This is Ron Hale’s fourth article on the approaching 40th anniversary of the Conservative Resurgence (1979-2019). The first article is located here, the second can be found here and the third is located here. To read Hale’s other articles on the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, type “Ron F. Hale” into “Search this site” on the right hand side of the Index home page found here.
The Alamo is an enduring symbol of the courage of ordinary men and women confronting extraordinary events. 152 years after the Battle of the Alamo, a different kind of battle took place in San Antonio, Texas. Some refer to it as the “Battle for the Bible” for Southern Baptists.
By 692 votes, Dr. Jerry Vines was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention out of 32,291 votes cast in the summer of 1988. The election of another conservative president with the purpose of stemming the tide of theological liberalism in the SBC meant the movement would endure.
Vines was fifty years old and the co-pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, FL, when elected. During his first two decades at this congregation, 18,177 people were baptized, a new $16 million auditorium was built, an $8 million preschool building was completed, and several new parking garages were built to handle the fast-growing flock.
He is “Baptist born, and Baptist bred and when he dies he’ll be Baptist dead!” said Dr. Ralph M. Smith (1931-2017) when nominating Vines in San Antonio. Three decades later, Jerry Vines is still very much alive and at the sagely age of 80 began working on a Ph.D. in preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX in the fall of 2017. It must be humbling for any younger seminary professor to say they are the “teacher” of the man many consider one of America’s finest expositors of God’s Word.
Early Years and Influences
Charles Jerry Vines was born in a rural area of Carrollton, Georgia, on September 22, 1937. His family attended church and Jerry became a Christian during a Sunday night service at the age of nine.
As a kid, Jerry was known to sit attentively listening to his pastor’s sermons while taking notes. As he got older, his parents remember their son’s light on in his room well into the night as he studied.
Listening to the advice of his pastor, Rev. John T. Tippet, Jr., the young Vines enrolled in Mercer University after graduating from high school in 1955 and after sensing a strong call to preach. At the Baptist school, he majored in Christianity and pursued a double minor in Greek and philosophy.
During his freshman year, Jerry heard truth-claims by Ph.D. professors that shook his faith to the core. He heard statements like: “Any man who says the Bible is without error is a fool!” and “You can’t believe all the miracles really happened in the Bible.”
What does a country-boy preacher from the red-clay hills of North Georgia do when facing a crisis of faith? With slouching shoulders and troubled heart, Jerry found a wooded area to seek the face of God. With Bible in hand and knees in the dirt, Jerry prayed, “Lord, I’ve been taught that this Bible is Your Word. I am now hearing that it is not Your Word, and, Lord, they are smarter than I will ever be, but, Lord, You have taught me. I have been taught by those I respect that the Bible is God’s Word. I will take what they say by faith; I will believe that the Bible is inspired,” according to Nancy Lee Smith’s story entitled A Faithful Soldier.
Jerry arose from that prayer with renewed confidence to preach and defend the Bible for the rest of his life. His stirring sermon, “A Baptist and His Bible” preached at the SBC annual meeting in 1987 is a great example of his defense of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God. This compelling message is regarded as a key turning point in the Conservative Resurgence.
Questions and Answers
From his historic vantage point, Dr. Vines responded to my following questions concerning the SBC Conservative Resurgence.
Q: Dr. Vines, what were your greatest hopes and dreams for Southern Baptists as you and other key leaders worked toward a Conservative Resurgence?
A: My greatest hopes and dreams were that the SBC would return to its conservative roots, believing in the inerrancy of Scripture, so that our schools and students trained there would affirm this position relative to Scripture. The overwhelming majority of our churches and people had never left that position. There had been a drift in our institutions of higher learning.
Q: What was your greatest fear as you and other key leaders worked toward a Conservative Resurgence?
A: I really had no fear in terms of the Conservative Resurgence, except that we might fail in our efforts.
Q: Dr. Vines, looking back, what was a defining moment for you in the CR?
A: To me the defining moment was the election of Morris Chapman as SBC President. This meant that the ten-year effort to get appointments that would influence the trustee boards of our institutions would be complete.
Q: Who were some of the unsung heroes of the CR?
A. The unsung heroes of the CR were those faithful pastors and laypeople who worked to get messengers to attend the conventions.
Q: Dr. Vines, did the CR accomplish the things that were hoped for?
A. The Conservative Resurgence accomplished most of the things we hoped for, except it hasn’t resulted in a strong upswing in evangelism.
Q: Do you have a comment concerning the leadership of Dr. Paige Patterson during the Conservative Resurgence?
A: Dr. Paige Patterson was a brilliant theologian and faithful Christian servant through all of the personal abuse that was heaped upon him. I saw that leadership in his gracious debates with moderates in our convention, like the one he had with Dr. Cecil Sherman.
Still burning the midnight oil, Dr. Vines has recently worked with Thomas Nelson Bibles to preserve and publish a portion of his sixty years of wisdom and work into the 2018 publication of The Vines Expository Bible. This writer treasures his copy!
Listening to Dr. Vines preach online recently, I heard him say to the congregation, ‘’I’m glad to be here. When you get my age, you are glad to be anywhere.”
Sir, we are grateful that you are still with us. Thank you for “staying by stuff” all these years.
© Ron F. Hale, September 29, 2018