Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Controversy

The last of a series on Southern Baptist history . . . 

Center of the Southern Baptist Controversy
The Controversy. The Conservative Takeover. The Conservative Resurgence. Whatever you call it, a change took place in the late 20th century in the Southern Baptist Convention. There has always been a diversity of opinion among Southern Baptists, but in the 20th century for the first time, the integrity of the Scripture began to be questioned in the upper echelons of Southern Baptist educational and denominational life in stark contrast to the millions of Southern Baptists in the pews every Sunday.



Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had always been a lightning rod, and rumors became widespread of creeping liberalism among faculty at Southern. It was not the first time. Crawford Toy had been kicked out of Southern for his Unitarian views in the late 19th century. By the 1950s, liberal charges were being made against Southern Seminary, and its reputation for controversy regained ground. It was the era of the Cold War, the specter of Communism, the suspicions of McCarthyism, and the nuclear age. SBC seminary professors were now going on sabbatical to Continental Europe, breaking out of their insular Southern Baptist world, and imbibing German liberalism and higher criticism. They came back different people. They were now budding liberals who taught the spiritual resurrection of Bultmann, and no longer accepted the idea of Biblical inerrancy.

Duke McCall (1914 -   )
In this swirl of suspicion, a Southern student named Clayton Sullivan published Called to Preach, Condemned to Survive: The Education of Clayton Sullivan. Sullivan wrote that he had always just wanted to preach the Word, so he went to Southern Seminary, arriving believing the Bible but left a Ph.D. disbelieving it. Sullivan struggled to get his degree, then went back to Mississippi with no real answers. Sullivan wrote his dissertation during a stir in Southern Baptist life in 1957 called the Lexington Road Massacre when thirteen professors were fired at Southern, ostensibly for liberalism. In reality, though, liberalism was a smokescreen. The faculty at Southern from the beginning had run the seminary, but Southern’s President Duke McCall (1914-    ) was in a power struggle with them to gain control of it himself. The best way for Duke McCall to take control was to run off thirteen faculty members who stood against him. More of them were conservative than liberal.

In 1963 another controversy erupted at Southern Seminary, this time it was the Ralph Elliott Controversy, an Old Testament professor at Midwestern Baptist Seminary who had studied under the esteemed Dr. Clyde Francisco at Southern. Ralph Elliott’s book published by Broadman Publishers, The Message of Genesis was written to help Baptists handle the explosion in our knowledge of science and space age technology in the 1960s. Elliott affirmed the higher critical method of Biblical interpretation, which denies the authority of Scripture and said that Genesis 1-11 is mythology. Aghast, Southern Baptists asked, “Why is he teaching in one of our seminaries, and why did Broadman publish such a thing?” An embarrassed Broadman pulled the book off the shelves. Elliott’s seminary president called him in and told him he could keep his job if he promised not to republish the book with another publisher. Elliott refused, and he lost his job, not over academic freedom as some charged, but for insubordination to authority. Suddenly, Elliott’s friends, including his mentor Clyde Francisco, were nowhere to be found. No one came to his support. The lesson? When you are about to be fried, friends get scarce.

In 1991, Ralph Elliott wrote The Genesis Controversy in which he vented that Clyde Francisco had taught him everything he knew, but he never came to Elliott’s aid when Elliott wrote what Francisco had taught him. Why was Francisco not investigated? Elliott asked. In his Southern Baptist tell-all, he revealed that his professors at Southern taught students at the seminary not to teach what they were learning the same way in the churches or they would be fired. Elliott wrote that professors called their method, Double Speak. Elliott said he would not play that game. If he was a liberal, he would be a liberal all the time and not hide his own real views that he had formed from what Francisco and others had taught him in seminary.


Then in 1969, the Broadman Commentary Controversy erupted. Southern Baptists by this time had six seminaries, so there were enough scholars to write a commentary series for Southern Baptists. G. Hinton Davies wrote volume one, Genesis-Exodus, from a higher critical viewpoint. Southern Baptists were annoyed, and Broadman again pulled the volume. Clyde Francisco, by this time retired from Southern Seminary, rewrote the volume. The Broadman Commentary series would continue to be written, but deliberately be obscure toward the literal interpretation and authority of Scripture. As a result, its usefulness was limited.

