The saint's suitor: Crawford H. Toy (1).
Less well known is the story of the man to whom Lottie Moon was engaged to be married, who became the center of Southern Baptists' first theological crisis (2) and first controversy over the Old Testament, Crawford Howell Toy. His story is fascinating and instructive.
C. A. Briggs said that Toy was "the first to suffer for Higher Criticism in the United States." (3) Yet,
seldom has a "heretic" been more beloved by his opponents than this one. No one of those who voted against him denied his ability, piety, honor, integrity, and candor. Indeed, they professed their admiration and even their confidence in him. (4)
Who was this `beloved heretic," and what can we learn from his experience?
Toy's Early Life
Crawford Howell Toy was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in March 1836. (5) He attended a military school, the Norfolk Academy, and the University of Virginia when some of the professors could still remember the university's founder, Thomas Jefferson. (6) John A. Broadus was his beloved tutor in Greek for a brief time. Toy received his M.A. in 1856. (7)
Toy taught for three years in Charlottesville at the Albermarle Female Institute adjoining the university campus; he also served as assistant principal. The institute was organized in part through the efforts of Broadus, the pastor of the First Baptist Church, who was president of its trustees. Charlotte Diggs Moon became a student there in 1857. The girls were known to develop serious crushes on Toy. As it turned out, Moon "was undisputably the outstanding student in languages and a match for Toy's brilliance." (8) In June 1861, he called at her home and asked her to marry him. She refused at that time. (9)
Toy was a student in the first session of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859. The faculty consisted of Broadus; James P. Boyce, who also served as president; Basil Manly Jr.; and William Williams. In one year, Toy finished about three-fourths of the three-year course. Broadus, who had baptized him in 1854, ordained him in June 1860. (10)
In 1860, Toy was considered orthodox enough to be appointed as a missionary to Japan. He spent that summer and fall visiting churches that had agreed to sponsor his work. However, the political situation forced the mission board not to send out new missionaries. (11) He spent the last part of the year as professor of Greek at Richmond College.
The Civil War began, and in October 1861, Toy, a devout supporter of the Confederacy, joined the Norfolk Light Artillery Blues. He eventually became an infantry chaplain in General Lee's army. He was in Longstreet's Corps at Gettysburg. During the retreat, he remained behind with the surgeons and was wounded and captured on July 4, 1863. He was imprisoned at Fort McHenry and participated in a prisoner exchange the following December. (12)
During an interval in the battle of Cold Harbor in 1864, he was seen lying on an oilcloth, occupying himself by studying Arabic. Another friend wrote that since Toy's Syriac books were back in Norfolk, he had to fall back on German for amusement. He also "tramped all the way from Seven Pines battlefield to Richmond to consult a Hebrew grammar." (13)
Crawford Toy served briefly as a professor at the University of Alabama, which was the military training school for the Confederacy. After the war he returned to the University of Virginia where, in 1865-66, he was "licentiate" in Greek. (14)
Toy was in Berlin 1866-68, where he studied theology, Sanskrit, and Semitics (but no Old Testament).
It is difficult to assess the full impact of the years in Berlin on Toy's Intellectual religious development. It would appear that they did not greatly alter his religious orientation at the time, but they did serve to sharpen his intellectual tools, to put him in touch with the best theological scholarship, and to whet further his appetite for research. (15)
Upon his return, he was named professor of Greek at Furman, the mother institution of Southern Seminary. Furman's theological library and endowment, along with its young professor Boyce, had passed to the seminary when it was founded in 1859. Toy began his duties at Furman in January 1869. He also privately tutored seminary students. For at least some of time in Greenville, Toy boarded with Broadus. (16)
Early Southern Seminary Career
In May 1869, the seminary trustees invited Toy, who was thirty-three, to become professor of Old Testament interpretation and oriental languages. (17) He was the first addition to the original faculty. He was a first-rate scholar and teacher. His inaugural address was brilliant and completely orthodox. No one raised any question about it. In fact, it is only in relatively recent times that anyone at Southern Seminary has found any fault with it. (18) He argued that since Baptists rested their case completely on the Bible, it was therefore urgent that they undertake its proper interpretation. He pointed out principles by which this might be done. One of these principles was "that the Bible, its real assertations being known, is in every iota of its substance absolutely and infallibly true." (19)
In essence, Toy maintained that Scripture has two natures: an internal nature (the work of the Holy Spirit) and an external nature (the facts of history, geography, and grammar that can be investigated). In other words, the Bible is wholly divine and wholly human.
