Understanding the Conservative Resurgence

As a relative newcomer to the Southern Baptist Convention (since 2000), I have benefited greatly from reading several books about the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. I would not be a Southern Baptist today were it not for the changes in the agencies of the SBC which were achieved by the Conservative Resurgence. Additionally, I have benefited greatly on a personal level from the Conservative Resurgence by the solid biblical training which I received as a M.Div. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

By the term “Conservative Resurgence” I am referring to the return to a view of Biblical inerrancy and authority by the convention. This movement was largely a grass-roots movement by ordinary Southern Baptists who recovered the denominational structures from moderate control. These efforts are normally considered to have been orchestrated by two men: Judge Paul Pressler and Dr. Paige Patterson.

The Conservative Resurgence officially began with the election of Adrian Rogers as President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979. A conservative has been elected as president of the convention each year since. The significance of the election of a conservative president is that the president has the power to appoint members of the Committee on Committees which in turn appoints the members of the Committee on Nominations which then appoints individuals to the various boards of trustees of the entities of the SBC. Given enough years of electing a conservative president of the SBC who would appoint only conservatives to the Committee on Committees, eventually a majority of the boards of the entities of the SBC would be conservative. These boards determine the direction of the institutions on behalf of the constituency of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. With boards which were conservative theologically, the institutions themselves began to be shaped into a conservative direction. It took a number of years for this plan to work, but by the mid 1990s conservatives were in leadership in the six Southern Baptist seminaries and leading the other agencies of the convention.

I have often had to explain the Conservative Resurgence to life-long Southern Baptists. Listed below are some of the best sources which I have read which have helped me understand the historic shift in the theology of the SBC. I encourage both Southern Baptists and non-Southern Baptists alike to study this topic.

  • Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention by Nancy Ammerman.  This book was written by a moderate sociologist who nevertheless understood the theological basis for the Conservative Resurgence.
  • Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture by Barry Hankins.  Another great work written by a moderate about the Conservative Resurgence.  This one is a historical study and is based upon extensive research and interviews with the primary participants in the controversy.
  • A Hill on Which to Die by Paul Pressler.  An autobiographical account of the Conservative Resurgence by a man whom many consider to be its chief architect (along with Paige Patterson).  Engaging and easy to read, if you have to read only one, read this one.
  • The Baptist Reformation by Jerry Sutton.  A more technical survey of the changes in each of the entities of the SBC during the Conservative Resurgence.  Very thorough.   The most tedious to read of the four books listed here (in my opinion).  Written by one sympathetic to the conservative movement.

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