Enduring legacy: William Wright Barnes and church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baptist institutions possess a rich heritage of individuals who have attained legendary or near legendary status.
In church history, the lengthy silhouette of William Wright Barnes endures to influence the study of his discipline as his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the study of church history continue to study, teach, and write in seminaries, universities, and churches. Teaching church history at Southwestern from 1913 to 1953, Barnes left an unmistakable legacy in Baptist life and on the study of church history. This article will provide a brief biographical sketch of Barnes's life and a discussion of his legacy as a Baptist and as a teacher and writer.
William Wright Barnes was born in Elm City, North Carolina, on February 28, 1883. He was the youngest of six children, and both his parents placed a high priority on education. His father was a local physician, and his mother had been class valedictorian at Chowan College. One of Barnes's brothers became a physician, but apparently very early in life, William Wright Barnes's gifts in teaching were recognized.
He made a profession of faith in Christ at the age of fifteen and was baptized as a member of the Elm City Baptist Church. He attended Wake Forest College [now University] and completed both the B.A. and M.A. degrees with honors.
Upon graduation, Barnes was appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board to serve in Santiago, Cuba. He served as tutor to children of American families residing there. After a brief tenure, he returned to his home county in North Carolina to serve temporarily in public schools. There, he was ordained to the ministry by his home church before moving to Louisville, Kentucky, to study at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Upon completion of his Th.M. degree, he returned to Havana, Cuba, where he served as principal of El Colegio Cubano-American for more than three years. During this time, he married Ethel Dalrymple, a union that would last more than forty years and produce two sons, William Wright Jr. and Arch Dalrymple.
The Barneses returned to the United States in 1912 where Barnes once again enrolled at Southern Seminary to pursue a Th.D. in church history under W. J. McGlothlin, the outstanding historian and later president of Furman University. (1)
Upon completion of his Th.D., Barnes accepted an invitation to join the faculty of the relatively new Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He came to the seminary at a critical juncture in the institution's young history. Originally formed as a part of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Southwestern had been chartered as a separate institution in 1908 with the goal of being moved to another location once a suitable site was found. The relocation occurred in 1910 when the seminary was moved to its present location.
The first few years of the school's life in Fort Worth were tenuous ones. Many financial and logistical challenges had to be met, and the founding president, Baptist giant B. H. Carroll, was suffering from failing health. Furthermore, there was simmering conflict between Carroll and some of the original faculty members of the seminary. Robert Baker records that one source of the conflict was the desire of some of the faculty, notably Professor J. J. Reeve and Dean of the Faculty A. H. Newman, to revise the curriculum. Baker also suggested that Newman's viewpoints regarding Baptist history and his rejection of Baptist successionism were probably another source of conflict between the two men. Newman accepted positions that William H. Whitsitt had espoused some years before that had led to his resignation from Southern Seminary. Whitsitt's resignation had been due, in large part, to Carroll's unrelenting efforts. (2)
In fact, the forced resignation of the scholarly Newman brought Barnes to the position in church history at Southwestern in 1913. Barnes accepted the position at the seminary even though he held essentially the same views regarding Baptist history as Newman and Whitsitt.
Despite the differences between the aging president and the young church historian, Barnes grew to admire the old man. Barnes later remarked that Carroll "never asked me any questions about my views on Baptist succession.... He was willing for me to study Baptist history and teach what I found. With all his greatness of intellect, that was perhaps surpassed by the greatness of his heart." Barnes quickly gained respect, despite his youth. Some occupants of Seminary Hill laughed at his youthful appearance. When L. R. Scarborough was introducing Barnes to Mrs. B. H. Carroll for the first time, the lady eyed the thirty-year-old full professor and said, "Lee, I thought you were bringing a man." (3)
Barnes's summons to teach at Southwestern became a life-long commitment. Despite a number of offers to serve in other positions at other institutions, his association with the seminary spanned institutional change, denominational conflict, the Great Depression, and the Second World War.
Barnes's student and later colleague, Robert Baker, recorded that institutions such as the University of Richmond, the University of South Carolina, and Mercer University showed interest in Barnes for various positions, while Barnes rejected "definite offers" from Furman University, McMaster University at Toronto, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baker also stated that Wake Forest College "considered" him in its search for a president in 1930. Additionally, Barnes was a potential pastor for a number of prestigious congregations. (4) Despite these undoubtedly attractive offers, Barnes elected to remain at Southwestern.
