Friday, June 29, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 4): Gender, Missions, and OBU

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 1): A Tragic History
Part 4 in our series on missions - some brief follow-up thoughts on gender, the SBC, and missions. This post is more of an op-ed than the previous three have been. Taking that into consideration, I think this is an important, albeit somewhat tangential, facet of the story that may help direct us to see some specific effects on OBU.

Historically in Baptist life, the mission field has often been the place where women have gone to fulfill their gifts in ministry when they were not permitted to do so at home due in part to some strange mixture of tradition, misogyny, and imperialistic racism (e.g. man > woman; white woman > “heathen”).

For some reason, it was not (and still is not for fundamentalists) permissible for a woman to lead a church in the West, yet they’d send her around the world by herself to preach (if she’s single) to the “heathen and uncivilized.” I do not note these things to disparage devoted missionaries and their work, but merely to comment on the culture of the time and the social strictures and traditions surrounding the emergence of the global missions movement. The fact that women still in 2012 are not permitted in most SBC-affiliated churches to preach in, much less lead, congregations is also tragic and in my mind the reason there continue to be far more women on the mission field than men where they can realize their spiritual gifts and call to ministry.

            The impact of women’s work, however undervalued it continues to be, has in reality been invaluable.  Many of us have heard of the SBC-affiliated yet self-governing and -funded Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) - the namesake of a beloved freshman women’s dormitory on OBU’s Oval as well as of the WMU professorship in missions at OBU. It was founded by (Baptist) women for women and is now the largest Christian women’s missions group on the planet. It has also been somewhat successful in defying attempts at external control by the militant leadership of the SBC in recent decades.

            Probably the most well-known Baptist women were missionaries: Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon. Those of us who were raised in SBC-affiliated churches will likely recognize these names and the corresponding annual fundraising drives which occur during Easter and Christmas which bear their names.

            These women have made a huge impact in Southern Baptist life and in global missions. Since Lottie Moon, a 19th century missionary in China, appealed to stateside Southern Baptists to set up a Christmas offering for foreign missions, this offering has since raised over one billion dollars for foreign missions.
The effect of the fundamentalist take-over of the IMB and Rankin’s new policy -- that missionaries sign in affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message and conduct their work according to it -- had consequences even beyond the tragic firing and early retirement of over 100 missionaries and missionary couples. One IMB missionary friend overseas told me that, in her training, it was suggested as an outreach strategy that the male head of family (i.e. her husband) meet with other national male family heads, who, when converted, would initiate a “trickle-down” effect for the rest of the family. The wife was of course still expected to stay at home, raise the kids, and leave much of the real missions work to her husband. Now some couples may choose such an arrangement on their own. But my friend scoffed at the idea as a strategy then and now. She knew that’s not the way things work in the field or with relationships to reach an entire community; and not being raised in the South she was baffled by corresponding attitudes toward gender roles that she encountered in Richmond. It seems like some militant leaders want to export more than simply the Gospel.

The question still remains, however: why is it that the SBC still cannot bring itself to recognize the full God-given value and rights of over half the people in its churches? The 2000 BF&M has made the fundamentalist agenda toward women abundantly clear. To have been included so prominently in such a short document, you’d think the subject of non-ordination of women and female submission was one of their 5 Pillars-Fundamentals or something… but I’m rambling.

            First of all, forget the Whitlock-era administration ever hiring a female professor for Herschel Hobbs the School of Theology and Ministry. (We already know Drs. Norman and McClellan prohibit the hiring of women to teach theology or Bible. Maybe they'd allow a woman to teach children's ministry or missions. How progressive of them!) Secondly, I doubt their new hires are as likely to encourage their female students to pursue God’s gifts of ministry and leadership in their lives if they’re called outside of children’s ministry or missions. I remember well the intellectual and spiritual encouragement I received from a professor who was wrongly dismissed the summer after my graduation.

            It makes me very sad indeed to consider that future classes of Bison won’t experience the same encouragement I and others received if the goals of Provost Norman and BGCO executive director Anthony Jordan are realized.  Gender discrimination in both theology and policy has been one of the primary galvanizing forces for the Save OBU movement.  Two of the blog's most widely circulated posts are about women at OBU (here and here).

Jordan, by the way, chaired the committee that created the “submissive woman” article (Article XVIII) of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.

            As militant fundamentalists’ politics were incompatible with missions, so the BGCO’s goals for OBU are incompatible with the academic freedom and rigor required of a Christian liberal arts education like the one OBU was founded to provide. It is difficult to see how these two institutions can be complimentary, much less beneficial for one another in their current relationship. OBU must be made independent from the BGCO, as this tragic story of SBC missions illustrates. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 3): Politics Over Purpose

In the past two posts, we’ve been reviewing the story of the fundamentalist takeover of the IMB, specifically the decision to require all missionaries to sign in affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. In Part 3 we will explore what came of one former IMB leader who dissented early on to the fundamentalists’ moves. Learning from his example, we will also describe and explore some options OBU graduates are taking and may explore further.
Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 4): Gender, Missions, and OBU

It appears from this story that Rankin and other fundamentalist SBC powerfuls believe that the faith of these missionaries (and the rest of us too, I suppose) stands or falls with their ability to sign in affirmation of a document like the 2000 BF&M in good conscience. The bottom line: politics took precedent over missions. That’s how fundamentalists like Rankin seem to roll nowadays. Sound familiar? Politics and doctrinal purity also take precedent over Christian liberal arts higher education, (see  OBU provost Stan Norman’s interview litmus test for professor openings at OBU recently). First they came for the seminaries. Then they came for the missionaries. Are we just around the corner at OBU from administrators requiring all faculty members in Herschel Hobbs School of Theology and Ministry to sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M to purify it in their quest for rigid doctrinal conformity? Actually, at the rate the current administration is replacing faculty members they may not even need to.

Keith Parks, IMB president until 1992 may have seen the events of 2002 coming. In October 2001, three months before Rankin sent out his letter “requesting” IMB missionaries to sign a document affirming the 2000 BF&M, John Pierce of Baptists Today covered a presentation by Parks to an organization of “mainstream” Georgia Baptists: “Doctrinal conformity, not missions, was the primary agenda of fundamentalists who captured control of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and '90s…. ‘They weren't thinking missions,’ [Parks said]. ‘They were thinking their political agenda.’”

After serving the IMB for 13 years, and leading the IMB into 40 new countries with nearly 4,000 missionaries, Parks resigned from the IMB presidency in 1991-92 as he faced pressure from increasingly fundamentalist agenda-pushing board of trustees. He moved on, staying true to his passion for missions and to his conscience, becoming a leader in the more mainstream Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. More about CBF’s global missions efforts later.

Parks was not the only IMB leader to experience pressure to conform or get out. An Oklahoman pastor at the time, Wade Burleson, joined the IMB board of trustees several years after the new policy for missionaries to sign the 2000 BF&M was implemented. For his criticism of some of the board’s policies and his public dissent, he was forced out. Christianity Today interviewed Burleson as well as the IMB board chairman in 2008.

It’s likely that many missions-minded OBU graduates are put off by the requirement to sign the 2000 BF&M in order to fulfill their calling toward missions. I know I was. (I had also been sickened and worn out by the all too close-to-home militant fundamentalist politics I had seen encroaching on OBU from 2009 onward…and this before I knew all this history that I just shared). I still found ways to serve, even with NAMB, that did not require me to sacrifice conscience in order to minister! Yes, some of my friends are also pursuing short-term and career opportunities in missions through IMB or NAMB, whose missionaries are still involved to my knowledge in tremendous ministries across the globe, including projects related to development and water security, orphanages and hospitals, promoting displaced women’s work, and of course church-planting, to name a few. But many more are pursuing other options.

