Criswell preaching chair announced at Southern Seminary

Communications Staff — October 23, 2013

Students and faculty view the 1985 sermon "Whether We Live or Die" by legendary Southern Baptist preacher W.A. Criswell during an Oct. 17 chapel service at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the service, President R. Albert Mohler Jr. announced the establishment of a new academic chair, W.A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching.

Southern Seminary announced a new academic chair in preaching in honor of W.A. Criswell, long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Southern Baptist statesman and two-time Southern graduate, during an Oct. 17 chapel service in Alumni Memorial Chapel.

Jack Pogue, a long-time friend of Criswell who was present for the announcement, funded the chair. After introducing him, seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. thanked Pogue for his generosity.

“It is my great privilege to announce today, at the great generosity of this friend, the funding of the W.A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching,” Mohler said.

Before the announcement, Mohler commented about Criswell’s gift of expository preaching.

“He, in many ways, exemplified not only for Southern Baptists but for evangelicals at large, a recovery of expository preaching,” Mohler said. “From the time of Charles Spurgeon to the time of W.A. Criswell, there are very few prominent preachers who are actually committed to what we would call biblical exposition.”

Mohler introduced a video of Criswell’s 1985 address, “Whether We Live or Die,” which the seminary community viewed as part of the service. Criswell preached the message, one of his most well-known sermons, at the pastors’ conference held before the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Dallas.

In the sermon, preached during one of the most intense times of controversy over the inerrancy of the Bible in SBC life, Criswell outlined how acquiescence to liberal theology leads to the death of denominations and institutions. As examples, he pointed to Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s defense of the Bible in the “Downgrade Controversy” among English Baptists in the late 1800s and the University of Chicago’s fall into liberalism after its founding as an orthodox school to train ministers.

Criswell illustrated the influence of liberalism within the Southern Baptist Convention with the story of professor Crawford H. Toy’s dismissal from Southern Seminary in 1879, due to his acceptance of German higher criticism. He pointed to the seminary’s subsequent acceptance of Toy’s theology, citing a 1985 issue of Southern Seminary’s at-the-time academic journal, Review and Expositor. The issue — published shortly before Criswell’s address —  included an article describing Toy’s beliefs, which Criswell cited as “perfectly acceptable, condoned, and defended,” were Toy to teach at the seminary then.

Later at the 1985 convention, Southern Baptist messengers elected Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., as president of the convention. Stanley’s presidency continued a line of conservative presidents and helped secure the success of the conservative movement, known as the “Conservative Resurgence.”

Concerning the context of Criswell’s sermon, Mohler said the legendary preacher and former SBC president delivered the sermon under “conditions of maximum warfare.” The 1985 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, Mohler said, was one of the great turning points in the SBC.

“There is a line that runs very straight from that day in Dallas, Texas, to this day in Louisville, Ky.,” Mohler told Southern Seminary students. “We can look back at history and say, had not the convention voted as it did in the very day after Dr. Criswell preached that sermon, we would not be sitting in this chapel today. It would be a very different world and a very different institution.”

Pogue, a businessman from Dallas, is also the funder of the W.A. Criswell Sermon Library. The digital library provides for free Criswell’s more than 4,100 sermons in digital format. At the conclusion of the service, Pogue provided each chapel attendee with a copy of Criswell Classics: Centennial Edition, a DVD collection of 12 of Criswell’s most important sermons.

Also at the service was Jerry Johnson, the current president of Criswell College in Dallas, a school which Criswell himself helped establish, which later took his name. The National Religious Broadcasters recently named Johnson as their new president.

Audio and video of the service are available at www.sbts.edu/resources.

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