Renewed tensions among Southern Baptists are causing some leaders to re-examine the relationships between Baptist state conventions and the universities they have supported.
In Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas, Southern Baptist state convention leaders have focused their attention on local universities, in part prompted by new questions about university trustee independence and academic freedom.
In Georgia, two committees of the state convention are studying the relationship with Mercer University and the school's president, R. Kirby Godsey, after publication of Godsey's recent book, When We Talk About God … Let's Be Honest (Smyth & Helwys). Mercer, with 7,000 students on its Macon campus, ranks second in size after Baylor among Baptist-affiliated universities.
Godsey's critics in part fault his book for its view of Scripture and the seemingly universalist doctrine of salvation. In addition, Godsey writes of Jesus, "This historical person to be followed was soon changed by his followers into a divine figure to be worshiped. This transformation is largely a mistake." And he calls the Virgin Birth "more truth than fact."
In spite of the controversy, Mercer's 45-member board of trustees, elected by the state convention, granted Godsey a vote of confidence in December. However, Frank Cox, president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, says, "The theology that is espoused in [Godsey's] book is out of the mainstream boundaries of Southern Baptist doctrine." The Georgia convention, meeting in November, asked Godsey to reconsider his beliefs.
During an interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Godsey claimed he does not espouse "classical universalism."
"I hope and believe that God's grace will ultimately prevail, but it obviously depends ...1
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