A Good Article on Dr. Garrett & the Collected Writings Project

Thought I would provide a screenshot of a good article that the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel did on Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr., and the Collected Works project.  The article is behind a paywall, so those who are interested can access the full piece with a .99 one-day  pass at The Daily Sentinel website.  Just put “James Leo Garrett” in the search bar.




Baptist Theology with Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr.

The following interview with Dr. Garrett took place on March 2, 2009.  The occasion for the interview was the publication of his Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study in January of 2009.


Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr. has been a Baptist theological educator for over fifty years.  He has taught primarily in three Baptist institutions: Southwestern Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Baylor University.  He was at Southwestern Seminary from 1949 to 1959 and from 1979 to 1997 with post-retirement teaching until 2003. 

We really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today, Dr. Garrett.

Thank you, sir.

Dr. Garrett, I hope you will indulge me for just a moment.  I wanted to share just a brief word of appreciation for you as a former student, if that is ok.  I thought I might do so by sharing just a small paragraph from Paul Basden’s chapter on you in the 2001 edition of Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (Broadman & Holman).  Paul Basden wrote this:

“For five decades now James Leo Garrett, Jr. has taught and written about Baptist theology.  Given the size of the schools which he has served, one can only begin to estimate the number of students whom he has influenced to think biblically, historically, and theologically about the Christian faith.  Who knows how many young seminarians had their minds broadened in his introductory theology courses or received flashes of inspiration in his famous ‘after-lecture’ discussions, or first encountered the mystery of the Trinity in his beloved patristics elective, or learned to grapple with Luther or Augustine in one of his doctoral seminars?  Who knows how many times he invited classes into his home for a meal or recommended former students for church positions or faculty appointments or counseled confused young ministers about their calling or career?  He has had an enormous influence on Southern Baptists during the past half century.  Beloved by students and fellow professors alike, Garrett is recognized by many of his peers as the most knowledgeable Baptist theologian living today.” (p.298)

Dr. Garrett, I just wanted to say here at the beginning that I share in those words of Paul Basden and just want to thank you here at the outset for your life, your ministry, and your work.  As a former student, I owe you a great debt of gratitude as do so many others.  So, thank you very much.

Well, Pastor Wyman, those words, I am sure, are vastly exaggerated, but I am grateful to have had you as one of my students.  Thank you very much.

The occasion of this interview is the publication in January of this year, two months ago, of Dr. Garrett’s new book, Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study, which was published by Mercer University Press.  I have only recently finished reading the book and it is a kind of education in and of itself.  So let me begin, Dr. Garrett, by asking this question:  “Why this book?”

Well, Pastor Wyman, I will answer it in two ways.

First of all, I will give a more personal answer.  In 1950, when I was a very young instructor at Southwestern Seminary, the faculty allowed me to introduce a new elective course in the curriculum called “The History of Baptist Theology.”  I taught that course at Southwestern during the 50’s and again, later, in the 80’s and 90’s and at Southern Seminary during the 60’s and early 1970’s.  That course involved having students write papers on many subjects.  Then, after my 2nd retirement from teaching in 2003, I began an intensive reading of all of these sources and a research project which eventuated in this book.

Now, why this book?  No book of this kind, of this nature and scope, on this subject, had ever been written in the history of the Baptists so far as I knew.  I did not know when I started that William Brackney would write A Genetic History of Baptist Thought and that it would be published in 2004.  I did not know that when I began my book and I’m sure he did not know, when he was writing his, that I would be writing mine.

So these are the only two books that have attempted to cover comprehensively Baptist confessions of faith, Baptist theologians, and theological movements and controversies.  There have been books on each of those three areas, many books, but only these two on the whole field.

It is a massive book, well over 720 pages of text, not including the index of names, and I imagine when you sit down to begin to write a Baptist theology covering four hundred years that you have really got to think through your methodology and your approach.  What was your methodology in writing this book?

As I just said, it sought to cover in an integrated, not a segregated, interpretation, the major confessions of faith adopted by Baptists, the major theologians among the Baptists, and the major theological movements and controversies that have affected Baptist life.

Now, I tried to do this by using both what we call “primary sources” and “secondary sources,” that is, the original writings of the people we are discussing and then what’s been written about them.  Take two examples:  one is John Gill, back in the 17th century, the other, E.Y. Mullins, at the beginning of the 20th century.  Both of those were very influential Baptist theologians and it’s important to read, study, and interpret their own writings.  But because of their importance, there have been many things written about them, both favorable and unfavorable, both positive and negative.  So it is important to look at those assessments as well as what I would say in interpreting these.

