Trustees elected Duke McCall as president in 1951. During his 31-year presidency, he led the seminary through remarkable growth. Enrollment tripled, from 1,009 in 1951 to 3,201 in 1982. Faculty and degree programs expanded. He oversaw the construction of the Boyce Centennial Library in 1959. He also led the seminary through some wrenching controversies.
Most of the faculty agreed broadly with a modernist or neo-orthodox approach to Scripture, but they held at the same time that the Bible was vital to spiritual life and that Jesus was at work in the world. McCall sympathized with their views to some degree and supported a cautious historical-critical approach to the Bible. At the same time, McCall was convinced that since Southern Baptists had established the seminary, endowed it, and gave substantial financial support annually, they had an incontrovertible right to expect that the seminary faculty would teach the Scriptures in the manner that the churches approved, in accordance with the Abstract of Principles. When some faculty began to agitate to teach modernist views more openly and aggressively, McCall urged them to respect the views of the churches whom the seminary served. A faction of 13 professors issued an ultimatum to trustees to fire McCall. After careful investigation, trustees voted to dismiss the thirteen in May 1958. One, J. J. Owens, gained reinstatement.
McCall sought throughout his tenure to balance respect for the scholarship of the faculty with the rights and expectations of Southern Baptist churches. The denomination’s right to determine the seminary’s doctrinal commitments, however, was a settled matter for him. Southern Seminary belonged to Southern Baptists.