For those OBU grads who are not Southern Baptist, who cannot sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M, who reject creedalism on principle, or feel they can serve better through other outlets there are many solid options. Other graduates and friends are going on to serve their communities and the globe through a variety of other outlets and organizations, including non-profits, church plants, organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, and many others. One such outlet for ministry and missions is the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Christians and churches with which Parks became a leader after leaving the IMB presidency. I’m impressed by what I’ve learned of CBF and its clear vision for service, and I encourage those interested to read more. You can read more about their eight ministry areas here – I don’t recall learning about this organization in my Intro to Cross-Cultural Ministry course at OBU. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 2): Resistance Was Futile

Part 2 – In this post, we continue the story of the fundamentalist take-over of the IMB, specifically the decision to require all missionaries to sign in affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. We will see the consequences, and we will see just how honest Rankin was about the rationale and consequences of this move.
Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 3): Politics Over Purpose
Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 4): Gender, Missions, and OBU

Now of course it’s not a bad idea to have general standards of doctrine for those who are employed by the IMB and sent across the world for the purpose of sharing their beliefs. However, these individuals already go through a litany of other procedures during the process to become missionaries with the IMB: documenting their own life journeys, writing confessions of faith, multiple interviews, training, etc. Not only that, but the requirement to sign any document like the one affirming the 2000 BF&M did not exist until 2002. Former IMB president Keith Parks (1981-1992) explained how Rankin’s policy is different from previous precedent. Parks told the Baptist Standard that, “Previously, SBC missionaries were asked in the interview process if they were in ‘substantial agreement’ with the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message.”

Now missionaries are being asked to sign in affirmation of the document. Furthermore, they are also being asked, Rankin told the Baptist Standard, to conduct their ministry work “‘in accordance with’ the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.”

Tom Daniel, a former IMB missionary who refused to sign the 2000 BF&M wrote this:

In the Spring of 2002, the International Mission Board asked personnel to respond to 2 related issues: belief consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message; and signing an affidavit binding one's future ministry to its contents. The issues differ, as one is related to content of BFM and the other is related to freedom to interpret the leadership of the Holy Spirit (whether according to the whole counsel of God or the SBC-approved statement of faith).

The more I learn about this, I’m not only upset but baffled by this change in policy. These devoted missionaries already go through a litany of application and confirmation procedures, take leaps of faith to devote their lives to ministry, and many of them put their lives at risk. Why in addition ask our missionaries to sign the 2000 BF&M when their selection process is already so careful, intimate, and involved? Many missionaries, especially now in the day of the church-planting movement, are themselves pastors of international churches – so how can they be required to affirm this confession when no pastors stateside are? Rankin could argue all he wanted that this new policy was not a doctrinal litmus test for the IMB’s missionaries in an effort to further the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. However, the effect of the policy is still to actualize the controversial 2000 BF&M with all its political baggage in the ministries of each of these missionaries and at the same time to purify the IMB from missionaries who do not conform to the fundamentalist-crafted creed-like document.

In February of 2002, Rankin had told the press that it was only “pure speculation” that missionaries who refused to sign it would be terminated. But Rankin turned their speculation into reality (which he and the IMB board of trustees probably intended from the outset). The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) recognized the new policy for what it was, even creating a transition fund to help support missionaries who might lose their jobs because they could not sign it.

A year and four months later, the IMB then issued a May 5, 2003 deadline for missionaries to affirm the BF&M, according to a 2003 Christianity Today article from that month.

Tragically, missionaries were indeed terminated for their refusal to sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M. Christianity Today reported that by May 2003 thirteen missionaries had been fired and thirty missionaries had resigned or retired early. These numbers would rise.

Rankin’s response was brutal: “These missionaries are supported by Southern Baptist churches and should at least be willing to conduct their work in basic agreement with what Southern Baptists confess they believe.” Really? Is the 2000 BF&M really what all churches who freely affiliate with the SBC and who send funds to support missionaries “confess they believe”? Such a proposition is preposterous. The BF&M in any version has never a rallying point or a unifying creed for SBC churches. And far from being a document solely highlighting Baptist distinctive and beliefs, the 2000 BF&M was a controversial document to begin with which, as noted previously, the Baptist General Convention of Texas had actually rejected altogether.

Many of these terminated or resigned missionaries raised poignant and legitimate questions to Rankin and his of the board of trustees, such as:

§  How can the elite group of people at a convention of who crafted the 2000 BF&M claim to represent all Southern Baptists? Furthermore, how can that one document be the measure of our devotion to missions and common Baptist ideals?
§  Are not our consciences free before God and not subject to human beings?
§  How can they ask us to sign a document written by humans and revised already three times in the lifetime of some of these missionaries?
§  What gives SBC powerfuls the notion that they can use us as pawns in their political games?

Rankin wrote one missionary couple, the Dixons, that they were being terminated. He wrote that it was because of their “unwillingness to be accountable to Southern Baptists who send and support.” The Dixons responded in an open letter:  “Does the Holy Spirit Himself act always ‘in accordance with and not contrary to the current Baptist Faith and Message?’…We need only witness events in China to discover that He does not: women serving as pastors, evangelists, church planters!”  You can read the rest of their open response to Rankin here: You also can find a list of the missionaries who were terminated or resigned early and read more of their stories, including open letters to Rankin and IMB trustees here [1].

Those missionaries who have signed in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M of course should not be judged. They acted as their consciences and faith permitted.

 I also respect the right of fundamentalists to hold their beliefs – but not their militancy. I think I understand their beliefs and where they’re coming from. But fundamentalism, similar to the 2000 BF&M itself, was constructed in terms of very American issues, a century old knee-jerk reaction to liberal theology and the perceived threat of modernism. As a missionary couple who refused to sign it noted, the BF&M is “culturally biased” and “culturally constructed” document! Many missionaries wanted to know how they can be expected to sign, much less conduct their future ministries according to such a document.

 But the militancy of leaders like those in the IMB lust after conformity and drive them to push for doctrinal rigidity especially in what should be non-essentials. This ideological warfare against traditional Baptist freedoms and against moderates (and really against even non-fundamentalist conservatives too) must stop.

What do these tragic bits of recent history have to do with us? I think the connections are drawn easily enough by our readership – those same militant leaders are gaining increasing control over OBU. As we’ve seen in the last couple years at OBU and through the documentation of this blog, this ideological warfare against non-fundamentalists is not merely a distant threat. It’s knocking down the doors on Bison Hill, which is why we’re trying to learn from history and be an advocate for OBU excellence before it’s too late for academic freedom and liberal arts high education.

For additional reading about this event, scroll to the bottom of this page for a list of articles.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 1): A Tragic History

In this series, I will take us through a story documenting the conservative resurgence/fundamentalist takeover of SBC missions. As a story these posts are not intended to stand alone, so I hope you will stick with me this week and follow along.

In 2002, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB) Jerry Rankin sent a letter to all IMB missionaries worldwide (some 5,100 individuals at that time) “requesting” they sign a document. What was this document and to what did it ask missionaries to commit? Why were missionaries being asked to sign it? Was it really a request? What would the consequences be of signing it or not signing it? And what do these decade-old events have to do with OBU now in 2012?

  In the next several posts we’re going to look at the history of this event and its consequences. During my research, I’ve discovered these events to be yet another tragic chapter in the development of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. I hope you’ll bear with me through these next posts through which we will see what the actions taken in January 2002 and forward by Rankin and the IMB have to do with our effort to Save OBU.

Having been involved in multiple opportunities to volunteer with and work alongside of dozens of Southern Baptist-affiliated missionaries, both overseas and here in the US, I can attest that these are in general courageous and devoted people. Many risk their lives on a daily basis to serve others around the world in places that are hostile or dangerous. All choose to forsake a “normal” American life near to family and friends and a familiar culture. In my experience, my friends who are missionaries, even those who may have doctrinally fundamentalist leanings, seem freer often than Southern Baptists at home from the embattlements of SBC politics – it’s my personal thought that they are more focused on the real center of Christianity, and not as much on peripherals or non-essentials. However, unfortunately they have not been unaffected by these political games nor by the fundamentalist take-over of the SBC, as we will see.

The SBC does not - well, cannot - require autonomous individual churches, associations, or state conventions to adopt the BFM as their statement of faith. Nor do all congregations agree with the statement in its entirety themselves.