W.A. Criswell (1909-2002)
Conservatives saw the liberal direction of their denomination, but they felt powerless to stop it. Some conservatives gathered around the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX, Wally Amos (W.A.) Criswell. Criswell was a first-class, stirring preacher committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. When one conservative group which had lost hope in the SBC’s direction came to him to ask him to lead them out of the SBC, Criswell emphatically said, “NO.” He believed any rebellion would be doomed to failure, and it would be best not to make waves. But later he wrote a book that stirred the SBC’s grassroots, Why I Believe the Bible is Literally True, which Broadman published in an effort to clean up its image. Criswell’s point: “It is time to take a stand for the Word of God.”

E. Glenn Hinson
In a reaction to the popularity of Criswell’s book, professors in SBC colleges and seminaries formed the Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. The move was not wise, because their anti-Criswell stance made it easier for professors to be identified who were left of center. Polarization also happened on the conservative side. In a reaction to the ABPR, conservatives in 1971 established the Criswell Institute of Biblical Studies. In Memphis, TN, Gray Allison founded Mid-America Seminary as a counter institution to the six liberal SBC seminaries funded by the Cooperative Program.

On August 26, 1976, three Southern professors – G. Willis Bennett, E. Glenn Hinson, and Henlee Barnette -- signed off on a thesis which would ignite a huge controversy. It was entitled A Sociological Analysis of the Degrees of ‘Christian Orthodoxy’ Among Selected Students in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary by Noel Wesley Hollyfield, Jr. Each of the three professors would later lead attacks on the Conservative movement in the SBC, especially Hinson. Called the Hollyfield Thesis, the research asked three questions about the beliefs of students in each program and discovered a disturbing trend. The professors’ approval of this thesis did tremendous harm to liberal control of the convention. The research showed Southern Baptists that they were paying to have professors destroy the faith of those who attended their seminaries. A revolt by the conservative majority would soon be afoot.


Diploma students
1st year M.Div.
Final year M.Div.
Ph.D / Th.M
I know God really exists: I have no doubts about it.
100%
74%
65%
63%
Jesus is the Divine Son of God: I have no doubts about this.
100%
87%
63%
63%
I believe the miracles happened as the Bible said they did.
96%
61%
40%
37%
Jesus was born of a virgin: completely true
96%
66%
33%
32%
Belief in Jesus Christ as Savior: absolutely necessary
100%
85%
60%
59%

Conservative Revolt begins

H. Paul Pressler, III
H. Paul Pressler, III was a Texas state appellate court judge in Houston. In the late 1960s, frustrated at the reports of liberal theology he received from Baylor University students whom he had taught in youth Sunday School, he went looking for authentic men of the Word of God in the SBC who believed in the inerrancy of Scripture. In 1967, he met Paige Patterson and Richard Land at the Café du Monde in New Orleans. Pressler understood the SBC Constitution, and he had developed a strategy he hoped would transform the SBC, restoring it to its conservative roots. Pressler had learned his strategy in an encounter with a man named Bill Powell, who led a bus ministry at a church in Durham, NC, and who was head of a group called the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship.

Pressler put forward his plan to Land and Patterson. Local churches select messengers each year to the Convention. The messengers elect the President. The President appoints the Committee on Committees which in turn appoints the Committee on Nominations which in turn appoints the Boards of Trustees who determine who will be seminary presidents, professors, international and North American missionaries, and writers of Sunday School literature. Judge Pressler believed that if SBC messengers would elect a conservative president for ten consecutive years, then the Convention could be changed, and a conservative resurgence could take place. Patterson and Land agreed to work with him.

