LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — In honor of the late W.A. Criswell, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has announced a new academic chair in preaching named for the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Southern Baptist statesman and two-time Southern graduate.
Jack Pogue, a longtime friend of Criswell (1909-2002) who was present for the seminary announcement Oct. 17, funded the chair. After introducing Pogue, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. thanked him for his generosity.
“It is my great privilege to announce today, at the great generosity of this friend, the funding of the W.A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching,” Mohler said.
Commenting about Criswell’s gift of expository preaching, Mohler said, “He, in many ways, exemplified not only for Southern Baptists but for evangelicals at large a recovery of expository preaching.”
From the time of Charles Spurgeon to W.A. Criswell, Mohler said there are “very few prominent preachers who are actually committed to what we would call biblical exposition.”
Mohler introduced a video of Criswell’s 1985 address, “Whether We Live or Die,” which the seminary community viewed as part of the chapel service. Criswell preached the message, one of his most well-known sermons, at the Pastors’ Conference held before the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Dallas.
The sermon came at one of the most intense times of controversy over the inerrancy of the Bible in SBC life, with Criswell outlining how acquiescence to liberal theology leads to the death of denominations and institutions. As examples, Criswell pointed to Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s defense of the Bible in the “Downgrade Controversy” among English Baptists in the late 1800s and the University of Chicago’s fall into liberalism after its founding as a school to train ministers in historic Christianity.
Criswell illustrated the influence of liberalism within the Southern Baptist Convention with the story of professor Crawford H. Toy’s dismissal from Southern Seminary in 1879 due to his acceptance of German higher criticism. Criswell pointed to the seminary’s subsequent acceptance of Toy’s theology, citing a 1985 issue of seminary’s academic journal at the time, Review and Expositor. The issue — published shortly before Criswell’s address — included an article describing Toy’s beliefs as “perfectly acceptable, condoned, and defended,” were he to teach at the seminary then.
Later at the 1985 convention, messengers elected Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, as SBC president. Stanley’s presidency continued a line of conservative presidents and helped secure the success of the conservative movement, known as the “Conservative Resurgence.”
Concerning the context of Criswell’s sermon, Mohler said the legendary preacher and former SBC president delivered the sermon under “conditions of maximum warfare.” The 1985 SBC annual meeting, Mohler said, was one of the great turning points in the SBC.
“There is a line that runs very straight from that day in Dallas, Texas, to this day in Louisville, Ky.,” Mohler told seminary students and faculty. “We can look back at history and say, had not the convention voted as it did in the very day after Dr. Criswell preached that sermon, we would not be sitting in this chapel today. It would be a very different world and a very different institution.”
Pogue, a businessman from Dallas, also has funded the W.A. Criswell Sermon Library. The digital library provides free access to Criswell’s 4,100-plus sermons in digital format. At the conclusion of the service, Pogue provided each chapel attendee with a copy of “Criswell Classics: Centennial Edition,” a DVD collection of 12 of Criswell’s most important sermons.
Also at the service was Jerry Johnson, the current president of Criswell College in Dallas, a school Criswell himself helped establish, which later took his name. The National Religious Broadcasters recently named Johnson as their new president.
Audio and video of the service can be accessed here.
RuthAnne Irvin writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).