Fulfilled Promise: 1878-1899

The promise of Boyce’s vision was fulfilled as the seminary stood fast against error and established itself firmly in Louisville.

Southern Seminary was the first school in the United States to dismiss a professor for liberalism when the seminary’s trustees voted in 1879 to dismiss Old Testament professor Crawford H. Toy. Toy became the seminary’s fifth professor in 1869 and was an accomplished scholar and beloved teacher. When Toy adopted Darwinist evolutionary views in the early 1870s, it caused him to revise his understanding of the Bible to make it consistent with evolution. Like other liberals, Toy adopted a new view of inspiration in which the Bible’s religious statements were inspired by God, but its historical or scientific statements were not. Toy began to reinterpret the Bible and adopt the naturalistic interpretations of German liberalism. Boyce and Broadus grieved for their friend but insisted on his removal. As a result of Toy’s dismissal, Southern Baptists engaged in a long controversy over the doctrine of inspiration. Southern’s faculty played the leading role, and the denomination broadly reaffirmed the doctrine of the plenary and verbal inspiration of Scripture. Toy joined the faculty at Harvard in 1880 and developed a naturalistic worldview.

Standing with Toy just before his departure, Boyce exclaimed that he would give his right arm for Toy to return to orthodoxy.

James P. Boyce

Crawford H. Toy

Seminary finances remained precarious. The endowment languished as pledges remained unfulfilled. At the end of 1880, the seminary could not pay faculty salaries and would soon be forced to close. In 1881, however, God answered in an extraordinary way. The faculty’s prayers to save the seminary, and donors gave $200,000 to restore the endowment. Thus by God’s blessing, with the endowment restored, Boyce built a remarkable faculty and began the establishment of a complete downtown campus at Fifth and Broadway.

When Boyce died in 1888, trustees elected John A. Broadus to succeed him as president. Broadus had been Boyce’s close colleague and counselor throughout the long struggle to establish the seminary. He was a careful and faithful scholar of the Bible, and was likely the greatest Baptist preacher of his generation in America. He led the faculty to establish a doctoral program in 1892, in fulfillment of Boyce’s vision to provide a band of scholars to advance and defend the Bible’s teaching. Under Broadus’ leadership, the seminary experienced robust growth and completed its downtown campus. Student enrollment nearly doubled from 164 in 1888 to 316 in 1895.

Upon Broadus’ death in 1895, trustees elected William H. Whitsitt president. Whitsitt joined the faculty in 1872 and was responsible for teaching church history. Controversy erupted in 1896 concerning Whitsitt’s views of baptism. During the controversy, he lost the trust of Southern Baptists and undermined denominational confidence in the seminary. He resigned in 1899 to prevent further damage to the school. His presidency was the briefest in the school’s long history.


1879 – Trustees dismiss Crawford H. Toy.

1888 – Basil Manly Jr. Publishes The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration.

1888 – President James P. Boyce dies in France.

1889 – John A. Broadus becomes president.

1892 – Seminary establishes its doctoral program and begins offering TH.D.

1895 – John A. Broadus, the last remaining founder, dies; William H. Whitsitt becomes president.

1899 – William H. Whitsitt resigns as president.

In 1885, Boyce began acquiring property in downtown Louisville on the block bordered by Fifth Street and Broadway. Broadus raised $60,000 from donors in New York City, and in 1888, the seminary moved into New York Hall, with space assigned for lecture rooms, faculty offices, a library, dormitories, and a dining hall. In 1891, the seminary opened the stately Memorial Library, a gift of Mrs. J. Lawrence Smith of Louisville. In 1893, the seminary’s downtown campus added the impressive Norton Hall, replete with lecture halls, classrooms, a large chapel, and faculty offices. Louisville’s Norton family, the seminary’s most consequential donors, provided most of the capital for this structure. With the addition of the Levering Gymnasium in 1897, the campus was complete.

Any historical record of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is incomplete without an honest telling of their complicity in American slavery and racism. For more on that story, read here.

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