Sunday, October 17, 2010

Carroll. Inspiration of the Bible - A Book Review

Carroll, B. H. Inspiration of the Bible. Edited by J. B. Cranfill. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1980. 137 pp. $6.50.

A self described infidel, until he found the Lord in 1865, Carroll, after having read Voltaire, Epicurus, Zeno, Huxley, and Darwin, just to name a few, and having found "nothing under the whole heaven; absolutely nothing" worth having in them, was taken hold of by the Bible's "unearthly power" (132-4). Knowing that his calling was to preach, Carroll was ordained in 1866, preached to small churches in Burleson County, and then became the pastor, in 1870, of First Baptist Church, Waco. After two years at the Texas Baptist Education Commission, he taught theology and Bible at Baylor, organized Baylor Theological Seminary, and was central to the founding of Southwestern Theological Seminary, serving as its first president. His preaching and his ministry were centered on the Word of God, whose inspiration is the focus of the present volume.


A candidate for the World's Guinness Book of Records for the number of forwards in its 1980 edition (one each by W. A. Criswell, J. B. Cranfill, George W. Truett, and L. R. Scarborough, in addition to an introduction by Paige Patterson), Inspiration of the Bible (a delayed volume edited and first published posthumously, in 1930, by J. B. Cranfill) is bracketed by the statement on Scripture of the 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession. This statement was not only a litmus test for the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary under Carroll's tenure (35), but more relevant to this review, sets the tone for Carroll's view of Scripture and of this entire volume. This volume was clearly written to countervail the effort of higher critics to undermine the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. Carroll achieves this by presenting evidence from Scripture and history that this doctrine had been believed "from time immemorial" (111), by presenting examples of inspiration in Scripture (even dedicating a whole chapter on defending the contested book of Daniel), and by apologetically tackling a myriad of difficulties and objections.

Critical Evaluation

Throughout this book, Carroll shows himself to be a visionary, answering the debates of the day with answers that are still pertinent today. For example, Carroll dismisses the responsibility of science in the questioning of inspiration, for science cannot discuss the supernatural, only the natural (28-9). As a matter of fact, according to Carroll, true science "is and has ever been in harmony with the Scriptures" (117). He therefore points out that the "disturber is speculative philosophy" (29), which dishonestly calls unproven, undemonstrated theories science (40). These same accusations are echoed in the current intelligent design debate. In another section, unapologetically believing that the Bible is the word of God, and unknowingly anticipating the turn of the century conservative resurgence, Carroll answered his contemporary, who espoused that the Bible only contained the Word of God, that the level of inspiration required to identify which parts were the word of God and which were not, was much greater than the kind of inspiration he was talking about (54). The illumination of a man "may go up and down," but the inspiration of the Book has no degrees (83).

In addition, Carroll should be commended for being careful not to say more than was needed to be said. For example, since Paul in 2 Cor 12 was not clear on the method of inspiration, Carroll did not include in his definition the method of inspiration (66). Ultimately Carroll defines "inspiration, in its Scriptural meaning, [as] that communication from God of a supernatural power invariably and adequately and perfectly accomplishing the end desired, whatever that end may be, and which no inherent force that is resident in nature, and no development of, or combination of inherent forces would in any length of time or under any environment bring about." This definition was so important to Carroll that he wished for people to write it "in letters of fire upon the tablet of [their] memory," and to facilitate the process he repeated it twice in the span of two consecutive paragraphs (37).


In this volume the reader is presented with the work and beliefs of a man who in his lifetime had answered clearly the thousands of Biblical contradictions of his youthful infidelity, save half a dozen (121), and was faithful to inspired Scripture. Beyond its apologetic benefits, this volume is an important historical treasure of what Baptists used to believe and will hopefully continue to believe in the years to come.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Criswell. Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True - A Book Review

Criswell, W. A. Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True. Nashville: B&H, 1969. 160 pp. $18.50.

Most known for his pastoring of First Baptist, Dallas, and his denominational involvement in the SBC, Criswell, a graduate of Baylor University and Southern Baptist Seminary, was influential in the lives of well known believers such as Billy Graham, Paige and Dorothy Patterson, and Rick Warren, just to name a few, as well as a myriad of other not as well known believers. His commitment to Scripture was legendary, demonstrated by his involvement in the conservative resurgence; his dedication to preach through the entire Bible literally, grammatically, historically at First Baptist; and books like Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True, one of his fifty plus publications.[1]


