William B. Johnson and the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention -- By: Joe Needham

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 16:1 (Fall 1998)
Article: William B. Johnson and the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention
Author: Joe Needham


William B. Johnson and the Conservative Resurgence
in the Southern Baptist Convention

Joe Needham

M.Div. Student
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC 27587

In 1979, a phenomenon labeled by some as the “Conservative Resurgence” emerged within the Southern Baptist Convention. This movement began with the election of Adrian Rogers, a theological conservative, as president of the organization. Over the next several years, messengers to the annual meeting continued to elect conservative leaders. These presidents made appointments of like-minded individuals to the governing boards of the various institutions within the convention. Now some two decades subsequent, Conservatives control nearly every facet of the organization.

Many moderates have found this movement unnerving. Conservatives have been accused of “systematically and consistently shut[ting] out of leadership and meaningful decision-making anyone who will not participate in their movement and continued control.”1 Another has contended that this movement is “an effort on the part of theological fundamentalists to construct a new kind of denominationalism based on theological sameness rather than on the historical model of mission and ministry.”2 Some promote the notion that the “Southern Baptist homogeneity during the last half of the nineteenth century was not theological; it was sociological.”3 Others retorted that “Biblical inerrancy was the ideology by means of which change would come.”4

One pastor asked brazenly, “Who would have thought that the Sunday School Board would agree to publish an inerrantist biblical commentary?”5 Some moderates have stated that conservatives merged the imported ideology of inerrancy “with traditional big-church sources of leadership and the emerging political power of the ‘new right’ in the national Republican Party.”6 A leading Baptist historian contends that Southern Baptists before the current century “asserted that the Bible is the Word of God but recognized that it was mediated through the words of men.”7 He added that they “knew assuredly that the Bible reveals what every person needs to know regarding salvation but seldom maintained that the same applies to other areas such as science or history.”8 This assessment is at the least misleading and inaccu...

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