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Southeastern records oral history of Southern Baptist missions

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Great Commission Studies (CGCS) is employing modern technology to keep the history of missions in the Southern Baptist Convention alive.
Initiated in the spring of 1997, Southeastern’s “Oral History Project” was created to preserve the wisdom and insights of significant contributors to Southern Baptist missions through digital audio recordings of interviews with people who have been integrally involved in the modern missions movement. The oral interviews are available for download off the CGCS Internet site, www.greatcomm.org.
Keith Eitel, professor of Christian missions at Southeastern and CGCS director, said he started the project to expose the “next generation” to the SBC’s missions philosophy and methods since World War II.
“There’s quite a generational shift occurring at or around the turn of the century,” Eitel said. “The post-World War II generation is retiring off, and a new generation is emerging.”
Eitel said an interview conducted last year with former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Robert Naylor, before his death Feb. 22 at the age of 90, underscores the importance of the project.
“Well, it’s probably one of, if not the last, oral academic functions he was involved in, and so, that’s exactly a case in point of why this is valuable, because now, nobody can interview that man,” Eitel said. “So, we’ve got his mind, at least in summary oral depiction, of a whole generation of Southern Baptist history as it impacted missions.” Naylor was Southwestern’s president from 1958-78.
Other interviews with SBC missiologists currently available on the CGCS website include Cal Guy, visiting Fletcher professor of missions at Southeastern and professor emeritus of missions at Southwestern; Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board; Avery Willis, IMB senior vice president for overseas operations; Mike Stroope, former director of the Cooperative Services International of the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board).
Eitel said in future interviews he plans to focus on missionaries who served in Vietnam during the war. “I sense their stories would be historically significant especially in these days,” he said.
Southeastern is employing up-to-date technology to relay the audio versions of the interviews via the Internet and plans to make transcripts available to download off the CGCS website.
Eitel said the Oral History Project is one aspect of the CGCS’s academic component which also facilitates the master of divinity in international church planting program at the Wake Forest, N.C., seminary. The CGCS also conducts missions research through its “Churches in Habitat” program aimed at identifying every indigenous evangelical church in the world.
Efforts are still under way to secure funding for a new 16,000-square-foot missions center. To date, the seminary still needs $1 million to fund construction.
Eitel said preserving oral histories is vital because “there are things you can hear on a tape that you can’t hear in printed form. Inflection of voices, jitteriness, nervousness, anger, emotion, passion — you can’t see and hear that in a transcript,” he said.
Eitel said audio versions of interviews provide “original source material” much like an authentic handwritten document. He said oral accounts are helpful for augmenting or corroborating published source material.
For example, Guy, 82, explains in his interview how Donald McGavran, one of the premier missiologists of the 20th century, helped shape his philosophy of missions and church growth.
Guy, who serves on the board of trustees for the SBC’s International Mission Board, still requires his students to read McGavran’s book, “Understanding Church Growth,” first published in 1970 and revised a decade later. Before his death in the early 1990s, McGavran served as dean emeritus and former senior professor of mission, church growth and South Asian studies at the Fuller Theological Seminary’s school of world mission in Pasadena, Calf.
“Basically, the theme that [McGavran] stayed with most of his ministry was the fact that missions was about people coming to Christ,” Guy stated in the interview. “That people were lost without Christ, and that unless you bring them to salvation, you have done nothing permanent, of any permanent benefit in their lives.”
Guy also shared how he helped McGavran secure a publisher for his second book, “How Churches Grow,” by committing to make it required reading for his classes. Guy said publishers in the 1960s were wary, at first, of committing to McGavran, who is now considered by many in evangelical circles as “father of the church growth movement.”

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  • Greg Carpenter