This self-described "testimony" from Criswell's heart was not written as a textbook, but as an encouragement for "minister to preach the Bible as the literal, inspired, God-breathed truth of heaven" (7). Criswell structured this in three parts: Why I Believe That the Bible is Literally True; What I Preach, Believing That the Bible is Literally True; and An Appeal to My Brethren to Preach That the Bible is Literally True. In the first part, Criswell offers arguments from experience, Scripture, archeology, history, comparative religions, and logic to convince his audience that the text they have in their hands is literally true. In the second part, he encourages the preacher, using logic and his personal experience, to preach through the Bible and to preach the Bible and the gospel as literal. He also encourages them to trust in the Bible when it comes to counseling and dealing with human problems. In the midst of this part, he dedicates two more chapters to apologetic arguments for the veracity of Scripture: one dealing with the book of Genesis and the other dealing with the theory of evolution. In two other chapters he deals with the veracity of Christ and of his atonement and the effects of a non-literal Bible on the Gospel, encouraging the preacher to preach a real incarnation, a literal atonement, a physical resurrection, and a living Lord who will come back physically. In the last part, he appeals to his brothers in Christ to stand on the authority of Scripture. Here his appeal is to logic, experience, history, Baptist heritage, and to the flaws of the liberal position.

Critical Evaluation

The greatest critical assessment of this book is its "preachy" nature. With little to no value as a research or academic tool, due to its lack of all but one footnote (several people are quoted throughout the book, including: B. H. Carroll, R. A. Torrey, and Winston Churchill, but none, except for Churchill are referenced), this book was truly written for the sole purpose of being an encouragement. This results in some benefits, but also in some flaws.

The first benefit is that the book is an easy, uplifting read that leaves the reader encouraged about the veracity of Scripture. As in a good sermon, Criswell seasons his writing with illustrations, making this book a depository of illustrations. This depository should be appreciated by preachers preparing to preach on passages that deal with the subject of the veracity of Scripture (even if one has to trust Criswell at face value on their accuracy and veracity due to the lack of referencing). A good example is his illustration of how the oneness of the Bible illustrates its miraculous nature (72): it is vivid, well articulated, and well makes his point. This volume in not only a depository of illustrations, but also a depository of single sentence quotes and logical arguments, each well phrased and right to the point.

Another benefit is embodied in the last two parts of the book, where Criswell pleas with his audience to follow in his footsteps and describes practically what that means. Again, as with a good sermon, the reader is presented with practical applications and exhorted to follow their examples. Central to these is his testimony of preaching through the entire Bible, a feat that took him eighteen years to accomplish. His insistence on preaching "literally, grammatically, historically" is welcomed and only slightly tarnished by his toleration of spiritualizing, the poorest method of preaching according to Criswell, as at times effective (142-43). In addition, in an era where our churches abdicate their duty to train young men to use their gifts in the body of Christ, and relegate the formation of pastors to professional institutions, his suggestion that a pastor should have several understudies around him and allow them to take turns preaching is refreshing (87). This sends a clear message that it is not about the cult of personality, but the centrality of the Word of God.

Unfortunately, the tone of this book also leads to some oversimplifications, generalizations, and at times, inaccuracies. A good example is Criswell's presentation of textual criticism and the certitude of the original Biblical text in his section on the "Certainty of the Exact Scriptural Text." It is simplistic and misguided. His comment that "we have a certain and final answer regarding the original and ultimate text" is debated by many conservative, Bible believing Greek scholars. His following statement that "for all practical purposes, the original text is settled," while toned down, is still not accurate (67-8). While one might excuse this crude oversimplification due to the nature of the book, one should never forget that the job of a pastor is to encourage and teach. Therefore, we are to push people to excel, not furnish them with simplistic information that will cause them to make erroneous statements from the pulpit. Criswell's attitude does not come as a total surprise when one realizes that he wrote in an era when, according to him, modern critical theology had left the church in a "modern sea of conflicting storms and currents" (153). This fact is probably the germ of his belief that that "a large portion of our much-vaunted critical study of the Bible is a laborious and empty investigation of supposed flyspecks" (46), and what made him consider the areas of the New Testament and Old Testament still investigated and discussed by scholars as flyspecks not worthy of discussion. Nevertheless, while their existence does not invalidate the message of Scripture, it does invalidate the assurance of certainty of the form of the final text and points to the fact that they should not be ignored.

Besides its "preachy" nature, this book has several other areas that are to be critiqued. In his chapter entitled "Is the Bible Full of Errors and Contradictions?", Criswell correctly states that one has "to distinguish between a difficulty not yet solved and an error," and then rightly implies that Scripture has no errors; all perceived errors are just difficulties (45). To make his point, he presents various difficulties along with plausible solutions. Most of these are well presented and beneficial in answering skeptics. One of these, unfortunately, is not beneficial. The explanation that follows the objections to the celestial events that happened during the battle of Gibeon, in Joshua 10:12-14, reads like a capitulation from Criswell's stance of a literal reading of Scripture. Here he takes an apologetic approach, explaining that the Bible was written in a language "of simple observation, not scientific empiricism" (49), instead of insisting that a miracle does not follow natural laws. He gets close to this latter approach a few pages later, while discussing miracles in the Bible. Here he is less apologetic about the lengthening of the day and even notes that there are historical records, outside of the Bible, of a similar event (52-3). Why not present this evidence earlier? On a side note, one does wonder what Criswell's definition of a miracle is. If a miracle is the temporary suspension of natural law, then "gravity" and the "resurrection in the spring" are not miracles, as Criswell states they are (111).

