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BIBLICAL AUTHORITY AMONG SOUTHERN BAPTISTS

By Jared C. Wellman

“Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.”


-Psalm 119:891

In his book, A Hill on Which to Die, Paul Pressler asked, “Why would a person

give up personal comfort and ease to become involved in a distasteful and bitter conflict

that would impact his entire life?”2 He answered, “Some people have difficulty accepting

the fact that a person might simply have convictions which are so strong that he must

stand for them.”3 For Pressler, these convictions are “the complete, absolute, total

accuracy and integrity of the revelation that God has given us in His Book—the Bible.”4

He concluded, “Believing this, I had no option but to stand for what I know to be the

truth.”5

1
All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless
otherwise noted.
2
Paul Pressler, A Hill on Which to Die (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1999), ix.
3
Ibid.
4
Ibid., 160.
5
Ibid.

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2

Pressler’s convictions of Scripture—that it is complete, absolute, totally accurate,

integral, and revelatory—historically surmise one of Christianity’s most controversial

issues. This is to say that the interpretation of the inspiration of Scripture has been a

subject of debate amongst Christians for centuries. Even though the same terms are used

to explain Scripture, the definitions of those terms are often debated. For a religion that

delineates their entire belief system from this sacred Book, it is amazing how many of its

proponents have doubted, and questioned, its authority.

Christianity has many theories on the inspiration of Scripture. Perhaps the most

authoritative view of Scripture comes from the Baptist denomination. In his book, The

Baptist Way, R. Stanton Norman notes that, “Baptists originated as a people who were

unswervingly dedicated to the belief that the Bible is the authoritative, written revelation

of God. The Scriptures served as the foundation for our Baptist ancestors on which they

built the church.”6 While this may be the case generally, this foundation has experienced

scrutiny—especially in the realm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC hereafter).7

Norman’s The Baptist Way is a plea to the church—the Baptist church—to be

vigilant in its convictions; especially the convictions of Scripture. He writes, “Most of

the works published lately [within the Southern Baptist Convention] that speak to the

issue of Baptist distinctives typically reflect a “moderate” Baptist persuasion.”8 He

6
R. Stanton Norman, The Baptist Way (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 11.
7
An association of Southern Baptist Churches that split from the North. According to Leon
McBeth, this convention began in the May of 1845. He writes, “A delegation of Southern Baptists met in
August, Georgia, to discuss the formation of separate mission agencies for Baptists in the South.”
Generally, there were three reasons for this schism. First, the method of organization, second, problems in
the home missions, and finally, slavery. Leon McBeth. The Baptist Heritage (Nashville: Broadman Press,
1987), 381.
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further notes, “If Southern Baptists are not vigilant, our silence will concede our Baptist

heritage to those who desire to redefine our historic Baptist identity.”9 Since one of the

Baptist’s most beloved identities is the authority of Scripture, it is important for every

Baptist to take Norman’s plea with the utmost austerity.

The authority of Scripture has been attacked for many years—skeptically and

denominationally.10 Many years ago, the debate nearly caused a schism within the

SBC.11 The purpose of this paper is to discuss the problem of biblical authority,

specifically within the SBC, and to examine the various theories of inspiration that

preceded the controversy. The conclusion will show that the Plenary-Verbal theory of

inspiration is the most biblical view of understanding the Bible, and furthermore, the

view that triumphed in the convention. A threefold approach will be taken. First, five

historical theories of inspiration will be listed in order to disclose the various approaches

that have been developed about Scripture. A denominational discussion regarding

inspiration will precede these theories and further help to explain them. Second, these

theories will be matched against the inerrancy controversy that took place within the

SBC. Specific portions of the Biblical Inerrancy Conference of 1987 will be examined.

Finally, a conclusion of W.A. Criswell’s Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True

will be reviewed in order to prophetically represent how the SBC’s controversy ended—

victoriously.

8
Norman, The Baptist Way, 1.
9
Ibid.
10
This is to say that it has been questioned both on the outside of Christianity and on the inside.
11
Many would claim that the convention did split in the context of relationships. However, here,
the idea of “split” means a complete division or separation from the convention, which maximally did not
happen.
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Theories of Inspiration

In the realm of biblical authority, before there was an SBC debate (a debate within

the denomination), there was a religious debate (a debate outside of the denomination).