Every scholar and every Christian must be gratified at such a specimen of exegetical accomplishments; and particularly every Baptist must feel glad and grateful to have such erudition, and, at the same time, such unsophisticated piety, engaged in the explanation and defense of what we consider the just and true interpretation of the sacred text. (20)
At Greenville, however, Toy continued to seek a harmony between the first chapters of Genesis and the emerging science of the day. He had begun to read books of geology at an early age. He held to the popular view that the "days" of Genesis I were geological periods. He saw that chapter as a geological history of the earth. He held this view while in Germany and for several years after his return. (21)
However, as he continued his Hebrew studies, he became convinced that the term day must mean a natural day of twenty-four hours. He decided that Genesis 1 did not correspond to the geological periods. Toy then came to hold that the writer of Genesis was not narrating what took place in a historical fashion but was simply dividing all created things into categories and had assigned them to days for poetic and rhetorical vividness. The main point of the author, then, was that God made all things.
This also ceased to satisfy him. Toy eventually began to ask, Does not this chapter really represent simply the "crude cosmogonic ideas of the Israelites and the Babylonians, from whom the Israelites seem to have got them?"
This was when the writings of Charles Darwin first appeared, creating an anthropological as well as a theological problem. Toy gave a popular lecture advocating Darwin's views of man while the seminary was still located in Greenville. (22) It was also about this time that he became acquainted with the thought of Kuenen and Wellhausen. Their views appealed to him and helped him in his own reconstruction of the Old Testament material. He became convinced that the proper approach to the Bible was to "take the kernel of truth from its outer covering of myth." (23)
Toy testified that his fear that uncertainty would destroy the Bible's truthfulness and helpfulness now vanished, and he no longer worried about reconciling the findings of Scripture with contemporary scientific views. He found himself "at peace and in a position absolutely beyond the reach of science." He apparently reached this conclusion about 1874 or 1875, two to three years before the seminary moved to Louisville in 1877. Only after the move did he incorporate enough of his views in his teaching to give any concern to his colleagues and students. (24)
Toy continued to be reverent and considerate in his attitude toward Scripture, but he began to insist that students face realistically the problems there. He presented all aspects of these problems and stated his own view, always insisting that students should make up their own minds. (25)
The Controversy Begins
When the seminary moved to Louisville, Toy continued to be active in his local Baptist church and in the larger denomination. Seminary professors were "expected to assist in securing the financial commitments necessary to the Seminary's continued existence." Toy traveled widely and was quite successful in these efforts. "As late as January, 1879, Toy was still working to raise money for students at the Seminary who needed financial support to obtain their education. (26)
Near the end of the first session in Louisville, Prffsident Boyce and perhaps others became concerned about TOy's teaching. When Boyce did become concerned, he was not merely opposed to Toy's views; he feared that they would offend seminary supporters. The seminary had been in a critical financial position since the Civil War. In fact, it was these very difficulties that had led to the relocation. Boyce was trying to raise endowment funds to save the seminary, and thus felt that the future of its existence was in the balance. He came to feel that Baptists would not support an institution in which teachings like Toy's were tolerated. (27)
But Boyce was also anxious to avoid any move that might look like an official inquisition. He, of course, had Broadus speak with his charge.
Toy believed strongly that his approach would remove most of the intellectual difficulties students had with the Scriptures and would thus deepen their faith. Broadus, on the other hand, insisted that most of the students were not prepared "for fitting examination of any such theoretical inquiries, and needed to be instructed in the Old Testament history as it stands," (28) in other words, the traditional approach. Toy promised to try to do this, and he tried honestly to keep his promise. However, Toy felt that he had to respond to student questions that grew out of their knowledge of his ideas shared in a previous session. It was not long before he confessed that he found it impossible to fulfill the request that his mentor had made of him. (29)
Up to this point, the public had paid little notice of this developing controversy. The Baptist press and public were unaware of it. But this soon changed.
The breach between Toy and the Seminary occurred as a result of certain critical and exegetical notes on the Sunday School lessons that appeared in the Sunday School Times. The Sunday School Times for April 19, 1879 carried Toy's notes for the lesson of May 4, 1879, entitled "The Suffering Saviour" and based on Isaiah 53:1-12. In the lesson, Toy identified the persecuted and afflicted Servant of Yahweh, not as referring directly to the sufferings of Christ, but as referring primarily to the godly Israel within Israel. (30)
However, Toy did add that there was a final, complete fulfillment in Christ.