While researching Criswell, one is quickly confronted with the black cloud of accusations of racism surrounding his pre 1968 comments, to the South Carolina legislature, against integration. In 1968, he publically advocated desegregation,[2] but there are several passages in this volume which, knowing the above history, could unfortunately be read with a racist tint. The first one is found in his caricature of the narrative of missionaries that land on a savage island where the natives are "more like beasts than human beings" (12). The second is in his insistence on the regression of the human race, stating that it has descended "in some instances to the level of the Australian aborigine" (104). While the heart of the first comment can be understood as a rhetoric device, the implications that a culture that is not as developed as our western culture is a proof of human regression seems misplaced, and the reference to Australian aborigine is un-necessary. Western culture, with its putrid ethics and its sophisticated sins, is much more a proof of the regression of the human race and the lostness of the human heart.


Overall, Criswell does achieve his goal of encouraging the preachers out there, penning a book that echoes his preaching fame, and that explains the popularity of this volume. Given the climate in which it was written and Criswell's role in the conservative resurgence, it makes sense that Criswell desired to lead by example through this volume, and his effort is appreciated and commendable. While there are a couple of sections which could use some adjustments, this book can be a mine of illustrations and quotes for any preacher preparing a sermon on a passage that deals with the veracity of Scripture.

[1] "W. A. Criswell, a Baptist Leader, Dies at 92," The New York Times, 12 January 2002 [on-line]; accessed 22 September 2010; available from; Internet. "W. A. Criswell," Wikipedia [on-line]; accessed 22 September 2010; available from; Internet. W. A. Criswell, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True (Nashville: B&H, 1969), dust jacket's back flap.

[2] For an example, see "W. A. Criswell, a Baptist Leader, Dies at 92" and "W. A. Criswell."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Carroll. Ecclesia: The Church - A Book Review

Carroll, B. H. Ecclesia: The Church - Bible Class Lecture, February, 1903. The Baptist Distinctives Series, vol. 38. Louisville: 1903. Reprint, Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006. 174 pp. $17.19.

A Texas native and a Civil War soldier, at first with the Texas Rangers and then in the regular army, B. H. Carroll is better known for his pastoring of First Baptist Church, Waco, his organizing of Baylor Theological Seminary in 1904, and the founding of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1908. At the latter, he served as the first president until his death in Fort Worth, on November 11, 1914. Carroll published thirty-three volumes during his life, including, among others: a thirteen volume commentary, several books of sermons, and this collection of class notes on the church (171-73).


This Baptist Distinctives Series re-publication of Ecclesia - The Church is comprised of the transcription of two of B. H. Carroll's 1903 lectures on the topic, three appendices, and a small biographical sketch of B. H. Carroll. In the first lecture, Carroll sets out six important divisive questions about the church which he intends to discuss, however he answers only one: what is the church? While he intends to answer the other five in the second lecture (32), he finds himself answering questions that arose from the first lecture in lecture two and relegating the answers to the other five questions to future class periods (72), which were not recorded in this volume. Since his answer to "What is the church?" is centered on the etymological meaning of the Greek word ecclesia, in between the two lectures, this volume produces Appendix No. 1, which contains examples, given by Carroll to his students, of the classical Greek usage of the word ecclesia, and the complete list of the Septuagint usage, Apochryphal usage, and New Testament usage of the word. Carroll's remarks on all these usages are also included in this appendix. Two other appendices follow these two lectures. Appendix No. 2 includes three sermons about Baptist distinctives: "Baptism in Water," "A Discussion of the Lord's Supper," and "Distinctive Baptist Principles." Appendix No. 3 is a short, one-page exhortation by John A. Broadus on why Baptists should win over protestants to Baptist Views.

Critical Evaluation

The heart of Carroll's argument is the etymological meaning of ecclesia. He denies that ecclesia could be used "in a new and sacred sense" and claims, therefore, that it must retain its ordinary meaning (34). He also warns his reader that, while illustrating by synonyms can be useful, defining by synonyms is dangerous (56). The "primary meaning" of ecclesia, according to Carroll, is "an organized assembly, whose members have been properly called out from private homes or business to attend to public affairs." This concept of assembly forces Carroll to create a dichotomy between the "particular assembly of Jesus Christ on earth" and "his general assembly in glory" (15-6). These, according to Carroll, are not and cannot be co-existent (critiquing the creeds, 24), for the nature of the membership of the general assembly forces it to be an assembly only "in prospect" (17). Nevertheless, "each particular assembly is a representation or type of the general assembly" (29). He accepts applying the "figures" for the church to both the particular and the general assembly, but he denies the use of them for the "particular assemblies collectively" (19).

