Repeating History

By Tippit, Phyllis R.; Bellinger, W. H., Jr. | Baptist History and Heritage, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Repeating History


Tippit, Phyllis R., Bellinger, W. H., Jr., Baptist History and Heritage


The story of C. H. Toy: the nineteenth century was a time of cultural and intellectual turmoil in Europe and North America.

Industrialization led to increasing urbanization. Family roles altered, and social structures were overturned. These changes grew out of the new mode of critical thinking that emerged from the Enlightenment. In the wake of this new attitude, modern science was born, history birthed historiography, and the study of literature gave rise to literary criticism. In every area, it seemed "uncritical acceptance and reverential awe gave way to the progress of scholarship." (1) Biblical studies could not remain untouched.

Biblical criticism had been around for more than a century, but it was not until the 1860s and 1870s that its aims, methods, and presuppositions were widely known enough to provoke controversy in the Anglo-American context. Once the conclusions of some of these studies reached a more general audience, however, they aroused both popular interest and indignation. (2) Although conflicts between the new critical approach and traditional Christian beliefs occurred in both Britain and America, the outcome of these conflicts was quite different.

Among the first in the United States to suffer because of his use of higher criticism (3) was Crawford Howell Toy, professor of Old Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. (4) This article examines Toy's story, whose conflict with the church became a footnote in the history of scholarship, (5) and compares it briefly with that of a much better known British contemporary, William Robertson Smith, in an attempt to explore some of the effects of social setting on the influence of scholarship. We sometimes assume that brilliant scholarship is the key to intellectual progress. The stories of Toy and Smith suggest that good scholarship is important, but other factors are also crucial to scholarly impact.

Crawford Howell Toy

Toy was born in 1836, the eldest of nine children, and early showed promise as a student. He attended Norfolk Academy, a military school, and entered the University of Virginia at the age of sixteen. He exhibited a gift for languages, studying Latin, Greek, Italian, German, and Anglo-Saxon, while also pursuing interests in law, medicine, and music. (6) While at the University, Toy was baptized by John A. Broadus, then pastor of the Charlottesville Baptist Church, who became a lifelong friend. Toy graduated in 1856 and took a teaching position at Albemarle Female Institute in Charlottesville, where Broadus was head of the trustees. In 1857, Charlotte (Lottie) Moon entered the institute, and she, too, was baptized by Broadus, during a revival in 1859. (7) That same year, Toy volunteered as a candidate for foreign missions in Japan and entered with the first class at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina, to prepare for his missionary work. (8)

At Southern, Toy again showed his brilliance as a student, completing "three-fourths of a three year course of study" in a single year. (9) He learned Hebrew so quickly that he soon outdistanced his professor, Basil Manly Jr. He was appointed a missionary to Japan in 1860, but his hopes were thwarted when the uncertain American political context led the mission board to cancel any new missions assignments. It is one of many ironies in Toy's life that he would probably never have entered academic life had not the Civil War disrupted his plans. Although he considered going to Japan on his own, Toy remained in Virginia. He first taught Greek at the University of Richmond in 1861, then returned to Norfolk as an interim pastor. During this period, Toy proposed marriage to Lottie Moon, but she refused. In the fall of 1861, he enlisted in the Confederate Army, where he later served as a chaplain. (10) He was wounded at Gettysburg and became a prisoner of war. In 1863, he became part of a prisoner exchange and spent the remainder of the war as a professor of natural philosophy at the confederate military college established at the University of Alabama. …

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