SSHAC live blog: Panel discussion two

Communications Staff — February 19, 2009


* Russell D. Moore, senior vice president of academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary

* Grant Wacker, professor of Christian history and director of graduate studies at Duke University

* Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary

* Stephen Nichols, research professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School

* Thomas Nettles, professor of church history at Southern Seminary

Dorrien to Wacker: Did Billy Graham ever connect conversion with combating racism? It seems that Graham only responded to racism after a Supreme Court verdict in 1954 that mandated a response.

Wacker: Billy Graham’s crusades began to be integrated in an informal way in 1952 and in a formal way in 1953. Graham then seemed to back off for a while. In 1954 then is when Brown v. Board of Education came down, and from 1954 on Graham did not allow any segregation at his crusades. So, it appears that he was wrestling with the issue in the early 1950s. Did he develop a conviction on a direct connection between conversion and race? It is hard to say. We do know that he consistently preached that there is no segregation at the cross.

Question: How do you evaluate the lasting influence of Billy Graham and D.L. Moody? Fame, books, institutions?

Nichols: Many people are hanging on the latest Beth Moore book or on their favorite preacher’s radio program. Moody’s influence resulted in all these things. So I think Moody’s shadow is cast there.

Wacker: Graham repeatedly looks to Moody as his predecessor, not Billy Sunday. The difference between celebrity and influence is difficult. I would add to that a third category of leader. I‘m not sure of the answers of the difference between celebrities and leaders. It would be difficult to underestimate the effect of the Billy Graham Association. As far as what is lasting in the work of Graham: I don’t think there will be anything lasting in the work of Graham. Though I also don’t think there will ever be another Billy Graham.

Nettles: There are people who would give an account of being converted at a Billy Graham crusade and passing on a value of morality and character to their children, with much lasting good. However, much of Graham and Moody’s work comes with a non-confessional impact. Thus, it is difficult to get converts through the work of Graham and Moody to accept a confessional approach to Christianity in local churches. This reality makes it difficult for local church pastors to take a confessional approach. So, such leaders can have an influence on individuals and that in turn can permeate into local churches.

Wacker to Wills: Did the fundamentalist controversy begin on the mission field, in particular in China?

Wills: Largely yes, though this does not necessarily mean that it would not have found its way back to the United States. The foreign mission field served as a laboratory for the issue.

Question: How deep was Mullins connection to the professors at the University of Chicago? Did Mullins ever develop more of a theological conservatism?

Nettles: Mullins had an idea that he could encourage unity between Southern and Northern Baptists through a theological confessional statement that was written in 1922. In 1923, when Bill Riley presented the New Hampshire Confession of Faith another theologian made a statement that the New Testament was the only confession that was needed (and the confession did not pass, I think). Mullins closed in prayer at this meeting and seemed to realize that unity between Southern and Northern Baptists was not going to work. Mullins then began to write a confession of faith, and began to defend the use of confessions.

Wills: Mullins became more concerned about liberalism at that time (1923).

Wacker to Moore: Do you see any regional stratification among Baptists and the cultural perception of Baptists?

Moore: You clearly have some regional stratification, which is why early on you had some tension between Southern Seminary and Southwestern Seminary. So there have been tensions existing regionally in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Nettles to Wills: On what basis do you call Mullins a liberal?

Wills: Mullins had a liberal view of inspiration and a liberal theological method that develops doctrine from personal experience.

Nettles: I have used liberalism to speak of theology and modernism to speak of methodology.

Question: Can you speak of theologians/historians who have made the trek from liberal to conservative?

Nettles: Anyone who believes the Gospel and is moved from a state of dead in transgression and sins to alive in Christ serves as such an example. We should recognize that it is quite miraculous that anyone retains their faith in God, salvation and the gospel in the midst of the opposition to these things that abounds in our culture.

Wills: J. Gresham Machen is an example of a historian who has made this move.

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