Monday, July 03, 2023

Book Review: Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009

I have posted to my page the review I wrote in 2009 of Gregory A. Wills' history of my alma mater, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, released on the school's sequicentennial anniversary.

Interesting to read some of the questions I posed 14 years ago:

The book also raises a number of more speculative questions in my mind.  Here are a few to consider:  Was it a wholly positive move for Southern Baptists to establish centralized seminary education along the model of colleges, universities, and divinity schools?  What would the trajectory of the SBC had been like if theological education would have been left with Baptist colleges or with private tutelage under veteran pastors within local churches?  Although the dismissal of Toy from SBTS was a watershed, does his hiring and retention until protested by grassroots Southern Baptists give evidence of denominational diplomacy even among the founders (like Boyce and certainly Broadus)?  Does the desire to be engaged with secular scholarship in the academy even among the current theologically conservative faculty present the risk that future generations might also be tempted to compromise?  Is the Abstract of Principles robustly Calvinistic or confessional enough to maintain doctrinal fidelity at SBTS?



R. L. Vaughn said...

From time to time I refer to this comment by Francis Wayland, long-time president of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in a letter to James Petigru Boyce, first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, January 26, 1857. Your comments made me think of it.

“Whether seminaries and theological schools are the proper places to educate the ministry, I know not. It is a matter of experiment in our day, and time alone can decide it. Their tendency is to raise intellectual above spiritual qualifications, and such it has thus far proven. Of old, they have I think proved to be, after a generation or two, schools of heresy.”

R. L. Vaughn said...

Concerning Southern Seminary specifically, back in 2010 I read a book about one of its controversial 19th century figures (professor and president) – W. H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy, James H. Slatton.

Slatton did a great job researching his subject. Whitsitt’s diary and his correspondence expose the sometimes-sordid underbelly of the inner workings of the seminary system. They reveal a man who regularly criticized his colleagues, Baptist preachers, Baptist churches, Baptist associations, and Baptists in general. (He called J. P. Boyce a “dunderhead.”) His private thoughts indicate an outward Baptist who intellectually rejected much of their faith and practice. “At one time he predicted Baptists eventually would drop their insistence on immersion - and should,” says Slatton. He was infected, as Toy, with the German higher criticism, while hiding for many years in plain sight.