While mainline denominations have declined numerically in recent decades, membership in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC,) now at 14.6 million, has steadily risen. Generally, Southern Baptists attribute their growth to a high view of Scripture and an accompanying emphasis on evangelism. However, the perception by some in the SBC that this high view is in danger has spawned an internal struggle that has consumed much of the denomination’s energy.
The battle between “conservatives” and “moderates” (opposing factions have various names for one another) began in earnest in 1979 when conservatives launched an intentional effort to rid the SBC of what they say is theological liberalism. The battle lines have been drawn on the issue of inerrancy, although opposing factions differ on whether this is the real issue. Russell Dilday, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, says virtually all Southern Baptists agree on their view of Scripture, though they express it in different ways.
In 1985 the SBC appointed a 22-member peace committee to study the issues dividing the denomination (CT, July 12, 1985, p. 34). At a meeting of this committee last fall, the presidents of the SBC’s six seminaries issued a seven-point declaration of commitments aimed at resolving the controversy.
One of the commitments is to convene three national conferences on inerrancy, the first of which was held last month in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. The six plenary speakers were evangelicals outside the SBC, invited because “the evangelical world has been debating this for 40 years,” said Dilday.
One of the invited guests, Clark Pinnock, theology professor at McMaster Divinity ...1
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