Nevertheless, administrators of Southern Baptist missions organizations, specifically the IMB, now require their personnel to sign a document which affirms the 2000 BF&M [1]. But what of traditional Baptist beliefs such as freedom of conscience before God and the priesthood of all believers?

In January of 2002, then IMB president Jerry Rankin wrote a letter “requesting” that all IMB missionaries sign a document affirming the 2000 BF&M. Such a move was unprecedented in IMB policy, as we will explore in the next post. Missionaries were allowed to note points of disagreement with the 2000 BF&M, but were still expected to sign the document. If a missionary noted disagreements, according to Rankin they would be “counseled” by regional IMB leaders. Mark Wingfield (Baptist Standard) summarized the situation concisely in March of 2002:
Rankin recently wrote to IMB missionaries around the world, asking them to sign a statement indicating their agreement with the controversial 2000 Baptist Faith & Message crafted by SBC leadership but rejected by the [Baptist General Convention of Texas] as an un-Baptist creed. Missionaries who do not agree with every part of the SBC's faith statement will be allowed to note areas of disagreement and then will be ‘counseled’ by regional leadership, Rankin has said. While Rankin has not publicly said what will happen to missionaries who do not sign, numerous reports from missionaries on the field indicate they perceive the mandate as threatening their employment (emphasis added).

A month after this new policy’s implementation, Rankin told the press that it was “pure speculation” that those missionaries who do not sign will be fired. The Baptist Standard paraphrased IMB trustee, Rev. Tim McCoy, who said, ‘“employee policies also forbid missionaries from repeatedly advocating views that are contrary to those outlined in the Baptist Faith & Message’” (emphasis added). So, ostensibly, if an IMB missionary believes that women can be ordained ministers and admits as much on multiple occasions, s/he will face consequences. Or, if an IMB missionary simply cannot sign the document to begin with, s/he will also face consequences. However, Rankin and the trustees had not yet publically declared what these consequences would be, even after the policy was implemented. Rankin admitted as of February 2002 that, “‘We haven't talked about the consequences,’ [Rankin] said. ‘We may have to deal with that in the future.’”

Surely they must have something in mind? It is difficult to believe that Rankin and his board never collectively thought through what they will do to missionaries who cannot sign the document before implementing this policy in January.

Rankin further commented that he "hopes no ‘minor detail of disagreement’ would prevent someone called by God from fulfilling his or her missionary assignment…‘To me [Rankin], it is untenable that a person would be disobedient to their call.’”

Rankin’s comments highlight an interesting picture. For Rankin it is “untenable” that missionaries would be “disobedient to their call” to missions, but it is not untenable that they would be disobedient to their God-given conscience and spirit freedom in signing the document. Such is the nature of militant fundamentalism. It’s obvious that Rankin’s comments blatantly demonstrate his hope that some missionaries’ commitment to their divine call to ministry will override their individual consciences and concerns with the 2000 BF&M, in strapping them in their work with a document many will not be able to agree with either in principal or in particular. They were trapped because if they refused to sign, they no longer have the organizational apparatus or funding to support their ministry overseas, effectively grounding them stateside and ending their overseas ministry.

But extreme consequences were just “pure speculation,” right? These missionaries wouldn’t really be terminated from the IMB for conscientiously refusing to sign this document? To do so would be an un-Baptist violation of freedom of conscience, right?

Many missionaries did not feel comforted by Rankin’s words. To Rankin’s and the IMB board of trustees’ chagrin, the Baptist General Convention of Texas was already forming a safety net for missionaries they anticipated would be terminated for not signing or who would resign early rather than violate conscience:
 “More than 60 IMB missionary couples already have indicated to a BGCT missions study committee that they will not sign the faith statement and fear for their jobs. Excerpts from some of their comments were read to [BGCT] Executive Board members [on] Feb. 26 [2002],” Wingfield further reported in February.

Tomorrow, we continue the sad story of how politics and fundamentalism won out over mission priorities and engagement.
[1] The IMB’s domestic counterpart, the North American Mission Board, also now requires all missionaries who receive 100% of their support through NAMB to sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M. However, this amounted to only 50 or so personnel, since most NAMB missionaries are also funded through state conventions and local associations who freely affiliate with the SBC. The documentation and journalism mainly covered the events surrounding the IMB, so that’s where we will focus for these posts.

Monday, June 25, 2012

SACS Puts Brewton-Parker on Academic Probation

Happy Monday, everyone.  I hope everyone saw last week's series on fundamentalism and the SBC by 2006 OBU alumnus Clayton Mauritzen.  I appreciate his very fine contribution here, and was especially gratified to learn that people at other Baptist institutions picked up the series and circulated it among their concerned constituents.

We've said it all along: Fundamentalism eventually destroys educational institutions.  It diverts them from their missions, wrecks their reputations, and never fails to disrupt the careers of very capable, committed professors.

In Georgia, the fundamentalist race to the bottom continues apace.  We reported this spring that Brewton-Parker College, a Georgia Baptist Convention-controlled school in Mount Vernon, GA, was denied reaccreditation last summer by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  By denying BPC's decennial application for reaccreditation, SACS placed the school on warning last June and gave it one year to improve in several critical areas, including institutional effectiveness, financial stability, and having professors insufficiently qualified in the subjects in which they are teaching.

For now, BPC is saying it's disappointed:
MOUNT VERNON — Brewton-Parker College President Mike Simoneaux says he is “extremely disappointed” that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has placed the institution on academic probation and has failed to recognize the progress the college has made in the past year.
(The above quotation is the opening graf of the GBC's newspaper PR publication, the Christian Index. It's password protected, but I can't wait to see the full version to see how the fundamentalists try to spin this.)  Notice how President Simoneaux is trying to say that SACS has failed, not his fundamentalist Bible college.  It's natural to feel disappointed when you realize that your capitulation to fundamentalist demands is the nail in your institution's coffin and it happened on your watch.  A lot of other schools managed to retain their accreditation, in spite of horrible abuses suffered at the hands of fundamentalist trustees and administrators (Exhibit A: the SBC seminaries).  So it's not as if the national accrediting bodies have an agenda against religious institutions.  So it's easy to understand why President Simoneaux is saying he is "Embarrassed" is actually the proper reaction, but fundamentalists have no shame about what they are doing.

Once the accreditation battle is lost, a lot of post-Takeover schools eventually adopt a different line, and it's one I predict Simoneaux and his GBC college president colleagues Emir Caner and Don Dowless will be using soon enough.  They will say that they were presented with a choice between secular elites' vision and God's vision for how their institution should operate.  Since losing your accreditation is horribly embarrassing, they will turn it around and try to wear it as a badge of honor.  Then they'll pursue "accreditation" through one of several joke associations of fundamentalist schools such as the Association for Biblical Higher Education.  It's sad, but BPC seems to be far enough down this road that I doubt they can turn things around.  And it seems quite obvious that the true power brokers (GBC elites) don't even care.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fundamentalism and the Future of Baptist Higher Education

Understanding Fundamentalism Series
Part 1 - Understanding Fundamentalism
Part 2 - Baptist Distinctives and the Fundamentalism Movement
Part 3 - Preserving Unity:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 1925
Part 4 - Censoring Higher Education:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 1963
Part 5 - The New Credalism:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 2000
Part 6 - Fundamentalism and the Future of Baptist Higher Education

For those who have made it this far on our journey toward Understanding Fundamentalism, we thank you.  For those newer to our series, we invite you to dig more deeply into the into the battlegrounds of the Southern Baptist identity—namely, the Baptist Faiths and Messages of 1925, 1963, and 2000.

Each statement of faith has its own story to tell—from the contentious culture war of the 1920s, in which the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy threatened to split even the conservative Southern Baptist Convention; to the days in which growing concern about liberalism in the SBC seminaries led to the firing of a leading scholar and the banning of his book, so that only concessions to the fundamentalists in the arena of education maintained a fragile peace; and finally to the Baptist battles of the 1980s and '90s during the Inerrancy Controversy and the effort to use the Baptist Faith and Message to exclude moderates and enforce Baptist theology.  At each turn, the defining marks of four centuries of Baptist witness were slowly surrendered to fundamentalist pressure.

