A Great Conference!
I just returned from two days at the Andrew Fuller Conference on Baptist Spirituality. Michael A. G. Haykin is the driving force for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, a relatively new center dedicated to promoting the study of Baptist history. In recent times, much of the material by and about Baptists has come from writers inclined toward theological progressivism rather than confessional orthodoxy. I am happy to report that the AFCBS is trying to fill the void for a more confessional approach to Baptist identity. In addition to an annual conference, the center also publishes a worthy journal, Eusebia.
At this year’s conference, we heard papers from American, Canadian, Irish, and British scholars examining various aspects of Baptist spirituality. The audio of these messages will soon be available on the AFCBS website. I offered a short paper on the personal piety of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Three of my former professors offered very good plenary addresses. Gerald Priest from Detroit looked at the piety of A. C. Dixon, an early fundamentalist. Tom Nettles looked at the piety of James Petigru Boyce, one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Greg Wills offered an excellent perspectival paper entitled “Relevance, Severity, and Spiritual Power in Baptist Piety.” Tom has written a new book on the life of Boyce and Wills a new history on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
Southern Seminary played an important, if little known, role in early American fundamentalism. Three early fundamentalists leaders—William Bell Riley, John Roach Straton and Amzi Clarence Dixon—all received training there. They all studied under the staunchly orthodox founders—Boyce, John Albert Broadus, and Basil Manly. Dixon was a student in Greenville, South Carolina (where Southern Seminary was first located), when the Crawford Howell Toy affair erupted. Toy, a brilliant student who completed his seminary training in one year, studied in Germany and taught Old Testament at the seminary, but it soon became evident that he had embraced higher critical thought and was forced to resign his position at the school. Basil Manly Jr., the author of the seminary’s very orthodox Abstract of Principles, was brought back to the school to reinforce the institution’s commitment to orthodoxy. He authored a book on inspiration in the wake of the Toy controversy. Riley was a student in the aftermath of the controversy.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Dixon and Straton found themselves in Chicago—Dixon at Moody Memorial Church and Straton at Second Baptist—and both were members of the Chicago Baptist Ministerial Association. This association also included many of the notoriously liberal faculty members from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. Both Dixon and Straton protested the heterodoxy at Chicago especially that which flowed from the pen of George Burman Foster. No doubt, they learned something of an appreciation for orthodoxy while studying at Southern. Riley went on to pastor First Baptist Church of Minneapolis where he became one of the three principal figures in the fight for orthodoxy in Baptist life, along with Canadian T. T. Shields and Southern Baptist J. Frank Norris.
Unfortunately, Southern Seminary also felt the pressures of theological liberalism and neo-orthodoxy in the mid-twentieth century, but in recent years the school has returned to historic orthodoxy under the leadership of R. Albert Mohler, its ninth president.