LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- To commemorate the silver anniversary of the conservative resurgence that ‘reclaimed’ the Southern Baptist Convention to biblical orthodoxy, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary held a symposium in which Paul Pressler, the leading figure in the movement, explained the true reason for the movement’s success, March 23.
Pressler, in partnership with the current Southeastern Southern Baptist Seminary Paige Patterson, was the keynote architect to the denomination’s current leadership. Throughout the 60s and 70s, liberals held nearly all the offices of the Executive Committee and filled nearly all teaching positions at the SBC’s seminaries. However, the two charismatic men overturned the trend by seating a conservative leader, Adrian Rogers, at the president’s position. Every year since then, conservatives won the election, and by 10 years, successfully replaced all positions with its leadership.
According to Pressler, the victory was gained through the deep sacrifices of laypeople who gave all they had and did all they can to secure conservative presidency. During the 70s and 80s, the presidency was chosen solely on the basis of votes, and unlike many liberal and moderate delegates, conservatives drove across the country just for the vote.
“I remember one family from South Bend, Ind.; they had five children and drove non-stop to Los Angeles to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1981,” Pressler said. “They voted and [then] drove non-stop back [home] eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They didn’t spend a night in a motel because they didn’t have the money.
“That’s the type of sacrifice that won” the convention back from liberalism, Pressler said. “The heroes of the conservative movement are not those whose names were in the press. They were the grassroots people who loved the Lord and loved the convention and loved God’s Word and wanted to make sure that Southern Baptists returned to what [the Bible] teaches.”
This joint effort of leadership and laypeople, and not the ‘impecable’ structure of the movement is what brought the swift victory.
“We went into several of the presidential elections not knowing until the day of the election whether or not we’d have a candidate to run,” he said. “This was the so-called carefully organized machine that regained control of the convention.”
The movement began in the early 1960s, when Ralph Elliot a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, released a controversy commentary on the book of Genesis, in which he rejected the notion of biblical inerrancy.
“When Ralph Elliott wrote his book, I remember telling [my wife] Nancy, ‘We’re going to see Southern Baptists rise up as a man and take care of this problem that is so blatantly liberal.’ Instead, we saw nothing happen.... I was absolutely appalled by the way that was handled and that let me know there was liberalism.”
Following this clash, Pressler partnered with Patterson and began the effort to replace the liberal professors – not knowing how influential the movement will become.
“I thought what would happen was that we might add conservative professors to each seminary campus.... But God’s design was to clean house,” said Pressler. “Not in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be sitting here 25 years later talking about this. If I had known I had 25 years, I don’t think I could have measured up to it. God didn’t show us how difficult [it would be] until we were in the middle of it.”
Now, 25 years since the resurgence and liberals have yet to reverse the trend. To close his featured speech, Pressler expressed gratitude to God for the changes He had made.
“To come here [today] and to see this room filled, there is no way I can express my gratitude fully,” he said.
“We have 15,000 students in our seminaries. Every single one of our seminary presidents is a godly man who believes the Word and has a burden for souls. I literally weep for joy at what God has done and the future we have as Southern Baptists because of the victory that has been won.”