Norman notes, for example, that the Roman Catholic Church views Scripture entirely

different than Southern Baptists—liberally and conservatively.12 He writes, “The Roman

Catholic Church claims that it is the sole society in which the rights of biblical and

theological interpretation are vested.”13 He continues:

The church, as God’s representative on earth, maintains that it is infallible in its


interpretation of the written revelation. Therefore, when the church speaks, it
speaks with the same authority as if the Lord Himself were speaking. The church
controls all definitions of truth, and all doctrinal formulations have been delegated
to the apostles and their successors.14

Norman notes that “Baptists reject this particular understanding of religious authority.”15

Baptists believe that the “Bible is its own best interpreter. Therefore, [Baptists] reject the

belief that any church council or ecclesiastical leader can claim to be the sole,

authoritative interpreter of the revelation of God.”16

12
These terms are used loosely to differentiate between one who views Scripture as inerrant
(conservative), and one who does not (moderate/liberal). Pressler uses these terms in his book, A Hill On
Which to Die.
13
Norman, The Baptist Way, 12.
14
Ibid., 13.
15
Ibid.
16
Ibid.
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Other schools of interpretation include existentialism and reason. Existentialism

includes two main thoughts—Protestant Liberalism and Neoorthodoxy. Protestant

Liberalism asserts that the “religious experience of the individual with the divine Spirit

constitutes religious authority.”17 Neoorthodoxy “perceives the Bible as the medium

through which a person existentially encounters God.”18 Other groups included in these

existential inspirations are “Enthusiastics, Quakers, and Mystics.”19 These groups claim

that the primary authority [of Scripture] is the Holy Spirit speaking to the heart. In all of

these views, the Bible “becomes the Word of God when the individual encounters God’s

presence through its message.”20 The result of such an interpretation can be hazardous,

and Norman reflects the potential of this in saying that, “The individual is left to his own

devices to interpret the nature and meaning of what the Holy Spirit has said to him. The

truths that one person gleans from a revelatory encounter could be different or even

contradictory from the truths of another.”21

Ironically, this type of existentialism is expressed within the Baptist denomination as

well. In a lesson entitled, The Authority of the Bible, BaptistWay Press’s22 (BWP

17
Norman, The Baptist Way, 14.
18
Ibid.
19
Ibid., 15.
20
Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Religious Authority (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957),
93. Emphasis added.
21
Norman, The Baptist Way, 15. Norman further notes that “Neoorthodox theologians do not even
regard the interpretations of events given by biblical authors to be authoritative.”
22
Baptistway Press (BWP hereafter) is a program that is “made possible by gifts through the
Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT hereafter) Cooperative Program.” This is to say that BWP is
dependent on the BGCT for its existence. It exists because of, and for, the BGCT. The BGCT is
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hereafter) Beliefs Important to Baptists lists these points under the title “The Bible

Becomes Authoritative for Any Christian:”23

• When that Christian comes to a personal experience with Christ through the
Scriptures
• When that believer understands the nature of the Bible and accepts its divine
origin and authority
• When that believer’s understanding of the Bible flows from accurate
interpretation of the Word
• When the believer understands and avails himself or herself of the living
usefulness of Scripture [italics mine]24

The outline closes with the statement, “Allow the Spirit to make the Bible authoritative in

your life! [italics mine]”25 The authors further write,

Jesus, whose will is revealed in the Scriptures, constitutes authority. The Bible
becomes authoritative when the Holy Spirit through Scripture makes Christ
known in experience. The Bible will become more authoritative for you as you
experience Christ through the Bible’s message [italics mine].26

In this quote, the BWP authors are suggesting that the Bible is not authoritative (or

meaningful) apart from human experience. It only takes on meaning “as you experience”

Christ. This is nothing less than existentialism.