Then we tried to let the authors speak for themselves before I attempted to make any assessment of their work.  Then, too, I operated on the basis of a five-continent or a six-continent view of Baptist history.  It depends on whether you include Australia and New Zealand in Asia as to whether you have five or six continents.  When I was a very young seminary student, I bought Latourette’s seven-volume History of the Expansion of Christianity, which was the first comprehensive missionary history of the world from a Christian viewpoint.  It greatly influenced my life.  Then, working with the Baptist World Alliance, as I have since 1965, I was intent on having a book that would include more than Britain and North America.  Dr. Brackney confines his work to Britain and North America, and Dr. McBeth, in his history of the Baptist movement, included North America, Britain, and continental Europe, but not the other continents of the world.

So that’s what I would say about methodology.

It is an interesting look at Baptist theology over the last four hundred years, and I am just curious to know why the world would need such a book on Baptists appearing in January of 2009?  Why Baptists in 2009?

We need the book, first of all, because we haven’t had this kind of thing before.  Dr. Brackney and I have, in that sense, been breaking new ground.  We needed an overview.  We need to rise above the particulars.  Some people would understand the 17th century and some might understand the 19th century, but we need a view of Baptist theology that is comprehensive.  That is why the effort was made.

Now, Baptists need that for their own self-understanding.  This is a great need today in our churches:  that people understand what the Baptist identity is.  What are the distinctives and what are the beliefs that Baptists share with other Christians?  So there was a need for the book for Baptists and, then, for others to know what theology Baptists have had.

At one time there were people saying we did not have any Baptist theology.  Theology was only written by Roman Catholics or Lutherans or Anglicans or Presbyterians or somebody else.  But this book is, I think, quite clear evidence that that is not true.  So, the Baptist movement with its distinctives- -its religious freedom, separation of church and state, the supremacy of Scripture over tradition without rejecting all tradition,  the tendency to want to go back to the New Testament to recover apostolic or primitive Christianity,  the baptism of believers only by immersion and, with that, the goal of a regenerate church membership, the priesthood of all believers, congregational polity, and a strong emphasis on evangelism and missions; these are some of the things that are important for Baptists.  Sometimes these distinctives have been taken by other groups.  They are not altogether distinctive of Baptists today, but the mix of these distinctives is what has made the Baptist movement distinctive.

You mentioned regenerate church membership, and you have written on regenerate church membership.  I know of at least one article you have written specifically devoted to the issue of regenerate church membership and, of course, you have published on the issue of church discipline as well.  Let me just ask you about your thoughts concerning the recent discussions that have taken place in the Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings concerning an effort to see a resolution passed, that was ultimately passed last year, to call churches back to a regenerate church membership.  Do you think this is a favorable development?

Yes, I do.  I think that the Convention cannot mandate that, of course, because that is a decision that the local churches have to make, but to advise and counsel and encourage is certainly in order.  I am very grateful for the good work that you have done in the field of church discipline.  I think what you have written is the most practical set of helps that we have out there, available today, to help existing churches recover some sense of church discipline and positive discipleship.

So, yes, I think the regenerate church membership goal is a worthy one and it means, of course, that in the last century or so, many Baptist churches have been very loose in terms of their membership rolls and this is what they are trying to address today.  It is at the front end, in terms of members being received, and then it is a continual problem of authentic membership in the years that follow.

Let me ask you to generalize just a little bit.  You are a historical theologian, and you cover, obviously, a very long period of time, four hundred years, in your study of Baptist theology and much longer, of course, in your two-volume Systematic Theology.  But I am curious to know, as you look at four hundred years of Baptist history, who you would see as the top three or four Baptist figures, from any time period, whose work, in your opinion, ought to be carefully studied by Baptist pastors and laypeople today?

Well, Pastor Wyman, I have a hard time limiting my answer to your requested three or four.  I tend to want to identify more.  Initially, in responding to you, I might be prone to say, “Oh, we have so many of the older works of Baptist theologians that are not in print.”  But then I have to reckon what the electronic revolution has done.  I have been told, on good authority, that almost all the works of Baptist theologians that are more than seventy-five years old are now available electronically.  And through Google search, most of them are free, and there are other places where you have to pay for the text to be produced.  So the availability will not be a big issue in my answer.