Barnes received these offers for various reasons. Not only was Barnes an outstanding scholar and classroom teacher; he was also active in denominational affairs and was an excellent preacher. His expertise in Baptist ecclesiology was recognized and, due in part to this expertise, Barnes served as moderator of the Tarrant Baptist Association periodically in 1914, 1922-27, and 1933-35. (5)
Despite the offers of other positions and Barnes's numerous gifts in areas such as preaching and leadership, the church historian chose to remain at Southwestern. There were several reasons why he stayed in Fort Worth. Certainly, there was a basic loyalty engendered in Barnes in his early days at Southwestern with Carroll and Scarborough. Scarborough's recognition of Barnes's administrative talents allowed the church historian to exercise his considerable gifts in that arena and further enhanced his investment in the life of the seminary. As President Scarborough traveled the state and throughout the South preaching and leading the Southern Baptist Convention's Seventy-Five Million Campaign in the 1920s, he entrusted administrative care of Southwestern to the historian's capable hands, frequently appointing Barnes acting president in his absence.
At other times in Southwestern's life, Barnes served essentially as registrar and librarian. He was one of the founders of the Southwestern Journal of Theology in its initial run in 1917. He became chairman of the theology faculty in 1926 and remained in that position until 1949. In this capacity, Barnes functioned basically as the academic dean of SWBTS. No doubt, these opportunities reinforced his loyalty to the institution. Later in life, his wife Ethel's poor health and virtual invalid condition, contributed to his decision to continue at Southwestern so that he might have the flexibility in his schedule to care for her.
The effects of denominational conflict with regards to evolutionary theory and the attacks of J. Frank Norris contributed to Barnes's decision not to abandon the seminary in the midst of the storm. Similarly, his decision to remain at the institution during the Great Depression was a product of this commitment. (6) Perhaps the greatest reason of all, however, was Barnes's love for the seminary classroom.
Barnes was well known for his teaching. Robert Baker, who was both Barnes's student and then his colleague at Southwestern, remembered his former instructor as "a hard taskmaster" but one who was "rewarding." Barnes had a powerful intellect and an incredible memory. He was most famous at Southwestern for his ability to recall and tell stories. While some students doubtless laughed at Barnes's tendency "to chase rabbits," Baker recalls that his "chasing rabbits" served "to catch the attention of the students and to make a vital point in history."
Barnes possessed a "remarkable memory" with the ability to recall "significant details, particularly in Baptist history" in an "almost uncanny fashion." This memory was undoubtedly the product of a disciplined mind and a scholarly aptitude. Barnes was proficient in Spanish, French, and German and read three other languages. He taught hymnology in the school of music on occasion and in his first year taught "Sunday School pedagogy" and "Christian sociology" in what became the Department of Religious Education at Southwestern.
Baker also wrote that he "displayed familiarity with botany, zoology, geography, mathematics, philosophy, sociology, and English and American literature. He constantly quoted in class from Greek and Latin writers." Certainly, this prodigious memory assisted him in his pulpit skills as well.
In another instance, Baker recorded that Barnes was a man of "thorough training, wide culture, and profound spirituality." He also had a considerable independent streak. William R. Estep recalls that Barnes continued to smoke an occasional cigar late in life, despite Southwestern's no-smoking policy. (7)
The church historian also had the reputation of giving grueling exams. Baker's history of Southwestern recounts one almost legendary story regarding Barnes as taskmaster.
We were in Dr. W. W. Barnes' Church History class. The professor, famous for his all-encompassing exams, was writing such an exam on the blackboard. The telephone rang across the hall. Virginia Smith ... answered the phone and came to our door just as Dr. Barnes stepped back from the board and the large class read the difficult survey-type questions. "Is Paul Aiken in here?" she asked. To which some wag replied, "Sister, everybody is achin' in here." (8)
Despite his great love for the classroom and his devotion to Southwestern Seminary, there were times when Barnes must have been tempted to leave the institution. The Great Depression was incredibly difficult for the seminary and its faculty, especially coming upon the heels of disappointment and debt that emerged from the Seventy-Five Million Campaign. Barnes was directly involved in denominational conflict. Finally, conflicts arose for Barnes that affected his relationship with President Scarborough.
Southwestern Seminary's struggles through the latter 1920s and throughout the Great Depression have been well-documented in Baker's Tell the Generations Following and do not warrant further detailed discussion here. It should be noted, however, that those years were the years that Barnes served as chairman of the theology faculty and frequently as acting president in Scarborough's absence. As chairman of the faculty, Barnes played a crucial role in maintaining faculty morale and loyalty in the face of several pay cuts and looming bankruptcy. It may well be that much of the respect that Barnes later received from the faculty came from his leadership during this critical period. (9)
Barnes's struggles with J. Frank Norris must be considered in the larger context of the denominational conflict. Norris was the controversial pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth who, prior to 1910, had been a loyal member of the denomination and avid supporter of Southwestern Seminary. As H. Leon McBeth has shown, after 1910 Norris's leadership and preaching styles underwent radical changes prompting a mass exodus of the membership of the church in 1912, including B. H. Carroll, several seminary professors, and ultimately, Scarborough. Many of these departing members-including Barnes and his family--joined Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth.
