- Hardcover: 592 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 27, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195377141
- ISBN-13: 978-0195377149
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.8 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #981,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 1st Edition
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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.
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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!
I thought this little paragraph about Mullins, who began his tenure right at the turn of the twentieth century, was telling and tragic:
"Southern Baptists relinquished Calvinism in the early twentieth century due largely to the influence of pragmatism, experiential theology, and a growing emphasis on the priority of individual freedom. E. Y. Mullins provided leadership in all three areas." (p. 240)
Wherever you stand on Calvinism, lovers of the gospel will agree that when it went out the SBTS back window into the bluegrass, a lot of good things went with it.
Incidentally, the way Wills tells the story, the conservatives lost the presidency to Mullins in part because of the sinful vanity of Boyce and Broadus' successor, William H. Whitsitt. Personal sin led to institutional downfall.
3. A Truly Great Line from a Truly Great Book
I'm still thoroughly enjoying--and receiving historical instruction from--Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009.
I just got through the major fight liberal-moderate president Duke McCall had in the 1950s with a group of liberal-moderate faculty. McCall won, and because he was not viewed as liberal, rank and file Southern Baptists viewed his victory as a purge of unsound theology from the school. But they weren't quite right. Wills' little line at the end of this paragraph is brilliant:
"Herschel Hobbs's assessment prevailed widely: 'This was Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's finest hour as she stood in the breach and said to modernism and its kind that it shall go no further in Southern Baptist institutions and life.' McCall's purge had saved the school and the denomination from liberalism. The orthodox soon discovered, however, that it was not a case of once saved, always saved."
4. You Lie!
I finished up the history of Southern Seminary. I couldn't help it. It was a riveting read. I knew the conservatives would win in the end, I just couldn't guess how Providence would manage it.
The story was worse than I expected. When liberal-moderates realized that they were losing both the denomination and its flagship seminary, they embarked on a policy of obfuscation. "Obstructivism," Wills called it. "Lying" would not be too strong.
"Liar" and "Hitler" have the same pedigree in debate terminology. I've long opposed the extremist rhetoric--shouted by right and left alike--that resorts to either. The meaning of "lie" is specific and universally agreed upon: telling an untruth which one knows to be an untruth.
That's why Rep. Wilson (SC) had to apologize for his infamous recent outburst. President Obama, like President Bush before him, is certainly guilty, in a specific sense, of telling untruths. Someone who has to speak constantly, relying on advice from others, can't help it in this fallen world. But it's another thing to charge that our president knows certain of his words are false and utters them anyway.
That, however, is just what successive liberal-moderate presidents of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary did repeatedly. They insisted to their constituency that their faculty were doctrinally sound--according to their constituency's definition of soundness--when they knew otherwise. One even released a statement, signed by the five other liberal SBC seminary presidents, claiming to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. That president subsequently told his faculty that, basically, he had not intention of honoring his words. He felt that any action he took was justified in light of his goal of saving the seminary from the fundamentalists.
Conservatives can be guilty of the same casuistry, but in this case they were the good guys. A fascinating story I highly recommend. And the final line was quite affecting.
by Gregory Wills
As someone who enjoyed doing a Ph D in New Testament Between 1968 and 1971, I have watched from afar the comings and goings at Southern Seminary and the parallel events in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 39 years since I returned to my native land of Australia. During my time in Louisville I came to appreciate the diversity of Southern Baptist life. There were people who availed themselves of the freedom to study the Bible with the best scholarly tools in the light of the Lordship of Christ. Such people followed Jesus like their Baptist ancestors without the restrictions of creed or clergy, gender or government. They related to local Baptist congregations and participated in the larger Christian community. They ministered as witnesses of Christ in thought, word, and deed. They came to Southern with hopes and dreams and left to serve with skills as preachers, pastors, lecturers, missionaries, religious educators, musicians, and social workers in churches, colleges, and church agencies.
Against this background I have read the Seminary History by Gregory Wills. I was intrigued to read the behind scenes stories of the last three presidents McCall, Honeycutt, and Mohler. The references to the professors I knew academically and personally were very revealing. There seemed to be little appreciation of their deep commitment to truth in the academy and to ministry in the church. The criteria for assessing them appeared to be narrowly confined to one somewhat strained view of the Bible. Wills is unaware of the distinction between evangelicals and fundamentalists beyond the shores of the United States. Wills does tell a sad tale of suspicion and almost hateful treatment of people who do not follow particular interpretations of biblical authority, pastoral leadership, sexual ethics, and calvinistic theology.
The move from an internationally recognised Baptist seminary to a regional Southern Baptist seminary under Mohler has been evident in various ways. For example, McCall like his predecessor Mullins served as President of the Baptist World Alliance. Mohler, on the other hand, has been part and parcel of the withdrawal of the Southern Baptist Convention from the BWA. Mohler presided over the demise of the Carver School of Social Work in 1995 because he failed to see the compatibility of Social Work and Southern Baptist Churches. At one stage, Mohler weighed into the debate on the use of inclusive language in the Today's NIV. Furthermore, the world famous Pastoral Care programme inaugurated by Wayne Oates and his colleagues in the 1950s was replaced at Mohler's insistence in 2005.
Where does all this leave the reader of Wills' Seminary History? Someone has said that history is written by the winners. Wills writes on behalf of the winners. I would advise readers to appreciate the research that has gone into writing the book. At the same time I would recommend readers to look at chapter 3 of Barry Hankins, Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture (University of Alabama Press, 2002). It analyses the Louisville situation in the 1990s during the changeover of trustees and faculty fairly from both sides.
It is a pity that we Baptists cannot observe the sentiments of the much quoted precept: `In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.' I do like the story of the Kentucky farmer and Baptist deacon who would often pray, `O God, help us to remember where we came from, how much we've got to do, and how much we need one another to do it.'