August 21, 2017

Comments on Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

Don Johnson

In 1920, concerned Baptists of the Northern Baptist Convention met prior to the Convention in what was called the Pre-Convention Conference. With this meeting the Fundamentalist Fellowship was formed and the opening salvos in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy were fired. We are reproducing here the messages that were preached at that Conference as collected and published in a book, Baptist Fundamentals.

We have seen among the messages reproduced so far something of a moderating tone in some messages. The Pre-Convention Conference was a mixed assembly. Some participants were not willing to really take a forthright stand against liberalism.

The message we highlight this week is a strong message, but Roland McCune reports[1] that the man who delivered it, John Marvin Dean, is considered in the moderate party. David Beale describes Dean’s activities leading up to the 1920 meeting this way:

“Moderate conservatives, under John Marvin Dean’s leadership, established Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is located in Lombard, Illinois, outside the NBC in 1913 as a reaction to the liberalism at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Dean’s Second Baptist Church provided the facilities until 1920. In 1919, however, Northern affiliated with the NBC and dropped Fundamentalists W. B. Riley and J. R. Stratton from the advisory board. For a number of years the seminary’s faculty consisted of a heterogeneous group of both liberal-backed and evangelical men.”[2]

What does it mean to be a moderate conservative? It means to hold to the fundamental doctrines of the faith but be somewhat broad in associations. John Marvin Dean’s activities as seen in these snippets of history, coupled with his excellent message on the deity of Christ clearly demonstrate this paradox. His message is one that resonates with Fundamentalists, yet actions and associations matter. The first student at Northern, and one of its first graduates, was a woman, Amy Lee Stocton, who went on to a lengthy evangelistic career.

Despite these concerns, there are some key elements in Dean’s message that ought to have moved him and the other moderates to a more forthright contention for the faith they believed. Here are some samples if you haven’t yet read yesterday’s post:

Baptists claim that no sin compares with the rejection of Christ as God and Saviour. The Baptist’s message to the world is, “Turn from sin and self-sufficiency and fall at the Sovereign Saviour’s feet.” The Baptists feel that he is blind indeed who has not seen the glory of Christ’s deity. Baptists do not deify Christ, for one cannot “godify” God. They only, with very great reverence and godly fear and with unutterable tenderness, recognize and acclaim the eternal fact of the Triune God, and call upon rebellious men to join with angels and with saints and with the innumerable witnesses of the vast creation in unitedly adoring the Christ of God.

~~~

We have been Trinitarians so long that we forget these utterances fell from the lips of men who had been the most intense of Unitarians. When pious Israelites, born and matured in the most radical of monotheistic schools, teach the preexistence and eternal nature of an earthly human associate, their words should not only have the value of gold but the weight of gold.

Why did the apostles teach the preexistence of Christ? The facts compelled them to.

~~~

Their vivid conviction as to his Deity photographed like a flash of lightning upon their sensitized hearts an indescribably strong devotion to his person. Who would have dared suggest to them the whittling and belittling conceptions of Christ contained in modern liberalism? They cut their way sharply through the false religions and confusing philosophies and corrupt culture of their day. No system, however pretentious or subtle or insinuating, could daunt or defeat or swerve these first Baptists, for they had stood on the holy mount with Christ. He alone could save. He alone could organize his Church. He alone would be permitted to present to it its doctrines. And he alone would be recognized in the executing or the changing of its ordinances. They worshiped him. And their spiritual children still worship him!

After listing a series of worthy stalwarts of the faith from the past, Dean asks these piercing questions:

Did they not know the Divine Christ? Did they not march under Immanuel’s banner? Did they not gladly bow the knee to the Supernal Son of God? Did they not know him in whom they had believed? Were they the sons of doubt or the sons of faith? Shall we substitute for their kind of leadership the endless interrogations of the German universities? Shall we shrink our thoughts of the Christ to fit the latitudinarianism of the hour? Or shall we expand them in a worthy attempt to make room within our minds and hearts for the transcendent facts that have to do with a proper faith in God the Son of God?

These are not the days to believe less.

You can see that this preacher is strong on the deity of Christ, forthright in his preaching of the doctrine. Nevertheless, in denominational politics, he proved to be a voice of moderation. Actions are as important as words. Orthopraxy must accompany orthodoxy. We are seeing that moderation is no virtue when the fundamentals are being contested.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


Link to Baptist Fundamentals and other works available in Logos format as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives, produced by Maranatha Baptist University.

Baptist Fundamentals series:

Introduction

Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Historic Baptist Principles? … or the seed of defeat in the soil of revival

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (1)

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (2)

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage

Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

  1. Roland McCune, “The Formation of the New Evangelicalism (Part One): Historical and Theological Antecedents,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 3 (1998): 25. []
  2. David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism since 1850 (Greenville, S.C: Unusual Publications, 1986), 179–80. For more on the history of Northern Seminary, see here. Also see here for the founding of Northern Seminary and the early leadership of John Marvin Dean. []


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