The first Norton Hall in Louisville, KY

In 1959, Southern Seminary professor William Mueller wrote A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Nashville: Broadman Press), a chronicle of the seminary’s first one hundred years.

James P. Boyce, founder and first president of Southern Seminary

James P. Boyce, founder and first president of Southern Seminary

Mueller’s A History begins with a description of the need for a seminary. In desperate need of theological education, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention desired an affordable, accessible institution of Christian education for pastors and laypeople.

The first half of the book centers on the seminary’s founding, fueled by the great vision of James P. Boyce in establishing the seminary and his tireless efforts in raising funds to keep the seminary going. Mueller tells the individual stories of each of the original faculty members. He highlights the different talents and gifts that each of the four founders brought to the table.

Crawford Howell Toy, who resigned from the faculty due to his unorthodox views of biblical inspiration

Crawford Howell Toy, who left the seminary because of his unorthodox views of biblical inspiration

The second half of the book centers on the two controversies that shaped Southern Seminary in the late 1800’s: the dismissal of Crawford Howell Toy from the faculty because of his denial of Scriptural inspiration; and the Whitsitt controversy, in which the seminary’s third president was forced to resigned under a cloud of controversy over his views on Baptist history.

In Toy’s case, the faculty’s decision was vindicated by Toy’s later abandonment of orthodox Christian faith. In the Whitsitt case, most Southern Baptist historians (and even Whitsitt’s successor, E.Y. Mullins) admit that Whitsitt was right. But with the financial status of the seminary in jeopardy as long as he remained in place, Whitsitt knew that only his resignation spare the seminary from irreparable damage.

William Whitsitt, third president of Southern Seminary

Mueller’s look at the history of Southern Seminary tells us as much about the state of the seminary in the late 1950’s as it does the history of the seminary’s first century of existence. With the theological direction in the 1950’s turning leftward, Mueller seeks to show that the new direction is still consonant with the conservative Calvinism of its founders. He tries to paint a picture of John Broadus (the seminary’s second president) as a progressive evangelical theologian. He upholds the Abstract of Principles, but wishes that it could be modified somewhat to better reflect the views of the faculty of that time.

In his retelling of the Crawford Toy controversy, Mueller mentions that Toy’s views would not have been controversial at Southern during the 1950’s, but he still applauds the decision of the faculty, since Toy eventually did depart from traditional Christian faith. It is unfortunate that Mueller did not understand that the seminary’s trajectory was beginning to mirror Toy’s, as the seminary turned leftward and adopted an increasingly liberal theological agenda.

Students of Southern Seminary who are interested in the seminary’s history will enjoy Mueller’s work. I am now looking forward to the upcoming history of the seminary’s first 150 years – written by professor Greg Wills.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary”

  1. Brent Hobbs says:

    When I first glanced and saw you were reviewing a history of the seminary, I figured Dr. Wills’ book must be out already. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he is working on. Thanks for the post, hopefully we’ll be hearing more about the history in the coming months as the convention approaches,

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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