I would say, if we’re going back to the 17th century, that John Bunyan is the one who, above all, should be read.  Not because he is necessarily right on all points, but here was a man who, with limited formal education, but with a passion for God and for the Bible, was able in rather remarkable literary form to write on many theological themes, not only in his famous Pilgrim’s Progress.  We have today a wonderful thirteen-volume edition from Oxford if you want to buy the whole thing, but I believe you can get it free electronically.  So I would say, from that early century, John Bunyan.

From the next century, I would take John Gill and Andrew Fuller, especially Andrew Fuller.  His works have been republished in recent years.  He was a very practical theologian, a pastor.

From the 19th century, I might want to mention John L. Dagg, whose work is in print.  He was a Southern theologian.  Then the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon are still filled with theological content and can be read widely because they were preached from a pulpit in Spurgeon’s day.

In the 20th century, I would speak of people like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm and Millard Erickson.  Most of these works are still in print.

And then, of course, in my book I have a group of baby boom theologians that certainly have works in print.  So I’ve given you a broader answer, but these are some of the ones that I think would be worthy of attention.  Now, that is not to say there are not others.

This may overlap a little bit, but let me ask you more personally, for yourself, who the Baptist figures are who have had the greatest impact on your own thinking and work?  Let me put it another way:  do you have favorite Baptist authors that you return to time and time again?

Pastor Wyman, as you may know, I was a student of W.T. Conner, the theologian at Southwestern for thirty-nine years, and my own teacher during the last days of his teaching career.  When I began as a young teacher, of course, he had shaped my own thinking.  I had read his works.  I wrote my dissertation on his theology.  So it would be important for me to list him as the number one influence in the early formation of my own theology.

In the 1950’s we did not have many evangelical theologians writing at that time.  Non-Baptists like Emil Brunner, for example, were greatly helpful to me as I struggled with the teaching of theology.

But then we had to deal with Landmarkism, which was alive and well at that time in Baptist life, still exerting quite an influence.  So I had to read J.R. Graves even though I didn’t always agree with Graves.  I had to interact with him.

And later on, as I began to be more mature in my theology, I had to rely on people like A.H. Strong as well.  Then I was colleague to Dale Moody at Southern Seminary, and nobody who lives with Dale Moody could be unaffected by Dale Moody.  And then, of course, Carl Henry was very active.  When I came to write my own theology, beginning at the age of 63, I had to deal with Millard Erickson, who had already written his Christian Theology.

So these were some of the people who were very formative.  Now, I read others.  I read P.T. Forsyth.  I read E. Y. Mullins.   I read Luther.  I read Augustine. I read Calvin. I read Schleiermacher.  I taught Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, in seminars. But for Baptist theologians, these would be the first.  And then I would say, as far as biblical theologians, I think I was more greatly influenced by H.H. Rowley, as an Old Testament theologian.  In the New Testament field, Ray Summers, my teacher, was very influential on my views of last things, or the doctrine of eschatology.

This is likewise a bit of a personal question, along the same lines, but I am just curious about your own reading habits.  Do you read daily, every day?

I usually read something, yes, every day.  There will be days I do not because of schedule.  Right now I am reading the festschrift honoring my colleague Leon McBeth, which was published late last year, called Turning Points in Baptist History.  I am reading that and will be finishing that shortly.  That is a book that has theological as well as historical significance.

I know you are retired, but do you have any other writing projects in the wings?

I cannot answer that with a clear affirmative.  For some years, Dr. Malcolm Yarnell and I have contemplated co-editing a history of the doctrine of the priesthood of all Christians.  I do not know if we will ever get that done.  He has done considerable writing on the Reformation period, and I have done some writing on the patristic period.  If we can ever get the medieval and modern sections done, we may be able to have a book.  There is no comprehensive, good, reliable history of that doctrine.  But Yarnell has other priorities, and I am not as well as I used to be; so we do not promise anything in that area.

There might be some things I wish I had done in the past.

Well, that raises another question:  are there any books that you have not been able to write that you wish you would have written?  I guess, perhaps, that would be one, to this point, that you would like to see done.

