One of my frustrations as a Baptist history professor is that many of my students, particularly those under age 35 or so, cannot name one well-known Southern Baptist preacher from the 20th century. In my Baptist history class last fall, there was not one student–not one–who had ever heard of George Truett, R. G. Lee, W. A. Criswell, Herschel Hobbs, or even Adrian Rogers. There were a couple who knew who Jerry Vines was, but that was because of the John 3:16 Conference and not because of his years of pastoral ministry. The only exceptions I find regularly are Billy Graham and Charles Stanley, though many of the students don’t know Graham is Southern Baptist and most know little about Stanley besides the fact that he comes on TV and he is Andy’s dad.
Part of this is just being young. I only knew of three well-known Baptist preachers before I graduated high school, and that was because a couple (Vines and Stanley) were on TV every Sunday morning and the other (Rogers) came on the radio every day. I was in college before I learned about many of our most well-known preachers, and that was in part because I was studying Baptist history and theology in my spare time by the time I was 22 (weird, I know).
Technology also plays a role in all of this. Earlier generations of Baptist collegians and seminarians knew who some of our leading preachers were because, like me, they heard them on the radio or watched them on TV. Southern Baptist megachurch pastors were among the pioneers of the so-called “electronic church,” and one result of that was that they were familiar figures at least regionally, and sometimes nationally. Today’s version of the electronic church is podcasting, which is one reason why one of the most well-known contemporary Southern Baptist pastors among my students is Matt Chandler, a Dallas pastor who is mostly uninvolved in the wider denomination. Chandler reaches them through technology, and–listen well–like Rogers on the radio and Vines on the tube, it doesn’t cost my students a dime.
As a guy who wants my generation (and coming generations) to appreciate their predecessors, I was thrilled to learn that the W. A. Criswell Sermon Library will soon make all of the famed pastor’s sermons available for download. Furthermore, they will podcast some of Dr. Criswell’s most popular sermon series. This will be an invaluable source of inspiration (and education!) for years to come. Many thanks to the folks at the Criswell Library for their diligent work in this matter–this is one young Southern Baptist who is thankful for their labor of love.
(Note: Love Worth Finding, the preaching ministry of the late Adrian Rogers, continues to make Dr. Rogers’ sermons and books available through the internet and podcast.)