Adrian Rogers (1931-2005)
In 1979, Judge Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson worked hard across the SBC to get Adrian Rogers (1931-2005) of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis elected over moderate Jimmy Allen. Pressler and Patterson were accused of fundamentalist politicking, and though Allen admitted he was looking for votes himself, he was defeated. Adrian Rogers became the first conservative SBC president elected with 52%. It was not a new thing to try to control the SBC presidency. Small groups always had, but the difference was that Pressler and Patterson were out in the open, and their agenda was clear. They published their intentions in state Baptist papers. The moderates had underestimated the conservatives and lost.

But something strange happened. In 1980, Adrian Rogers decided not to run for a traditional second term. Conservatives scrambled and put up Bailey Smith, but the moderate/liberals had no real candidate.

Cecil Sherman (1927-2010)
That is when Cecil Sherman (1927-2010) of First Baptist Church, Asheville, NC, sounded the alarm and led the liberals. He led a counter movement that would resist the resurgent conservatism. He and Daniel Vestal would lead a movement which would eventually become the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Moderates/liberals shouted that this whole controversy was just about politics and control, thus the “Conservative Takeover.” Conservatives/fundamentalists shouted that the controversy was all about theology and the integrity of Scripture. The truth was that both were true to some extent. Liberals did not want to let go of the denominational political control which threatened their theology, and conservatives needed political control to effect theological reform in the SBC.

Charles Stanley
Each year, the Conservatives were able to win consistently the SBC President’s seat. After Rogers’ 52% victory in 1979, Bailey Smith won in 1980-81 with 60%. Jimmy Draper won in 1982-84, and at the height of the Controversy, the swing year of 1985, Charles Stanley of First Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA, won. The 1985 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas was the Monster Convention. Keith Parks, president of the Foreign Mission Board was upset that conservative Charles Stanley was nominated, and the liberals, too, worked hard to get their churches to vote against Stanley. Forty-five thousand registered messengers and a very large number of unregistered guests packed the place.

In 1985 as well the Peace Committee began meeting to iron out differences. Conservatives who were unsure if this whole resurgence would actually work along with liberals who were scared it would, met to come up with some compromises and parity agreements for seminary hiring so that each side could retain some power. The unofficial goal was, “let’s stop fighting.” Twenty-two persons on the Peace Committee were divided between conservatives like Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines, and Charles Stanley and moderate/liberals like Cecil Sherman, Bill Hull, and Winfred Moore. Two were in the middle – Hershel Hobbs and Charles Pickering.

Two voices immediately came to the fore: Adrian Rogers and Cecil Sherman. The committee could not even agree on their problem. Conservatives were upset over the erosion of orthodoxy. Moderates could not understand why the SBC was fighting. Everything had been going fine as far as they were concerned. Parity agreements were one bone of contention for the Peace Committee. They were essentially last ditch efforts by liberals to keep their seminary positions. The goal was to hire based on a parity of conservative and liberal professors at each seminary. The agreements never worked because the seminaries conveniently never interviewed any conservatives, defending their inaction by saying they could not find any conservative scholars.

In the end the Peace Committee put out a survey for Baptist employees and pastors which found a diversity of opinion in the SBC. Many did not believe in the Bible. Conservatives pointed to the survey results and said, “That’s the problem.” Cecil Sherman eventually walked out of the Peace Committee saying the deck was stacked against his faction. After he left, the moderate opposition evaporated. Later in 1986, Winfred Moore would walk out saying he was not interested in being part of a 'police committee.'

In 1986, the six seminary presidents, under pressure from conservatives on the Peace Committee, issued the Glorietta Statement, an anemic document stating that the Bible "is not errant in any area of reality." The statement had little meaning but it was the closest the liberal seminaries could come to a statement on inerrancy. As a result, the presidents were hanged in effigy by their faculties for what they saw as caving in to conservatives.

Conservative Homer Lindsay, Jr., of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL, walked out of the Peace Committee in protest that the conservatives would give anything away to the liberals when the conservatives had the momentum. In 1991, Southern Seminary trustees voted in the youngest president in its history, Albert Mohler. He was their hatchet man, and he cleaned the liberals out of the seminary and replaced them with inerrantist, mostly Calvinist, professors. Southwestern Seminary trustees elected Cambridge Ph.D. Ken Hemphill as president there, a likeable conservative mostly outside of the controversy.