Where then does that leave us at Save OBU?  Why tell these stories—in other words, what relevance do they have for our mission of preserving the academic and educational heritage of OBU?

Fundamentalism and Conservatism
To answer these questions, let us first make a distinction between conservatism and fundamentalism.  Historically, the fundamentalist movement has been known for two things:  (1) its militant opposition to the teaching of evolution and (2) premillennial dispensationalist theology.  Given the longstanding conservative nature of the Southern Baptist Convention, it has often been difficult to distinguish between true fundamentalists and conservatives.  Indeed, conservatives were quite often the group caught between fundamentalists and moderates during their many controversies in the SBC.  Theologically, they have been more in line with the fundamentalists; however, they often disagreed with fundamentalists on tactics (in other words, militancy) and historic Baptist distinctives.

To put it another way, it is entirely possible (and often true) that a person holds to a conservative reading of Genesis and believes in premillennialism or dispensationalism and is not a fundamentalist. The key marker of fundamentalism is the vigorous and often aggressive action with which its supporters defend their theology and oppose evolution.  In terms of the Baptist Faith and Message, each version has largely been an accurate description of what most Southern Baptists believed at the time.  The key differences between the revisions are in those whose views were excluded from the statements of faith and how these documents have been used.  This can be seen most clearly in the 2000 BFM, which was revised in order to more clearly define Southern Baptist theology (as opposed to describing it in a non-binding way) and to exclude moderates from Southern Baptist life.

The other point that needs to be made is that historic Baptist distinctives—soul freedom, Bible freedom, church freedom, and religious freedom—are very conservative views within the context of the Baptist heritage.  These defining markers outdate the development of fundamentalism by three centuries.  They are what united Baptists—liberal Baptists and conservative Baptists, American Baptists and British Baptists, and Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists—until quite recently.  However, fundamentalist militancy and the need for purity in theology and practice is vitally opposed to the very conservative Baptist belief in soul freedom.

The belief that each individual has the right and responsibility to respond to God without a mediator is the foundation for Baptists' commitment to believer's baptism (as opposed to infant baptism), the gathered church of voluntary believers (as opposed to a politically or culturally defined membership in the church), democratic church government (as opposed to being led by a priest), local church autonomy (as opposed to being governed by a bishop or pope), and missions (emphasizing the conversion of the individual rather than the political transformation of a region).

In other words, the conflict between soul freedom and fundamentalism is not a peripheral conflict, something off to the side that is interesting to a few but irrelevant to the rest.  No—it goes to the very heart of the Baptist identity and the conservation of principles believed by Baptists for centuries.

Fundamentalism and Academic Freedom
Save OBU has made it clear that our interests are not in changing the conservative character of OBU nor the churches and state it serves.  Instead, our objection is that the fundamentalism of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and certain administrative leaders has compromised the distinctively Christian, liberal arts tradition at OBU.  Indeed, the liberal arts education is nothing more than the Baptist expression of the freedom and responsibility of the individual (soul freedom) within the context of education.  If we believe that all truth is God's truth, then the study of science, mathematics, the Bible, and literature all contribute to and deeply impact a person's relationship with God.  OBU—a university that speaks openly about the integration of faith and learning—has been until recently a leading institution in this regard.

However, as our survey of the history of the movement has proved, fundamentalism is fundamentally opposed to academic freedom.  Ralph Elliott was removed from his position at Midwestern Seminary because he published a book that took a non-literal approach to the early chapters of Genesis.  Strikingly, despite the fact that fundamentalists had packed the seminary's board with sympathizers in order to have Elliott fired, he was able to reach a theological understanding with the trustees.  It was only when he denied their request that he withdraw the book from further publication (in other words, that he censor himself), that he was dismissed.

Shorter University, a Baptist liberal arts university in Georgia, is in the midst of the same struggle.  To date, sixty-seven—let me give you that number again, 67—members of its faculty and staff have resigned because they have refused to sign a lifestyle statement instituted by the school's new fundamentalist leadership in an effort to purify the faculty.  Shorter has long been affiliated with Georgia Baptists and has an even longer tradition of Christian witness in North Georgia.  Despite this, Shorter's fundamentalist president Don Dowless has called for the school to return to its "Christian roots" (the same call made by fundamentalist leadership in the SBC in the 1980s and '90s) and is willing to risk the loss of school's accreditation in order to do so.

At OBU, we have seen another version of the Elliott story.  In 2010, a philosophy professor was dismissed with no regard to the guidelines and principles established in the faculty handbook.  The occasion for his dismissal (if not a full-fledged reason for it) was his publication of an article in which he briefly mentioned that his argument hinged upon a non-literal reading of the days of creation in Genesis.  This is not a controversial opinion within conservative Christianity, yet leaving the possibility open for evolutionary theory is apostasy within the fundamentalist worldview.

The Future of Oklahoma Baptist University
What then is the future of Oklahoma Baptist University?  In his memoir of the Genesis Controversy, Elliott tells the story of walking into a meeting with Midwestern Seminary president Millard Berquist—until then a fervent supporter of academic freedom and Elliott himself—as he prepared to surrender to fundamentalist pressure:
Dr. Berquist reached the conclusion that "saving the institution" was dependent upon "giving in."  I strongly affirmed that to do so was a serious mistake.  I suggested that the institution would deteriorate and that Dr. Berquist would, in effect, never be the "real" president again.  As we stood together, he put his arm around me, and in tears said, "Ralph, we are going to end on different sides of this matter."
     The personal separation was very painful, but even more painful was the fate of the institution.  The declining nature of the institution is now history.  My personal friendship with Dr. Berquist continued.  Several years after my dismissal from the faculty, we met for lunch when I made a brief visit to Kansas City.  He was tired and worn, and still president in name.  His comment was, "Ralph, you were right.  I haven't really been president of the seminary since that day, and can hardly wait for my retirement." [1]
Much can still be said about the "real" OBU.  Many of the faculty who model a distinctively Christian, distinctively Baptist liberal arts education still teach there.  Even though some have retired early to avoid the same fate as the two professors who were unjustly and unethically dismissed, OBU has yet to experience a Shorter-type debacle.  OBU President David Whitlock still has the ability to refuse BGCO manipulation and to restore OBU to its academic and Christian heritage.  Damage caused by corrosive fundamentalist influence has been done, but it is not irreversible.  It is for this reason that Save OBU advocates the separation of Oklahoma Baptist University from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

But neither David Whitlock nor the faculty members will save OBU.

It is to the alumni, the Baptists conservative and moderate, and those who believe that a university can be both distinctively Christian and rigorously academic to continue to pressure the school's leadership to return to its Baptist values.
May God bless OBU.


  1. Ralph Elliott, The Genesis Controversy and Continuity in Southern Baptist Chaos: A Eulogy for a Great Tradition (Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 1992), 43-44.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The New Credalism: The Baptist Faith and Message of 2000

Understanding Fundamentalism Series
Part 1 - Understanding Fundamentalism
Part 2 - Baptist Distinctives and the Fundamentalism Movement
Part 3 - Preserving Unity:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 1925
Part 4 - Censoring Higher Education:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 1963
Part 5 - The New Credalism:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 2000
Part 6 - Fundamentalism and the Future of Baptist Higher Education

The two prior versions of The Baptist Faith and Message, in 1925 and 1963, responded to the fundamentalist crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention by working to bridge the gap between Southern Baptists who were at odds with one another.  Led by Southern Seminary president E. Y. Mullins, the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message sought to preserve historic Baptist distinctives—especially soul freedom—as it balanced the need to clarify the Southern Baptist identity.  The 1925 BFM was influenced by fundamentalism (evident especially in its shift toward a strong supernaturalism), but it chose to include a moderated form of the Social Gospel and intentionally left out any condemnation of evolution.  Initially, it appeared as if the compromise worked, but at the annual meeting in 1926, fundamentalists introduced and passed a resolution condemning evolution, a more restrictive view that became the official SBC interpretation of the new confession.

