The Southern Baptist Convention is in trouble. Its woes stem from a problem that has wracked other denominations and movements over the years: the nature and extent of biblical authority. The roots of the problem lie deeply buried in the second half of the nineteenth century in German higher criticism, which has been the source of much American theological liberalism during the twentieth century.

The older denominations have generally felt the impact of German liberal theology much more than Southern Baptists. Until recently, graduates of Southern Baptist seminaries did not generally go overseas to study for the doctorate. They stayed home and completed their doctoral studies in one of the many denominational institutions. But this was not true for other denominations. The Presbyterians, for example, saw many of their finest scholars drinking at the fountains of higher criticism in Continental institutions. Some came back more deeply convinced that their evangelical views were sound; J. Gresham Machen is one outstanding evangelical scholar whose European educational experience failed to convince him that orthodoxy was not a tenable option. Others, however, quickly adopted and later propagated liberal views they picked up in Europe.

Now things have changed. More and more Southern Baptist scholars are pursuing graduate studies overseas. And many others are studying in schools in the United States that are not Southern Baptist and have long been exponents of German rationalism.

This broadening trend is one that the Southern Baptists share with other conservative groups, including the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. At the synod’s last annual sessions its incumbent president was defeated by Dr. Jacob A. O. Preus, an articulate ...

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