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Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009

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With 16.3 million members and 44,000 churches, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist group in the world, and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Unlike the so-called mainstream Protestant denominations, Southern Baptists have remained stubbornly conservative, refusing to adapt their beliefs and practices to modernity's individualist a With 16.3 million members and 44,000 churches, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist group in the world, and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Unlike the so-called mainstream Protestant denominations, Southern Baptists have remained stubbornly conservative, refusing to adapt their beliefs and practices to modernity's individualist and populist values. Instead, they have held fast to traditional orthodoxy in such fundamental areas as biblical inspiration, creation, conversion, and miracles. Gregory Wills argues that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has played a fundamental role in the persistence of conservatism, not entirely intentionally. Tracing the history of the seminary from the beginning to the present, Wills shows how its foundational commitment to preserving orthodoxy was implanted in denominational memory in ways that strengthened the denomination's conservatism and limited the seminary's ability to stray from it. In a set of circumstances in which the seminary played a central part, Southern Baptists' populist values bolstered traditional orthodoxy rather than diminishing it. In the end, says Wills, their populism privileged orthodoxy over individualism. The story of Southern Seminary is fundamental to understanding Southern Baptist controversy and identity. Wills's study sheds important new light on the denomination that has played - and continues to play - such a central role in our national history.


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With 16.3 million members and 44,000 churches, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist group in the world, and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Unlike the so-called mainstream Protestant denominations, Southern Baptists have remained stubbornly conservative, refusing to adapt their beliefs and practices to modernity's individualist a With 16.3 million members and 44,000 churches, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist group in the world, and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Unlike the so-called mainstream Protestant denominations, Southern Baptists have remained stubbornly conservative, refusing to adapt their beliefs and practices to modernity's individualist and populist values. Instead, they have held fast to traditional orthodoxy in such fundamental areas as biblical inspiration, creation, conversion, and miracles. Gregory Wills argues that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has played a fundamental role in the persistence of conservatism, not entirely intentionally. Tracing the history of the seminary from the beginning to the present, Wills shows how its foundational commitment to preserving orthodoxy was implanted in denominational memory in ways that strengthened the denomination's conservatism and limited the seminary's ability to stray from it. In a set of circumstances in which the seminary played a central part, Southern Baptists' populist values bolstered traditional orthodoxy rather than diminishing it. In the end, says Wills, their populism privileged orthodoxy over individualism. The story of Southern Seminary is fundamental to understanding Southern Baptist controversy and identity. Wills's study sheds important new light on the denomination that has played - and continues to play - such a central role in our national history.

30 review for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mark Jr.

    A glorious read: the story is fascinating and edifying, the details are just enough and not too much, and the history is quite relevant to someone like me who lives in a town with Boyce and Broadus streets—relevant, in fact, to any gospel-preaching Baptist in America. My only complaint is that Gregory Wills didn't give in to the temptation to puff his employer, Al Mohler, by including more details about Mohler's role in the conservative retaking of the seminary in the early 1990s (like the ones y A glorious read: the story is fascinating and edifying, the details are just enough and not too much, and the history is quite relevant to someone like me who lives in a town with Boyce and Broadus streets—relevant, in fact, to any gospel-preaching Baptist in America. My only complaint is that Gregory Wills didn't give in to the temptation to puff his employer, Al Mohler, by including more details about Mohler's role in the conservative retaking of the seminary in the early 1990s (like the ones you can hear in two talks at C.J. Mahaney's church). Discretion is the better part of valor, but before I die I would like to read a full account written with the same style and care and theological perspective Wills gives us in this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shane Williamson

    A truly fascinating story as told by church historian Greg Wills. The shift from the founders’ vision to the liberalism that dominated for over fifty years (1940-90), to the monumental change brought about by the conservative resurgence through Al Mohler is simply a remarkable story. Wills’ attention to detail is startling and immense—perhaps too laboured at times (my only critique, really)—and navigates the seminaries exciting and exhilarating history. So much to learn here from internal politi A truly fascinating story as told by church historian Greg Wills. The shift from the founders’ vision to the liberalism that dominated for over fifty years (1940-90), to the monumental change brought about by the conservative resurgence through Al Mohler is simply a remarkable story. Wills’ attention to detail is startling and immense—perhaps too laboured at times (my only critique, really)—and navigates the seminaries exciting and exhilarating history. So much to learn here from internal politics, the role of trustees, denominational ties, and statements of faith. I’m thankful that I’m able to study at this institution that presently stands for the unadulterated truth of the Gospel as revealed in the Word of God. I pray the Lord continues to use this institution for good and for the building up of the church globally.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Green