There are two others I will mention.  When I was at Southern Seminary, I gave an inaugural address on the methodology for the history of Christian doctrine, or historical theology, in which address I proposed that the best way to do this today would be to have an international, interdenominational team of scholars to do a comprehensive history of Christian doctrine.  No sooner had I given that address and it was published in the journal Review & Expositor that I received a letter from Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan at Yale University telling me that he was launching a big five-volume history of Christian doctrine and, by implication, he was saying that my project was not needed.  My later move to Baylor with different duties meant that I was not teaching the history of Christian doctrine for a while.  After coming back to Southwestern and resuming that teaching in 1980, although I gave some serious consideration to doing something myself, I gave up the project because there is so little market out there since most seminaries require systematic theology but not  historical theology.  So I did not attempt that big project which I originally had proposed as a massive cooperative effort.

As for the other, for many years I taught a course at Southwestern on the theology of the American cults.  We treated Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, the Unification Church, the Ba’hai World Faith, and various other movements that have been deviations from either Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.  I, at one time, contemplated a textbook in that area.  But, you know, each one of those religious movements is a field of specialization itself.  You can be very good on the Mormons and you may be much less competent on Jehovah’s Witnesses at the same time.  One needs to be competent on all of these in order to  write a first-rate text, I felt that I never got to the point where I could do that like I wanted to do it.  So I retired, after many years of teaching, without producing a book in that area.  We still do not have a very good textbook in that field after all of these years.

Let me go back for just a minute to this letter you received from Jaroslav Pelikan.  I know he passed away just a couple of years ago.  Is that customary scholarly habit to receive a letter saying that your proposed writings are not necessary because it is being done?

I do not think the letter was quite that specific.  I think it was more of an indirect statement.  I must say, of course, I have never received another letter like that.  I did not feel any resentment about it at the time.  My wife seems to remember the incident more than I do.  I do not know how common that is, because I never experienced it in any other setting.  But evidently he was wanting to be a little protective of his own interests.  He produced a very important five-volume set, which is very topical rather than chronological.  Therefore, it was not the method that I used in teaching.  Mine was more chronological than topical.  So I never did use his book in my classes, but certainly I have used the volumes.  They are a very important contribution to the literature.  There was never any ill-will between Dr. Pelikan and me.

Dr. Garrett, I really do appreciate, and I know that readers of this interview will appreciate, your taking the time to answer some questions and, God willing, if you will   allow it, when the next book comes out, we will talk again.

Well, let me say in closing, Pastor Wyman, that I appreciate talking with you and having these questions from you.   I would like to say to you as pastor of your congregation there in Dawson, GA, and other church people who should read or ponder these words, that I think one of our greatest challenges today is in the local Baptist church: to recover a sense of Baptist identity, to teach our heritage, to share with our people our stories, our heroes, our heroines, our triumphs and our tragedies, and to make being a Baptist Christian a much clearer and more responsible thing in today’s world.  I believe every local Baptist church has that challenge today, and I know if anybody can meet that challenge, you can do it there in Dawson, GA.

I appreciate that so much.  Thank you so much.  Let me just encourage, in closing, readers of this interview to consider purchasing Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study.  It is a great resource and would be a great help in the teaching of our distinctives and our identity and heritage in the local church, wherever you are.  I encourage all of you to get this book.

Reflections on Theology with Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr.

I conducted this interview with Dr. Garrett sometime in 2001 or 2002.  I previously had located and offered here just the last few questions and answers, but am happy to be able to provide the full interview now.

“James Leo Garrett, Jr. is Distinguished Professor of Theology Emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He holds a B.A. from Baylor University (1945), a B.D. from Southwestern Baptist Seminary (1948), a Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary (1949), a Th.D. from Southwestern Baptist Seminary (1954), and a Ph.D. from Harvard University (1966). He has also studied at the Catholic University of America, the University of Oxford, St. John’s University, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has taught at both Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and was a visiting professor at the Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary. He has also lectured in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Romania, the Ukraine, and at numerous U.S. schools.

He has been author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of a dozen books, including Baptist Church Discipline (Broadman Press, 1962), Baptists and Roman Catholicism (Broadman Press, 1965), and We Baptists (Providence House, 1999). He has also contributed articles to twenty-one other books and has published hundreds of journal and encyclopedia articles and book reviews.

