Being Baptist: A Resurgence of Conviction
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) -- I couldn’t believe that I slept right through it. My mom said it sounded like a freight train rushing by our house, but there was not a train track nearby. I awoke that fall morning to discover a tornado had gone right between our house and the elderly lady’s house next door.
Miraculously, no houses were destroyed, but a massive oak tree had been uprooted and laid on its side, its branches within inches of the neighbor’s house. It was as if the hand of the Lord had protected her residence from complete destruction.
As kids, we decided to make a fort out of the fallen tree. As we hunkered in the bunker with our toy guns, though, we were blissfully unaware that at any moment the tree could shift or break and crush the house. But, fortunately, someone had a plan to save the house.
Through a grassroots movement, volunteers from the neighborhood brought their handsaws and chainsaws to cut the house free. The end result was a unified neighborhood and a safe house.
A similar grassroots movement sought to cut away the branches of neo-orthodoxy from within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during the latter part of the 20th century. It seems that while many conservative Southern Baptists were sleeping, stiff winds of the historical critical method swept through the halls of their colleges and seminaries, threatening the denomination that they held so dear. Ivory tower theologians sowed seeds of doubt about the historicity of the Bible in the minds of those training for pastoral ministry in the churches.
Some oblivious to the impending danger chose to hunker in the bunker, maintain status quo and make the best of the situation. Others, however, recognized the landscape and banded together to enact change and cut the denomination free. The Lord’s hand had protected the SBC in many respects, but work was needed to save it from impending danger. In a denomination where decision-making power ultimately rests in the hands of church members rather than the denominational hierarchy, the best way to effect change is through a grass roots movement.
In 1967, at the famous Café du Monde in the New Orleans French Quarter, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler discussed the state of the SBC. After some discussion, they both realized that they could no longer sit back and watch the inerrancy and authority of the Bible be questioned by professors in Southern Baptist educational institutions. They feared the eventual outcome of so many other denominations who had imbibed liberal theology and ran adrift.
From that meeting was birthed what has now become known as the Conservative Resurgence, a grassroots movement among Southern Baptists to reclaim conservative theological convictions within denominational agencies and boards. Over the course of 10 years, this movement elected conservative SBC presidents who appointed committee members, which created a trickle-down effect resulting in a solid base of trustees who reflected conservative convictions. (Paige Patterson’s Anatomy of a Reformation provides a detailed outline of how God graciously helped the denomination’s agencies return to biblical fidelity).
The remarkable nature of it all is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the denomination held to biblical inerrancy, but it was not until they were awakened from their blissful stupor that they realized the danger at hand. If not for the wisdom of the convention’s founders, who created a denominational structure that provides for such a reformation, all might have been lost. In the end, the Conservative Resurgence resulted in a more biblically sound denomination better equipped to take the Gospel to an unbelieving world.