    A very detailed history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Some parts were very interesting.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    I have a friend who once told me that he went to Southern Seminary in the 1980's "during the Honeycutt years," he then proceeded to tell me that this was "before Mohler came and fired everybody." History is a curious thing sometimes - especially when the outcomes of history are still relatively fresh. After this exchange, I realized that Southern Seminary's story was worth looking into more fully. This book is an incredibly fascinating read about the often times tenuous history of Southern Semin I have a friend who once told me that he went to Southern Seminary in the 1980's "during the Honeycutt years," he then proceeded to tell me that this was "before Mohler came and fired everybody." History is a curious thing sometimes - especially when the outcomes of history are still relatively fresh. After this exchange, I realized that Southern Seminary's story was worth looking into more fully. This book is an incredibly fascinating read about the often times tenuous history of Southern Seminary. Wills does a great job of showing the political and theological landscape that has shaped Southern Baptist's flagship seminary. Though at times kind of laborious, this was a really great read. (As an aside, I really hope that there will be a book that will more fully chronicle Mohler's transition and the conservative resurgence. While this would be a difficult task from this vantage point in history, I would still love to have a place that chronicles all the legends and stories in one place.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    David Saxon

    Engaging, fascinating book Wills carefully and clearly documents the transition from a conservative, Calvinistic school under Boyce and Broadus to a progressive, liberal school in the 20th century. For three quarters of a century, liberal faculty claimed to be teaching in accordance with Boyce's Abstract of Principles although they clearly reinterpreted it in accordance to their own whims. Their dishonesty was frankly breathtaking. Fortunately, the book carries the story forward to the conservati Engaging, fascinating book Wills carefully and clearly documents the transition from a conservative, Calvinistic school under Boyce and Broadus to a progressive, liberal school in the 20th century. For three quarters of a century, liberal faculty claimed to be teaching in accordance with Boyce's Abstract of Principles although they clearly reinterpreted it in accordance to their own whims. Their dishonesty was frankly breathtaking. Fortunately, the book carries the story forward to the conservative takeover under Mohler, giving the book a joyful ending. I warmly recommend this read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christian Barrett

    The Southern Seminary has a rich history as the first academic theological voice for Southern Baptists. Like the Southern Baptist Convention it has had its swings from conservatism to liberalism to conservatism once again. Wills does a respectable job of going into detail of the different views held by faculty, presidents, and trustees. However, this book is not exhaustive in regard to that subject. This book is also dated as it is missing the last decade of the Southern Seminary. One of the thi The Southern Seminary has a rich history as the first academic theological voice for Southern Baptists. Like the Southern Baptist Convention it has had its swings from conservatism to liberalism to conservatism once again. Wills does a respectable job of going into detail of the different views held by faculty, presidents, and trustees. However, this book is not exhaustive in regard to that subject. This book is also dated as it is missing the last decade of the Southern Seminary. One of the things that Wills highlights is the use of the Abstract of Principles that was used by the founders of Southern Seminary in 1859 to hire faculty. The entire history of the school is centered on the interpretation of this confession and this is something that Wills focuses on heavily. If you are looking for a broad history of Southern Seminary, then this would be a great place to start. The resources used in this are great places to start for further understanding of what has been held by professors, president, and trustees.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Troy

    From its beginning in 1859, all faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have been contractually obligated to "teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles." This book is not just a history of Southern Seminary, but a history of how the seminary has related to the Abstract from its beginning until now. Some like Boyce, Broadus, and Mohler have taken the Abstract extremely seriously, while some others, for all intents and purposes, have ignored it. This bo From its beginning in 1859, all faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have been contractually obligated to "teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles." This book is not just a history of Southern Seminary, but a history of how the seminary has related to the Abstract from its beginning until now. Some like Boyce, Broadus, and Mohler have taken the Abstract extremely seriously, while some others, for all intents and purposes, have ignored it. This book details how and why this occurred. It's for this reason, I believe a good subtitle would be "A Vindication of Boyce and the Abstract."

  8. 5 out of 5

    James Ruley

    This well-research book by Wills details the founding and development of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wills spends substantial time discussing Southern’s various presidents and the doctrinal/practical challenges they faced over the years. In many ways, Wills presents Southern as a microcosm for Southern Baptists: beginning with their Calvinist heritage, tracing the battles with modernism, and chronicling the modern conservative resurgence. As a Southern Baptist, I’m thankful for this b This well-research book by Wills details the founding and development of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wills spends substantial time discussing Southern’s various presidents and the doctrinal/practical challenges they faced over the years. In many ways, Wills presents Southern as a microcosm for Southern Baptists: beginning with their Calvinist heritage, tracing the battles with modernism, and chronicling the modern conservative resurgence. As a Southern Baptist, I’m thankful for this book’s clear, well-reassigned historical accounting that helps me understand where my denomination came from.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Spencer R