He has been a pastor or interim pastor at a number of Baptist churches. Among other activities, he has also served as the chairman of the Commission on Cooperative Christianity of the Baptist World Alliance, was an official guest at the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity during Vatican Council II, was secretary of the Commission on Human Rights of the Baptist World Alliance, is a former managing editor of the Southwestern Journal of Theology, and is a former editor of the Journal of Church and State. He is currently co-chairman of the Division of Study and Research of the Baptist World Alliance.

Professor Garrett has three sons and lives with his wife, Myrta Ann, in Fort Worth.” (biographical information from his D.F. Scott Author’s Page)

Reflections on Theology – An Interview With Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr.

Conducted by Wyman Richardson
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas

Dr. Garret, many people feel that modern American Christians are by and large disinterested in theological pursuits. Do you feel that this is an accurate assessment?

No, I wouldn’t say there is a deep disinterest. I would say that their interests are focused on issues that are important to them. For example, where did humans come from? Are we creations of God or are we the product of millions of years of evolutionary development? Is there meaningful life after death? Questions like that don’t go away, and Christians and others are interested in those questions. How can I be right with God? What does God do in relation to me and my family? How does faith and God’s will relate to my family and its problems?

These, I think, are there, although certainly there is not necessarily an interest in certain technical theological questions that maybe leadership is interested in – laity may not be. But, interested in religious and moral ultimates? Yes. I think it’s still there if you get down to people’s levels.

Can we honestly and realistically expect the modern, busy, American Christian to care about deeper theological issues? Is that a realistic goal?

I think it is if we can present those issues and keep those issues in the most practical format. The issues need to be seen as vital to life and not simply speculation and they need to show the meaning of the truth in relation to life and practice – individual’s lives, the church’s life and so on. So I think a lot of it depends on how we handle these issues. We don’t need to major on minors. We need to major on majors.

Well, by and large, I get the feeling that that is the view of theology that a lot of people have – that it’s something impractical and that it doesn’t pertain to modern life so much. Is anybody to blame for this perception that many people have or is there something we can point to as being responsible for creating that climate around theology?

Well, maybe some theological issues in the past have been taken out of proportion as to their real importance and maybe we have spent too much time on things that are not vital and, too, there’s a kind of anti-supernatural bias in our culture. There’s a secularism and a humanism there that doesn’t want to talk about God. So, you have the cultural influence that is very strong in Europe and North America but not so strong in the rest of the world – in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

Theology used to be considered “the Queen of Sciences,” but one cannot help but sense that it no longer enjoys this status among either the academic or lay communities. Do you agree with this and why do you think this is or is not the case?

Well, I’m not sure that theology has been “the Queen of the Sciences” since the Middle Ages or since the Reformation, if you mean by that the most important academic discipline. And that would not be true, obviously, in the American university or the European university today.

Now, does it have a place in the church’s life? Yes. I think the church sees the importance of theology. But in the academic community, especially the publicly funded universities and the public schools, you have a separation of the religious and, therefore, a downplaying of that in the public scene. So the place of theology is different, even, say, from German and English universities and American universities. In German and English universities you have theological faculties in a way that you don’t here. And, on the other hand, we have here a system of church-state separation that has mandated that churches do their own theology and provide for it and not depend on the university.

Well, I guess what lies behind that question – and I guess I may be wrong in my understanding of this – but were not most of our ivy league schools founded originally as seminaries?

Well, they provided training for ministers but they were never solely for that purpose. The Harvard, Yale, Princeton origins are in the training of ministers, that’s to be sure. And training for ministers was a part of that college life. But from the beginning there were always people trained for other vocations, so, in that sense, it would not be a seminary strictly speaking, but it would be a college environment in which training for ministry took place. And in each of those colleges, which became universities, they developed ultimately a divinity school or a seminary, but that was a later development. That came in the 19th century for the most part, not in the time of the origin of the college.

Is it fair to say that 100-120 years ago, though, the study of theology may have had more of a respect surrounding it by those outside of the field than it does today? Has it been relegated to a kind of ghetto in the university?

Well, let’s keep in mind that in the public universities, many of them have departments of religious studies today. You might take the University of Virginia, the University of Iowa, and schools like that, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They all have even doctoral programs in religious studies, but they are interreligious and ecumenical. They do not represent a viewpoint, and, in those settings, it is possible to do religious studies. So it’s not completely out of the university curriculum, but it does not have a dominant role in any of those places. And in certain private universities you also have religious studies departments, as in Rice University, for example. And so those departments of religious studies do exist, but many times you have, in those settings, you’ll have Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists all teaching in the same setting.