Immediately (April 24), the Christian Intelligencer, a periodical of the Reformed Church in America, launched a frontal assault on Toy (31) and the Sunday School Times, which responded with an attempt to justify Toy's position. However, some Baptist papers in the North took up the alarm. In order to clarify his situation, Toy decided to carry with him to the Southern Baptist Convention and annual trustee meeting a document that would state his views, his argument that the teaching of these views was beneficial, and his resignation. He apparently felt that including his resignation in this document would bring the matter to a head. He seems to have believed that he would receive vindication, and was crushed and bewildered by the turn of events. (32)
Toy had, of course, signed the Abstract of Principles, which Boyce insisted would guard the orthodoxy of the professors. It is relatively generous in its doctrinal statements. With regard to the Scripture it stated: "The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain, and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge and obedience." (33) Toy maintained that he fully accepted this first article and taught "in accordance with, and not contrary to it." He pointed out that while the Scriptures declare the fact of God's divine inspiration, they say nothing of the manner of God's action.
Nothing is said of the mode of operation of the Divine Spirit, ... of the relation of the divine influence to the ordinary workings of the human intellect.... Against facts, no theory can stand, and I prefer, therefore, to have no theory, but submit myself to the guidance of the actual words of Holy Scripture. (34)
He professed his belief about the Bible:
[T] he Bible is wholly divine and wholly human; the Scripture is the truth of God communicated by Him to the human soul, appropriated by it and then given out with free, human energy, as the sincere, real conviction of the soul. To undertake to say what must be the outward forms of God's revelation of himself to man, seems to me presumptuous. (35)
He further stated that he believed that the writers of Scripture were people who had received messages from God and uttered them under completely free and human conditions.
The inspired man speaks his own language, not another man's, and writes under the conditions of his own age, not under those of some other age.... I find that the geography, astronomy and other physical science of the sacred writers was that of their times. It is not that of our times, it is not that which seems to us correct, but it has nothing to do with their message of religious truth from God.... The message is not less divine to me because it is set in the framework of a primitive and incorrect geology.... If our heavenly Father sends a message by the stammering tongue of a man, I will not reject the message because of the stammering. The early history of Israel was for a long time not committed to writing but handed down by oral tradition, under which process it was subject to a more or less free expansion. In this expanded form it was received at a comparatively late time by the Prophets and Priests who put it into shape, and made it the vehicle of religious truth. (36)
Toy stated that to teach these views was not only lawful in relation to the Abstract of Principles but that they were views that would "bring aid and firm standing ground to many a perplexed mind and establish the truth of God on a firm foundation." (37) He submitted to the trustees the question of whether or not his view of inspiration was in conflict with the Abstract of Principles.
It is obvious that Toy's views were not in technical conflict with the Abstract and also obvious that they were more advanced than those of the majority of Southern Baptists. So the board appointed a committee. Its chair, James C. Furman, president of Furman University, a long-time friend of Toy, met with him personally.
Thus, the committee and consequently the board refused to enter into the question of Toy's orthodoxy or to consider whether or not he was teaching in harmony with the Abstract of Principles, and laid their acceptance of his resignation on the "divergence of his views of inspiration from those held by our brethren in general." That is to say, they determined that the Seminary would be an institution that was simply to reflect the current preponderant views of the denomination. It did not have the right to the type of freedom that would permit proper theological research and expression of views which differ from the majority. Further evidence indicates that this action was taken in large part because the board felt that Toy's "remaining in the Seminary would hinder the raising of money for the endowment." (38)
The vote was 18 to 2. Toy accepted this decision gracefully and apparently did not hold bitterness in his heart
John A. Broadus declared, "Toy is among the foremost scholars I have ever known of his years, and an uncommonly conscientious and devoted man." (39) Broadus said that the board members were all in tears as they voted. The faculty member closest to Toy, however, was, ironically, William Heth Whitsitt. They had roomed together as professors. Whitsitt felt that what had happened was an academic calamity and a denominational blunder created by ignorance and lack of appreciation. Of course, he had also been taught to employ and respect the results of scientific historical method. He, too, had studied in Germany. He was sure that the board's actions could only seriously hinder open, objective historical research. (40)
James C. Furman, who had voted against Toy, was himself in difficulty. Furman University was in great financial distress, and many were placing at least part of the blame on its president. The Furman faculty resigned during the meeting of the convention. Within a few days, Toy was offered a professorship and then the presidency. He declined both. (41)
There were those throughout the South, following the Toy episode, who recognized the dangers involved in the method used dealing with his resignation. Manly felt himself to be in an especially delicate position when, during subsequent months, Toy's friends and former students carried on a prolonged battle in the Baptist papers. J. A. Chambliss, pastor of the Citadel Square Baptist Church in Charleston, was one of the two who had voted against accepting the resignation.