    A well-researched book, Greg Wills runs throughout the history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, going from it's founder James P. Boyce up to its current president Albert Mohler. I had to read this book for school, and honestly, even though I gave it four stars, there was too much detail in this book to keep my interest. Of the thirteen chapters, only three were of any real interest to me. I would have liked to have seen more information on Mohler's presidency after the gender battle A well-researched book, Greg Wills runs throughout the history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, going from it's founder James P. Boyce up to its current president Albert Mohler. I had to read this book for school, and honestly, even though I gave it four stars, there was too much detail in this book to keep my interest. Of the thirteen chapters, only three were of any real interest to me. I would have liked to have seen more information on Mohler's presidency after the gender battles.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Victor Gamma

    This book is a history of the leading seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. Will's engaging style makes it a page-turner. The book also deserves praise for its high degree of accuracy. Included in the work are the darker side of Southern's history, including cases of abuse of pastoral authority and ethical problems. Wills' work is very enlightening in answering the question of who Southern Baptists are and how they came to be that way. This book is a history of the leading seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. Will's engaging style makes it a page-turner. The book also deserves praise for its high degree of accuracy. Included in the work are the darker side of Southern's history, including cases of abuse of pastoral authority and ethical problems. Wills' work is very enlightening in answering the question of who Southern Baptists are and how they came to be that way.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A fascinating history that displays God’s grace in preserving this school through civil war, recession, and infiltration of wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. May the Lord continue preserve the school’s primary mission: to equip pastors to preach, teach, and lead churches in faithful discipleship, evangelism, and missions.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Excellent and dramatic history of the seminary, from its orthodox, calvinistic founding, its slow capitulation to liberalism, and its dramatic return to orthodoxy with the Conservative resurgence in the 1980s and '90s. Very readable, thoroughly researched. I found it very instructive of how the slow capitulation to relativism and personalized interpretation of scripture can happen. Excellent and dramatic history of the seminary, from its orthodox, calvinistic founding, its slow capitulation to liberalism, and its dramatic return to orthodoxy with the Conservative resurgence in the 1980s and '90s. Very readable, thoroughly researched. I found it very instructive of how the slow capitulation to relativism and personalized interpretation of scripture can happen.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Frasier`

    Good history of the seminary. But it could’ve been about half the length. I had trouble staying interested because it was so long and drawn out.

  14. 5 out of 5

    J.C. Thompson

    Necessary for a class. Did not enjoy it that much. Tons of information and not much intrigue.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rex Blackburn

    Thoroughly researched. Gripping story at times. I loved this book. Looking forward to re-visiting it after seminary!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben Robin

    Excellent book. Easily in my Top 5 that I’ve read while at Southern Seminary for an M.Div. The story is invigorating.

  17. 4 out of 5

    John Rimmer

    The kind of book only a history-lover...and a Baptist one at that...would enjoy. Read during my time attending the SBTS (online) I enjoyed it very much.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Bandy

    I have grown to love Baptist history in a way that I never thought possible!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eric Fults

    Clear and honest history.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    I must say that I absolutely love this book. I think that only a very small sub-set of the population would enjoy it, and I fall squarely into the middle of it. Since I am a current student at Southern I was very much interested in learning the history of the institution I am intending. I only knew very little about the recent history and want to know under what circumstances the school was founded and what it has gone through in its history. I was not disappointed in this pursuit. Wills primary I must say that I absolutely love this book. I think that only a very small sub-set of the population would enjoy it, and I fall squarely into the middle of it. Since I am a current student at Southern I was very much interested in learning the history of the institution I am intending. I only knew very little about the recent history and want to know under what circumstances the school was founded and what it has gone through in its history. I was not disappointed in this pursuit. Wills primary focus is in charting the beliefs of the school over time as opposed to its location, enrollment, etc... While he does include the latter items, they are usually asides from the main narrative. The main narrative is a story of a school that is founded with a certain conviction and understanding and how this conviction and understanding changed over time. Of course some believe that the changes were for the better and some not. The book seems to identify that the crux of the differences in ideology among the persons involved with SBTS was in their understanding of what the school is. It is either a school intended to raise up pastors that believe and teach traditional Southern Baptist values or it is a school that is devoted to intellectual pursuits and is willing to take those pursuits wherever they lead (even if it means crossing traditional values). It seems that throughout the history of the school the supporters of the school (Southern Baptists generally) supported the former and the professors and students the latter. This book opened my eyes to the broader world of SBTS beyond what I know in my current context. I only know the traditional valued, highly reformed SBTS, which historically is not what SBTS has been. I only know some of the past of the school from what I have heard from others (usually in a demonizing manner). It was nice to be able to read Dr. Wills history, instead of simply persons opinion. I think Dr. Wills did a great job presenting it fairly and accurately, without attempting to create certain persons as protagonists or antagonists. Obviously he must be somewhat biased in what he thinks is the correct view, but I never thought he was unfair. I honestly think that all persons involved with Southern should read this, if only to understand that those who differ in opinion from the current majority are not necessarily non-believers seeking to destroy the church. Often times they are simply Christians simply trying to get as close as they can in truth, and use their intellectual capabilities to do so. I think it is important to read about "others" in a way that is fair and not dehumanizing. This book challenged my thinking in regards to what I believe and how I treat those that disagree. I challenge others to take up this read and be challenged in a similar manner. As for the writing I must say that Dr. Wills writes a very compelling story. It is not a dry historical recitation of facts. Instead it is written as a narrative of change over time, with key players and key issues at the forefront. I commend Dr. Wills for his writing style. Combining history with good writing and objectivity is difficult and I think he has done a great job.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Good Michigan Reads