Paige Patterson (1942-    )
Southeastern Seminary, by far the most liberal of the six, was viewed as the property of the moderates. As late as 1987-88 the liberals thought Southeastern would be given to them in an agreement to divide up the seminaries by theological persuasion. Instead, Southeastern would go from being the most liberal to the most conservative seminary. First Lewis Drummond, a nice guy conservative, became president, but he had constant battles with his angry, liberal faculty.

Then conservative scholar Russ Bush, author of Baptists and the Bible, a conservative treatise on Baptists’ historical high view of Scripture, was unanimously voted down by the liberal faculty for seminary vice-president, so the now-conservative board of trustees appointed Bush academic vice president to oversee the very faculty that had unanimously rejected him.

On the rumor (begun only as a joke on campus) that Paige Patterson (1942-    ) might come as President of Southeastern, fifteen professors resigned. Once the joke got to the SBC's conservative leadership, they thought it would be a great idea to make Patterson president, so the trustees elected him in 1992. At the first faculty meeting, as a joke, Patterson, a firearms hobbyist and big game hunter, laid a loaded .45 caliber silver pistol on the speaker’s stand saying, “There’s mine. Where’s yours?” Southeastern, which had been selling off land to stay afloat financially, had an enrollment below 500. Once Patterson took the presidency, enrollment surged to 2700 in a few years.

Jerry Rankin (1942-    )
In 1990, the Sunday School Board, later Lifeway (1997), was debating two candidates to head the board, and they were deadlocked on Patterson or Hemphill. They eventually compromised on Jimmy Draper. Today Lifeway is led by Thom Rainer. At the Foreign Mission Board (International Mission Board since 1997), President Keith Parks, an avowed moderate but a great missiologist, angrily resigned in protest of a new conservative board of trustees and joined CBF Missions. Trustees replaced Parks with Jerry Rankin who retired in 2010.

CBF founder Cecil Sherman
Once the moderates had realized they had lost it all, now what to do? In 1981, a liberal and politically left-wing group departed the SBC and became the Alliance of Baptists.

In 1991, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship led by Cecil Sherman, formed from those who disliked the new direction of the SBC. “We are no longer Southern Baptists,” they said. They were Cooperative Baptists, co-opting a hallowed SBC term to name themselves. While claiming to be the sole inheritors of “historic Baptist principles” of soul competency, liberty of conscience, separation of church and state, and the priesthood of the believer, they actually used those genuine Baptist principles derived from a doctrine of Biblical inerrancy to ‘liberate’ themselves from belief in Biblical inerrancy. They then endorsed liberal social issues, and affirmed left-wing politics including pro-abortion and pro-homosexual positions. While claiming historic Baptist distinctives, they created a new kind of Baptist that their historical forebears would have found unrecognizable.

2010 SBC messengers voting
The conservative resurgence succeeded by uniting ordinary Southern Baptists on the importance of one issue: Biblical inerrancy. By wisely choosing one issue that resonated with Southern Baptists, the Southern Baptist Convention did what no other major denomination has done – returned to its conservative values and roots. The secret? Southern Baptists’ historic polity of a congregational form of government. Control rested with the people, and when the local congregations were informed about what was happening at the highest levels of their agencies and seminaries, they revolted. Thus the conservative resurgence.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Southern Baptists having overcome the liberalism of the last century, turned their focus to a Great Commission Resurgence (Matthew 28:18-20). In 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a realignment of Convention and Cooperative Program funding to focus evangelism, church planting, and missions toward the least reached peoples on earth. Since the SBC’s founding in 1845, Southern Baptists have taken pride in reserving 50% of Cooperative Program funding for international missions.

In 2010, messengers for the first time voted to increase that level to 51% with a view to further, future advancements. The symbolic increase funded 46 new international missionaries among the least-reached peoples on earth. The 2010 SBC also freed the IMB to work with the North American Mission Board in reaching least-reached peoples within North America and encouraged NAMB to focus its evangelism efforts outside the South for the first time, leaving state conventions in the South to take leadership in their own areas in evangelism and church planting.