Norris spent the subsequent years consolidating his control over First Baptist and engaging in an ongoing battle with city officials. By 1920, however, he had begun to launch attacks on Baylor University, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Prompting Norris's attacks were his concerns about evolution and his opposition to the Seventy-Five Million Campaign. Generally, the "Texas Tornado" used both sensationalist tactics and subtle innuendo to carry out his verbal assaults. (10)
Barnes was drawn into the fray in 1921 when Norris implied in his newsletter that the seminary church historian was an evolutionist. In the subsequent meeting of Tarrant Baptist Association, Scarborough confronted Norris publicly. Baker wrote that the seminary president put "aside all restraint" and "thoroughly castigated Norris before the group."
The next day, Scarborough approached Barnes at the seminary and told him that Norris wanted the church historian to respond to a series of questions that the Fort Worth pastor wanted answered. Baker recorded Barnes's reply:
Before the questions come, in order that the nature or content of the questions may not be involved, let me say, I would not answer any question he asks me for two reasons: First, that he was not the inquisitor of my conscience; and in the second place, he would misuse anything that I wrote him. The next day I received a list of twelve questions from Norris, but I ignored them as I ignored some ten or twelve letters that he wrote me through the years. I never one time paid any attention to any letter he wrote me. (11)
Scarborough's defense of Barnes was apparently the initial cause of the major eruption between the seminary president and Norris. However, Barnes's position in the conflict was quickly forgotten, as the fundamentalist's attacks on Southwestern became so caustic and Scarborough's defense so vigorous as to diminish the original source of controversy.
Barnes was not an evolutionist but understood the nature of Norris's criticism and its role in his ministry. Barnes later clearly stated that he did not believe that humans were descended from another species. But he knew that nothing that he would do could satisfy Norris and that any response on his part would be twisted.
This was not the only reason the erudite scholar refused to engage in a debate with Norris. Barnes's understanding of Scripture, theology, and Baptist polity and history forbade him from allowing any believer from becoming "the inquisitor" of his conscience. For him, it was a matter of soul liberty and the autonomy of local congregations. Norris had no authority to question Barnes in the church historian's view.
Once the battle was joined, however, the conflict would rage for the remainder of Scarborough's and Norris's lives. Scarborough and Southwestern were only two of Norris's targets. In the denomination, Norris criticized Baylor University, the Seventy-Five Million Campaign, the Southern Baptist Convention, George W. Truett, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the Tarrant Baptist Association.
Ultimately, this constant harassment and attempts to purge what Norris perceived as modernism, resulted in the expulsion of him and the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth from the TBA, the BGCT, and the SBC. Ironically, Barnes was serving as assistant moderator of the association when it refused to seat messengers from the church for the first time and was the moderator when the church was expelled a second time in 1925. (12)
Norris's unrelenting attacks on the SBC and its institutions and the pressures resulting from the transdenominational fundamentalist-modernist controversy led the SBC to move in the direction of adopting a confession of faith. While Barnes had no direct role in the development of the Baptist Faith and Message, the confession and subsequent statements regarding it played a significant role in his work at Southwestern.
The immediate origin of the controversy revolving around the Baptist Faith and Message came when the committee selected in 1924 to draw up the confession returned its report in 1925. The committee was comprised of E. Y. Mullins, who was, as Jesse Fletcher says, "the undisputed theological authority among Southern Baptists"; Lee R. Scarborough; C. P. Stealey; W. J. McGlothlin; S. M. Brown; E. C. Dargan; and R. H. Pitt.
The confession was submitted with several disclaimers that it was only a confession to guide interpretation and was not to function as a creed. As was probably expected, the statement in the confession regarding the fall of humans was the most controversial portion of the confession. On creation it stated, "Man was created by a special act of God." Stealey, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, submitted an amendment that called for an addition which stated "and not by evolution." Considerable debate ensued. Eventually, Mullins won the day by responding, "Brethren, if we are not going to try to tell God how he created man, we should not try to tell him how he did not do it." The amendment lost by more than a two-to-one margin, but this did not end the conflict. (13)
The following year, in an attempt to quell continued unrest, George McDaniel, president of the SBC and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, addressed the convention meeting in Houston. He concluded by stating, "This convention accepts Genesis as teaching that man was the special creation of God, and rejects every theory, evolution or other, which teaches that man originated in, or came by way of, a lower animal ancestry."
