The Southern Baptist Convention is the only major Christianity denomination to come back from the brink of liberalism/progressivism. And it is a fascinating tale. In his book The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention seeks to tell the story of how the nation's largest Protestant denomination went from theologically schizophrenic, to theologically and whole-heartedly conservative.
Begining in the 1970's, Sutton walks the reader through the various events and stages of the Baptist Conservative Resurgence. He documents what was said, what was written, what persons argued, believed, articulated, etc. Furthermore, Sutton shows just how far the liberal turn had gone in the SBC. Quoting from pastors, convention leaders, and seminary professors and presidents, the author shows that the need for a theological, orthodox resurgence was desperately needed.
Sutton not only tells the broad story of the turn towards conservatism, but highlights how the turn back towards orthodoxy happened in various SBC institutions like Lifeway, the seminaries, and the executive committee. The most fascinating of the stories, and the one that affects me personally the most, is the story of the turn from liberalism to conservative Calvinism at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The change from liberal to conservative at SBTS is a tale that I never grow tired of hearing. Faithful men of God persevered through it all and now have the legacy of saving mother seminary of the SBC from the grip of theological liberalism.
Sutton clearly has an agenda and rightfully so. He favors the conservative "takeover" of the SBC and it shows in the book. Sutton doesn't write as one bitter over the theological changes, but as one who celebrates it. The move backs towards conservative theology was necessary and Sutton writes with the tone of victory.
Sutton has done his homework. Quoting from countless articles, press releases, books, sermons, interviews, etc., Sutton chronicles in some detail the history of the SBC resurgence. This will undoubtedly be an invaluable tool for future authors.
But at the same time, this was probably my main complaint about the book. Sutton writes a fascinating tale, but much of it is clouded by endless quotes and documentation. Both are necessary, but sometimes there can be too much of it. At times it would have been helpful if he just summarized or just told the story rather than offering entire quotations and speeches verbatim.
But overall, this is a good book. But it is sad that there aren't more books that tells this story. This is an important part of the history of Baptist and there seems to be a shortage of those who have done the homework that Sutton has done. Though Sutton's book was good, it seems as if there is more that could be added by others.
Nonetheless, for those interested in the "Baptist Reformation" (a great title), this is a must read. For those bitter about the turn towards conservatism, you will not like the tone. For the most part, it is easy to understand and a great book to dive into.
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