Anatomy of a Reformation: The Southern Baptist Convention 1978–1994 -- By: Paige Patterson

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 16:3 (Summer 1999)
Article: Anatomy of a Reformation: The Southern Baptist Convention 1978–1994
Author: Paige Patterson

Anatomy of a Reformation:
The Southern Baptist Convention 1978–1994

Paige Patterson

President, Southern Baptist Convention
President and Professor of Theology
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587

A Paper Presented at the National Meeting of the
Evangelical Theological Society
Chicago, Illinois
November 17, 1994

Why would anyone want to live anywhere close to the San Andreas fault? Yet millions choose to do precisely that and to all appearances lead reasonably normal lives. Perhaps the Baptist kingdom of our evangelical Zion is the San Andreas fault of Christendom. Given the constant rumbles, frequent tremors, and occasional ten-point Richter scale, seismic earth shifts, some observant evangelicals probably wonder why anyone would want to live among the rowdy Baptists. Others are curious as to why this phenomenon of confrontation in Baptist life seems to erupt with the regularity of “Old Faithful.”

One of the earliest tremors leading to the massive upheavals of the decade of the eighties was the publication of an article which appeared in various state Baptist papers in October of 1961 entitled “Death in the Pot.” K. Owen White, then the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas, and soon to be elected in 1963 as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, used the incident from the life of Elisha in 2 Kings 4:38–41 to suggest that a noxious herb had been introduced into the Southern Baptist stew. His immediate target was the work of Ralph Elliott at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the professor’s book, The Message of Genesis, published in 1961 by Broadman Press, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Elliott’s book had employed historical-critical assumptions, conclusions, and methodologies which led the professor to question the historicity of some of the narrative portions of Genesis.

If White’s immediate target was the work of Elliott, his article was received enthusiastically by many Baptists in Waxahachie, Texas, Yazoo City, Mississippi, Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, Lizard Lick, North Carolina, and hundreds of other

towns and its ramifications extended to feature the entire superstructure of Southern Baptist Convention denominational institutions and agencies as a seething, noxious pot for which no healing pinch of flower from a prophet’s hand had been forthcoming. This perception included two general features—a general distrust for the pot itself (the bureaucracy) and the suspicion that someone had visited Deutschland, returned with a ...

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