Book Reviews,  Theology/Bible

Uneasy in Babylon

I am about five years behind everyone else in reading Barry Hankins’ Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture. I actually began reading the book a couple of years ago, but then got distracted and only picked it up recently to finish it. But don’t be deceived by the narrative of my history with this book. Uneasy in Babylon is a great read and will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand the history of the conservative resurgence in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Hankins’ most significant contribution is his account of what motivated conservatives to resurge beginning in the 1970’s through the 1990’s. In my view, he is correct to note that Albert Mohler and others were animated by the neoevangelical spirit of Carl F. H. Henry and Francis Schaeffer. But I think that Hankins gets the cart before the horse in different places throughout the book where he suggests that the desire to wage a culture war was motivating conservatives more than the theological issues that were at stake (like inerrancy).

My other complaints about Uneasy in Babylon have to do with his account of certain events that involve people I know whose recounting of those same events differ from that of Hankins (I’m thinking in particular of his chapter on Mohler’s transformation of Southern Seminary). For the most part, however, the broad strokes are correct. Yet this is in spite of the fact that one-sided, unfair portrayals of certain conservatives are a bit overdone. But I suppose this shortcoming is difficult to avoid in a book that relies heavily on interviews with principle players in the controversy.

All in all, it’s an important book on the history and the causes of the controversy. I recommend it so long as the reader can remember the wisdom of the proverb, “The first to plead his case seems just, until another comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

One Comment

  • Rodney Bradford

    Over the summer, I’ve been reading Paul Pressler’s A Hill On Which to Die (1999). This has been a fascinating book to read of one of the “movers”, if you will, in the SBC Conservative resurgence.

    As I have read, there has been one thing of particular interest…

    “The issue in the convention was neither an interpretation of Scripture nor any effort to create unity of thinking on theological issues. My friend, Dr. Wallace Henley, pastor of Encourager Church in Houston and a former president of the Alabama convention, is a man of deep convictions about the things of God…He and I met several times during the early days of the conservative resurgence. The liberals had said that after the conservatives finished with those who held different views of the nature of the Bible, they would begin attacking the charismatics (neo-Pentecostals). They also alleged that conservatives whould later attack various groups until they ‘purified’ every aspect of convention life. They said conservatives wanted to make everybody think just as they do.

    “Such a charge was ludicrous, but it did worry some people such as my friend…Wally Henley, who hac charismatic leanings….I assured him the Paige [Patterson], our friends and I would not turn on charismatics after the battle over biblical authority was won.

    “The liberals have tried to make much of the fact that some Calvinists exist within the Conservative movement…Although I am not a five-point Calvinist, I am perfectly content with persons who seek to convince others to have Calvinist convictions from the teaching of the Word of God. That is a side issue and not the main issue. Liberals misunderstand conservatives. TGhey think we will divide on this issue. We will not…Interpretation is not a hill on which to die.” (p. 158)

    This is a particularly interesting statement in light of what has recently been happening within the SBC in regards to tongues and charismatic leanings in debates taking place at Southwestern Seminary and the International Mission Board. Also, after the Mohler/Patterson discussion on salvation views at the Greensboro convention meeting (2006), I’ve heard the term “Calvinism problem” more than once from such sources as the Christian Index and Jerry Vines.

    It seems that Pressler got his view wrong and Charismatic leadings and Calvinism is in deed going to become a hill on which to die.

    Could it be a new conservative battle?

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.