An Edwardsean Evolution: The Rise And Decline Of Moral Governmental Theory In The Southern Baptist Convention -- By: Obbie Tyler Todd

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 62:4 (Dec 2019)
Article: An Edwardsean Evolution: The Rise And Decline Of Moral Governmental Theory In The Southern Baptist Convention
Author: Obbie Tyler Todd


An Edwardsean Evolution:
The Rise And Decline Of Moral Governmental Theory In The Southern Baptist Convention

Obbie Tyler Todd*

* Obbie Tyler Todd is Pastor at the Church at Haynes Creek, 1242 Mt. Zion Road, Oxford, GA 30054. He is a doctoral candidate in theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 3939 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70126. He may be contacted at [email protected]

Abstract: Two ideas shaped early Southern Baptist theology more than any others: (1) God the Moral Governor works all things for his glory, and (2) in doing so, he also works for the highest good of his moral universe. While the ideas themselves did not change, God’s moral government was an evolving concept. It is the aim of this article to demonstrate that moral governmental theory underwent a significant transition in the incipient years of the Southern Baptist Convention, from a robust doctrine of atonement drawn from the Edwardsean tradition to a doctrine of providence that still emphasized the glorious display of God’s attributes and the Creator’s benevolence toward his creatures. In these early years, the question was not necessarily which “theory” of atonement Southern Baptists affirmed, but which kinds of justice they upheld in the atonement underneath a broad moral governmental frame. Although the concept of moral government has since waned in Baptist life, its two signature principles, glory and goodness, left an indelible mark upon the Southern Baptist Convention.

Key words: moral government, atonement, providence, penal substitution, Southern Baptist, New Divinity, glory, goodness

In the American intellectual marketplace, religions and denominations have long exchanged and been shaped by ideas. In the case of the Southern Baptist Convention, it was shaped most significantly by two: (1) God, the Moral Governor, works all things for his glory, and (2) in doing so, he also works for the highest good of his moral universe. More than perhaps any others, these symbiotic ideas guided the thinking of the earliest Southern Baptist theologians like two rails on a track. Together, they could be bent and curved in a number of ways, but one idea always remained in comfortable proximity to the other. When President William B. Johnson (1782–1862) addressed the inaugural Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, his justification for their departure from the Triennial Convention was “the glory of our God.” Johnson insisted that the reason for separation was “not disunion with any of his people; not the upholding of any form of human policy, or civil right; but God’s glory, and Messiah’s increasing reign; in the promotion of which, we find no necessity for relinquishing any of our civil rights.” Defen...

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