that it was “fundamentalist” Richard Land, not Drs. Valentine or Baker, who first integrated the CLC staff by hiring an African-American to a staff position.

This is not the only such attempt by Gourley. For instance, after inveighing against Mohler for his handling of Molly Marshall and Diana Garland, the author alleges that “accrediting agencies are once again turning a doubtful eye toward Southern” (183). Two questions beg to be asked. What does he mean? and how does he know this? If he is implying that Southern is on probation from ATS or SACS, then he is not telling the truth. So, just what does he mean? And, how does he know? The accrediting agencies have not made any public statements, and all communication from these agencies is strictly confidential. So, just what does Gourley want the reader to think? It is not clear, but it is possible to infer an answer. Perhaps Gourley knows that some faculty member or other has registered a complaint with the agencies. That would be followed up by a letter from the agency to Southern Seminary. But such letters do not necessarily constitute “turning a doubtful eye.” In other words, Gourley here is simply assaulting the institution by innuendo. It is probably his hope that readers of his book will not know enough about accreditation to read between the lines. But informed readers must wonder where the integrity is in all of this. Why does he not say what he really means? The book is replete with similar examples.

Gourley regularly mentions the fact that conservatives in the SBC have been concerned about theological problems and perceived “liberalism” in SBC seminaries and agencies. Yet, there is virtually no exposition of the specific theological concerns raised by the supporters of the “takeover.” The book examines the controversies surrounding Ralph Elliot in the early Sixties and Crawford Toy in the nineteenth century, but it discusses none of the actual allegations about theological reductionism made in the course of the present controversy. Yet, several key persons and issues have been targeted for criticism by conservatives in the last twenty years. Paul Simmons has been critiqued for his views on abortion and homosexuality. In addition, Alan Neely’s theology of religions, Molly Marshall’s doctrine of inclusivism, and Robert Alley’s Christology have all been major factors in the rhetoric from the conservative movement. But none of these is even mentioned by Gourley. One would think that a careful, objective treatment of this controversy ought at least to list some of these concerns. This volume does not fulfill that expectation.

Many other problems in the volume beg for treatment, but this examination will conclude by looking at only two more–both very critical issues, in the opinion of this reviewer. On virtually every page, Gourley uses the word “fundamentalist” to identify the objects of his scorn. The question is, what does Gourley mean by the term? Further, does he use it honestly and consistently? Fundamentalists, according to the author, made their presence known in the SBC in the early years of the twentieth century, primarily in opposition to E. Y. Mullins and the progressive approach which was taking root at Southern Seminary. This group of “ultraconservatives” (Gourley’s synonym for “fundamentalists”) also was instrumental in founding Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth. (He calls it a “training ground . . . for fundamentalists,” p. 47.) Early on these sectarians were galvanized around the ministry of the flamboyant J. Frank Norris of Fort Worth. Norris, though, would gain no permanent foothold in the SBC. His vocal perorations did stir Southern Baptists to adopt a confessional statement, but it was a statement which “indirectly refuted fundamentalism” (p. 50). Aside from two skirmishes in 1963 and 1970-71, fundamentalism was not a major problem in the SBC after the time of Norris. According to the author of this volume, though, that hiatus ended in 1979.

Gourley does something very odd at this point. He moves directly from “fundamentalist” Norris to “fundamentalist Paige Patterson” and “fundamentalist James T. Draper” without even an indication that there might be some substantive differences between the various versions of “fundamentalism” represented by these different persons (pp. 50-59). What is even more curious, Gourley never defines fundamentalism. He never attempts to give any careful consideration to the roots of the movement or to the relationship between early fundamentalists and their very conservative (though not actually fundamentalist) brethren. Nor does he distinguish between different kinds of “fundamantalisms.” A glance or two at George Marsden’s several works on fundamentalism, or a look at the analyses of Joel Carpenter, Grant Wacker or Leonard Sweet would have made Gourley’s typology of fundamentalism more precise, more informed, more credible. Instead, he simply tells his readers that Norris and Patterson and Land and Draper and Henry and Dockery are all pretty much interchangeable versions of one another. This is almost beyond belief! But again, it simply shows that Gourley has his own (unarticulated) definition of fundamentalism.

Alternative interpretations of the fundamentalist question in the modern SBC are available. Clearly, many of the leaders of the conservative movement have followed a “fundamentalist” paradigm. But it does not seem to be the paradigm of Frank Norris or William Bell Riley or Bob Jones, a fundamentalism based almost exclusively on battle, confrontation and separatism. Rather, it is similar to the “fundamentalism” of men like Charles F. Fuller and Donald Grey Barnhouse. Fuller and Barnhouse combined a strong affirmation of conservative theology (including a willingness to fight for their convictions) with a vibrant piety and a towering passion for evangelism. This is a better characterization of many of the persons Gourley reproves. Others in the SBC conservative movement have eschewed virtually all fundamentalist paradigms, preferring to side with mainstream conservative evangelicalism, after such models as D. Stuart Briscoe, D. A. Carson and Chuck Swindoll. Some have patterned their work after the church growth ministries of Bill Hybels and John Maxwell. Still others have gravitated to a theological and ministerial model somewhat after the fashion of Reformed evangelicalism. Important figures here would be J. I. Packer and James Montgomery Boice, and (out of a more Baptist matrix) Carl F. H. Henry and John Piper. Some of these persons hold views not in full sympathy with Baptist theology, but in terms of their alignment on many of the issues facing the church today, they have marked out specific, identifiable positions. This reviewer is simply indicating that J. Frank Norris is not the model for contemporary SBC “fundamentalism.” Gourley indicates that he is. That claim seems clearly to be reductionist.

Tied in with his broad-brush-treatment of “fundamentalists” is an attack on their doctrine of Scripture. Gourley claims that the concept of inerrancy was birthed by the Princeton theologians in a “knee-jerk reaction against the rise of modern science” and was “not born out of a systematic study of the nature of Scripture” (p. 107). So, the notion of inerrancy is of recent origin and is, thus, unworthy of attention. Anyone who has actually read the Princeton theologians (A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield) on this matter will immediately recognize that Gourley has not even glanced at their works. The inerrancy position was not birthed in apologia against Darwinism. In fact, Warfield was himself a theistic evolutionist (though certainly a moderate one). Further, Warfield’s various essays on Scripture (now collected in a single volume) are an exercise in precisely the activity which this author denies to them. They are meticulous, painstaking analyses of hundreds of biblical texts, done with a view to develop an inductive doctrine of the nature of Scripture. Had Gourley even so much as looked at the “Table of Contents” of Warfield’s book, he could have saved himself from this faux pas. Furthermore, it is facile to claim that the Princetonians invented the notion of inerrancy in the first place. Rogers and McKim, in their critique of the doctrine, trace it at least back to Turretin and Quenstedt, and John Woodbridge, in his rejoinder to Rogers and McKim, traces it back much further. Doubtless, Gourley never looked at these volumes, either.

So, what of this little book? It will likely take its place alongside a growing number of monographs, histories and book-length sermons currently being written by persons on various sides of the Controversy. It is not likely, though, that this will be considered one of the more memorable or important reflections to come to print. The book is too rhetorical. Partisanship is one thing; fury is something entirely different. One wonders, after reading this volume, how the author could in all conscience criticize those conservatives (or fundamentalists) who have used the rhetoric of “skunks and snakes.” Gourley’s book really does not rise above that level. Such rhetoric has happened on both sides of this conflict, of course. Is it not time, though, for us to turn away from all the name-calling and get on with the business? It seems, after looking at this little exercise in history-telling, that there is not much here that is significant. But the sound and fury just seem to go on and on.