Friday, August 26, 2005

A Powerful Sermon on Religious Liberalism

One of the titanic figures of Southern Baptist history is a diminuitive man who packed a powerful pulpit punch. Wallie Amos Criswell, or W.A. as he came to be known, was for half a decade the pastor of Dallas's First Baptist Church, one of the cornerstone churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Interestingly, of all the churches in America, it is the congregation that Billy Graham denoted his own many years ago, though he rarely attended services there. Criswell entered the FBC pulpit after George Truett, another SBC giant, passed away in the early 1940s. Over the next five decades, Criswell crafted a ministerial career marked by expository preaching, progressive administration, and Convention influence. Sometimes controversial, often polemical, always notable, Criswell stands as an example to conservative Christian pastors in many respects, chief among them his fiery love for preaching the Word. I don't agree with everything Criswell did or stood for, but it is hard not to appreciate his faithfulness to the ministerial task.

Criswell gave a number of seminal sermons in his career, but none are more powerful than "Whether We Live or Die," the capstone sermon of the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention. Given at a time of thunderstorm conflict, Criswell struck a major blow for the conservative cause by sketching out the course a liberal denomination would travel. The way, said Criswell in his powerful bass, was that of death. There would be no deviation; nothing would deter those who have lost the Scripture as their guide from their plunge. You can listen to the sermon on the Criswell Foundation's website. A point of particular interest to me from the message is Criswell's narration of the story of Crawford Howell Toy. Toy was a Southern Seminary professor in the 1870s who imbibed elements of liberalism into his theology. His story is a tragic one, as all are that involve the taking of poison, however small the dose. The video is a bit shaky, the setting may be foreign, but the message is piercingly clear: stay the course on the narrow way. Nothing less than everything is at stake.


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