M. E. Dodd of Louisiana followed with a motion "that the statement of the president on the subject of evolution and the origin of man be adopted as the sentiment of this Convention, and that from this point on no further consideration be given to this subject...." Dodd's motion was adopted unanimously. (14)
Subsequently, L. R. Scarborough then reported to the convention that the trustees of SWBTS had endorsed the McDaniel statement. Reports on the exact statement made by Scarborough vary. Scarborough contended that he had stated a simple endorsement, but others believed that he had either said or implied that all of the faculty and staff of the seminary had to sign the statement to remain at the institution. The dispute that emerged from Scarborough's report was to linger for more than two years. After Scarborough's report, Selsius E. Tull of Arkansas, an ally of Stealey and staunch antievolutionist, made the following resolution:
WHEREAS, the Southern Baptist Convention in its Session May 12, 1926, by unanimous vote, declared that it "accepts Genesis as teaching that man was the special creation of God, and rejects every theory, evolution or other which teaches that man originated in, or came by way of, a lower animal ancestry," and WHEREAS, our great school of Prophets, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, through its board of Trustees, on May 12th, accepted and incorporated the said action of the Convention in its "Statement of Faith" and through its Honored President, so announced to this Convention on May 13th, and said President further announced that said "Statement of Faith" would be made a test of all officers and teachers of said Seminary, THEREFORE, the Southern Baptist Convention does now resolve that it commends the Board of Trustees of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for its prompt and hearty acceptance of the Convention's action; and In order that no unfair comparisons arise or unjust accusations be brought against any of our Seminaries, Schools or other Convention agencies, be it further resolved that this Convention request all its institutions and Boards, and their missionary representatives, to give like assurance to the Convention and to our Baptist Brotherhood in general, of a hearty and individual acceptance of the said action of the Convention to the end that the great cause of our present unrest and agitation over the Evolution question may be effectively and finally removed in the minds of the constituency of this Convention and all others concerned. (15)
After brief discussion the resolution passed.
Fundamentalists believed that the confession, the McDaniel statement, and the Tull resolution meant that they had won. The moderates in the SBC were outraged and, once again, Mullins attempted to play a mediating role. Scarborough and Southwestern's perceived compliance further alienated Mullins and Southern Seminary. When word reached Barnes and other members of the Southwestern faculty, they were deeply disturbed. In Barnes's words, "that announcement created quite a stir in our ranks" adding that "the majority of the heads of departments will perhaps refuse to sign." (16)
Scarborough told the faculty that they would not be required "to sign on the dotted line." Barnes's response was that Scarborough's announcement at the meeting in Houston left "the impression on the denomination that those of us who remain here have signed." Barnes had several problems with Scarborough's support of the resolution.
First, he believed that the trustees had "no authority to pass upon articles of faith." The charter of the seminary gave that authority to the SBC. The adopted confession of faith for SWBTS was the New Hampshire Confession from its inception and according to Barnes, remained the articles of faith until the SBC adopted another confession "as the expression of the belief of the institution."
Second, Barnes agreed with South Carolina editor Z. T. Cody who "called the whole signing up business sham and hypocrisy." While Scarborough repeatedly denied that he would make the McDaniel statement a test for seminary employment, Barnes undoubtedly believed that he had. Barnes wrote J. S. Farmer, business manager of North Carolina's state paper, the Biblical Recorder, "that in so far as the actual teaching of the statement is concerned I was in agreement with it, that I do not believe that man's ascendancy or descendancy from some other animal has been proven." Barnes believed, however, "that the inclusion of such a statement in a confession of faith is a serious mistake. It has nothing to do with confessions."
Barnes's objection to the McDaniel statement, Tull resolution, and Scarborough announcement was not a scientific or even theological one. It was a matter of church polity, and in many ways, a question of integrity. Barnes believed that Scarborough and the trustees were misrepresenting Southwestern and its faculty.
Finally, Barnes believed that Scarborough's motivation was political, financial, and personal. He wrote Farmer, "I think his whole attitude is a gesture toward the ultraconservatives. He is hoping the present situation in Fort Worth may give him an opportunity to retrieve some lost prestige in Texas." The "situation in Fort Worth" to which Barnes was referring was Norris's July 17th shooting of D. E. Chipps and the Fort Worth pastor's subsequent arrest and impending trial. Barnes believed that Scarborough saw that backing the endorsement of the McDaniel and Tull resolutions as an opportunity to recapture support for the seminary that had been lost as a result of Norris's unceasing attacks on the SBC, the BGCT, the TBA, and SWBTS. (17)
From the available information, it appears that Barnes's evaluation of Scarborough's report to the SBC in Houston was correct. Both Z. T. Cody and J. S. Farmer confirmed Barnes's impressions, and Scarborough himself later recorded that the faculty and staff had endorsed the McDaniel statement. Scarborough wrote this despite the fact that the faculty had not actually signed any document at this point and despite the fact that Barnes still believed this was the impression that had been given. This impression and the report issued at the 1927 convention increased the pressure from the fundamentalists on Southern Seminary and ultimately came back to haunt Scarborough. (18)
Subsequently, the conflict intensified when the Oklahoma Baptist Convention approved a resolution by C. C. Morris and voted to withhold its funds from any institution that had not signed a statement approving the Tull resolution. Mullins, the faculty at Southern, Scarborough, and Barnes--probably on behalf of the Southwestern faculty--immediately protested. Their protest led to a heated exchange of correspondence, and, at one point, the return of funds by Southwestern to the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.