Then, in 1961, the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis (and the possibility of allowing for evolution) rocked the convention with controversy again.  In response to this new crisis, Southern Baptists revised the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963.  The new BFM placed a heavy emphasis on the Lordship of Christ as another means of preserving unity; though, the language of Jesus' lordship also recalled fundamentalist objections to Elliott's work (in which the doctrine was inextricably tied to a literal reading of the Bible).  The new BFM also added to the article on "Education" a statement that "there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility"[1]—effectively legitimizing the objections and tactics of the fundamentalists in removing Ralph Elliott from his position, banning his book in all but name only, and manipulating the board of trustees at Midwestern Seminary.  This time, the unity achieved by conceding higher education to the fundamentalist faction lasted only a few years.

The Inerrancy Controversy
It was not long after the Elliott Controversy that another battle broke out among the Southern Baptists concerning the accuracy of the Bible.  Nearly all Baptists agreed that the Bible was “without any mixture of error,” but the various groups involved interpreted this phrase very differently [2].  The moderate movement maintained that the Bible was authoritative and free from all error but not necessarily inerrant, that its purpose was theological not scientific.  However, inerrantists, influenced by dispensationalist interpretations of God’s supernatural involvement in history, insisted that it contained no error on any grounds whatsoever [3].  It would be in this controversy that the fruit of the fundamentalist movement could be seen most clearly in Southern Baptist life.

In 1973, only ten years after the Committee on the Baptist Faith and Message had affirmed the 1963 BFM, a fundamentalist group known as the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship formed to ensure that SBC organizations met the terms of the new confession.  Led by Paige Patterson, a Dallas theologian, and Paul Pressler, a Houston judge, they recognized that structure of national convention gave enormous power to the president.  A concerted, organized effort to elect sympathizing presidents who would appoint only fundamentalists to the boards of the denomination's various agencies could transform the convention in ten years.  At the annual SBC meeting in 1979 in Houston, Texas, the orchestrations of Patterson and Pressler led to the election of Adrian Rogers to the presidency.

Accordingly, Rogers instituted a policy of only appointing trustees to the denomination's boards who supported the fundamentalist agenda and goals.  Moderates were caught by surprise at the sudden support for the fundamentalist cause.  Fundamentalists claimed that the SBC needed to return to the historic doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.  They controlled the terms of the debate by contending that anyone who did not believe in the doctrine of inerrancy denied the authority and truth of the Bible.  Moderates countered by claiming that the takeover was about restructuring the power base of the SBC rather than about the Bible.  Both sides became embroiled in a fierce and very personal debate.  Moderates were offended that their love and admiration for the Bible was being attacked by those they considered brothers and sisters, and fundamentalists believed that they were purifying the denomination of doctrinal heresy [4].

Though its seeds were planted much earlier, the official beginning of the Inerrancy Controversy was the election of Adrian Rogers to the presidency of the SBC in 1979.  Since his election, not a single non-fundamentalist has been elected to preside over the convention, and each president has continued to pursue the policy of only appointing those who are in agreement with the fundamentalist cause to the boards of the various denominational agencies [5].  Though the battles would continue for many years after, Patterson and Pressler were successful in institutionalizing fundamentalist leadership within five years of beginning their plan.  The denomination which once prided itself on its ability to balance theological diversity and cooperation in missions was splitting apart, now controlled by what was formerly a minority tradition.

The Creed of 2000
Whereas the confessions of 1925 and 1963 were primarily concerned with negotiating between various groups within the denomination for the sake of Christian unity, the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 focused on the consolidation of power within the denomination's new direction.  Prior to its adoption, fundamentalists attempted to use the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message to force agreement among Southern Baptists through narrow interpretations of its statements.  No longer was it the expression of a general consensus among Baptists; rather, it was a tool used to enforce a particular interpretation of theology and the Scriptures.

Given the inadequacy of using the 1963 BFM beyond its intended purpose, a new committee was formed.  It went beyond simple revisions to the 1963 or 1925 confessions toward a re-envisioning of Baptist theology in light of the fundamentalist movement.  The committee was chaired by Adrian Rogers and included other noted fundamentalists such as Richard Land and Al Mohler [6].  The new statement was approved at the Convention meeting in Orlando in 2000.

The 2000 BFM stressed two issues that had been concerns for the fundamentalists during the Inerrancy Controversy:  (1) the absolute authority of the Bible and (2) doctrinal accountability.  Though the changes were not as dramatic as those in 1963, the Orlando confession had wider implications for Baptist theology:

Intending to reinforce an inerrantist interpretation of the 2000 confession, the article on “The Scriptures” made three substantive alterations.  In the 1963 BFM, the Bible is referred to as "the record of God’s revelation of Himself," but the new statement drops the phrase "the record" to say that the Bible is "God's revelation of himself" [7].  Seemingly a minor change, in the mind of fundamentalists the word "record" implied that the Bible was not the direct revelation of God but something less.

The 2000 BFM chose language that was definitive but not inclusive.  This contention became painfully clear when Texas pastor Anthony Sisemore spoke to the BFM committee in protest of this change:
Without any hesitation, I believe the Bible is God’s word, and I strive to obey the standards it prescribes.  The Bible is a book we can trust.  The Bible is a book that points toward the Truth.  With that being said, the Bible is still just a book.  Christians are supposed to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Living Word, not a book.  Jesus Christ redeems us, not a book. [8]
Al Mohler replied, "The Bible is not merely a record.  It is the revelation of God" [9].  In support of this idea, the committee added a sentence to the article on "The Scriptures" that made a stronger statement of biblical authority—"Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy," implying a strict and contentious interpretation of inerrancy.

Moreover, Jesus was placed in a secondary position to the Bible.  Originally, Christ was the interpreter of Scripture, but the positions were reversed so that Scripture interpreted Christ.  "All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation," replaced "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ."  For the 1963 confession, the Lordship of Christ had been used to bring fundamentalists and moderates together, but in 2000 the authority of the Bible was used to divide them.  Mohler himself acknowledged this, calling the distinction a "magnificent textbook illustration of why we had a denominational struggle," and pointed out that "there are two different visions of Baptist life and the Baptist faith" [10].  Yet, in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, one vision was prioritized and the other excluded, and that distinction demonstrated the normative, defining nature of the new Southern Baptist statement of faith.

Doctrinal accountability also made its mark on the Orlando confession, especially in the articles on "The Church" and the Preamble.  Both the 1963 and the 2000 BFM affirm the autonomy of the local church; however, in the 2000 statement individual members of the congregation are placed in a secondary position to the congregation as a whole.  The phrase characterizing church members as "committed to His teachings” in 1963 was replaced by "governed by His laws" in 2000 (a restoration to the 1925 statement).  Additionally, church members were no longer "equally responsible" to one another; rather, "each member is responsible" to Christ.  These changes, though subtle, demonstrate a more hierarchical view of the local church.

Furthermore, the Preamble to the 2000 BFM most explicitly affirms the normative, defining nature of the new Southern Baptist statement of faith:
Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice. [11]
Pastor and Southwestern Seminary adjunct professor Bruce Prescott argued against the new vision during the annual meeting saying, "This committee defines soul competency as 'under the church,' and accountable to each others' interpretation of the Word of God" [12].

These shifts in Southern Baptist theology are consistent with the definition of the priesthood of all believers that the fundamentalist-led convention adopted in the middle of the Inerrancy Controversy.  In San Antonio in 1988, Resolution No. 5 became the official interpretation of the historic Baptist doctrine, stating that,
     WHEREAS, The priesthood of the believer is a term which is subject to both misunderstanding and abuse; and…
     WHEREAS, The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer can be used to justify the undermining of pastoral authority in the local church.
     …Be it therefore RESOLVED, That the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer in no way contradicts the biblical understanding of the role, responsibility, and authority of the pastor which is seen in the command to the local church in Hebrews13:17. [13]
According to this interpretation, the individual’s moral right to ascertain the truth of the Bible for himself or herself is subject to the interpretations of those in authority over her.  Though not explicitly creedal, Southern Baptist theology has been radically altered.  In contrast to the confessions of 1925 and 1963, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message chose to define—rather than to describe—Southern Baptists and their theology.