In a variety of different ways, I often hear people say that preachers should be less theological in their preaching and more practical. What do you make of this distinction between theology and practice and how would you respond to this idea? Where do you think this distinction comes from?

Well, I think it is possible to talk about preaching that’s more theological and more practical, but if we take our cue from the Apostle Paul in writing his letters, the doctrinal comes first usually and the practical flows out of it, or the ethical and the practical. They go together. Paul seldom does one without the other. So I think that is a clue. You can say that strong preaching, good preaching, balanced preaching has doctrinal elements in it and has moral and practical elements as well. The overall preaching ministry of the church should reflect that.

Now, it’s possible to have a kind of preaching that is very shallow theologically, and I think that would be the problem. To play down theological truth in the interest of finding some kind of non-theological church message – I think when you do that you’re in trouble. At the same time, the truths need to be related to life, and theological preaching or doctrinal preaching, needs always to have a practical side with it. How does this truth effect your life? What are the practical implications of it? When that approach is made, then I think that there is not such a hiatus between the so-called theological and the so-called practical. Good theology will be good for the church and not simply for the academic community.

How would you respond to the preacher that comes to you and says that his people are concerned about how to raise their kids well, how not to lust, how not to cheat on their taxes, these kinds of things. How are people going to find the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, applicable in those circumstances?

Well, I’m not sure that the doctrine of the Trinity is the first doctrine that they need there. It might be the doctrine of sin that needs to be emphasized or the doctrine of forgiveness. But I think it’s very important to relate truth to the issues and practices of today. I think that moral issues have to come out of some kind of worldview, some kind of faith presupposition. If your ethics are theological based, then you can have the proper wedding of the theological and the practical, the theological and the ethical.

Perhaps in many cases churches do not address, for example, family life issues enough in the past. Even taking Ephesians 5 and Paul’s view of relations between a husband and wife, for example, and Christ and the church. Perhaps we’ve underplayed that in a lot of ways and haven’t helped people see the connection. I think some of the problem is the way we’ve handled it, not the fact that the theological has no relation to the problems of the day.

Many people in the church feel that theology is largely synonymous with doctrinal controversy. When they hear the word “theology” they think of a group of men sitting around fighting about issues. Is this sentiment understandable? Is it accurate? How would you respond to this idea?

Well, I think it’s particularly true in the Southern Baptist context today because we have been through two decades of theological and doctrinal controversy. Younger people today do not even remember a time when it was different and therefore the situation we have faced does lend itself to the accusation that theology seems to be a matter of controversy. And, of course, it’s always been that way in a measure. There’s always been a need to state the Christian position over against the non-Christian, whether it be non-Christian philosophy or non-Christian religions or whether it be heresies that sort of invade the church or are on the margins of the church. There’s always been that polemical need to highlight truth over against what Christians regard as error. But sometimes controversy has overplayed itself.

This was true, for example, among Lutherans in the 17th century and that’s how Pietism grew. Pietism arose as a protest against a kind of dead orthodoxy where they were more concerned about some issues that weren’t so practical. Therefore, if you look at the history of Christianity, there’s always been the need to define error and truth, to separate and distinguish, but there’s also a need for the positive side, the teaching, the affirmation side. Perhaps that’s where we’ve been lacking in these recent years. We’ve said, “Well, this is something preachers are discussing and pastors are talking about. It doesn’t affect me. I’m a layman.” The truth is, we’ve spent far less time than we should making Christian truth applicable to the workman in the pew who’s in the workplace and needs our help.

Is it fair to say that in today’s world the average Christian would be more likely to have a reaction against public controversies in theology in the direction of agnosticism on these questions. For instance, I hear people who seem to be saying, “Nobody really knows what we think about these things otherwise we wouldn’t be always fighting about them.”

Yes, that’s possible just to dismiss the whole thing. I find that among younger pastors in our convention there is a tendency to want to throw this whole controversy in the background and say, “We’re going to do our ministry [and not worry about the controversy.]” And that’s a reaction against some of the bitterness and controversy, but unfortunately it can be a kind of neglect of teaching truth if we don’t watch it.

Are there any examples in Christian history of revivals of interest in theology among lay people?