It is commendable that Carroll included Appendix No. 1 "to enable the country preacher with few books, and who knows nothing of Greek, to form his own conclusion as to the meaning of ecclesia" (33). This speaks, not only of a heart who cares for learned and non-learned people alike, but also to his belief in the overwhelming evidence found in the usage of the word and in a lack of any attempt to hide any contrary evidence. Case in point of this last remark is his candid admission that the use of ecclesia in Acts 9:31 is difficult to explain (62). There are a few arguments from logic or from government which are not very convincing (i.e. argument from confusion, 30), but overall Carroll's argument is pretty tight and convincing if his primary assumption is valid.

As for Appendix No. 2, Carroll presents a very Baptist view of baptism, starting with the great commission and moving forward, systematically explaining the proper subject, the meaning, and the design of baptism. His only weakness here is his argumentation for baptism having to be performed by an officer, based on a parallel with secular government (83). Throughout this section of the appendix, one can tell that he was clearly dealing with many Presbyterian objections, answering them by: presenting a great parallel with the purification of priests (96-7), dealing with pedo-baptism and the baptism of unbelievers using John as an example (85), and addressing the wrong parallel of baptism and circumcision (99). Very appreciated is his reminder that baptism should not be approached lightly, as many apparently did then (95), and still do today. His section on the Lord's Supper is the transcription of a sermon dedicated to "truth-loving Pedo-Baptists," as a loving appeal to "their reason and love of justice" (107). For this reason, the majority of the section is directed toward the "Trojan horse" (136) of open communion. His arguments are well formulated, impassioned, but never get pugnacious or hostile in tone. A good summary of his main points is found on p. 139. The last section is a reprint of a sermon printed in Baptists and Their Doctrines and originally presented at the Pastor's conference in Dallas, TX, in 1903. Here he disclaims that Baptist are characterized by two doctrines (immersion is baptism and baptism is essential to salvation), and, after having corrected the misconceptions associated with these, he presents five areas of distinctive Baptist principles. These are presented in a logical flow: starting with Scripture, with a focus on the New Testament, moving on to the individual's responsibility with respect to God and his freedom of conscience, which is then followed by the understanding of salvation, and finally the understanding of the church. His well known imagery of circles and the river of baptism summarizes this whole concept, but overall is not very helpful.


In a fashion appreciated by an engineer, Carroll presents the data and his analysis of it as he teaches on the church. Unlike many who spend all their time discussing only the distinctives of the church, Carroll starts by seeking to understand the essence of the church and then deals with her distinctives. Any serious student of ecclesiology should read and be engaged with the ideas presented in this volume. In addition, Carroll's understanding of the church is crucial to understanding the view of the church held by some modern Baptist theologians who seek to be consistent with their Baptist traditions. If for no other reason, the reading of this book has great historical value, especially in an era when many Baptists seem to be enamored with Presbyterian ecclesiology.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Majority rule in the church? - A. H. Strong

Should not the majority rule in a Baptist church? No, not a bare majority, when there are opposing convictions on the part of a large minority. What should rule is the mind of the Spirit. What indicates his mind is the gradual unification of conviction and opinion on the part of the whole body in support of some definite plan, so that the whole church moves together.

found in Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium Designed for the Use of Theological Students (1903. repr., Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1960), 905.

It reminds me of the numerous NT passages where we are told that the disciples were all in one accord. May we all take this attitude in our churches!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Possible roots of Baptist Baby Dedication - A. H. Strong

In Key West, Florida, a town of 22,000 inhabitants, infant baptism has a stronger hold than anywhere else at the South. Baptist parents had sometimes gone to the Methodist preacher to have their children baptized. To prevent this, the Baptist pastors established the custom of laying their hands upon the heads of infants in the congregation, and 'blessing' them, i.e., asking God's blessing to rest upon them. But this custom came to be confounded with christening, and was called such. Now the Baptist pastors are having a hard struggle to explain and limit the custom which they themselves have introduced. Perverse human nature will take advantage of even the slightest additions to N. T. prescriptions, and will bring out of the germs of false doctrine a fearful harvest of evil.

found in Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium Designed for the Use of Theological Students (1903. repr., Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1960), 957.

I have often wondered where the concept of Baptist baby dedication came from ... could this be it?

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