Southern Baptists turned a theological corner this month. In a decisive standing vote in Philadelphia’s Convention Hall, their messengers rejected a motion to recall the recently completed “Broadman Bible Commentary” put out by their Sunday School Board. The twelve-volume commentary has been under fire because its authors advance certain theories of higher criticism that reject explicit scriptural statements.

Those who oppose the commentary and those who support it agree that much more has been at stake than the publication of controversial books. The outcome is expected to have an important theological impact upon the entire Southern Baptist Convention, which with nearly 12 million members is the largest Protestant denomination in North America. The commentary’s broad espousal of higher criticism is the first such official endorsement by a convention agency. Most evangelicals are particularly sensitive to the inroads of higher criticism because they regard the attitude toward Scripture as a watershed doctrine (see editorial, page 29).

The action of the convention in Philadelphia represented something of an about-face by Southern Baptists. The first volume of the commentary had to be withdrawn and rewritten on orders from the 1970 convention.

This year’s debate took hardly fifteen minutes. Gwin W. Turner, a Southern Baptist pastor from suburban Los Angeles, offered the motion to recall the entire commentary and made a five-minute speech citing instances in which the writers repudiated the biblical text. His presentation was forceful and articulate, yet restrained and diplomatic. Turner had also offered the motion against the first volume of the commentary two years ago in Denver.

A rebuttal to Turner was offered by Herschel ...

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