[He] pointed out that the trustees never really dealt with the real question of whether Toy's views were "sensible and Christian." In effect what was done was to say that his views were not those to which Baptists are accustomed, "and therefore, much as we prize him, honor him, love him, he must go." Chambliss was especially concerned that the trustees were making it a principle that a "professor in the Seminary must not go outside or beyond the circles within which the mass of the people who sustain the Seminary find their opinions, however nebulous those opinions may be, or however shifting the limits that encircle them." He added that there was a multitude of men who loved the Seminary ardently and who dreaded "the thought of its becoming a manufactory of theological music boxes, all shaped and pitched alike to give forth an invariable number of invariable tunes." (42)
Another trustee admitted that "the Board did not even pass judgement on the paper [Toy] presented," but were simply concerned with the future of the Seminary. He said:
I do not regard Dr. Toy as denying the inspiration of the Scriptures.... The difference between him and me, and the Baptists generally, is not as to the fact, but as to the manner and extent of inspiration.... As a Christian or even a pastor Dr. Toy might hold the views he does [but not as a professor. As a professor] he was.... to represent Baptist views of truth. (43)
Miss Moon Reappears and Disappears
Through his brief teaching career, Toy had continued to talk of going to Japan in spite of the unwillingness of the Foreign Mission Board to send him. Lottie Moon had written letters home, which were published in the Religious Herald in 1878. The note of loneliness they contained called forth greetings from her old acquaintance, Crawford Toy. The two exchanged letters over a period of some months. "The engagement which she had earlier refused she now accepted, and the two agreed to be married upon her return home on furlough. They were apparently planning to go to Japan as man and wife." (44)
She coolly informed her colleagues ... that she would be leaving to "take the professor of Hebrew's chair at Harvard University in connection with Dr. Toy." Miss Moon asked family members in Virginia to prepare for a wedding in the spring. (45)
The shocked group prevailed on her to wait until later. (46) Eventually, she began to hear of the controversy. "She obtained books which were representative of Toy's position which she studied. She became violently opposed to his views, broke off the engagement, and never married." (47) "Toy's family understood that there was an engagement which was broken because of religious differences." (48)
Toy in Subsequent (49)
It was through newspaper accounts that President Elliot at Harvard first heard of Toy. During his first (of two) heresy trials, the inestimable William Robertson Smith of Aberdeen had been invited to the chair of Hebrew and other oriental languages at Harvard. His assembly did not condemn him (at that time), and he decided to remain at the Free Church College in Scotland. (50) Eliot offered the position to Toy instead. (51)
Toy soon proved himself one of the ablest professors in the divinity school. He quickly built up the Semitic Department. At one time or another, he himself offered instruction in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Ethiopic, the Talmud, general Semitic grammar, the history of Israel, the religion of Israel, Old Testament introduction, quotations from the Old Testament, criticism of the Pentateuch, criticism of Chronicles, and the Spanish and Bagdad Califates. He also published extensively. (52)
He had not only been liberated from the necessity of laboring in the restrictive setting of the seminary, but he had been catapulted into the generous environment of a world-famous university.
In 1888, at age fifty-two, he married Nancy Saunders of Norfolk. He eventually retired in 1909, but he kept studying and writing. He wore a full beard and was said to resemble his former commander, Robert E. Lee. He remained a Baptist for several years but later associated himself with the Unitarians. (53)
When I first began to think about this article in 1983, I asked myself the question: Would Crawford Toy be employed today by a Southern Baptist seminary? The question is now moot, since many people far to Toy's right are no longer employable.
Paul House has said, "It is neither easy nor safe, nor perhaps even fair, to draw applications for today from a life lived in another time under different circumstances, but comparisons are inevitable." (54) Nevertheless, here are some of the issues this case raises:
* Toy's failure or inability to comply with this commitment not to teach in a disturbing way. We can blame the students for this, who kept inquiring about the questions they had heard about and Toy's own good nature in trying to help them.
* The role of competing elements of the Baptist press. Still, today, every doctrinal point of view is represented by a regular publication. Sensationalism sells papers; bitter, vituperative attacks sell some religious papers. These were the days of J. Frank Norris and The Iconoclast of William Cowper Braun.
