The Southern Baptist Convention-A Sesquicentennial History. By Jesse C. Fletcher. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994, xiv + 463 pp., $29.99.
This concise book was written for the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention, which took place in 1995. As such, it was written to celebrate the accomplishments of a denomination that has received scant attention in regard to its importance. This omission is demonstrated by the well-known American Church historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom who wrote his Theology in America: The Major Protestant Voices from Puritanism to Neo-Orthodoxy without mentioning one Southern Baptist or, for that matter, anyone from the South.
Jesse Fletcher has written an outstanding introduction about the Southern Convention. He mastered a vast amount of information and understands the functioning intricacies of this organization. As pastor, professor, historian and educational leader in the Convention, he has intimate knowledge of the major protagonists within the last fifty years. He also had the first manuscript read by the leading denominational Church historians.
The book is divided into ten chapters: "Roots and Reason, 1609-1845"; "A New Connection, 1845-1865"; "Reconstruction and Survival, 1865-1900"; "Defining a Denomination, 1900-1927"; "Adversity and Challenge, 1927-1945"; "The Great Advance, 1945-- 1964"; "The Uneasy Consensus 1964-1979"; "The Battle for the Gavel, 1979-1990"; "New Initiatives, 1990-1993"; and "Foundations for the Future, 1993-Forward." The book concludes with four helpful appendixes, notes, bibliography and an index.
The Southern Baptist Convention during the last few decades has been known in the public press for its controversies between the moderates and the conservatives. Fletcher analyzes these controversies and shows that both sides have committed mistakes. There have been individuals and groups whose actions are laudable and less laudable. While he may end up being criticized by both moderates and conservatives, Fletcher does attempt to be fair in his assessments. He also demonstrates that in spite of the various controversies, the major emphases of the Southern Convention are personal evangelism and missions. These foundational realities have propelled the Convention to become "a people numbering more than 15 million gathered in more than 38,000 churches organized into a national organization that includes work in every state of the Union and over 120 countries" (p. 1).
Fletcher keeps a flowing chronology while evidencing those ideas that are being repeated or new ideas that become a part of the denomination's mainstream. Landmarkism (according to Leon McBeth, the concept without which it is impossible to understand Southern Baptists; p. 60), based on Prov 22:28, which in its incipient form insisted that only Baptist churches were authorized to baptize and to serve the Lord's …