Well, that may be a hard question to answer. Back in the early 4th century, at the time of the Arian controversy, we’re told that in Alexandria, Egypt, Arius put some of his views into little songs, little popular jingles as we would say today. People on the street would sing these. Even later, in Constantinople, in a controversy, people would be talking on the streets or singing songs.

I just mentioned Pietism a minute ago. Pietism arose out of German Lutheranism and to a certain extent out of Dutch Reformed life. That was a protest against an overemphasis on a wooden theology, but it sparked a new life for the laity that centered around small groups and Bible study and prayer. So you had a kind of practical lay revival going on that was a kind of protest against the theology of the day. It was in a sense a new theological movement and the laity were greatly affected by some of this.

Yes, there have been times, but at times it is hard to delineate some of those because, you know, in the writing of history sometimes it’s the layman who gets left out of the story. We write from the leadership viewpoint, not from the laity viewpoint.

I’d like to ask you to generalize about something here. As you look at the church and as you come into contact with students and churches, do you think there’s any possibility of something like a revival of lay interest in today?

I think it’s spotted. I think that here and there you do have examples of that. You have churches here and there that provide extended opportunities for study, small groups, discipleship groups, lay training groups, optional features in the life of the church that people can take advantage of. I think where you see that being provided there’s been a good response.

Now, that’s not very widespread, of course. In some of our new and innovative churches we have the problem of training the new converts that we have and we’re not always doing the most complete job. It’s always a challenge, is it not? I think it’s very difficult without some extensive questionnaire to assess where churches are on that. If you know of certain ones here and there you tend to generalize, but then there are other ones where not very much is being done. So it’s hard to say.

The Baptist Faith and Message is perhaps the one work of theology that the Baptist layperson is most likely to read. To what extent do you think, in light of the recent controversy, that that work is providing a sense of theological consensus among Baptists today?

Well, first of all, let’s talk about the reading. I would say that the new Baptist Faith and Message statement of the year 2000 as adopted in Orlando does provide a document that is short enough for church members to read. It’s not a long document. It’s something that can be read and read with some understanding. I think that churches ought to encourage people to read that document. I think that is definitely true.

Now, does it provide a sense of theological consensus? Well, first of all, it’s much too early to answer that about the 2000 document. Let me go back and answer that in regard to 1925 and 1963. The 1925 statement of Baptist Faith and Message was written and adopted at a time when evolution was a big issue in Baptist life, in our Baptist colleges and universities, and in our convention, and in our churches. And much of the discussion in that day was over creation versus evolution. Of course, there are many other articles in there, and it is very interesting that that document was kind of a rewriting of the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, which had been widely used in the South, which is a kind of moderate Calvinistic statement without getting involved in the Landmark positions and all of that. And so what the 1925 committee did, which was made up of leaders, including Dr. Mullins and Dr. Scarborough, was to simply overhaul the New Hampshire Confession and to add a number of articles dealing with things of importance in the twenties, including such things as religious liberty and war and peace. They were remembering the First World War when they wrote that.

Now, in 1963, the Baptist Faith and Message statement was created in response to the Elliott Controversy which, again, took Baptists back to the book of Genesis and was not a matter of biological evolution, but a matter of how we understand the early chapters of Genesis, whether a more historic approach or a more symbolic approach. And so the 63 document, which was composed, incidentally, by a committee of all the state convention presidents in that day (a very representative group, because everybody on that committee had been elected in his home state to a leadership role), overhauled the 1925 [statement], keeping the base of the New Hampshire, going back and picking up some of the Philadelphia Confession, and also doing some new writing of their own.

So I think you can say that, overall, both in 1925 and 1963, the resultant statement did, to a large extent, reflect the beliefs of Southern Baptists. There was some problem in 25 about how they were going to deal with an interpretative amendment to the document about creation and evolution, but, by and large, the document reflected the beliefs of the day. So I think you could argue, historically, that in 1925 and 1963, those documents, as adopted, did represent the broad spectrum of Southern Baptist beliefs. Now, they were not as specific in some areas as people might have wanted them to be, because one of the things that Baptist confessions had tried to do in the past was to provide a consensus among the beliefs of those who were making the confession. In other words, that it would reflect whatever they could together affirm. So built into that process was a sort of desire to arrive at consensus, and not to try to pronounce on questions where there was division within the Convention or within the local church. In other words, if you were divided on something, usually you didn’t put that division into your Faith and Message statements, your confession.

