It was like waiting for the storm that never really broke. There were distant rumbles of theological thunder before the opening of the 112th annual sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans’ Rivergate Center. But somehow the dark cloud of division passed over without pouring any great disharmony upon the gathering.

The controversy seemed especially evident during two days of pre-convention meetings. Prospects of a liberal-conservative showdown on several issues and the possibility of an appearance by black militant James Forman were widely discussed and were probably part of the reason for the record registration of nearly 17,000 messengers.

While most messengers were meeting in five major pre-convention conferences, two dissident groups met to discuss issues and to plan strategy for bringing their concerns to the convention floor. The E. Y. Mullins Fellowship, named after a past convention president and former head of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and composed largely of professors and pastors, expressed special concern over the doctrine of biblical authority as presented in a recent book by SBC president W. A. Criswell, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True. The other group, Baptist Students Concerned, who made their first appearance by demonstrating at last year’s convention, voiced concern about a number of social problems. The groups met both jointly and in separate sessions and received considerable attention from the numerous newsmen on hand.

The Mullins group, which claims some 250 members, was especially unhappy with Sunday School Board publicity of Criswell’s book. They felt that the board implied that Criswell’s view, opposed by many in the Mullins group, was the official SBC position. ...

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