The Crisis of Scripture in Southern Baptist Life: Reflections on the Past, Looking to the Future -- By: David S. Dockery

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 09:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: The Crisis of Scripture in Southern Baptist Life: Reflections on the Past, Looking to the Future
Author: David S. Dockery


The Crisis of Scripture in Southern Baptist Life:
Reflections on the Past, Looking to the Future

David S. Dockery

David S. Dockery has served as President of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, since 1995. Previously he held the post of Vice President and Academic Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Dockery is the author or editor of over twenty books, including Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (Broadman and Holman, 2001) and Shaping a Christian Worldview (Broadman and Holman, 2002). He has written numerous articles and book reviews and serves as the Chairman of the Board for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in North America.

The Southern Baptist Convention is comprised of over 16 million church members in about 40,000 churches in all fifty states of the United States, making it the largest evangelical denomination. It is also often the most misunderstood Protestant group in America. The SBC has tended to exist separately from the rest of American Christianity because of its sectarianism, its inability to separate itself from Southern culture, its parochialism, and its self-sufficiency, though these indicators are beginning to show signs of change.

For roughly the past twenty-five years, the SBC has been embroiled in a heated controversy concerning both theological issues and denominational polity. As a result, many have become more intentionally self-conscious about the SBC’s theological identity and its theological heritage. We will not, however, attempt to wrestle fully with matters of Southern Baptist identity and heritage. Instead, we will focus on the doctrine of Scripture in Southern Baptist life over the past 125 years, as well as think about the present and the future in light of our past. We will focus on the past fifty years in general and the last twenty-five years in particular. The time period of the last twenty-five years has been chosen for obvious reasons, having been selected because it represents the time period since the public beginning of the battle for the Bible in the SBC, which was launched publicly at the famous 1979 Houston Convention. The fifty-year period represents the period since the death of W. T. Conner, the convention’s last “shaping theologian” and generally the time period since the rise of programmatic emphases in the Convention’s so-called “glory days” (such as the “million more in ‘54” campaign).

The SBC Theological Matrix

During their first 160 years, Southern Baptists have changed in several obvious ways. What was once a small, Southern, predominately white denomination has become large, multi-regional, and multi-ethnic. Southern Baptists now worship and serve in dozens of languages throughout the United States.

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