In 1996 Founders Press was launched with the modest offering of a small booklet entitled, From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention: What Hath Geneva to Do with Nashville? The purpose of the booklet was to help argue the historical point that Southern Baptists have much in common with other Protestant heirs of the Reformation. Specifically, the concern was to demonstrate that the doctrinal heritage of the SBC is firmly entrenched in that Reformed theology known as the “doctrines of grace.”
To most Baptists who have taken the time to investigate our denominational roots, that point seems hardly debatable today. Even the most strident opponents of the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation (well, for the most part) now recognize that dimensions of Reformed theology influenced the origins of the SBC. Sometimes that influence is minimized to one of two or more “streams” that conflated to form the convention, but at least it is acknowledged.
The issue of Southern Baptist origins is not really of supreme importance. Far more significant than what was once believed is what the Bible actually says. But history does have some important lessons to teach us. Humility dictates that we consider the theological convictions of those on whose shoulders we stand. We owe them this because of their many labors that still benefit us today. We owe it to ourselves because if what they believed was true in their day, then it is still true in our day because God’s truth does not change.
From the Protestant Reformation uses a historical argument in order to make that theological point. What our forefathers believed and taught about the nature of God’s saving grace is worthy of our careful study. They were men committed to the authority and clarity of God’s Word just as strongly as we are today. They did exegesis and exposition just as we do. We should be willing to listen to them.
Perhaps they were wrong. If we become convinced of that then let’s be bold to state it plainly. If we are unwilling to make that conclusion, then let’s allow for the legitimacy of their doctrinal views and not fight against the growing recovery of them in our day.
In this issue of the Founders Journal we are reprinting an updated and expanded version of the original Founders Press booklet. The most notable revision is found in the new material that has been added to the section on Sandy Creek and the Separate Baptist tradition. In addition, the article by Earl Blackburn elaborates the “five solas” of the Reformation and shows their abiding significance for churches in every age.
Baptists have a rich theological heritage. Lessons from that heritage can serve us well as we chart a God-glorifying course for the future.