    Wills strikes a pleasant balance between factual and enjoyable. I would highly recommend this to anyone in or intending to take part in any Southern Baptist Church or Institution. Wills also develops a history of Christian Liberalism and of the SBC within the narrative of the SBTS. These threads intertwine naturally, expanding its complexity and making the book far more interesting than you may suspect.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nate Hoover

    Thorough but a little too exhaustively so To tell the truth, I partially wanted to rate this book three stars but I just can't give a book with this level of scholarship such a rating. If you have any interest in an in depth account of the Southern Baptist Convention's conservative resurgence and the remarkable, providential turn around of an apostate seminary, this is your book. The downside is it is so thorough if you don't have this interest the book will roll on ad nauseam. Even for someone w Thorough but a little too exhaustively so To tell the truth, I partially wanted to rate this book three stars but I just can't give a book with this level of scholarship such a rating. If you have any interest in an in depth account of the Southern Baptist Convention's conservative resurgence and the remarkable, providential turn around of an apostate seminary, this is your book. The downside is it is so thorough if you don't have this interest the book will roll on ad nauseam. Even for someone who does have that interest it can be slow at times. Pretty much every theological issue, and controversial incident in the seminary's history is discussed in exhaustive detail. The final chapter is my favorite as it discusses Dr. R. Albert Mohler's tenure and the amazing about face for the seminary. As you might tell, I'm in agreement with the direction the seminary has gone under Mohler, but even if you're not, this is a fair account of the school's history and a respectable scholarly work.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Corey

    I really enjoyed this book. Of course, as a student, it had a certain draw for me that it may not have for the average reader. However, Wills has done a great job writing and has done a real service to the Seminary in compiling this exhaustive history. It's a fascinating look at the seminaries origins, slow decline from orthodoxy and then restoration to it's original vision as a Southern Baptist seminary first. This book will give you a lot of appreciation for studying history. Often there are an I really enjoyed this book. Of course, as a student, it had a certain draw for me that it may not have for the average reader. However, Wills has done a great job writing and has done a real service to the Seminary in compiling this exhaustive history. It's a fascinating look at the seminaries origins, slow decline from orthodoxy and then restoration to it's original vision as a Southern Baptist seminary first. This book will give you a lot of appreciation for studying history. Often there are answers to why many things are the way they are if we'll only take the time to look back a few generations. This also proves in helping to guard against history repeating itself. This book should be required reading for all Southern Baptist pastors and seminary students

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mark A Powell

    To mark its 150th anniversary, Wills offers a fascinating history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Beginning with James Boyce’s founding vision and tracking through to the current leadership of Albert Mohler, Wills provides a meticulously researched and thorough work. His inclusion of broader contexts within the Southern Baptist Convention is a helpful evaluative tool. Many will be startled by the course SBTS has traveled; Wills proves to be an extremely capable guide for the journe To mark its 150th anniversary, Wills offers a fascinating history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Beginning with James Boyce’s founding vision and tracking through to the current leadership of Albert Mohler, Wills provides a meticulously researched and thorough work. His inclusion of broader contexts within the Southern Baptist Convention is a helpful evaluative tool. Many will be startled by the course SBTS has traveled; Wills proves to be an extremely capable guide for the journey.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    This is a surprisingly compelling story for the biography of a seminary. Southern's history parallels the battles between liberal and conservative evangelical theology in American Christianity. Wills thus provides a window on the battle for faithfulness that every Christian church and institution will face through generational change. For an academic biography, I couldn't put this down. This is a surprisingly compelling story for the biography of a seminary. Southern's history parallels the battles between liberal and conservative evangelical theology in American Christianity. Wills thus provides a window on the battle for faithfulness that every Christian church and institution will face through generational change. For an academic biography, I couldn't put this down.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cam Olsen

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael Adam Murphy

  28. 5 out of 5

    Akiya

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jinwoo Chung

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