In the realm of reason (Norman’s second school of interpretation), Norman notes

that the “philosophers of the Enlightenment, the Deists, and the Unitarians claimed that

considered the more moderate, or liberal, convention in Texas, in respect to Scripture.


www.BGCT.org/Baptistwaypress (quote mentioned on the footer of the website.)
23
Rosalie Beck, Bill Penson, James Semple, and Ebbie Smith, Beliefs Important to Baptists
(Texas: Baptistway, 2001), 28. Italics mine.
24
Ibid.
25
Ibid.
26
Ibid., 24.
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human reason is the sole authority for all truth.”27 Episcopalians have picked up on this

notion, including it as part of their “three-legged stool” of interpretation—Scripture,

tradition, and reason. Norman lists three notions why reason “must be rejected” as the

sole authority of interpretation. First, “reason defies definition.” Humans do not equally

possess a common set of axioms that would necessarily be beneficial for this type of

interpretation. Second, “reason is a mode of apprehending truth.” This is to say that “the

means of knowing should not be confused with what is to be known.” Finally, “reason is

affected by human sin.”28 If the human faculties of reason are damaged by sin, then all of

the conclusions developed by reason would not necessarily be objectively reliable. The

third reason is the most crucial, and concludes that reason alone also presents a potential

hazard to the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Norman’s dialogue illustrates that, denominationally, Scripture is viewed

differently. Thankfully, most of these views have been generalized into theories. This

makes differentiating the various ideas easier. David Dockery, in his work Christian

Scripture, listed five historical theories of inspiration. These are the Dictation,

Illumination, Encounter, Dynamic, and Plenary-Verbal theories.29 Dockery wrote,

“Many of [these] theories are attempts to deal seriously with the two-sided character of

the Scripture—[God and man].”30

27
Norman, The Baptist Way, 16.
28
Norman, The Baptist Way, 17.
29
David Dockery. Christian Scripture. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), Noted on pages
51-55.
30
Ibid., 51.
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Dictation Theory of Inspiration

The first of these views is the Dictation Theory. “The dictation theory places the

emphasis upon God’s actual dictation of His Word to the human writers.”31 “The author

was wholly passive, registering and transmitting the revelation the way a tape recorder

would work today. His personality was set aside, so that the text might be free from any

fallible human aspects.”32 René Pache, in The Inspiration & Authority of Scripture,

compares this view to the Muslim’s interpretation on the Koran33—“already fully spelled

out in Arabic in heaven, it supposedly came down to earth with no change whatsoever.”34

Generally, there are two issues with the Dictation theory; first, it is Scripturally

self-defeating, and second, it seems analytically implausible. Dockery details the first in

the following:

Luke tells his readers that other people before him had attempted to write the
story of Jesus and that he consulted these works and did additional research
before compiling his Gospel (see Luke 1:1-4). Thus, it can be seen that the
dictation theory cannot account for all aspects of Scripture.35

Pache expounds on the second issue and contends for a “minute study of the context of

the sacred writings—historical, cultural and linguistic.”36 Doing this, Pache writes,

contributes much to the understanding of spiritual import. “A mechanical dictation

31
Ibid.
32
Rene Pache. The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Salem: Sheffield Publishing Company,
1992), 66.
33
Or “Quran.”
34
Pache. The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, 66.
35
Dockery. Christian Scripture, 52.
36
Pache. The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, 66.
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would have produced a complete uniformity on all the pages of the Bible, a condition

which is very far from the truth.”37

Illumination Theory of Inspiration

A second theory of inspiration is the Illumination theory. In this view, “human

authors were enabled to express themselves with eloquent language to produce a certain

emotional response from the readers or hearers. Inspiration is the illumination of the

authors beyond their normal abilities.”38 The systematic theologian Millard Erickson

notes that, in this view, “There is no special communication of truth, nor guidance in

what is written, but merely an increased sensitivity and perceptivity with regard to

spiritual matters.”39 The Illumination theory has God at the beginning, illuminating the

author, but ignores Him during the actual composition of the book. This theory

compromises the key ingredient in biblical authority. Too much authority is given to

man and therefore this theory is not sufficient.

