James Boyce, Southern Seminary & Confessions

As Boyce stated and made clear during the birth of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) “Three Changes” were a must to build a common theological seminary in the South. Boyce suggested three ideals that SBTS should embody, that they may stand strong for the years to come. The first being openness, a seminary for everyone and anyone who was called by God regardless of academic background or social status. Second, was excellence. Boyce was intent upon establishing an advanced program of theological study which in its academic rigor would be compared with they type of instruction that was being offered at Princeton, Andover, Harvard, and Yale. However it is the third change that Boyce brought to SBTS that would establish a set of doctrines that must be held and a confessional guidelines for those that taught at SBTS. Timothy George sheds light about this in his work Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (which I started reading this week and highly recommend reading);

The third ideal was confessional identity. Boyce proposed that the seminary be established on a set of doctrinal principles that would provide consistency and direction for the future. This, too, was a radical step in the context of nineteenth-century Baptist life. Newton Theological Institute, the first seminary founded by Baptists in America, had no such confessional guidelines. Nor, indeed, did the Southern Baptist Convention, organized in 1845. However, Boyce firmly believed that it was necessary to protect the seminary from doctrinal erosion. From his student days in New England, Boyce was aware of the recent currents in theology: Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, the New Divinity. In particular, he spoke against the “blasphemous doctrines” of Theodore Parker, who had denied that Christianity was based on a special revelation of God. At the same time he was concerned about populist theologies in the South, and warned against the “twin errors of Campbellism and Arminianism.”

Two things come to mind. One while all three are true of SBTS today, some more than others, it does interest me today why SBTS would use dominantly and primarily use Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine and not their own confessional standards, The Abstract of Systematic Theology written by their founder James Boyce’s. Then second, if the Abstracts by Dr. Boyce truly came from the Philadelphia Confession, which came from the 2nd London Baptist Confession, which had agreed with the Cannons of Dort, then how could an Arminian Professor sign and adhere to the Abstracts to teach at SBTS?

***Quote taken from Timothy George and David S. Dockery, Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 77.


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