The sticking point seems to have been that while the faculty at Southwestern ratified the McDaniel statement, they had done so on a conditional agreement with Scarborough. To accept the money from Oklahoma on a further condition that they were endorsing the Morris resolution and further sign a statement to that effect violated their agreement with Scarborough. Barnes made this an issue with the seminary president.
To the church historian, such compliance with the Oklahoma Baptist Convention was filled with creedalism and coercion. Barnes pressured Scarborough to return the money, it was placed in escrow, and the Oklahoma Baptist Convention resolved the situation to the satisfaction of all. In the words of Z. T. Cody, the Oklahoma brethren "wanted some way in which to turn that bear loose!" Barnes and Scarborough did not find themselves alone in the struggle.
Mullins and the Southern faculty were in a similar situation and some in Oklahoma like J. W. Brunet sought a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Baptist editors L. L. Gwaltney of the Alabama Baptist, Livingston Johnson of the Biblical Recorder, and Z. T. Cody of the Baptist Courier all supported Barnes and the others in the conflict against J. B. Rounds of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention and C. P. Stealey, editor of the Baptist Messenger. In fact, Cody said Barnes's response to Stealey had "the ring of a man" and added that it was "exactly the kind of letters that should be written by all of our educational people." (19)
Further conflict was averted by several factors. One was that C. P. Stealey was ousted from the Baptist Messenger. Stealey had been one of the primary instigators of efforts to pressure the faculty at the seminaries not only to advocate the McDaniel statement and Tull resolution but also to sign the Morris resolution. Stealey was not going to stop at anything less than individually signed disavowals of evolution by all seminary faculty. Barnes believed that Stealey's active role had come as he sought to divert attention away from his own problems in Oklahoma as editor of the state paper.
Another factor was Barnes's leadership. The SWBTS faculty had stood virtually unanimous in their opposition to creedal enforcement of the McDaniel and Tull resolutions, and they did so in conjunction with the faculty of SBTS. As Barnes wrote to Stealey, "If the assurance you have already received of my orthodoxy has not satisfied you nothing further that I may say can do so." Barnes's strong stance forced Scarborough to stand up to Rounds, Stealey, and Morris. Ultimately, Scarborough's defense of the faculty and their position was as forceful as any Barnes had made. (20)
The relationship between L. R. Scarborough and Barnes suffered throughout this situation. Robert Baker recorded that part of the difficulty between the two men resulted from Scarborough's personality and administrative style.
Scarborough was not familiar with the complex problems of seminary operation as he often remarked, and the result was that there was too often friction between the faculty and the administration. Too, Scarborough's personal drive (in his own activities and in his administration) sometimes alienated his fellow-workers. (21)
The real catalyst for the difficulty between the two was Scarborough's handling of the situation regarding the McDaniel statement, and the Tull and Morris resolutions. In fact, Barnes wrote Johnson, "It is due to such inconsistencies on the part of Dr. Scarborough that much of our difficulty in Texas is due." He expressed similar sentiments to Cody. (22)
Barnes expressed his frustrations most vividly in a handwritten letter to his friend W. R. Cullam at Wake Forest College. Writing about the Oklahoma Baptist Convention's withholding financial support from SWBTS, he told Cullam:
The President needs the Okla. money, but he doesn't dare ask the [faculty] to "sign up." He is trying not to be classified as fish, fowl or bird. One inclined to accept the theory of evolution would place him as intermediate between the species known as "Fundamentalist" and the species known as "Modernist." Whether he will finally evolve into the one or the other or into an entirely new species remains to be seen. The particular environment in which he finds himself at the time seems so to affect him in one direction or the other that he perhaps may not become fixed. (23)
Scarborough's difficulties were not unique. Other Baptist college, university, and seminary presidents found that treading the middle ground of their constituencies was uncomfortable territory. Certainly, Mullins found a similar experience at Southern.
Scarborough well understood the dynamics of Texas Baptist life and the conservative nature of Texas Baptists. Still, Barnes believed that SWBTS and Scarborough would have been better served by a more consistent stance and that the seminary president had brought much of the situation on himself and the institution by his initial response to the McDaniel statement at the 1926 convention. It is a credit to the character of both men that they continued to serve together in an effective manner despite these differences until Scarborough retired in 1942.
Something of Barnes's character and the reasoning behind his lengthy tenure at SWBTS when other offers beckoned may be revealed in comments found in his letter to W. R. Cullam. After discussing the aforementioned conflict, Barnes wrote Cullam, "For my part I am marking time and waiting for developments. At times I am inclined to quit it all, and at times, I determine to stand by and fight it out `if it takes all summer' or even all of a life time."
This determination is what Baker meant when he wrote, "Somewhat paradoxically, the vicious attacks of J. Frank Norris, primarily aimed at Barnes in the Seminary aspect, did more to keep Barnes at the Seminary than to run him off." (24)
Barnes's personal character was such that he was not going to be forced out of his beloved institution by Norris, Stealey, or anyone. While Norris continued in his attacks on Southwestern, fortunately, others in the SBC lost interest in the fight due to more pressing financial concerns and with the onset of the Great Depression and the Second World War.