Encounter Theory of Inspiration

A third theory of inspiration is the Encounter view.40 Karl Barth has been

attributed with the development of this theory. “This view states that in regard to its

composition, the Bible differs little from other books. Yet, the Bible is unique because of

37
Ibid.
38
Dockery. Christian Scripture, 52.
39
Millard Erickson. Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998), 232.
40
The Encounter View is sometimes referred to as the “Intuition Theory.” This is discussed in the
next paragraph.
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the Spirit’s ability to use it as a means of revelation to specific individuals or

communities.”41 This is the theory that fits best with the aforementioned existentialist’s

view of Scripture. “Through the on-going work of inspiration, the Bible becomes

revelation.”42

Some theologians have referred to the Encounter theory of inspiration as the

Intuition theory. Millard Erickson is one of these theologians. Erickson writes that this

theory “makes inspiration largely a high degree of insight. Inspiration is the functioning

of a high gift.”43 When logically deduced, “intuitionists” would have to believe in an

existentialist inspiration of Scripture because meaning comes from an “intuition” of an

outside source.

Dynamic Theory of Inspiration

Dockery notes a fourth view of inspiration—the Dynamic view. This theory

attempts “a combination of divine and human elements in the process of inspiration.”44

Dockery described the origination of this view:

In many ways this approach originated as a reaction to the dictation theory. It


sees the work of the Spirit in directing the writer to the concepts he should have
and then allowing great freedom for the human author to express this idea in his
own style, through his own personality, in a way consistent with and characteristic
of his own situation and context [italics mine].45

41
Dockery. Christian Scripture, 53.
42
Ibid.
43
Erickson. Christian Theology, 230.
44
Dockery. Christian Scripture, 54.
45
Ibid.
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This view places more emphasis on the Spirit’s role of inspiration, but still allows human

freedom in how the books were written. The Spirit only directed the authors in

“concepts,” and allowed the authors to express the ideas “in [their] own styles.” In

summary, the Dynamic view of inspiration allows the writer to “give expression to the

divinely directed thoughts in a way uniquely characteristic of that person,”46 but the Spirit

takes a “hands off” approach during the composition.

Plenary-Verbal Theory of Inspiration

The fifth and final view of inspiration, and perhaps the most widely accepted

among conservative Baptists, is the Plenary-Verbal theory of inspiration. “This approach

is careful to see the Spirit’s influence both upon the writers and, primarily, upon the

writings. It also seeks to view inspiration as extending to all portions of Holy Scripture,

even beyond the direction of thoughts to the selection of words.”47 This theory seems to

be a combination of the Dictation and Dynamic views of inspiration. The Dictation

theory denies that the human author’s personalities were used in the process of writing.

As noted earlier, analytically, this does not seem to be accurate. Contrarily, the Dynamic

view places a heavy emphasis on the author’s freedom. It represents the idea that God

initially inspired the author, and perhaps even walked with him in writing, but took a

“hands off” approach to how he wrote it. The Plenary-Verbal theory insists “that the

Holy Spirit’s influence extends beyond the direction of thoughts to the selection of words

used to convey the message. Each word is the exact word God wants used at that

46
Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Westwood, N.J.: Revell, 1907), pp. 211ff.
47
Dockery. Christian Scripture, 55.
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point.”48 The difference between this and the Dictation theory, however, is that the Spirit

allowed the authors to write in their own distinctive styles. In other words, the authors’

personalities were not restricted, or dictated, a certain way—but their words were. Pache

has described this as being the most biblical view. He wrote,

This is what the sacred authors everywhere affirm: “Every Scripture [is] inspired
of God” (II Tim. 3:16); the prophets and apostles have transmitted to us, not the
word of man, but truly the Word of God (I Thess. 2:13). The written revelation is
complete, so that none can add to it or take away from it (Rev. 22:18-19); there
shall not pass away from the Law (the Old Testament Scriptures) one jot or one
tittle till all things be accomplished (Matt. 5:18). One could not emphasize too
much the importance that the Scriptures attach to the3 exact reception and
communication of the divine expressions.49
This theory—the Plenary-Verbal theory—is the most accepted theory of

inspiration among conservative Baptists. It provides a healthy understanding of both

human authorship and God’s inspiration. Furthermore, of the passages that speak about

Scripture, it seems to be the most affirmed.

The New Testament scholar George Ladd understood the tension of inspiration in

coalescing God and man. He once said, “The Bible is the Word of God given in the

words of [people] in history.”50 Ladd’s comment expresses the dual nature of the Bible.

