Liberals constitute, as everybody knows, only a small segment of the Southern Baptist Convention. Though in recent years they have been gaining ground, they do not yet have the strength to engage conservatives in frontal doctrinal combat and often work outside convention structures. The major confrontation at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, held in Kansas City, Missouri, this month, pitched conservative against conservative on the issue of how best to contain liberal advances while maintaining the SBC’s evangelistic momentum.

Chief cohesive force of the SBC is its large missionary program. Present SBC leadership is wary of action which could disrupt this and other virile Southern Baptist cooperative enterprises such as home missions and Sunday School work.

The first half of this year’s convention reflected this mood, and an uneasy calm prevailed. The executive board of the Missouri Baptist Convention had petitioned the SBC to instruct trustees of Kansas City’s Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to proceed with whatever steps are necessary to complete the removal of the “liberalism which is still apparent among some of the faculty at Midwestern.” But to the bitter dismay of some, the petition was withdrawn in the interests of SBC harmony.

In the presidential address which came early in the convention, retiring President Herschel H. Hobbs of Oklahoma City stressed the basic theological unity of Southern Baptists, even while confessing the existence of certain tensions in theology. “Theology is the muscles of our denomination. We should not be using these muscles to bash in one another’s heads.”

But the third day of the four-day meeting produced an eruption of underlying tensions which transformed the early peace ...

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