(University of North Carolina Press, 2012)
In Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women and Power since World War II, Texas Christian University professor Elizabeth Flowers provides remarkable insight into the recent history of Baptist life. She outlines this history of women in leadership and analyzes the issues raised between moderates and conservatives in the SBC. Regarding this, the reader is able to see how these issues have shaped much of Baptist identity and how women have played a significant role on both ends of the spectrum. That is to say, women have been crucial in the development of both conservative and moderate movements within the Baptist tradition.
Into the Pulpit begins with the story of Addie Davis, a woman who had felt a calling to preach the Gospel at a very early age. Davis’ ordination in 1964 was a crucial moment in Southern Baptist history. Many were outraged at her ordination whereas others saw it as an opportunity for dialogue.
As Southern Baptists grew in wealth and number, this paved the way for the diversity of ideas and practice, which, in turn, prompted other matters of controversy. Debates such as the inerrancy issue with Ralph Elliot, as well as racial discrimination and the feminist movement had dominated Southern Baptist conversations. Flowers explores the tensions specifically between traditional womanhood and evangelical feminism.
Moreover, Flowers offers a detailed account of the conservative resurgence and the events that took place during the SBC seminary controversies. In addition to the Kansas City Resolution, Albert Mohler’s succession to the presidency of Southern Theological Seminary, as well as several other changes in the SBC, conservatives stamped their power with the revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000. As Flowers accounts of this struggle for power, she carefully addresses how the issue of women ordination had been one of the primary concerns among Baptists, serving as an important element that led to the change in the SBC power structure.
Flowers makes no secret of her own position regarding the controversial matters; however, despite her position, Flowers impressively recounts the history of these events in such a way that the reader does not feel these biases are forced upon him or her. Views from leaders on each side of the debate along with their biblical convictions are presented for the reader to come to his or her own conclusion.
Into the Pulpit, with its unique and challenging perspective on women and their influence on the course of Baptist identity is, no doubt, a testament to Flowers’ skill as a Baptist historian. For anyone interested in learning more about how women have shaped Baptist life, Into the Pulpit will prove to be of tremendous benefit.
Tyler Conway is a student at George W. Truett Theological Seminary.