Baptist Distinctives and Fundamentalism
The effect of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message can be seen on all four Baptist distinctives.  Soul freedom, Bible freedom, and church freedom have been placed under the authority of the pastor and the Baptist Faith and Message.  Even religious freedom, the hallmark of Baptist contributions to society, has been watered down with statements on abortion and euthanasia in “The Christian and the Social Order.”

The priesthood of all believers, while an ideal to strive after and attain, is no longer a reality in Southern Baptist life.  It is important to recognize that the twin emphases of the new statement of faith—the absolute authority of the Bible and doctrinal accountability—do not limit Baptist freedoms in and of themselves.  Rather, they are the tools used by fundamentalists to undermine four centuries of Baptist witness to the freedom of every person to respond to God authentically and individually.

Baptist distinctives—based upon this understanding of soul freedom—were in direct conflict with the aims and goals of the fundamentalist movement within SBC life.  From the 1920s forward to today, the emphasis on aggressive, militant opposition to perceived doctrinal impurity is in direct conflict with Baptist understandings of freedom.  As a result, the Southern Baptist Convention has become more centralized—a creedal institution.  The effect on Baptist distinctives has been devastating.


  1. The Baptist Standard, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” The Baptist Standard Online [database on-line]; available from; Internet; accessed 6 November 2004.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Bill J. Leonard, God’s Last & Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 136-7.
  4. Ibid., 140-142.
  5. Ibid., 139.
  6. John Yeats, "Definitely a Defining Moment," The Baptist Messenger [database on-line], 22 June 2000; available from; Internet; accessed 6 November 2004.
  7. "Comparison."
  8. Marv Knox, “Sisemore defines Bible Statement,” The Baptist Standard Online [database on-line], 10 July 2000; available from; Internet; accessed 6 November 2004.
  9. Mark Wingfield, “What Would Jesus Do? Vs. What Does Bible Say?” The Baptist Standard Online [database on-line], 19 June 2000; available from; Internet; accessed 6 November 2004.
  10. Wingfield.
  11. "Comparison."
  12. The Baptist Messenger, “SBC Messengers Overwhelmingly Approve BF&M Revisions, Despite Some Misgivings,” The Baptist Messenger [database on-line], 22 June 2000; available from; Internet; accessed 6 November 2004.
  13. Fred Wolfe, Resolution No. 5, Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention 1988, by the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville: Executive Committee, SBC, 1988), 69.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Censoring Higher Education: The Baptist Faith and Message of 1963

Understanding Fundamentalism Series
Part 1 - Understanding Fundamentalism
Part 2 - Baptist Distinctives and the Fundamentalism Movement
Part 3 - Preserving Unity:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 1925
Part 4 - Censoring Higher Education:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 1963
Part 5 - The New Credalism:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 2000
Part 6 - Fundamentalism and the Future of Baptist Higher Education

Yesterday, we looked at the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message.  Growing fundamentalist pressure led the Southern Baptist Convention to do something it had refused to do before—issue a statement of faith.  The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message, led by elder statesman and ardent defender of soul freedom E. Y. Mullins, walked a fine line between the various fundamentalist, conservative, and moderate voices in the SBC, seeking to preserve unity above all.  The confession was influenced by fundamentalism—as evidenced by the strong supernaturalism—, but it chose not to make any statement with regard to evolution and supported a moderate form of the Social Gospel.

However, despite attempts at reaching a statement that all could support, fundamentalists introduced a resolution at the 1926 convention meeting that "rejects every theory, evolution or otherwise, which teaches that man originated in, or came by way of, a lower animal ancestry," becoming the official interpretation of the confession.  This began a trend toward more restrictive interpretations of Southern Baptist theology, contradicting especially the foundational, historic doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (soul freedom) and other defining marks of the Baptist identity.

The First Genesis Controversy
In 1961, controversy shook the Southern Baptist Convention again.  Ralph H. Elliott, head of the Old Testament department at the newly-formed Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, published The Message of Genesis, in which he took a symbolic rather than literal approach to Genesis stressing its “theological and religious purpose” [1].  He made a distinction between the literary style of Genesis 1-11 and 12-50, comparing the book's opening chapters to the parables of Jesus in light of the cultural context of the Ancient Near East [2].  Broadman Press—then the official publishing house of SBC—printed the book [3].

One of the earliest fundamentalist critics of the book was John Havlik, director of Evangelism for Kansas Baptists, who castigated Elliott for assaulting the Lordship of Christ by affirming anything other than the literal truth of the Old Testament.  He wrote,
Our use of the word "critical" in regard to Old Testament scholarship is to denote those scholars who are not willing to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ in regard to the Old Testament.  That is, they are not willing to accept what he says and approach the Old Testament by substituting their own reason for His Lordship. [4]
Others accused Elliott of not affirming the foundational Christian doctrines such as the full divinity and full humanity of Christ, with some going so far as to question his salvation and call him an unbeliever [5].  Elliott was characterized as a "liberal" in the style of the 1920s controversy, insinuating a connection between his work and the modernism and Darwinism of the first fundamentalist controversy.  Such accusations divided conservatives and moderates in the SBC.  The fundamentalists controlled the terms of the debate, and if one affirmed the truth of the Bible (something all Southern Baptists did passionately), then that person must also deny the truth of The Message of Genesis.

Oklahoma Baptists were among the most critical of Elliott, and at a meeting of Elliott's critics in Oklahoma City, a plan was devised to elect trustees to Midwestern Seminary who would support their opposition to Elliott [6].  Furthermore, the furious controversy soon raised the threat that Midwestern Seminary would lose Cooperative Program funding.  Initially an ardent supporter of both Elliott and his book, only then did seminary president Millard Berquist cave to fundamentalist pressure [7].  Finally, in October of 1962, Elliott was brought before the seminary trustees where they insisted that he withdraw the book from further publication.  Elliott refused and was dismissed from his position—notably not for his theological views but for his denial of the administrators' request.  While SBC did not officially ban the book, Broadman Press ceased publication of The Message of Genesis, and Midwestern Seminary continued to be controlled by outside interest groups [8].

The controversy did not end with Elliott's dismissal from Midwestern.  It continued to reverberate throughout the convention.  At the 1962 Convention meeting in San Francisco, prior to Elliott's removal, it was proposed that a committee be formed to revise the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message.  Led by Herschel Hobbs, president of the SBC and the pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.  Again in response to fundamentalist controversy and pressure, Southern Baptists reformulated the Baptist Faith and Message.

The Confession of 1963
For many years prior to Elliott’s book, there had been a growing sentiment that the Convention was becoming more liberal in its theology.  Herschel Hobbs felt that “this book was not so much the cause as it was the occasion of the situation which developed following its publication” [9].  With much work and careful study, Hobbs and the Baptist Faith and Message Committee recommended the 1963 confession.  It was approved overwhelmingly by the messengers of the convention in Kansas City [10].

The 1963 BFM remained fairly moderate in the face of denominational conflict and once again proved to be a mediator between moderates and fundamentalists [11].  As in 1925, its language was sufficiently vague to allow for interpretation, but it was also specific enough to describe how Baptists approached faith and the Bible in general.  It reflected its engagement with the fundamentalist movement through two primary changes:  (1) an emphasis on the Lordship of Christ and (2) a more restrictive view of Christian education.

When comparing the confessions of 1925 and 1963, one of the notable differences is the amount of times language was added that mentions Jesus Christ and his relationship to the believer or the church.  Mention of Jesus was added a total of fifteen times to the 1963 confession.  Two of the most important areas in which this is evident are the articles on “The Scriptures” and “The Church.”

In the article on “The Scriptures,” the 1963 BFM additionally describes the Bible as “the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man" [12].  It also concludes with the new sentence, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ" [13].  In the article on "The Church," the committee revision made special note that the " under the Lordship of Jesus Christ" in which "members are equally responsible" [14].  (Further articles such as "The Kingdom" and "Last Things were significantly altered to emphasize the role of Christ as well.)