The role of W. W. Barnes throughout this conflict is important for several reasons. As chair of the theology faculty and as a visible denominational leader, he served as a key spokesman throughout the controversy. His relationship with Scarborough was affected substantially by the conflict. Perhaps as importantly, along with his writing, that relationship lends significant insight to understanding Barnes's historiography and his methodology.
Barnes published only two books during his lengthy career. The first was a small, yet revealing book, A Study in the Development of Ecclesiology, the Southern Baptist Convention. The second was his major work, the commissioned centennial history, The Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1953. Baker related that there were several factors that limited his writing output, some of which have been detailed or noted previously.
Barnes also wrote a number of journal articles. Review of a sampling of these articles, his two books, and an analysis of his viewpoints regarding the controversies discussed above can give an understanding of his approach to history and, specifically, to church history.
Barnes's most important publication was his history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Despite some of the criticism he received for the work and the fact that the book was delayed in publication due to this criticism, his history of the Southern Baptist Convention was a pioneer study. (25)
It was the first comprehensive look at the history of the SBC. Barnes's writing style is fluid and easy to follow, and the basic structure and organization of the book are excellent. His research is solid and focused on the use of primary sources. Almost fifty years later, it remains a good resource. He emphasized especially the role of missions and cooperation in the creation, growth, and unity of the Southern Baptist Convention. He also discussed the roles of individuals like W. B. Johnson and I. T. Tichenor in the formation and extension of the convention.
Underlying its text are the implications of the significance of key Baptist distinctives of voluntarism and local church autonomy consistent with Barnes's other writings.
It has weaknesses, particularly in addressing Southern Baptist responses to social concerns and in its slight neglect of the significance of slavery in creating the SBC and the role that race relations has played throughout the history of the denomination. It is largely a descriptive account with some analysis, but especially twentieth-century developments lack the depth of analysis that Barnes could have provided.
Barnes believed that critical to comprehending church history was the ability to understand church polity and governance. He directly related this to the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Barnes used the history of the SBC in Study in Ecclesiology as a case study and demonstrated that one of the key principles of Baptist church polity was the idea that "a church is a self-governing, independent, supreme ecclesiastical body." Further, he related, "Baptist churches may not relinquish their sovereignty to any one group or organization." (26)
In a 1955 article for the Review and Expositor, he expanded on this concept:
Every Baptist organization is independent and self-governing. Each has authority to determine who shall be members and who shall continue to be members; each transacts its own business. An association may not dictate to a church. Conversely, a church or a majority thereof may not dictate to an association. The same principle holds in the relations between any and all Baptist organizations--churches, district associations, general associations, conventions, both state and national. There is no organizational sequence from one to another. (27)
Thus, for Barnes the autonomy of the local church and the relationship of churches, associations, and conventions to one another were essential to understanding Baptist history.
Relative to this was Barnes's understanding of the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Barnes believed that the crisis over slavery resulting in the Civil War provided the occasion for the creation of the SBC but was not the cause.
Barnes insisted that the underlying causes of the separation of Baptists in America related to "differences in ecclesiology" and "in the realm of home missions." Barnes believed that the differences in ecclesiology could be traced to the early history of Baptists in the South, the major difference being a desire for a more "compact denominational body" among Baptists in the South. The church historian also argued that "division was in the air" as early as the 1830s, but it was "the question of slavery" that "arose to divide" Baptists. (28)
Barnes also wrote three other key journal articles for the Review and Expositor that are important in understanding his view of church history. The articles consisted of lectures he delivered at Southern Seminary in Louisville.
Like E. Y. Mullins, Barnes believed that the key Baptist distinctive was soul competency. In two of these articles, Barnes traced this principle throughout church history. He believed soul competency was at the heart of evangelical theology and flowed throughout the history of Christianity.
Further, he argued that soul competency sometimes could be found under the auspices of the ancient and medieval church and sometimes found through extraecclesiastical groups considered heretical by the medieval church. He believed that both traditions indirectly influenced the Anabaptists of the Reformation.
He believed that Martin Luther was one individual who recaptured the significance of the local congregation for the theology of the church. Once again, Barnes related the principle of soul competency to ecclesiology and an understanding of the importance of ecclesiology to the study of church history. (29)
Barnes believed that Southern Baptists had largely been true to the concept of soul competency. He feared, however, that the evolution of the denomination, which took place in the 1920s and 1930s, was a deviation from its previous course. He stated in Study He feared, however, that in Ecclesiology:
Southern Baptist in the meeting of 1926 declared that they did not believe in evolution, but they have been practicing it through the years. They have crossed two distinct species--association and convention bases of representation--and have evolved, or are in process of evolving, an entirely new species--the ecclesiastical. (30)
Furthermore, he issued a challenge to Southern Baptists:
Let our people return to the emphasis upon the voluntary principle in religious work. Let the Southern Baptist Convention and all the other conventions be considered, not ecclesiastical organizations composed of churches, but voluntary organizations composed of individuals who are affiliated together for a common missionary task. Let us forsake the presbygationalism that infests us from the local church through organized life into the Southern Convention and return to the congregational government that is yet our theory. (31)
Hence, considering these passages against the background of the conflicts of which he found himself a part, Barnes's active defense of the principles of voluntarism, the autonomy of the local church, soul competency, and noncoercion were rooted in his interpretation of Baptist history.
The last eleven years of Barnes's career at Southwestern were some of his most rewarding despite the fact that he faced personal illness and crisis. His wife became an invalid, his sons served as Marine officers in the Pacific theater in World War II, and he had major surgery and illness.
Nevertheless, from 1942 to 1953 the aging historian recognized the fruits of a long career. He completed his history of the Southern Baptist Convention, completed more than twenty years as chair of the theology faculty, was awarded the title of Research Professor of Baptist History, and was influential in founding the Southern Baptist Historical Commission. After his retirement in 1953, he continued to be a significant part of Southwestern and Baptist life until his death in 1960 at the age of seventy-seven. (32)
As significant as Barnes's life, teaching, and administration were to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as crucial as his role as a denominational leader, spokesman, and defender of Baptist principles, and as pioneering as was his history of the Southern Baptist Convention, his greatest role was the legacy in the study of church history and Baptist history that he left behind at Southwestern.
Barnes's finest student and later colleague was Robert A. Baker, the prolific chronicler of Baptist history and church history and faculty member at SWBTS for thirty-nine years. A colleague and student of both Barnes and Baker who was influenced by both men was William R. Estep, who had one seminar with Barnes and likewise became an excellent church historian. Another of Baker's outstanding students was H. Leon McBeth who, along with others, has continued the rich tradition of quality scholarship and perceptive historical work in Baptist history to the present day at Southwestern.
Barnes was a person of integrity who instilled the importance of solid historical research, integrity in personal, spiritual, and denominational matters, compelling teaching skills, and the ability to communicate effectively with laypersons and professional clergy and scholars alike. His legacy lives on in the students of Baker, Estep, and McBeth, and in their students.
(1.) Robert A. Baker, "William Wright Barnes," Baptist History and Heritage 5 (1970): 144; Robert A. Baker, "William Wright Barnes and Southwestern Seminary," Founders' Day Address, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, March 14, 1975, 1-2, typewritten copy in W. W. Barnes Paper Collection, 22: 4: 7, box 1, Archives, Roberts Library, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas; and Samuel B. Hesler, William Wright Barnes biographical sheet, William Wright Barnes biographical file, Archives, Roberts Library, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
(2.) Robert A. Baker, Tell the Generations Following: A History of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1908-1983 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1983), 135-46, 145-46, 159-62, 165-67; Baker, "Barnes," 145; and Alan J. Lefever, Fighting the Good Fight: The Life and Work of Benajah Harvey Carroll (Austin: Eakin Press, 1994), 86-94.
(3.) Baker, "Barnes," 144-45; Baker, "Barnes and Southwestern," 3; and Walker L. Knight, "W. W. Barnes: Teacher of Baptists," Baptist Standard (January 14, 1954): 5.
(4.) Baker, "Barnes," 145.
(5.) Baker, "Barnes and Southwestern," 9; and James E. Carter, Cowboys, Cowtown & Crosses: A Centennial History of Tarrant Baptist Association (Fort Worth: Tarrant Baptist Association, 1986), 58.
(6.) Baker, Tell the Generations, 301, 305; Baker, "Barnes," 146; Baker, "Barnes and Southwestern," 6; and W. W. Barnes, "Retrospect and Prospect," Southwestern Journal of Theology I (October, 1958): 8.
(7.) Baker, "Barnes and Southwestern," 9; Baker, Tell the Generations, 206, 212, 265, 305; and Letter from W. R. Estep to the author, December 29, 1999.
(8.) Baker, Tell the Generations, 305.
(9.) Ibid., 249-57.
(10.) H. Leon McBeth, "John Franklyn Norris: Texas Ternado," Baptist History and Heritage 32 (April 1997): 30-33; Barry Hankins, God's Rascal: J. Frank Norris & the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 14-15; and Baker, Tell the Generations, 220-22.
(11.) Baker, Tell the Generations, 222-23.
(12.) Carter, 53-56. For more on Norris and his relationship with Southern Baptists, see Hankins, God's Rascal, and McBeth, "John Franklyn Norris."
(13.) Annual, Southern Baptist Convention, 1925, 76; Jesse Fletcher, The Southern Baptist Convention: A Sesquicentennial History (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 141-43; and Herschel H. Hobbs, "The Baptist Faith and Message--Anchored but Free," Baptist History and Heritage 33 (July 1978): 33-34.
