Editorial note: We are in the midst of a series of posts from the messages delivered at the Pre-Convention Conference of the Northern Baptist Convention, 1920. From the Conference the Fundamental Fellowship was formed which is today known as the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. The messages from the conference were published in a book called Baptist Fundamentals. The book has been digitized by Maranatha Baptist University and is available as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives collection in Logos format, available here. Links to previous posts will appear at the end of this post.
Our last look at the Baptist Fundamentals was a lengthy message by A. C. Dixon mainly focused on the subject of Biblical opposition to evolution. The point of taking on this subject, however, was to demonstrate that Universities of the day were centered around the wrong things. Their center was the sciences, when in fact it should be the Bible.
In coming to this point, Dr. Dixon was eloquent on the subject of creation by the direct act of God, demonstrating keen insight into these issues that seem, in some ways, far beyond his time. His message could be preached today with little alteration in light of subsequent discoveries. Perhaps this is because he is preaching the timeless and matchless Word of God?
Consider his view of the Bible:
The Bible is God’s dictionary of definitions, and its authority is the highest. When God defines sin, salvation, heaven, hell, or any other subject, it is wise to accept his definition as final. He knows.
Today men will call themselves evangelicals, but they will approach the Bible as if it is myth, as if it couldn’t possibly mean to describe Adam as a literal person of history, as if no such thing as a universal flood ever occurred. Science is too big in their minds; the Bible is too small. Not so with A. C. Dixon:
“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and let the fowl fly above the earth.” As in the vegetable, so in the animal kingdom, the mature product comes first, not the life germ producing the living creature, but the living creature that has the life germ. Not the egg that produces the fowl, but the fowl that produces the egg. This is economy of miracle. If the germ of animal or egg of fowl comes first, then there must be a series of many miracles to produce the mature product without the fostering care of motherhood. But if the mature product comes first, reproduction takes place by natural law. No further miracle is needed. We will not pause to view this in relation to present-day science. Of that later. What appears now is that the Genesis record places the mature product first, whatever its relation to modern “science.”
Getting towards his point of the place the Bible ought to have at the center of the modern university, he says:
“God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be open, and ye shall be as gods, KNOWING.” “Reject God’s revelation, or act independently of it, and your sphere of knowledge will be enlarged. Now you know only good; then you shall know good and evil.” This enlargement of knowledge marks the difference between heaven and earth, if not between heaven and hell. In heaven they know only the good; in hell only the evil; on earth good and evil. A desire to know the evil as well as the good has wrecked the character of many a young man in a few weeks after he has come from the pure atmosphere of a Christian home in the country to the great city with its monstrous mixture of good and evil.
Some of our educational institutions do not hesitate to offer to students in lecture and text-book the evil as well as the good. At the commencement of a theological seminary, I heard the baccalaureate speaker say that seminaries ought to keep on their faculties at least one heretical professor, so that the students may learn the other side. That is, one professor at least should be permitted to play the part of Satan by calling in question or denying the revelation from God, so that the students may know the evil as well as the good. Another proof that the personality in Eden still lives, and has to do with the preparation of baccalaureate addresses.
What should govern our thinking, science or the Bible?
Now, though I confess a repugnance to the idea that an ape or an orang-outang was my ancestor, I have been willing to accept the humiliating fact, if proved; but the more I have investigated, the more thoroughly I have been convinced that, if I am to be an evolutionist and thus keep up with the modern academic drift, I must refuse to let the gray matter of my brain work, while I permit others to do my thinking for me and accept their authority, not because of the reasons they give for their theory, but solely because of their eminence in the literary and educational world. But there are insurmountable difficulties in the way of my permitting eminence to decide this matter for me.
Commenting on two forms of evolutionary thought, the strictly naturalistic and the compromising theistic, Dixon observes that neither one can satisfactorily answer ultimate questions on the origin of life.
Naturalistic evolution which ignores God has no explanation of the origin of life. And theistic evolution which admits that God must have created matter and introduced life can give no good reason why a God who introduces one kind of life into suitable environment, should not introduce another kind of life under similar fitting conditions.
What is the answer to the challenges of an unbelieving world? To overturn the unbelieving disorder in the places of learning, putting God and Bible at the center and calling students to humbly learn in submission to God and his word.
It was hoped that this world war, with its unutterable horrors, would open the eyes of the educators of England and France to the wreck of faith and character which their scientific and theological dreamers had wrought; but, instead of that, the religious, liberal leaders of England and France, realizing that their rationalistic theories and their books based upon them are in danger, are reasserting with nervous haste their destructive teachings. While victory on the side of liberty and humanity has checked, if not destroyed, German militarism, it remains for those who believe and love the Bible to mobilize and fight the battle for the truth which has given to the world its passion for liberty and humanity. …
But do not think of Satan as Doré painted him, with horns, hoofs, bats’ wings, and forked tail. Such a monster could tempt no one, except to run and get out of his way. Paul declares that Satan in this age is transformed as a messenger of light. His mission is to give light, historic light, scientific light, all kinds of light, if by any means he may satisfy the world with light without Him who is the light of the world. Satan would have our colleges, universities, seminaries, and churches blazing centers of light without the Light, Christ Jesus, as atoning Saviour, and Satan wishes his ministers to be ministers of righteousness. His favorite is the ethical minister who preaches a high standard of morality and humanity, urging people to be good and to do good without salvation through the atoning blood of Christ. …
In some universities the theological schools are clustered about the halls of history, philosophy, and science. It is time that the order should be reversed. Let the Bible school with teachers who believe in the infallible Book and give Christ preeminence in all realms, be at the center with the halls of history, philosophy, and science clustered about it. Let the Sun, and not the earth, be the center of God’s solar system of truth.
Dixon was speaking in a day when there were still many great universities ostensibly under the control of Christian denominational structures. He recognized their peril as secular thought and worldly foci were turning them from their spiritual purpose. Perhaps it was idealistic to expect much to change in those colleges and universities that were controlled by secular bodies, but surely it would have been a blessing to the world if the Baptist universities of his day had returned to the faith-building purposes for which they were founded.
Instead, the battles with the modernists resulted in the loss of those educational institutions. The fundamentalists had to regroup and start over in many cases. Perhaps they were too slow, and perhaps they should have come to that conclusion sooner than they did. Nevertheless, we should take warning for our present situation. The colleges and universities that fundamentalists support today are not directly challenged by modernism as schools were in the 1920s. But there are pressures on them today to be more appealing to a broader spectrum of professing Christians. Will we be starting over again in a few decades, if the Lord tarries? I hope not, but constant vigilance and persistent faithfulness is required.
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: