True reformation, one that can sharpen cultural debate and reverse erosion of a denomination's biblical foundation, has been rare in recent generations.
In the sixteenth century, German theologian and religious reformer Martin Luther (1843-1546) initiated a movement that became known as the Protestant Reformation, a historical event that even today impacts Protestant denominations.
And while strict comparisons to Luther's Reformation may not be perfect, the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention did what few thought it could do: return the nation's largest Protestant denomination to its traditional, Bible-believing roots. And the effects of that resurgence have been far-reaching - a modern day reformation that spared the Southern Baptist Convention from the ravages of liberalism.
In his new book, The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Jerry Sutton offers a behind the scenes glance at the events that led to and shaped the conservative movement in the SBC.
Published by Broadman & Holman Publishing, this 560-page volume is epic not only in size, but also in content. Sutton has crafted a historical document that could become an important document for all Southern Baptists - pastors, historians, seminarians, and laymen alike.
Sutton's work is accurate, definitive, and fair, attributes that some volumes written about the conservative movement have lacked. Sutton is an unabashed supporter of the conservative movement and his insight provides a refreshing look at how concerned believers returned to their denominational heritage.
Yet even with conservative credentials in hand, Sutton's work includes the good, the bad, and the ugly of what happened during the twenty-year span of the resurgence, including some events of which conservatives were not proud.
This volume could legitimately be called the first "definitive" history of the conservative resurgence. The Baptist Reformation summarizes thousands of pages of minutes, news reports, personal correspondence, and secondary sources to give readers a thorough documentation of the movement.
Sutton marks the beginning of the resurgence in 1961 during an episode in SBC history known as, "The Elliott Controversy." Broadman Press published a book by Ralph H. Elliott, The Message of Genesis . Elliott's book worked from a historical-critical method of interpretation that in essence divorced the message of the Bible from literal history.
According to Sutton, the book outraged many Southern Baptists, including K. Owen White. In an essay published Jan. 10, 1962 in the Baptist Standard, White lashed out at Elliott's book. "The book (The Message of Genesis) from which I have quoted is liberalism, pure and simple."
From those early years, Sutton explains how a grassroots effort by Baptist laymen and pastors changed the course direction of the SBC.
Perhaps the best example of the depth of these men's passion can be found within the text of a speech by James Robison featured in Sutton's book. "My friend, I would not tolerate a rattlesnake in my house. ... And I would not tolerate a cancer in my body. And I want you to know that anyone who casts doubt on the Word of God is worse than a cancer and worse than snakes."
The Baptist Reformation also features biographical sketches of the men who shaped the movement and explains why these men subjected themselves to ridicule and slander by denominational and theological opponents.
While the book is written from a conservative perspective, Sutton's treatment of moderates is fair and respectful. At the 1982 convention in New Orleans, rumors surfaced about former SBC President Duke McCall. Paige Patterson distanced himself from these rumors and offered a public apology to McCall, abhorring such personal attacks.
The book also clarifies some stories that have taken on the guise of folklore, like the use of skyboxes by conservatives at the 1979 convention. The skyboxes were not used for political purposes, according to Sutton. And he provides the evidence in The Baptist Reformation to finally report the real reason conservatives had those skyboxes.
Along the way, The Baptist Reformation examines the spiritual passion of men like Paul Pressler, Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, Bailey Smith, and Morris H. Chapman - case studies of men who were committed to the integrity of a Bible that you can believe from cover to cover.
Sutton, the pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., has written a remarkable book about a remarkable event in the history of a remarkable denomination. In years to come, The Baptist Reformation may very well become the standard bearer for historians trying to understand the events that led to a reformation that continues today.
This article reprinted by permission from SBCLife