As illustrated, this dual nature has birthed a myriad of views on how the two are

considered to blend. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart described these two natures as

“external relevance and historical particularity.”51 While this is a more scholarly way of

defining the tension, it expresses, nonetheless, the difficulty one may have in marrying

48
Erickson. Christian Theology, 232.
49
Pac he. The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, 72.
50
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1993), 17.
51
Ibid.
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the two concepts—God as the external relevance and man as the particularity. This is

why so many theories of inspiration have been developed, and furthermore, why, even in

the SBC—arguably the most biblically authoritative denomination in existence—the

authority of Scripture has still been challenged. The following section will detail some of

the information produced during the controversy over biblical inerrancy in the SBC.

Biblical Inerrancy in the Southern Baptist Convention

Of Dockery’s five theories, the two that took precedence in the SBC were the

Illumination and Plenary-Verbal theories of inspiration.52 Primarily, it was a battle

between existentialism and “stand-alone” inerrancy.53

The controversy can be traced back to 1961, when a book from Broadman Press

was published entitled, The Message of Genesis, written by Ralph Elliott. “In his

volume, Elliott worked from a historical-critical method of interpretation that in essence

divorced the message of the Bible from literal history.”54 Sutton has noted that,

[Elliott] presupposed that biblical writers borrowed and adapted from earlier
myths and legends, that Adam and Even were not historical personages, that the
flood was merely local; that Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction occurred as a
natural phenomenon, and that Abraham did not actually hear the voice of God
instructing him to slay Isaac.55

An example of this presupposition is evident in Elliott’s dialogue on Noah and the Flood.

He writes,

52
This is not to ignore that some conservatives probably did, and do, hold to the Dictation theory,
but primarily, these seemed to be the two most prominent theories during the “battle.”
53
Meaning, the Bible does not need man to experience it in order for it to obtain meaning.
54
Jerry Sutton. The Baptist Reformation (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 7.
55
Ibid., 8.
14

The question of the universality of the Flood has occupied scholars for a long
time. Searching for flood evidence, Sir Leonard Woolley dug pits in the
Mesopotamian region. Though he found some in places, just four miles away at
Tell el-Obeid there was none. There seems to be little evidence from science that
the Flood was universal. The term “all” in 7:19 may have been used from the
standpoint of an observer.56

K. Owen White wrote of Elliott’s book, “The book is liberalism, pure and simple.”57 It

was this kind of liberalism that infiltrated the SBC seminaries, ministries, and churches.

Eventually, it led to a potential schism.

On May 4-7, 1987, a conference was held at the Ridgecrest Baptist Conference

Center in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. “The conference was sponsored and coordinated

by the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention.”58 Its purpose was to discuss

the meaning of “inerrancy,” and to allow the leaders of the convention to dialogue

between one another. Some of the notable presentations will be examined here.

Joel Gregory was asked to open the conference with a sermon. He titled his

sermon, God’s Indestructible Word. Using the prophet Jeremiah as an example, Gregory

concluded that the “Word of God is indestructible.” “Why can we say that?” he asked.

Gregory answered with three responses:

1) The indestructible Word is as the Word of God a revelation.


2) The indestructible Word is remarkable in its prediction of the reaction to Word.
3) The indestructible Word is revealed even in the rejection of that Word.

56
Ralph Elliott. The Message of Genesis (St. Louis: Broadman Press, 1961), 66.
57
K. Owen White, “Death in the Pot,” in H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage
(Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990), 500-501.
58
The Proceedings of the Conference on Biblical Inerrancy, 1987 (Nashville: Broadman Press,
1987), i.
15

The first response comes from Jeremiah 36. Gregory said, “The 36th chapter of

Jeremiah states as explicitly, as exactly, as precisely what happened in the production of a

biblical book as anywhere I can find in sacred Scripture.”59 For Gregory, the words

“fairly leap off of the page, ‘Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to

you [italics mine].’”60

The second response furthers response (1). Gregory stated, “In the passage, we

find the spectrum of human reaction to the word of God. You find that the majority was

indifferent, the minority was reverent, and the establishment rejected that word.”61

Subtly, or so it seemed, Gregory was speaking directly about the illuminationists (or

existentialists) as the “majority,” the conservative plenary-verbalists as the “minority,”

and the Southern Baptist Convention as the “establishment.” Here, Gregory was building

his case for inerrancy.