The language of the Lordship of Christ was open enough to allow for interpretation, acting as a bridge between the more moderate and the fundamentalist voices in the SBC.  Elliott himself was a committed Christian who frequently supplied pulpits throughout Missouri and Kansas before his dismissal, and he saw his work as an expression of his faith in Christ and study of the Bible.  Fundamentalists likewise understood their actions and positions as consistent with their understanding of the gospel and submission to Christ's lordship.  While the two groups did not agree on the particulars, they could agree on language.  Even so, such language also recalled fundamentalist objections such as those of John Havlik who criticized Elliott as being un-Christian.

The other arena of the 1963 BFM that specifically dealt with the fundamentalist crisis was the article on “Education.”  Three sentences were added that demonstrated a clear connection with the Elliott Controversy.
In Christian education, there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility.  Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute.  The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary, is limited by the pre-eminence of Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purposes for which the school exists. [15]
Despite the goal of continuing to preserve unity among members of the SBC, the 1963 BFM endorsed both the removal of Elliott and the censorship of his book.  In this article, the connection between the objections of fundamentalists such as Havlik and the Lordship of Christ becomes very clear.  The statement in the 1925 BFM that "the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is coordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive ...the liberal support of the churches" was removed.

Baptist Distinctives and Fundamentalism
These two shifts within the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message represent the beginning of a radical break with Baptist distinctives.  Traditional freedoms such as soul freedom were preserved almost intact.  Emphasizing the Lordship of Christ did not seek to impose any document on an individual, but it did mark a small shift in the direction towards a more centralized control.  It proved that those who convince others that their position was the most Christian had significant leverage within the denomination's official theology and power structure.  Although the prominence of Jesus did not attack any of the freedoms, its use by fundamentalists paved the way for their removal.

Nonetheless, the “Education” article was a direct refutation of Bible freedom.  By redefining Christian education, the confession was limiting what was taught in seminaries.  Rather than allowing students and laypersons to respond to the Bible themselves—in agreement or disagreement with Elliott's work guided by the Spirit of Christ—, it subtly began to endorse an official doctrine that would define how Baptists could relate and respond to God and the Bible.  Furthermore, by limiting academic freedom, the confession gave credibility to the firing of Ralph Elliott, the banning of his book in all but name only, and the tactics used by his opponents to manipulate the board of Midwestern Seminary.  Ultimately, those tactics would be used again to alter the course of the SBC as a whole and eventually to bring all of the convention's seminaries in line with its new direction.

However, the greatest threat to Baptist freedom came in the call for the confession in 1962.  The motion asked for a statement “which may serve as guidelines to the various agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention” [16].  Built into the very mission of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, credalism was creeping into the SBC.


  1. Ralph Elliott, The Genesis Controversy and Continuity in Southern Baptist Chaos: A Eulogy for a Great Tradition (Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 1992), 11.
  2. Ibid., 55-56.
  3. Quoted in Elliott, 49.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Jerry L. Faught, "The Ralph Elliott Controversy:  Competing Philosophies of Southern Baptist Seminary Education," Baptist History and Heritage 34, no. 3 (1999),;col1 (accessed June 19, 2012).
  6. Elliott, 53.
  7. Faught.
  8. Herschel Hobbs, “Southern Baptists and Confessionalism: A Comparison of the Origins and Contents of the 1925 and 1963 Confessions,” Review and Expositor 76, no. 1 (1976), 55-6.
  9. Ibid., 58-60.
  10. Elliott, 125.
  11. Hobbs, 62.
  12. The Baptist Standard, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” The Baptist Standard Online [database on-line]; available from; Internet; accessed 6 November 2004.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Preserving Unity: The Baptist Faith and Message of 1925

Understanding Fundamentalism Series
Part 1 - Understanding Fundamentalism
Part 2 - Baptist Distinctives and the Fundamentalism Movement
Part 3 - Preserving Unity:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 1925
Part 4 - Censoring Higher Education:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 1963
Part 5 - The New Credalism:  The Baptist Faith and Message of 2000
Part 6 - Fundamentalism and the Future of Baptist Higher Education

Yesterday, we reviewed briefly historic anchors of Baptist theology—the Four Fragile Freedoms, as described by Baptist historian Walter Shurden.  Save OBU has spent some time discussing them before, but is important to keep them in mind as we examine the conflict between the burgeoning fundamentalist movement and the historic characteristics of Southern Baptist theology and polity (shared by Baptists throughout the U.S. and Great Britain).  The four freedoms are soul freedom, Bible freedom, church freedom, and religious freedom.  The conflict was not a peripheral one; rather, it went to the core of both the Baptist and fundamentalist identities.

We also examined the historical characteristics of the fundamentalist movement focusing on its two primary emphases:  (1) The relatively new premillennial dispensationalist theology (developed in the second half of the 19th century) fused a rigid, hyperbolic supernaturalism with the cultural assumptions of Baconian science—assumptions shared by both modernists and fundamentalists.  The most obvious expression of this theological movement was the new belief in the inerrancy of the Bible (in the scientific, rationalist sense) and its insistence that it was the only proper starting point for Biblical interpretation.  Accordingly, the new theology's most obvious opponent became Darwinian evolutionary theory.

(2) The other defining mark of the fundamentalist movement was the militancy with which its adherents championed their beliefs.  World War I radicalized the movement—convincing the fundamentalists that the United States was the bastion of Christianity on the earth.  In order to save Christianity, the United States needed saving as well.  Fundamentalists began applying the same rigidity and vigor to the public arena—especially the public schools.  Because current trends in biblical scholarship and Darwinism were connected to Germany, those who championed such views were apostate.

The battle ground of education—E. J. Pace, 1922

Southern Baptist Contributions to The Fundamentals
When discussing fundamentalism, much is often made of the "Five Fundamentals"—though which five doctrines actually counted as essential depended upon which group issued them.  The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1910 listed the first declaration of five essential doctrines—with no use of the word "fundamental," referring to them as "essentials" [1].  Further, the doctrines were not binding to any member of the Presbyterian Church (in Baptist terminology, a creed); rather they were a general description of what Presbyterians at the time believed (in Baptist terminology, a confession).  Indeed, conservative Christians largely agreed with the five essentials (even despite the differences in each version), but their commitment to fundamentalism was by no means uniform.

It is more instructive to look at a series of twelve volumes published from 1910 to 1915 titled The Fundamentals, from which the term "fundamentalism" was coined in 1920. The series was designed as a defense of conservative Christianity and true science (as opposed to the false science of the Darwinists).  In an interesting historical aside, some of the authors such as George Frederick Wright and Scotsman James Orr allowed that certain elements of evolutionary theory were consistent with biblical revelation, so long as one understood that God was the source of all life [2].  Another contributor to the volumes, B. B. Warfield of Princeton Theological Seminary—itself a source of fundamentalist theology and a battleground for the Presbyterian church after Warfield's death in 1921—, quietly believed that a form of theistic evolution and Christianity were compatible.  Each of these writers tapped into the widespread view among conservative evangelicals that the days of creation in Genesis were not meant to be literal, twenty-four hour days.  These men held to the long-established evangelical belief that science and religion were but two sides of the same coin—each a component of God's revelation to humankind.

Furthermore, notable Southern Baptist contributor to The Fundamentals J. J. Reeves—a professor at Southwestern Seminary—found in contemporary biblical criticism "a developing revelation" in "the application of the historical method" even as he attacked modernist scholars for undermining the authority of the Bible by starting from a perspective that did not preserve Christianity "in all its essential features" [3].  E. Y. Mullins, Southern Seminary president and later chair of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message Committee, emphasized the experiential and practical elements of Christian life, drawing from both moderate and conservative influences in American Christianity at the time [4].  All of these perspectives, later rejected by fundamentalists, were considered well within the boundaries of conservative Christian thought before its post-war radicalization and the emergence of fundamentalism.

