Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
SBJT 7:1 (Spring 2003) p. 90
Duke McCall: An Oral History. Duke McCall with A. Ronald Tonks. Brentwood and Nashville: Baptist History and Heritage Society and Fields Publishing, 2001, 480 pp., $20.00.
Stoke your fire, put the blanket over your feet, curl up in your recliner, and prepare to enjoy — an oral history? Surely no oral history would ever qualify for “leisure reading.” The exception to that time-honored rule is this scintillating oral history by Duke McCall, an almost legendary figure in Southern Baptist life for the past five decades. Doubtless one of the keys to a genuinely good oral history is knowing the right questions to ask, thus triggering the recall of a colorful witness. Ronald Tonks should get rave reviews in this case since his questions tend to elicit some of McCall’s most colorful memories. But even the right questions would never make for an invigorating read if the interviewee were not one of the most decisive and colorful figures to cross through the Baptist Zion in recent years. McCall tells it all straight, at least as he saw it, and he is not overly concerned about political correctness or the public relations aftermath. The oral history exposes the mind and heart of McCall and as such contains not only his candid perspectives but also real insight into everything from the administration of schools to theology and churchmanship.
In the process of this volume, it becomes apparent that Duke McCall is no liberal. But, of course, he is not a conservative either. Rather, he is a man who grew up living in the big house on the plantation, which was essentially good to him and, therefore, needs to be protected at whatever cost. Duke McCall is above all else a denominational pragmatist, and there is no theme in the book that comes through any more clearly.
Among the many rivetingly interesting aspects of the book is his assessment of the 1958 controversy at Southern Seminary. In the end, the trustees of Southern Seminary become the “guys in the black hats” who insisted on nixing McCall’s attempts to have some forgiveness and restoration. The interplay of the various personalities in the dispute and the realization that ultimately it was a classic power struggle to determine whether the seminary would be a faculty-run institution or an administratively- led seminary becomes crystal clear. Although the theological impact of this controversy was later felt by both Midwestern and Southeastern, theology had little enough to do with the confrontation at Southern.
Other interesting features include McCall’s advising Herschel Hobbs that the latter would be a fool to accept the presidency of Southern Seminary. Then McCall accepted the presidency himself. In candor, he rehearses the letter he received from Hobbs upon his ac...
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