Thursday, June 3, 2010

40 years ago: Southern Baptist Convention delegates demand the withdrawal of a liberal SBC Bible commentary

On June 3, 1970 delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual convention in Denver (a Convention convention?) succeeded in passing a motion that the first volume of Broadman Bible Commentary be withdrawn and the section on Genesis be rewritten by a Bible-believing author. A detailed explanation of the controversy is found in James Patterson's article Alternative Theological Education in the Southern Baptist Convention: A Case Study of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, which appeared in The Journal of Baptist Studies in 2007:

...a whole new crisis developed in 1969 with the publication of the first volume of the Broadman Bible Commentary. This volume included a section on Genesis written by G. Henton Davies, an English Baptist from Oxford. Davies, like Elliott before him*, employed higher critical methods and reached predictable conclusions. He shocked SBC conservatives by questioning whether God ever commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). Following Elliott’s neoorthodox approach, he generally argued that religious "truth" could be maintained apart from historical fact.

Debate about Davies’s handling of Genesis reached the floor of the Denver Convention in 1970. Gwin Turner of California brought a motion asking that the first volume of the Broadman commentary be withdrawn and "rewritten with due consideration of the conservative viewpoint."

...The Turner resolution passed by an overwhelming majority. At the 1971 Convention in St. Louis, a motion was approved to instruct the Sunday School Board that the Genesis commentary be redone by a different writer, and subsequently Clyde Francisco of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was enlisted for the task.
(pp. 4-5)

*In 1961 Broadman Press, the publishing arm of the Baptist Sunday School Board, had published The Message of Genesis by Ralph H. Elliott, a professor of Old Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Mr. Elliott accepted German higher critical beliefs (e.g., multiple authors of the Pentateuch, no universal flood, etc.) while spouting the neo-orthodox view that Genesis communicated religious "truth." (see Patterson, p. 3)

In 1970 it was ordinary pastors, not "big names" or denominational leaders, who had enough discernment to lead the opposition to this example of liberalism in the SBC. Would the same be true today? In his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis Schaeffer warned that the Southern Baptist Convention was in the same shape then (1984) that the mainline churches were in during the 1920s and '30s. 26 years have gone by since brother Schaeffer issued that warning.

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