* The tension between formal standards/guidelines like the Abstract of Principles and the "unwritten rules" by which everyone abides.
* Can the Toy of 1879 be held accountable for the views of the Toy of 19097 Must the younger man be held accountable for how his views developed and changed, in light of the ways he was treated? The danger that he might become heterodox was considered determinative, in much the same way Southwestern Dean of Theology Tommy Lea said to Professor Keith Putt in the late 1990s.
* How do we balance scholarly pursuits in settings, like a seminary, with institutional financial needs? (55)
(1.) This article is respectfully dedicated to my teachers, Robert A. Baker and William Estep, and to my personal and invaluable research assistant, Barrett Kent Border, who--as was originally said of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII--is her father's daughter. See David Starkey, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne (New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 2001), 26.
(2.) Russ Bush and Thomas J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 20.
(3.) A. Briggs, General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899), 286.
(4.) Pope A. Duncan, "Crawford Howell Toy: Heresy at Louisville," in American Religious Heretics: Formal and Informal Trials, ed. George H. Shriver (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966), 56.
(5.) Joel F. Drinkard Jr. and Page H. Kelley, "125 Years of Old Testament Study at Southern," Review and Expositor 82, no. 1 (Winter 1985): 9.
(6.) Paul R. House, "Neglected Voices in Theology," Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 3, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 29.
(7.) Drinkard and Kelley, 9.
(8.) Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980), 33.
(9.) Billy Grey Hurt, "Crawford Howell Toy: Interpreter of the Old Testament" (Th.D diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1966).
(10.) Duncan, 57-58.
(11.) Drinkard and Kelley, 9.
(12.) Duncan, 58.
(13.) J. S. Dill, Lest We Forget (Nashville: Baptist Sunday School Board, 1938), 42.
(14.) Duncan, 58.
(15.) Ibid., 61.
(16.) Ibid., 59-60.
(17.) Drinkard and Kelley, 8.
(18.) Paul R. House, "Neglected Voices."
(19.) Duncan, 59, 61-62.
(20.) W. H. Wilson, Religious Herald (March 31, 1870); quoted by Hurt, 52.
(21.) Archibald Thomas Robertson, Life and Letters of John Albert Broadus (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1910), 197.
(22.) Hurt, 60.
(23.) William Carter Lindsay, "Scrapbook Composed of Newspaper Clippings Concerning the `Toy Controversy.'" Unpublished material in the library of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, 3.
(24.) Duncan, 64.
(26.) Hurt, 55, 57-59.
(27.) Duncan, 65.
(30.) Hurt, 62.
(31.) It was The Worm Magazine of its day.
(32.) Rosalie Beck, Southwest Region of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion (March 13, 1998); see also Duncan, 66-67.
(33.) Quoted by Duncan, 67.
(34.) Quoted in Duncan, 67.
(35.) Quoted in Duncan, 67.
(36.) Quoted in Duncan, 67-68.
(37.) Quoted in Duncan, 68.
(38.) Duncan, 69.
(39.) Archibald Thomas Robertson, Life and Letters of John Albert Broadus (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1901), 173-74; quoted by Duncan, 60-61.
(40.) Duncan, 72-73.
(41.) Ibid., 71.
(42.) Ibid., 75.
(43.) T. H. Pritchard; quoted in Duncan, 75. See the Western Recorder (May 22, 1979): 4.
(44.) Duncan, 71.
(45.) Erich Bridges, "Lottie Moon's Romance," SBC Life (December 1996), 10.
(46.) Allen, 138.
(47.) Duncan, 72.
(48.) Allen, 139.
(49.) The parameters of this paper dictate that the later years are treated only cursorily.
(50.) The Scottish great had the same experience as Toy. Those in judgment did not bother to see whether his views contradicted the Westminster Confession of Faith, which Smith insisted he was true to. See William Johnstone, ed., Introduction, William Robertson Smith: Essays in Reassessment (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 20.
(51.) Duncan, 76.
(52.) Ibid., 76-77.
(53.) Ibid., 77-78.
(54.) Paul A. House, "Crawford Howell Toy and the Weight of Hermeneutics," Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 3, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 37.
(55.) For a treatment of his perspective over the decades, see E. Glenn Hinson, "Between Two Worlds: Southern Seminary, Southern Baptists, and American Theological Education," Baptist History and Heritage (April 1985).
Dan Gentry Kent is retired professor of Old Testament, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, and president of the Baptist History and Heritage Society.