William Brackney on Baptist Theological Education: Premium but not Perfect
In William H. Brackney's A Genetic History of Baptist Thought, he offers the interested reader a veritable Who's Who of the movers and shakers in Baptist theological education in America beginning circa 1800. Chapters six & seven have a whopping 179 pages on the Baptist "Schoolmen." The lion's share obviously goes to Northern Baptists since they not only had more schools but had the first schools. Brackney introduced me to influential Baptist scholars and theologians about whom I'd never heard even in advanced Baptist history classes in seminary (there is always the possibility the professor spoke of these influencers the day I either cut class or dozed off during the lecture!).
With all the positives I could mention about this volume, there remain a few deficiencies to be noted in Brackney's history of theological education among Southern Baptists.
First, concerning Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Brackney virtually overlooks the work of John A. Broadus (1827-1895) who was one of the original professors at Southern; succeeded James P. Boyce (1827-1888) as the second president of Southern; was a world-class New Testament scholar; possessed a well known reputation as a professor of preaching; and was a highly sought-after preacher in churches and conferences all over the United States.
For all this, about the only ink Broadus gets in Brackney's work is an extended footnote (pp. 398-99) acknowledging that while some historians attribute the theological cast set at Southern seminary to Broadus, Brackney disagrees and gives that honor to James P. Boyce. One would be hard pressed to disagree with Brackney's dissent concerning who set the original theological pace at Southern seminary (to me, it's futile to insist it was any other than Boyce). Even so, not placing Broadus among the theological movers and shakers of early Southern Baptists seems to be a noteworthy overlook.
Second, another theologian at Southern seminary Brackney overlooked is E. C. Dargan (1852-1930). Dargan taught at Southern from 1892-1907 and while lesser known still made a significant impact among Southern Baptists. After leaving Southern in 1907, Dargan influenced a generation of grassroots Baptists as a pastor and served on various convention committees including the committee that successfully presented the first convention-wide confession of faith Southern Baptists adopted in 1925.
Third, Brackney presents the conventional trajectory that the historical shift away from strong Calvinism at Southern seminary began with E. Y. Mullins (1860-1928). Brackney appears to lean heavily upon Tom Nettles' work in drawing this conclusion.
In response, there seems to be a significant amount of evidence that the theological shift away from Calvinism had already begun before Mullins was elected president at Southern. For example, F. H. Kerfoot (1847-1901) was the theological successor to the chair of theology upon Boyce's death in 1888 and held the chair for ten years. And while Brackney mentions that Kerfoot edited Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology (p. 403), making the edition one of Kerfoot's most significant contributions to Baptist thought, he fails to mention that Kerfoot edited Boyce's work so significantly, that Boyce's strict Calvinism was seriously diluted (most of the challenges to Boyce's work are in extended footnotes).