Home > Books > Humphreys: The Way We Were (1994)

Humphreys: The Way We Were (1994)

I’ve been so busy with so many things lately I’ve only had time for recreational reading when I’m actually on an airplane, and then mostly just during the parts of the flight that are unsafe for electronics and not too bumpy. I’ve been trying to catch up on the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly in the period 1975-1990 or so, during what is sometimes called the Conservative Resurgence. I’m a couple of volumes into James Hefley’s six-volume The Truth in Crisis, which is a mix of straight reporting and argument for the conservative position, and I’ve found myself returning to Fisher Humphreys’s 1994 book The Way We Were, which deals more with the ideas behind the moderate position.

I’m picking “conservative” and “moderate” here after Hefley’s use of the terms, without necessarily agreeing that this is the right way to describe the conflict. Humphreys’s description of the conflict is cleaner; Hefley gives more of the nuance. “Conservative” and “moderate” are probably better terms for describing the ideological conflict; they’re not as helpful in describing the politics.

Humphrey lays out the conflict in historical terms as a sort of sea change: the Convention has always had a set of majority traditions and a set of minority traditions, and in the present conflict that balance is changing somehow. This descriptive formulation has with it a near-twin prescriptive formulation that goes something like this: “these traditions are Baptist; those traditions are not,” and for Humphreys the change in balance among various traditions is a betrayal of Baptist heritage.

He lays out the groups of traditions by first locating the Baptists in the context of Christian historical belief: as Christian, as Protestant, as uniquely Baptist, and as revivalist. It’s important to note that Humphreys is making a distinction between the latter two; I am inclined to see this as the imprint in Humphreys’s analysis of a demographic reality that loomed large in the political fight, namely that the conservative churches typically had lots of baptisms while the moderate churches typically had relatively few. But that’s another topic for another day.

Here’s Humphreys’s list of beliefs Baptists share with all Christians:

  1. There is one God
  2. God created the world
  3. The world is a fallen world
  4. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  5. The Father sent His Son into the world
  6. Jesus lived, preached, taught, loved, died, and rose again, to save the world
  7. The Father and the Son poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church
  8. The Spirit guides and empowers the Church on its world mission
  9. The Church preaches the Gospel and observes the ordinances of Christ
  10. God will complete His work in the future
  11. The Bible tells us this wonderful story

Humphreys appeals to the Baptist Faith and Message and The Baptist Hymnal as evidence that Southern Baptists believe these things; he doesn’t really have a reference to say that they are shared by all Christians, but I’m willing to give him a pass on that. I don’t know how I would go about proving “all Christians” believe almost any particular thing; the believers define the belief and vice versa and it’s a matter of choice whether we situate one or the other as fundamental. Beyond that I have to say that there are specific beliefs or practices that may from one perspective define a particular believer as either a heterodox Christian or an apostate, and between the two there are often distinctions but not differences.

It’s a helpful list, though, and there’s not much I can disagree with here. He appeals to 2 Corinthians 5 for his use of the word “world” in point 6 and doesn’t elaborate; point 7 has one of the shortest discussions, and he ignores any questions of whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or the Father and the Son; he says “ordinances” instead of “sacraments” in point 9; he explicitly defers the question of inerrancy in point 11. I think given the nature of the discussion this is a pretty helpful list. For those of us who grew up without creeds and confessions (a point Humphreys returns to later) it is sometimes helpful to try to write down a list like this.

Next Humphreys situates the Southern Baptist Convention as a Protestant denomination, and again he’s more focused on beliefs rather than history. But that’s another topic for another post.


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