INDIANAPOLIS–The new president of The Criswell College (TCC) recognizes the tendency of Southern Baptists to forget spiritual lessons of the past, often prompting a recurring pattern of dealing with theological liberalism at 40-year intervals. With that in mind TCC and the W. A. Criswell Legacy Project are jointly sponsoring “Remembering the Past, Reaching the Future” on June 14 from 9 to 11 p.m. at the Indiana Convention Center, Sagamore Ballrooms 5,6, & 7, prior to the opening of this year’s annual Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis.
“After 25 years, we want to remind the current generation of this cyclical past so that we will not be condemned to repeat it,” TCC President Jerry Johnson told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. He cited three events that triggered a response to liberalism in the SBC:
–the higher critical skepticism of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor Crawford Toy in 1879,
–the introduction of the theory of evolution at Baptist schools in the 1920s, and
–Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor Ralph Elliott’s use of higher criticism in his book, Message of Genesis, published in 1961.
In the first instance, Johnson said Toy ultimately resigned, while the other two events, occurring in just over 40 years intervals, prompted the first and second statements of the Baptist Faith and Message. Elliott was fired at Midwestern after he refused a request to not re-publish the book.
“Unfortunately, other Baptist schools did not deal with liberalism within their ranks and hence the need for the conservative resurgence in 1979,” Johnson said. “We should never forget this tendency toward theological drift and the high cost that has been paid to correct it.”
The idea of a conservative resurgence reunion was birthed in the heart of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards. “It is time to honor those who labored, many in obscurity, to bring about the course correction in the greatest evangelical denomination in America,” he said. “The unsung heroes were those who served on committees and boards making difficult decisions, standing in the gap and paying the price sometimes with their ministries. We owe them an eternal debt of gratitude,” he added. Richards will introduce honored guests at the reunion.
“There is a new generation arising who ‘know not Joseph.’ It is imperative that we pass the torch to the emerging leadership,” Richards stated, referring to the meeting theme. He encouraged those being honored to bring someone under 40 years of age with them. “We have a significant anniversary to celebrate. Many who will be leading us in Southern Baptist life in the next 10 to 20 years will not have experiential knowledge of the struggle.” In the transition to a new era, Richards hopes those directing the SBC in the year 2020 value their heritage.
That appreciation for the past should prompt vigilance in contending for the faith, Johnson said. Otherwise the denomination may relapse back into a cycle of liberalism in the future, he explained. “Remember, the current generation of SBC college and seminary students were either non-existent or infants in 1979. While their future leadership in the SBC is inevitable, the kind of leadership they provide is not. We want to challenge them to lead our denomination into the future based upon a commitment to the authority, inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.”
Explaining the connection of the school and W.A. Criswell Legacy Project to the reunion, Johnson said, ““The Criswell College is committed to raising up a generation of ministers that will lead Southern Baptist congregations and the Southern Baptist Convention to maintain our commitment to biblical authority and inerrancy.”
Johnson added, “Our founder, Dr. W. A. Criswell was the prophet crying in the wilderness on this issue prior to 1979. During the conservative resurgence of the SBC, he was the embodiment of that movement to recover our theological heritage.” Johnson said the school’s former chancellor delivered decisive sermons on the dangers of liberalism at two critical conventions in 1985 and 1988. (Both sermons can be heard at the Legacy Project’s website at www.wacriswell.com using keyword search for liberalism and Southern Baptist Convention.)
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson expressed appreciation for the opportunity to speak at the June 14 event. “Although I was not party to the reunion plans, I am grateful for the opportunity to give thanks to God for His blessings on our Southern Baptist people and to give thanks to people who, though never featured in headlines, faithfully sacrificed to save Southern Baptists from a sure leftward drift into the mainline denominational bog.”
Joining Patterson in delivering remarks at the reunion will be Judge Paul Pressler of Houston, author of A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey. Together, Patterson and Pressler identified for Southern Baptists the leftward drift during the 1960s and 1970s, outlining a plan for returning the denomination to its historic roots.
“The heroes of the conservative movement are not those whose names were in the press,” Pressler stated in a recent symposium at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They were the grassroots people who loved the Lord and loved the convention and loved God’s Word and wanted to make sure that Southern Baptists returned to what [the Bible] teaches.”
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Richard D. Land will deliver a historical overview of the conservative resurgence. Land taught theology at The Criswell College during the early years of the resurgence. SBC President Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, will open the meeting with prayer.
For more information or to make reservations contact Gina Gray at The Criswell College at 214-818-1301 or by email at [email protected]