The third response builds on the first two, and completes Gregory’s triad of

indestructibility. Gregory said, “We find that in looking [at rejection], as if in a

schematic, [it is as] if we were looking at all of history collectively, in advance.”62 “The

rejection of the word of God has been in physical destruction of the book, in spiritual

disregard for its message, and in destruction of its messengers.”63 In three sweeping

points, Gregory’s words manifested the reality of what inerrancy meant. To doubt the

59
Ibid., 2.
60
Ibid.
61
Ibid., 4.
62
Ibid., 5.
63
Ibid.
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authority of God’s Word was to place yourself in the camp of the “indifferent” and also

those who desired to “physically destroy” the book and “spiritually disregard” its

message.

Perhaps Gregory had two audiences for his message—a general audience (the

world) and a specific audience (the SBC). Standing among a room full of seminarians,

professors, and pastors Gregory spoke what he believed to be the source of biblical

authority—God. It did not matter if man experienced or had the potential of experiencing

Scripture—it was, stand-alone indestructible.

A notable advocate for the moderate (or liberal) side of the argument during this

conference was Clark Pinnock. During the conference, Pinnock served as professor of

systematic theology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Pinnock delivered a lecture entitled, What is Biblical Inerrancy? Pinnock wrote,

What we are really arguing about here, I believe, is whether it is prudent to insist
upon a position of great elaboration and strictness with regard to the
presuppositions with which we come to Scripture, or whether to adopt a simpler
more spontaneous Biblicism which also trusts the Bible without reservation but
does not believe it is good to burden the Bible reader with too much human theory
lest he or she miss what God is saying in the text. After all, presuppositions can
distract us from seeing what lies before our eyes. We are dealing with an honest
difference of opinion and one which is essentially prudential.64

Pinnock concluded his lecture with an illustration about Nehemiah and Sanballat.

Nehemiah’s plan was to get all of the Israelites to work together while Sanballat’s

strategy was to frustrate the effort by getting Jew’s to quarrel among themselves.

Pinnock said,

My hope and prayer for the SBC is that the great majority of Baptists will heed
Nehemiah and unite together behind their global mission in the power of God, and
64
Ibid., 75.
17

will not listen to Sanballat who wants them to fight among themselves and
accomplish nothing.65
Paige Patterson had the privilege of responding to Pinnock. Patterson wrote,

“Pinnock’s paper is less concerned with the assigned topic than it is with the professor’s

feelings, emotions, and forecasts about the political ramifications of the struggle among

Southern Baptists.”66 This is to say that Patterson felt that Pinnock’s lecture was more

about getting along than it was biblical inerrancy. Patterson spent the better portion of

his lecture defending biblical inerrancy and concluded with these words:

My distinguished and greatly loved professor wants peace in the Southern Baptist
Convention. So do I. In fact, I probably desire peace more than he does.
Pinnock’s price for peace [however] is too high. He would have us to support
those who teach the exact opposite of what we hold to be sacred. He would have
us stand at the judgment seat of Christ and try to explain to the enthroned Christ
that in the interest of peace in the convention we supported either by silence or by
resources those who say that His word errs. This we cannot and will not do!67

Patterson’s convictions rang, and still ring, loud. Conservatives were thankful for

Patterson’s rebuttal and moreover, for his willingness to fight. Jerry Sutton, the SBC

historian, wrote that “Paige Patterson was preeminently the apologist for the Southern

Baptist Convention’s turn of affairs.”68 It was outspoken convictions like this that led the

way for biblical inerrancy.

It has been many years since this controversy has ended. Many thought that it

would take approximately twenty-five years before the convention experienced the

results of the conservative resurgence. Thankfully, this was not the case. Many

65
Ibid., 80.
66
Ibid., 86.
67
Ibid.
68
Sutton. The Baptist Reformation, 78.
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individuals worked hard to see the convention salvaged and their efforts paid off. Sutton

noted that, other than Patterson, W.A. Criswell and Paul Pressler were two of the most

significant personalities in the resurgence: “W.A. Criswell was the ideological godfather

and Paul Pressler was the organizer and strategist.”69 By the year 2000, it was safe to say

that the conservatives were leading the way for the convention and that the seminaries

and institutions were functioning accordingly.