(14.) Annual, Southern Baptist Convention, 1926, 18. See also William E. Ellis, "A Man of Books and a Man of the People": E. Y Mullins and the Crisis of Moderate Southern Baptist Leadership (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1985), 191ff.
(15.) Annual, Southern Baptist Convention, 1926, 98.
(16.) Fletcher, 143-44; Ellis, 197-99; and Letter from W. W. Barnes to Z. T. Cody, July 22, 1926, located at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Barnes's correspondence in this collection hereafter cited as Barnes at SWBTS.
(17.) Barnes letter to Cody, July 22, 1926, Barnes at SWBTS; Letter from W. W. Barnes to J. S. Farmer, September 4, 1926, Barnes at SWBTS; and Hankins, 118-19.
(18.) Barnes letter to Farmer, September 4, 1926, Barnes at SWBTS; Letter from J. S. Farmer to W. W. Barnes, September 21, 1926, Barnes at SWBTS; and Lee Rutland Scarborough, A Modern School of the Prophets: A History of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Its First Thirty Years (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1939), 159-60.
(19.) Ellis, 199-201; Letter from C. P. Stealey to W. W. Barnes, December 8, 1927 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from W. W. Barnes to C. E Stealey, December 9, 1927 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from Kyle M. Yates to W. W Barnes, December 16, 1927 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from W. W. Barnes to Kyle M. Yates, December 20, 1927 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from Z. T. Cody to W. W. Barnes, February 4, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from Livingston Johnson to W. W. Barnes, February 13, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from W. W. Barnes to L. L. Gwaltney, February 21, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from L. L. Gwaltney to W. W. Barnes, February 24, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from W. W. Barnes to Livingston Johnson, April 4, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from W. W. Barnes to Z. T, Cody, April 4, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from C. C. Morris to L. R. Scarborough, April 5, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); Letter from L. R. Scarborough to C. C. Morris, April 6, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); and Letter from Z. T. Cody to W. W. Barnes, April 7, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS). See also Barnes's historical account of this sequence of events in W. W. Barnes, The Southern Baptist Convention, i845-1953 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1954), 257-61.
(20.) Ellis, 201; Barnes letter to Yates, December 20, 1927; Barnes letter to Gwaltney, February 21, 1928; Letter from W. W. Barnes to Livingston Johnson, February 7, 1928 (Barnes at SWBTS); and Scarborough letter to Morris, April 6, 1928.
(21.) Baker, "Barnes," 145.
(22.) Letter from Barnes to Johnson, April 4, 1928; and letter from Barnes to Cody, April 4, 1928.
(23.) Letter from W. W. Barnes to W. R. Cullam, February 24, 1927 (Barnes at SWBTS).
(24.) Barnes letter to Cullam, February 24, 1927; and Baker, "Barnes," 145.
(25.) Apparently, W. O. Carver, chairman of the history commission serving in an editorial capacity, was one of those critical of Barnes's work. Carver opposed the publication of history of the SBC and was partially responsible for its delay in publication. Part of the cause in the delay of publication was due to the health problems of both Barnes and his wife. Ultimately, the commission chose E. C. Routh to provide an editorial revision of the text and asked Porter Routh to write an additional chapter covering the period from 1946-1953. Brief mention of some of this is found in the Preface. This author was unable to find any documentation at SWBTS or in the Barnes files there that indicated the reasons for Carver's objections. It has been perceived, however, that Carver held a bias against Barnes because of his affiliation with Southwestern and Texas and would have preferred that someone else write the history. Part of his objection may have come from the long-standing rivalry between the two institutions.
(26.) W. W. Barnes, A Study in the Development of Ecclesiology, The Southern Baptist Convention (Fort Worth: By the author, 1934, reprint ed., Dallas: Baptist General Convention of Texas, 1997), 11. Hereafter cited as Study in Ecclesiology.
(27.) W. W. Barnes, "Churches and Associations Among Baptists," Review and Expositor 52 (April 19551): 199.
(28.) W. W. Barnes, "Why the Southern Baptist Convention Was Formed," Review and Expositor 41 (January 1944): 3, 5, 8, 9 and Barnes, The Southern Baptist Convention, 12-32.
(29.) W. W. Barnes, "Progress of Baptist Principles from Constantine to Luther and the Anabaptists," Review and Expositor 23 (January :1926): 44, 49, 57, 58, 59; W. W. Barnes, "Progress of Baptist Principles from Jesus and Paul to Constantine," Review and Expositor 23 (January 1926): 303, 304, 309, 310-13; and W. W. Barnes, "Luther's View of the Church," Review and Expositor 14 (October 1917): 419-25.
(30.) Barnes, Study in Ecclesiology, 34.
(31.) Ibid., 78. Emphasis Barnes's.
(32.) Baker, "Barnes and Southwestern," 8.
Michael Williams is dean of humanities and social sciences and associate professor of history, Dallas Baptist University, Dallas, Texas.