W. T. Conner taught systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for 39 years beginning in 1910. The bio from The Texas State Historical Association sums up his academic life well:
Conner's enduring legacy to Southern Baptist life lies in his thirty-nine-year teaching career at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary... In the classroom he endeavored to make theology practical rather than speculative; in the faculty his recommendations for prospective teachers were tantamount to administrative approval; and in the administration his long tenure provided continuity from the first president to the third. Systematic theology was Conner's main responsibility, and he soon distinguished himself as the preeminent Southern Baptist theologian during the 1930s and 1940s. As a theologian he was at home among both laymen and scholars. His lectures and books were written with the layman in mind, but they display an underlying academic depth and extensive knowledge of his field. His theology reflects the influence of three former professors: Benajah H. Carroll of Baylor, A. H. Strong of Rochester, and E. Y. Mullins of Louisville. But Conner's theology still displays his own acumen; his theological works reflect a biblical rather than systematic approach.
Like many other historic Southern Baptists, Conner is described as more aligned with biblicism than human systematization of God's Word so often found in historic scholastic Calvinism. One example suffices.
In his Faith of the New Testament (First Edition, 1940), Conner deals with Augustinian and Federal theories of inherited guilt from Adam. In a chapter entitled, "Paul's Doctrine of Sin" (pp.277-294), he makes several statements suggesting the New Testament knows no such doctrine as imputed sinful guilt but only inherited sinful nature from Adam. Consider:
- "He says in Ephesians 2:3 that we are by nature the children of wrath. This usually has been taken to mean that we are subject to God's displeasure in the state in which we are born. This seems to be the most natural explanation. But it must be confessed that the expression by nature does not always mean by birth. It would be difficult to make it mean this in Romans 2:14 when he says that Gentiles do by nature the things of the law. Also in our passage (Eph. 2:3) he emphasizes in the context of deeds of wickedness, a course of actual transgression... It must be confessed that this (the context) would be against an interpretation that would hold that Paul was speaking of the condition of infants before they come to moral consciousness or engage in sin. But what he rather seems to be saying is that men by birth (or nature) are so inclined to evil that they naturally (as we say) live a life of wickedness, and so are subject to God's wrath. He does not mean nature apart from a course of life nor a course of life apart from nature, but nature expressing itself in life... So, it is true--and this is perhaps the heart of Paul's doctrine of "original sin"--that a moral agent may begin life with a moral handicap... The world in which we live is one that has a terrible downward pull in it. So is there a downward pull in man's own inner life." (pp. 279-280, italics original)
- "We are safe in saying that no member of Adam's race will be eternally lost apart from personal choice and personal guilt." (p. 281)
- "I think Paul in Romans 5:12ff might justify us in saying that whatever of evil entail comes to us by virtue of our race connections and race heritage1 is taken care of in Christ. Up to the point of personal transgression all our sin and evil consequences of sin are taken care of in Christ's redemptive work" (ibid)
- "Did Paul believe in total depravity? That depends on one's definition of total depravity...But in the sense that all man's powers have been affected by sin, and that man within himself is totally helpless in its power; in this sense man is, Paul held, totally depraved." (pp.283-284)
- "Let me say that I think Romans 5:12-21 has been given too prominent and determinative a place in Paul's doctrine of sin--in fact, in the whole discussion of sin in Christian theology... in Romans 5:12-21, Paul is not discussing primarily the question of sin and condemnation. In this passage he is discussing the sweep of Christ's redemptive work." (p.287)
- "Any interpretation of this passage (5:12-21) that makes unconscious infants, or anybody else, subject to eternal death apart from personal choice and wilful sin is inconsistent with the apostle's argument in 1:18ff." (p.289)
- "...I do not believe that Paul meant to teach that any man was condemned to eternal death apart from his own personal activity as a morally responsible agent" (p.291)
- "As to a theory, then, that will explain how we are guilty of Adam's sin, we need no such theory for the simple reason that we have no such guilt. Guilt is a personal matter and is not possible apart from a personal agent who is morally responsible." (ibid)
- "Sin, then, under the law becomes trepass because of wilful disobedience. Depravity becomes guilt when perversely acted out. Paul, then, it seems, believed in sin (depravity) as inherent and universal...This evil potentiality becomes transgression and personal guilt when men rebel against God as he has made himself known to them." (p.293)
The above quotations suffice to establish that the renowned Texas theologian, W.T. Conner, held precisely the view of the Traditional Statement concerning the post-fall condition of the human soul; namely, that while we inherit a sinful nature, to us is not imputed sinful guilt.
1Conner does not mean by "race" the term "racial" or any connotation concerning ethnicity. Rather for him, "race" would be equitable to "humanity" or "humanness" and, thus, in the context above, fallen humanness