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Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 [Hardcover]

by Gregory Wills
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 27, 2009 0195377141 978-0195377149
With 16.3 million members and 44,000 churches, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist group in the world, and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Unlike the so-called mainstream Protestant denominations, Southern Baptists have remained stubbornly conservative, refusing to adapt their beliefs and practices to modernity's individualist and populist values. Instead, they have held fast to traditional orthodoxy in such fundamental areas as biblical inspiration, creation, conversion, and miracles. Gregory Wills argues that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has played a fundamental role in the persistence of conservatism, not entirely intentionally. Tracing the history of the seminary from the beginning to the present, Wills shows how its foundational commitment to preserving orthodoxy was implanted in denominational memory in ways that strengthened the denomination's conservatism and limited the seminary's ability to stray from it. In a set of circumstances in which the seminary played a central part, Southern Baptists' populist values bolstered traditional orthodoxy rather than diminishing it. In the end, says Wills, their populism privileged orthodoxy over individualism. The story of Southern Seminary is fundamental to understanding Southern Baptist controversy and identity. Wills's study sheds important new light on the denomination that has played - and continues to play - such a central role in our national history.

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Editorial Reviews


This magisterial saga reads almost like a novel ... But the book's primary strength is outstanding historiography ... Wills tells Southern Seminary's unusual story in a gripping, inspiring way. Andrew David Naselli, Themelios

About the Author

Gregory A. Wills is Professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (July 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195377141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195377149
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #795,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Institutional History July 24, 2009
Institutional histories often go unnoticed; this one is worth the read. Baptist historian Gregory Wills provides an insightful, in-depth, and intriguing look at one of the most important theological seminaries in the country. From its difficult founding in antebellum South Carolina to its contentious shift from liberalism to orthodoxy, the history of Southern Seminary mirrors the struggles of the Southern Baptist Convention through the years. Beyond baptist history, this book addresses many of the seminal debates in seminary education: academic freedom, denominational identity, and struggle for orthodoxy are recurrent themes. Wills is a scholar par excellence. He gives careful attention to the primary sources, citing frequently from an expansive breadth of original documents including personal correspondence and other unique documents. The result is a full and faithful picture of the lives of those connected with the Seminary and a careful catalog of important events and their consequences. Wills is fair but unflinching in recounting the many turbulent controversies surrounding the Seminary. The history is lively and engaging; his analysis is perceptive. It is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in baptist history or the pivotal role seminaries play in American religion.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a kind July 21, 2009
"Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1859-2009)" is an excellent, engaging history of the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Wills has expertly combined a close attention to historical accuracy with an engaging writing style that makes this book hard to put down. This book is similar to a well-produced historically-based movie (think "Titanic" or especially "Apollo 13") in that the end is known from the beginning, and yet one experiences suspense, being engrossed in certain previously-unknown details, and wanting to see exactly how everything works out.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificent Achievement September 18, 2009
Published by Oxford University Press, historian Greg Wills' book, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 is now the definitive resource for understanding the history and identity of the oldest of the six Southern Baptist seminaries.

The research in these 500+ pages is groundbreaking. Over a period of several years, Wills combed through more than a million pages of documents. His access to recently-discovered records illuminates the details surrounding the crucial moments in Southern's history.

Last year, I read and reviewed William Mueller's book, A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859 - 1959. Mueller sought to establish a line of continuity between the Seminary's founders and the administration in the late 1950's. What Mueller tried to do, Wills actually accomplishes. Since Mohler has been president, Southern Seminary has been brought in line with the theological vision of the founders.

The book begins by telling the story of James P. Boyce and his tireless efforts to establish a seminary in the south. Boyce brought together the best Southern Baptist minds of the time: Basil Manley, Jr., William Williams and John A. Broadus.

The school's founding took place in 1859, just two years before the Civil War. The war would temporarily close the seminary and place its future in jepoardy. But the founders exerted enormous energy to raise the financial support needed to give the school long-term viability.

Wills charts the seminary's path toward liberalism. In the 1880's, Crawford Howard Toy, an Old Testament professor, was forced to resign because of his higher critical views of the Bible. During the presidency of E.Y. Mullins in the early 20th century, the direction of the faculty moved in a leftward direction.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By mlward
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I wrote several blog posts as I read through this excellent work, and I've reproduced them here:

1. Al Mohler on the Conservative Takeover of Southern Seminary
I've read about 200 pages of Gary Wills' history of Southern Seminary, including the final section on the Mohler years (I couldn't wait!), and I'm really enjoying it. God used James Boyce to perform Herculean tasks to keep the seminary alive in the early years, and faculty members like John Broadus made deep sacrifices, too. The seminary was firmly Calvinist in those days, as was the denomination, and the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy hadn't happened yet--so it was a dynamic quite different from today.

However, the SBTS of today is more like the SBTS of the 1860s than it has been in a century, a point the book makes well. Al Mohler is, humanly speaking, the major reason for the recovery of Boyce's original vision. Mohler performed Herculean tasks of his own, and every good conservative will thrill to hear how the wolves in sheep's clothing were removed from the faculty.

2. Sadness Over Southern
I can hardly put Gregory Wills' history of Southern Seminary down, and I'm willing to call it a must-read for conservative seminarians.
It was thrilling to read of Boyce and Broadus' doctrinal rigor and foresight, and it's been deeply saddening to read how quickly all their life-spending labors were co-opted by the "mediating" theology of E. Y. Mullins. How different our whole country might be if the SBTS founders' vision and doctrine had maintained control at their institution!
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