W. H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy.
W. H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy. By James H. Slatton. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009. 348 pp.
The name W. H. Whitsitt is tied to one of the most significant controversies in Southern Baptist history. Whitsitt is well known to those who study Baptist history, although the man behind the name has always been a mystery ... until now.
James H. Slatton's book, W. H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy, reveals W. H. Whitsitt as never before. Using Whitsitt's personal diaries and papers, previously unavailable to other historians, Slatton uncovers a complicated and inquisitive man of faith. These personal diaries assist Slatton in painting a detailed picture of Whitsitt's life including his deep friendship with Crawford Toy, his love of learning, and his struggle with whether or not to remain a Baptist.
Slatton also does an excellent job of placing the reader in the time of Whitsitt. One comes away with a clear understanding of life in both Greenville, South Carolina, and Louisville, Kentucky, during the latter half of the 1800s. In this work one sees that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was a scholarly institution, truly advancing the field of religious study among Baptists, yet concurrently out of touch with many identified as Southern Baptists, especially those in states west of the Mississippi River. No doubt this misunderstanding would set the stage for the controversy that bears Whitsitt's name.
As groundbreaking and enlightening as Slatton's section on Whitsitt's life before the controversy is, his section on the controversy is unoriginal and disappointing. Slatton continues to hold the standard Southern Seminary view that the controversy set Landmarkers in the West against traditional Baptists. In examining this controversy, he rarely looks at primary sources, instead citing other works supported by primary source material research. If Slatton had examined sources such as the personal papers of B. H. Carroll, he might have discovered a fresh perspective on Carroll's attitude toward Whitsitt and Southern Seminary. For many Texas Baptist historians, the controversy was much more complicated than simply a dispute between Landmarkers and Traditionalists. The fact that Slatton does not at least dialogue with this point of view is disappointing.
Even though the book merely rehashes old views of the controversy, it is worth the read solely for the insight into the man. After one reads this book, Whitsitt becomes much more than just the name of the controversy. Whitsitt was a man who struggled with his developing theology, view of history, and his personal faith even as he educated young ministers.--Reviewed by Alan Lefever, director, Texas Baptist Historical Collection, Dallas, Texas.