Now, what we have in 2000 are some issues where, in the Convention, there is a large measure of disagreement, and although the vote in Orlando was in favor of the document, those Southern Baptists have been highly critical of the document. And so it remains to be seen whether this statement will be as reflective of a consensus in 2000 in a way that was true in 25 and 63.

Well, then, it kind of sounds like in our history as Baptists, controversies have not only resulted in dividing us, but many times they have resulted in bringing us closer together and forcing us to draft these common understanding documents.

Yes. You know Baptists had a dual origin, even though General Baptists are a more Arminian group and Particular Baptists are a more Calvinist group. So there has never been a complete consensus, in a way, among Baptists. There have always been some differences. But it’s very interesting that over the centuries in England those two groups coalesced, so by the nineteenth century most all of them were in the Baptist Union. And so there are some tendencies for divisive issues in one period to cease to be divisive issues in another, but maybe another set of issues arises that are completely different.

So it’s too early to see where we’re going on this. And, of course, another question is how the new confession, the new Baptist Faith and Message statement, will be used, how it will be applied. That may be as big a question as what’s said in the document.

What would you say to the church that says, “We’re tired of the controversy surrounding theBaptist Faith and Message. We are going to draft our own confession of faith.”

Well, every Baptist church has the right to adopt its own confession of faith. That has always been true. Now, some churches have borrowed a text that others have already written and adopted it. Some have modified it. Some have started over. But each congregation has that prerogative and it may be that in some cases churches will want to write a briefer, maybe in some cases a less controversial statement, and, in other areas, a more definitive statement. But it would reflect the agreements that local church would have. If a church adopts a confession, it ought to represent the united convictions of the people, otherwise it becomes a tool of division.

A Catholic friend once commented to me in the middle of a discussion, “You Baptists are always talking about theology.” Do you think that we, as a denomination, are more or less focused on theology than other groups or denominations?

Well, number one, in answering that question, if I may be particular about Southern Baptists, we tend to be more concerned with theological matters, or talking theology, than would be true in the mainline Protestant denominations: Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, the United Church of Christ, etc. In the mainline churches there is definitely less interest in theology, I think, and talking about it. They would be more interested in moral issues. If you follow what’s happening in those denominations today, when they have their national meetings the big issues are abortion and homosexuality. They’re not the Trinity and the Bible, falling from grace or perseverance. Those are not the number one issues. The moral issues are what divide. And so, as far as basic theological questions, I would say yes. Baptists tend to talk more theology than others.

But now, when you compare us with Roman Catholic churches, I’m not sure that you can make that statement. I think many Catholics are very capable of and do engage in theological discussions. Sometimes it gets into practical Maryology, those areas. Sometimes it, again, bleeds over into ethical issues. They have some very strong feelings about contraception and some of those things. But I’m not sure you can say that Baptists as a whole talk more theological than Catholics do. It depends on the sampling you take.

When Baptists talk theology, they tend to talk salvation and the Christian life. How do you get saved? What does it mean to be a Christian? They tend to focus their talk about issues. They tend to veer away from some of the more transcendent aspects of theology and focus on how to become a Christian. In other words, for us, talking theology always involves the plan of salvation. How do you become a Christian? For us, that’s talking theology, and sometimes we don’t get much beyond that in our talking.

One semi-personal question. You can refrain from answering me if you like. You have been a professor of theology for how many years?

Well, here and elsewhere, fifty years, all told.

Fifty years. So you’ve probably seen a lot of things come and go. Is it possible for you to make any sort of statement about the overall climate of theology right now, in the year 2000, in the Southern Baptist Convention, the direction we’re going, and how we’re doing?

Well, theology is perhaps seen as more important today than in some periods of the past. If you compare today with the 60s, the 1960s, I would say that in Baptist life theology is seen as more important today. In the 60s we were dealing with the race issue, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, and many of these things claimed our attention. Many of these things were not seen as immediate theological issues.

Now, having said that, I’ll go on to say that the climate of doing theology today is one in which there needs to be a proper balance between responsibility and freedom. There has to be academic accountability for those that teach, but there also needs to be enough freedom so that people can function without fear, without fear of losing their jobs, without a sense of insecurity, because people do not do their best work always beneath the threat of insecurity. So we need to seek for the balance there. True, people need to be accountable and they need to be responsible if they are working in a confessional context, but there needs to be more grace and more love and more patience as we deal with individual situations.