The Confession of 1925
At its formation in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention dismissed the adoption of a confession.   From the outset, the SBC held to the belief that the primary function of its association was not a theological one, but a practical one—the propagation of the gospel.  Given the general acceptance of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, the impulse remained a reality.  However, during the 1920s it became clear to some that Southern Baptists would need to define themselves in the face of a growing threat to the unity and survival of the SBC [5].  Given the conservative nature of the South, the conflict was not between the liberals and the fundamentalists, but rather between the fundamentalists and the moderates [6].  Fundamentalist militancy drew sharp lines, and many views considered acceptable within The Fundamentals only a few years before were outside the circle.

Despite longstanding tradition, the denomination chose to do something it had refused to do in 1845: draw up a confession [7].  The fundamentalists within the convention clamored for the SBC to take a stand on its key issues, and the others hoped to maintain the emphasis on soul freedom.  Indeed, E. Y. Mullins—the man chosen to lead the Baptist Faith and Message Committee—claimed that soul freedom was "a divinely given prophetic insight into the meaning of the gospel and the implicit teaching of Scripture" and the singular "distinctive historical significance of the Baptists" [8].  In 1925, the committee presented the confession to the annual convention meeting in Memphis [9].  The confession strove to walk a very fine line, inclusive enough to preserve unity among both fundamentalists and moderates, but exclusive enough to strongly affirm the truth of the Bible [10].

The previously established New Hampshire Confession of Faith was the blueprint for the Baptist Faith and Message, so much so that several articles of the 1925 confession were taken directly from its 1833 predecessor.  However, many others were changed or added to.  A comparison between the two documents clearly illuminates the shift Southern Baptist theology made in response to the fundamentalist crisis.  The Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy prompted two particular emphases to the 1925 statement, balancing the competing concerns of fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists (both moderates and conservatives) in the convention:  (1) It emphasized the supernatural nature of Christianity, and (2) it demonstrated a commitment to preserving unity through a modified Social Gospel and the exclusion of a repudiation of evolution.

One of the unique characteristics of the premillennial dispensationalist theology was its heavy emphasis on the supernatural nature of the Bible.  Fundamentalists responded to modernist naturalism by removing all human elements out of the inspiration process—insisting especially on the literal truth of the supernatural events in Scripture and making such literalism a litmus test for belief in the authority of the Bible.  The preamble of the 1925 BFM explicitly states:
The present occasion for a reaffirmation of Christian fundamentals is the prevalence of naturalism in the modern teaching and preaching of religion. Christianity is supernatural in its origin and history. We repudiate every theory of religion which denies the supernatural elements in our faith. [11]
Furthermore, articles such as “The Resurrection” and “The Return of the Lord” were not found in the NHCF, and their addition demonstrates a trend toward emphasizing supernaturalism.  Another example of this trend is in the article on "The Fall of Man"—the 1833 NHCF states simply that humankind "by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state," but the 1925 BFM emphasizes the role of Satan in humanity's "bondage to sin" [12].  (Other articles corresponding to the same shift include “The Way of Salvation,” “Freeness of Salvation,” “Regeneration,” “Sanctification,” and “The Lord’s Day.")

A second purpose of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message was an attempt at preserving the unity of the SBC, and this was expressed in two ways:  (1) the argument for a moderate Social Gospel and (2) the absence of a condemnation of evolution.  The confession's preamble expresses the hope that “some statement will clarify the atmosphere and remove some causes of misunderstanding, friction, and apprehension” [13].  In taking a middle approach on both the issues of the Social Gospel and evolution, the committee worked to allow both fundamentalists and moderates to "co-operate with each other in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent program for the extension of Christ's kingdom" [14].

Statements such as an addition to “The Fall of Man” claimed that men and women are born sinful and challenged the Social Gospel belief that humankind was corrupted by its environment [15].  However, this was balanced by the creation of articles on “The Kingdom” and “Social Service” which depicted a much more liberal approach to society even to the point of changing its institutions.  By holding to a doctrine of original sin while still arguing for social reform through individual regeneration, the confession had achieved a balance most could accept.

Furthermore, by excluding the issue of evolution, the BFM expected to defuse the situation by not forcing anyone to choose personal belief over denomination statement.  No mention was made of Darwinism or evolution in the article on “The Fall of Man,” and the article on “Education” attempted to hold science and the Bible together by arguing that two were compatible.  The phrase “an adequate system of schools” was ambiguous enough to allow both sides to interpret it as they saw fit [16].

Despite the convention's adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message in 1925, the specific lack of a repudiation of evolution angered the fundamentalists.  When the Convention met in 1926 in Houston, a motion presented by S. E. Tull declared that
     WHEREAS, the Southern Baptist Convention... “accepts Genesis as teaching that man was the special creation of God, and rejects every theory, evolution or otherwise, which teaches that man originated in, or came by way of, a lower animal ancestry.” [17]
A hot issue for fundamentalists, the motion was passed—calling for all SBC institutions to abide by the statement.  Despite the efforts of Mullins and the committee, the resolution became the official interpretation of the 1925 confession.

Baptist Distinctives and Fundamentalism
At first glance, it appears that the distinctive Baptist freedoms continued to thrive despite the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy.  That is true—to a certain extent.  Given the denominational climate today, in which the various versions of the Baptist Faith and Message are taken for granted as an essential feature of the Southern Baptist identity, it is difficult to understand how drastic the adoption of any official statement was in 1925.  It's very existence represented a dramatic shift in the Baptist understanding of soul freedom.  Lines were drawn, even if they were not meant to be enforced.

Certainly, with E. Y. Mullins—staunch defender of soul freedom and the leading theologian among Southern Baptists—at the helm, Baptist distinctives were well preserved in the face of the controversy.  In fact, were the convention to still accept the 1925 confession, it is likely that the denominational landscape would be very different today.  Save OBU probably would not have cause to exist.

But revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message did not end there.  The confession was reformulated again in 1963 and 2000—both in response to the ongoing fundamentalist crisis in the SBC.  Although the 1925 BFM attempted to subdue divisive tensions by taking a middle approach, each subsequent revision further confined the spectrum of Baptist thought and practice.  Indeed, the 1926 resolution—arguably the first revision to the BFM—narrowly defined Baptist thought and carried with it the expectation that SBC seminaries would abide by its declaration.

Soon, evolution would become central to a second fundamentalist controversy within the convention.  When Midwestern Seminary professor Ralph Elliott published The Message of Genesis in 1961—in which he took a symbolic rather than literal approach to the Genesis narratives—fundamentalists reacted strongly, and a much more substantial revision to the Baptist Faith and Message was required to appease their demands.

Please join us for that discussion tomorrow.


  1. George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford, 1980), 117.
  2. Ibid., 122.
  3. J. J. Reeves, "My Personal Experience with the Higher Criticism," In The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, ed. R. A. Torrey and A. C. Dixon, et al., vol. 1 (The Bible Institute of Los Angeles, 1917), 302-303.
  4. Marsden, 122.
  5. Herschel Hobbs, “Southern Baptists and Confessionalism: A Comparison of the Origins and Contents of the 1925 and 1963 Confessions,” Review and Expositor 76, no. 1 (1976), 55-6.
  6. Ellis, 41.
  7. L. Rush Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible: The Baptist Doctrines of Biblical Inspiration and Religious Authority in Historical Perspective (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 386.
  8. E. Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion (1908), edited by Douglas Weaver (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press), 60, 66.
  9. Ellis, 190.
  10. Bill J. Leonard, God’s Last & Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 78-9.
  11. The Baptist Standard, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” The Baptist Standard Online [database on-line]; available from; Internet; accessed 6 November 2004.
  12. "The New Hampshire Confession of Faith."  [database on-line]; available from; Internet; accessed 9 April 2005; "Comparison."
  13. "Comparison."
  14. Ibid.
  15. Thompson, 30.
  16. "Comparison."
  17. S. E. Tull, Article of Business No. 113, Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention 1926, by the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville: Marshall & Bruce, 1926), 98.