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Analysis, hopefulness undergird book detailing SBC conservative resurgence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–What might have prevented the crisis which Southern Baptists endured in the latter half of the last century? Through a well-substantiated analysis of the history of the conservative resurgence, author Jerry Sutton suggests some answers. And for a new generation unfamiliar with the roots of the controversy, he offers the context and characters of events which led to a theological transformation.

“The Baptist Reformation,” to be released by June, is a 560-page history published by Broadman & Holman, the trade books division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville, Tenn., who holds a Ph.D. in church history from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, said he relied upon primary sources for much of the book’s material, “endeavoring to substantiate all conclusions with hard facts.”

He is convinced that history might have been different had former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Duke McCall stated that the 13 professors he fired for insubordination in 1958 supported theology that was clearly outside the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message. Instead, their influence increased at two sister institutions — Midwestern in Kansas City, Mo., and Southeastern at Wake Forest, N.C. “The leftward drift could have been nipped in the bud,” Sutton writes.

One of those professors, Ralph Elliott, set the stage for the ensuing controversy with his book, “The Message of Genesis.” If the then-Baptist Sunday School Board had not defended its publication and Midwestern administration and trustees had not supported the Elliott’s historical-critical method of interpretation, Sutton believes the crisis might have been headed off at that point.

Other turning points described in the book include the failure of BSSB trustees to prescribe conservative parameters for the multi-volume Broadman Bible Commentary and the unwillingness of seminary presidents to admit any theological problems on their campuses.

“Conservatives understood the adage, `What the fathers do in moderation, the children take to excess,’ and they knew that something needed to be done. And it was. And we do not apologize for it,” Sutton writes, clearly acknowledging his support for the conservative cause.

In the first part of the book, Sutton addresses what he terms the theological inadequacy and the institutional bureaucracy that protected those who taught aberrant doctrinal views. A second section gives a chronological account of events during administrations of the 11 SBC presidents elected by a conservative majority since 1979. A third part describes institutional change at the various Southern Baptist entities. In his final section Sutton analyzes and interprets why change occurred, offering an epilogue on “The Future Before Us.”

LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr. writes in the foreword to The Baptist Reformation that it will prove to be one of the most significant books ever published by Broadman & Holman. “Written from a pastor’s heart, with a scholar’s mind and a missionary’s vision, this book will enlighten and challenge every reader,” Draper states. “Through it all Jerry Sutton presents an optimistic and hope-filled vision for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The Baptist Reformation will be available at LifeWay Christian Stores across the country, or it can be order through the bookstores’ toll-free number, 1-800-233-1123, or Internet site, www.lifewaystores.com.

    About the Author

  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter