The Conservative Resurgence: An Annotated Bibliography


Adrian Rogers (1931-2005)

Since the early 1980s, dozens of scholarly or semi-scholarly books, dissertations, articles, and essays have been written about the Conservative Resurgence (CR) in the Southern Baptist Convention. The CR in the SBC began with the Houston Convention in 1979 and lasted through the end of the century. I would argue that the best ending date for the CR is 2000, the year the Baptist Faith and Message was revised. Though the “national” CR ended over a decade ago, statewide versions of the CR continued in some areas throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century.

The CR goes by many different names, depending upon one’s interpretation. The period has also been called the “Inerrancy Controversy,” “The Fundamentalist Takeover,” “The Fundamentalist-Moderate Controversy,” or simply “The Controversy.” Each of these labels contains some truth, though I opt to call the period the Conservative Resurgence because I believe this label best captures the heart of the issue. Grassroots theological conservatives, displeased with the leftward drift of many denominational servants, used democratic means to effect a leadership change in the Southern Baptist Convention.

This list of resources is not intended to be exhaustive, but it does represent some key works for those interested in studying the CR in greater detail. For the sake of space, I have not included any dissertations, though plenty have been written. Since my personal theological sympathies are with the resurgent conservatives who gained control of SBC leadership during the CR, my bias is reflected in my comments about these sources.

Primary Sources

Walter Shurden and Randy Shepley, eds., Going for the Jugular: A Documentary History of the SBC Holy War (Mercer University Press, 1996). This is the best place to start if you want to read sources such as press releases, excerpts from key sermons, resolutions, etc. The editors are moderates, so the introduction reflects their perspective.

Paige Patterson, Anatomy of a Reformation, 2nd ed. (Seminary Hill Press, 2004). Patterson was one of the three key leaders among conservatives, along with Paul Pressler and Adrian Rogers. This pamphlet reflects Patterson’s personal thoughts on the CR, including the major issues at stake and the rationale for the conservative strategy.

Paul Pressler, A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey (B&H, 1998). This book is Pressler’s autobiography. The latter half focuses on the CR. A personal anecdote: I was flirting with becoming a CBF-friendly moderate in college until I read this book. It literally changed the direction of my ministry.

Cecil Sherman, By My Own Reckoning (Smyth & Helwys, 2008). Sherman was perhaps the most important moderate leaders in the 1980s and 1990s, so the second half of his autobiography provides an interesting counterpoint to Pressler’s aforementioned memoir.

Grady Cothen, What Happened to the Southern Baptist Convention? A Memoir of the Controversy, 2nd ed. (Smyth & Helwys, 1993). Cothen was a vocal moderate leader and a former president of the SBC Sunday School Board. Another insightful memoir.

L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible, 2nd ed. (B&H Academic, 1999). Bush and Nettles argue that most Baptists have historically affirmed biblical inerrancy, though the term “inerrancy” is of recent vintage. This book, which was first published by Moody Press in 1980, has the distinction of being a secondary study in historical theology that functions as a primary source for one studying the CR.

Walter Shurden, ed., The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement (Mercer University Press, 1994). In these essays, key moderate leaders discuss why they formed alternative ministries to compete with SBC denominational ministries in the aftermath of the CR.

In 1985 and 1988, the journal Theological Educator published special editions dedicated to “The Controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention” and “Polarities in the Southern Baptist Convention,” respectively. Articles were written by key figures on both sides of the controversy. Theological Educator is the former faculty journal of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Conservative Secondary Sources

Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (B&H Academic, 2000). This is probably the most widely-used history of the CR written from a conservative perspective. It is triumphalistic in tone and relies too much on interviews with key conservative leaders, but it’s still essential reading.

James Hefley, The Truth in Crisis, 6 volumes (Hannibal Books, 1986-1991). This series provides a journalistic account of the CR written from a conservative perspective. Though clearly biased and largely uncritical in nature, Hefley gets some of the “human stories” of the CR that are missed by most other studies of the era.

Jason G. Duesing and Thomas White, “Neanderthals Chasing Bigfoot? The State of the Gender Debate in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 12, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 5-19. This article focuses upon the gender debate in the SBC, which is closely tied to the CR.

Nathan A. Finn, “Baptists and the Bible: The History of a History Book,” in Ministry By His Grace and For His Glory: Essays in Honor of Thomas J. Nettles, eds. Thomas K. Ascol and Nathan A. Finn (Founders Press, 2011), pp. 3-16. This essay focuses upon the reception and influence of the book Baptists and the Bible.

Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (Oxford University Press, 2009). The changes at Southern Seminary were some of the most explosive events related to the CR. Wills covers this material in chapters 10-13.

David S. Dockery, ed., Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future (Crossway, 2009). Several of the essays in this book discuss the CR and its legacy for Southern Baptists. See especially the essays by David Dockery, Al Mohler, Stan Norman, Greg Wills, and Nathan Finn.

Adam Greenway and Chuck Lawless, eds., The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time (B&H Academic, 2010). Another collection of essays that includes several chapters related to the CR. See especially the essays by Thom Rainer, Al Mohler, and Nathan Finn.

The Summer 2003 edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, the faculty journal of Southern Seminary, was dedicated to “Theology, Culture, and the SBC.” The articles interact with Barry Hankins’s book Uneasy in Babylon, which is discussed below. The Spring 2005 edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology was dedicated to “The Conservative Resurgence in the SBC.”

Moderate Secondary Sources

Walter Shurden, Not A Silent People: Controversies that Have Shaped Southern Baptists, 2nd ed. (Smyth & Helwys, 1995). Chapter 7 offers the best brief introduction to the CR written from a moderate perspective.

David Morgan, The New Crusades, the New Holy Land: Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1969-1991(University of Alabama Press, 1996). This is probably the best history of the CR written from a moderate perspective. Though I frequently disagree with Morgan’s interpretations, he does the best job of any author in describing conservative activism in the decade prior to 1979.

Nancy Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religion Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (Rutgers University Press, 1990). This is one of the most important books to come out of the controversy. Ammerman is a moderate sociologist who demonstrates the significant theological and cultural differences between conservatives and moderates.

Bill Leonard, God’s Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention (Eerdmans, 1990). Another standard moderate history. Leonard does the best job of describing what SBC culture was like prior to the CR, though Ammerman also covers some of this ground.

Bruce Gourley, The Godmakers: A Legacy of the Southern Baptist Convention (Providence House, 1996). This is not really a purely historical work because Gourley critiques the theological and especially ethical motivations of the “fundamentalists” who took over the SBC. For Gourley, the CR was more about power politics than theological renovation.

Barry Hankins, Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture (University of Alabama Press, 2003). In this important book, Hankins argues that SBC conservatives were at least as concerned with a socially conservative political agenda as they were biblical inerrancy. I’m sympathetic to Hankins’s thesis. The Summer 2003 edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology included several articles that interacted with Uneasy in Babylon, including a rejoinder by Hankins.

The October 1993 edition of the journal Baptist History and Heritage was dedicated to the CR. The contributors wrote from a mostly moderate perspective.

The Conservative Resurgence and Southeastern Seminary

Nathan A. Finn, “The Story of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1950-2000.” This short essay recounts the history of SEBTS during her first six decades, including the tumultuous years of the CR.

Thomas Bland, ed., Servant Songs: Reflections on the History and Mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1950-1988 (Smyth & Helwys, 1994). This collection of essays, written by moderate ex-SEBTS faculty members, provides a surprisingly candid account of what Southeastern was like prior to the conservative takeover of the trustee board in 1987.

Jason G. Duesing, “The Reclamation of Theological Integrity: L. Russ Bush III and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989-1992,” Christian Higher Education 9.3 (July 2010): 185-206. This fine journal article describes how former SEBTS dean Russ Bush implemented conservative changes at SEBTS prior to Paige Patterson’s presidency.

The Fall 2012 edition of The Outlook includes several popularly written articles about the CR at Southeastern in particular and among North Carolina Baptists in general.


If you’d like to download a slightly different version of this bibliography in PDF, then see Nathan A. Finn, “The Conservative Resurgence: An Annotated Bibliography.”

(Image credit)



On The GCR Declaration, Part 3

Lord willing, over the next few days I will be blogging through the GCR Declaration in anticipation of next week’s SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the third article in what I hope will be a series. As you read, please remember that while Between the Time is a group blog that includes a number of Southeastern Seminary professors, these articles (and every article I write) represent my own personal opinions. I speak only for myself, so please avoid imputing my views to any of my fellow contributors unless they have publicly spoken/written about these matters and you can cite their agreement. The comments are open, but because of the large volume of blogging I will be engaging in this week you will understand if I choose not to interact with many comments.

Article IV: A Commitment to Biblical Inerrancy and Sufficiency

I mentioned in a previous post that the GCR is, in my opinion, the logical next-step following the success of the Conservative Resurgence. This particular article, perhaps better than any other article, does a fine job of making that explicit. While the Conservative Resurgence was surely about more than inerrancy, there is little doubt that the full truthfulness of Scripture was the key rallying point for Convention conservatives. It is evidence of God’s grace that biblical inerrancy is, once again, a central affirmation of those who would draw a paycheck from our churches to serve as missionaries, teach in our seminaries, or work in our other denominational parachurch ministries.

Ditto on the GCR Declaration’s affirmation that the broader “Battle for the Bible” began just after creation and will continue until consummation. The Conservative Resurgence was just a single skirmish in one corner of the world, albeit one about which many of us care quite a bit!

As for biblical sufficiency, I think most Southern Baptists would agree in principle that, “It is not enough to believe that the Bible is inerrant; we must also be willing to submit to all of its teachings, even if that means we must relinquish our own preferences or human traditions”. The key is that we enjoy increasing unity as we seek to determine which of our practices might be “our own preferences or human traditions” (see below). I think this will be a tension point in our cooperation, but I don’t think it has to be a denominational “WMD” if we stay focused on Christ’s lordship and obeying the greatest commandments. Join me in praying that God will give wisdom to each of us, to all of our churches, and to every parachurch ministry within our denominational family.

Article V: A Commitment to a Healthy Confessional Center

I’ll probably camp out here for awhile. If you’ve been listening to podcast interviews with Johnny Hunt or reading the various print interviews with President Hunt or Danny Akin, you hopefully already know what this article does not mean. I am glad that they have made it clear that this document is not a rehashing of the argument from a couple years back that the BF&M is a “maximal” statement of faith and that no denominational parachurch ministry can articulate further parameters. While the BF&M 2000 is the document around which we choose to cooperate as Southern Baptists (and in many state conventions), every seminary or board should have the right to adopt entity-specific guidelines because each of them has a unique history, faces unique challenges, and embraces unique emphases.

I realize that some readers will take umbrage with this position because of the way they feel about specific guidelines (i.e. the IMB baptism and PPL guidelines, the SWBTS prohibition against women teaching Hebrew, or the use of the Abstract of Principles at SBTS and SEBTS). Now I think it is totally appropriate to debate the merits of a given entity’s guidelines, but I also think it is crucial to preserve the right of denominational parachurch ministries to adopt such guidelines. Remember that almost all Southern Baptists agree that our confession of faith is not an infallible creed but is a living document that is subject to revision as contexts change and new issues arise. It would be a tad awkward for us to claim that the BF&M says all that needs to be said, but then turn around in 15 or 20 years and revised it again (which you can bet will happen-it has happened once a generation thus far).

I like it that the GCR Declaration notes, “Like the best of confessions, the BF&M 2000 speaks most clearly to those doctrines wherein we enjoy greatest agreement and speaks more generally concerning areas where some differing opinions exist.” Simply put, the sections on ecclesiology are more specific than the sections on some of the finer points of soteriology for a reason (we are uniformly Baptist, but not uniformly Calvinist, Arminian, Amyraldian, Calminian, or “biblicist”). I would simply add that the BF&M also is silent on a number of matters wherein our churches are characterized by considerable differences of opinion.

To me the most important part of this article, at least in terms of our future cooperation, is the third paragraph. It is here that we find mention of the oft-debated “theological triage” terminology, a practice that I am convinced almost all of us affirm in principle. I don’t think most of us are debating whether or not we ought to practice such triage, but rather which doctrines fit into which categories (primary, secondary, tertiary). Is one’s position on the number of elders/pastors in each church secondary or tertiary? What about one’s views of election and the extent of the atonement? Are female deacons ever appropriate? Can women teach mixed Sunday School classes and/or choose to work outside the home? What about some practices traditionally associated with Pentecostal, Charismatic, and/or Third Wave Christians? Must one be properly baptized to participate in communion (this one’s particular tricky because the BF&M says one thing–and I agree with what it says–but many [most?] of our churches practice something different)? Where do styles and methods and cultural preferences and strategies fit in? Each of these is a live debate, and the list could go on.

I agree with the GCR Document that the BF&M will help guide us in these debates, but remember, as I mentioned in the last paragraph, the BF&M is ambiguous or even silent on some issues, including most of those mentioned in the previous paragraph. So even more than the BF&M, we will need wisdom and grace from on high as we interpret our inerrant and sufficient Bibles under the lordship of Jesus Christ for the sake of the gospel and the health of our churches and parachurch ministries. To the degree that we do this, I think we will be doing theological triage with biblical integrity and Christian charity.

The Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence

The Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence

By Nathan A. Finn

The past couple of years have witnessed increasing calls for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) in the Southern Baptist Convention. We at BtT are unabashedly committed to this vision for the Convention. Danny Akin was one of the first SBC leaders to embrace the GCR terminology and has addressed the topic in multiple sermons, conference addresses, and book chapters. All of us have contributed to an ongoing BtT series titled “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence.” Bruce Ashford and I are currently editing a collection of essays advocating a GCR. This is our hope for the Convention’s future.

One reason that we are such advocates of a GCR is because we are such strong believers in the Conservative Resurgence (CR). Each of us are second or third generation products of the CR. We firmly believe the SBC is a fundamentally healthier denomination in 2009 than it was in 1979. We are pleased with the overall direction our Convention has taken over the course of the last generation. We do not want to see a return to the pre-CR status quo, which we believe was characterized by an atheological, pragmatic commitment to cooperation that tolerated a variety of unbiblical convictions. We sincerely believe that a GCR is nothing more or less than the next step in the reformation of the SBC that began thirty years ago.

We believe the CR was a theologically motivated grassroots movement to gain control of SBC leadership for the purpose of facilitating theological renewal within the denomination. Conservative success came in several stages. First, the Convention elected a string of conservative presidents who used their appointive powers to secure conservative trustees for each of our entities. Second, with the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991, moderates began to disengage from the Convention in increasing numbers, a trend that actually began during the mid-1980s. Third, the Covenant for a New Century was approved in 1995 and implemented in 1997, leading to a needed bureaucratic restructuring of the denomination. Fourth, the Baptist Faith and Message was amended in 1998 so as to reflect biblical gender and family views. Finally, the Convention adopted a substantial revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000 (BF&M), resulting in the codification of the conservative theological convictions that inspired the CR.

Our agencies, boards, and seminaries are now led by conservative administrators who are accountable to conservative trustees. We affirm a thoroughly conservative confession of faith. LifeWay is producing conservative curricula and developing conservative programs for use in our churches. Our future pastors and missionaries are being taught conservative theology in our seminaries and a growing number of state Baptist colleges. Our professors are pursuing conservative scholarship that is often relevant to what happens in local churches. Our missionaries are planting conservative churches all over North America and to the ends of the earth. This is the fruit of the CR, and Lord willing, it will be the root of a GCR.

Perhaps the best terms to explain our perception of the relationship between the two resurgences are foundation and permeation. The CR is the foundation of the GCR. We agree with Paige Patterson’s contention that a high view of Scripture is the epistemological starting place from which to resolve every issue in the SBC. Simply put, Southern Baptists are now in a better position to pursue kingdom priorities because of our unswerving commitment to the inerrancy of Christian Scripture and its full sufficiency in all matters of faith and practice. Furthermore, the theology articulated in the BF&M provides us with a basic theological consensus from which we can cooperate together in accomplishing all that God would have for us as a Convention.

While the CR has bequeathed to us a healthy foundation from which to pursue a GCR, it must be more than our launching pad. Biblical theology must permeate everything we do, lest we see a gradual return to the pragmatism of the older consensus. To say it a different way, our theological renewal must lead to methodological renewal as our churches strive to be biblical, covenantal, and missional communities that are shaped by the gospel and spread that good news to all people. As a Convention of churches, our thinking rightly about God needs to issue forth in a living rightly before God. And living rightly before God will mean embracing His missional priorities as they are articulated in Christ’s Great Commission to his people.

Our Convention now stands at a crossroads. We can choose to rest on past victories and turn them into half victories. As Timothy George observed over a decade ago, “The exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another doth not a reformation make.” It we allow the CR to become an end unto itself, we will become increasingly self-satisfied, arrogant, and insular. We will continue to shoot at each other over secondary and tertiary matters, try to out-Baptist one another, and pursue our own little intradenominational fiefdoms. Most important, we will not honor Christ.

Or we can choose the better way and work towards a new consensus. We can allow our love for God and His gospel, our love for one another, and our love of Scripture to ignite in us a renewed burden for the lost and a heart for the nations. We can contend for the faith, including biblical authority and sufficiency, without fracturing over matters not addressed in the BF&M. We can embody the best of our historic theological identity as a missional network of Baptist churches in our 21st century context. If we choose this latter path, we believe that by God’s grace the Conservative Resurgence will blossom into a Great Commission Resurgence. And God will get all the glory.

The time is now. The choice is ours. Join us in praying that we choose wisely by laboring together on behalf of a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.