An evidence of the resurgence was the proposal to update the Baptist Faith and

Message. The battle for inerrancy had been won, and many wanted to see that reflected

in the terminology of the SBC’s confession. Joe Wooddell has noted that “All three

versions of the Baptist Faith and Message state that the Bible has ‘truth, without any

mixture of error, for its matter,’ but the 2000 version alone concludes from this that all

Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.’”70 Wooddell sees this as a “strong implication”

of inerrancy. He writes, “The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 rightly refers to Scripture

as holy, inspired, perfect, divine, true, trustworthy, the supreme standard; it also strongly

implies that Scripture is inerrant (“truth, without any mixture of error”). The Baptist

Faith and Message 1963 referred to the Bible as “the record of” God’s self-revelation to

man.”71 Wooddell further details inerrancy:

Inerrancy means “that [Scripture] makes no false—and thus no contradictory—


claims; if the Bible makes an affirmation, then that affirmation is true. If an
inerrantist sees what looks like a false statement in Scripture, he gives the text the
benefit of the doubt, assuming that he either does not have all the information

69
Ibid.
70
Douglas Blount and Joseph Wooddell. Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (Lanham: Rowman and
Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 1-2.
71
Ibid., 1.
19

necessary to judge the claim at issue or has failed to read the text correctly.
Affirming biblical inerrancy thus involves giving Scripture the benefit of the
doubt over any would-be competitors.72
Inerrancy is a far cry from the existential claims that Scripture “becomes” the Word of

God when experienced or when lived out. Patterson noted, “[Such belief] is existential

subjectivism. [It is] man’s experience and not God’s Word that becomes the criterion for

adjudication. We have elevated anthropocentric authority—man’s authority over God’s

authority.” 73

W.A. Criswell’s “Why I Preach That The Bible Is Literally True”

Historically, many theologians have noted some wonderful discourse on the Word

of God. Perhaps the most notable is W.A. Criswell. In a seemingly prophetic book,

Criswell composed Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True before the SBC

inerrancy controversy necessarily existed. He noted, “The Bible is the Word of God, not

merely contains it.”74

In the book, Criswell consistently asked, “Why do I believe that the Bible is

literally true?” Some of his answers included: the testimony of Jesus Christ (Chapter 2),

the internal witness of the Holy Scriptures (Chapter 3), the fulfillment of prophecy

(Chapter 4), and the confirmation of archeology (Chapter 5). Criswell also addressed any

doubters and discussed questions such as, “Is the Bible Full of Errors and

Contradictions?” and “Is the Bible an Immoral Book?” Criswell’s conclusion to these

72
Ibid., 3.
73
The Proceedings of the Conference on Biblical Inerrancy, 92.
74
W.A. Criswell. Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True (Nashville: Broadman Press,
1973), 33.
20

questions is one that has withstood time, translating to an inspiration that has been etched

into the pulpits of most Southern Baptist churches; Criswell wrote, “I believe that the

Bible is literally true because it partakes of the nature of God, who is eternal, who is the

same yesterday, today, and forever.”75

To conclude such a topic as biblical authority, it is appropriate to quote the great

Arthur Pink, who said, “The Bible is an inexhaustible mine of wealth: it is the El Dorado

of heavenly treasure. It has veins of ore which will never ‘give out’ and pockets of gold

which no pick can empty. It is like a spring of water which never runs dry.”76 Pink’s

quote speaks not only of the wealth of Scripture, but of its veracity. The battle for

biblical authority has waged for many years, and will continue to wage as long as man

exists. It is important for Baptists to not only fight for inerrancy in churches, schools,

and conventions, but in faith. It should always be a “hill on which to die,” or Baptists

will be able to do nothing less than “bemoan the fate of millions of lost persons around

the globe who remain oblivious to the message of Christ due to the inroads of

universalism, liberation theology, and anemic evangelism which rests on a shifting

foundation of historical-critical hypothesizing.”77

75
Ibid., 101
76
Arthur Pink. The Divine Inspiration of the Bible (Grand Rapdis: Baker Book House, 1971), 23.
77
The Proceedings of the Conference on Biblical Inerrancy, 93.