David A. McGee, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz and a candidate for the doctor of education at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., recently completed research used in his dissertation titled “A Mixed-Methods Study of the Variables that Influence Florida Southern Baptists’ Affirmation of the Inerrancy of the Bible.”
The research was sparked by McGee’s interest in understanding if a historic struggle over the inerrancy of Scripture—largely played out among Southern Baptists during the Conservative Resurgence in the latter part of the 20th Century—affects the way in which congregants today not only view the Bible but live according to biblical principles.
“The assumption is that Southern Baptist Church members affirm the doctrine of inerrancy, but to-date limited research has been provided to substantiate the validity of this assumption,” McGee told the Witness.
Certain that leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention settled the question after political struggles in the 1980s and 1990s over the affirmation of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (BF&M 2000) statement on doctrine was drafted and approved by messengers to the SBC, McGee wasn’t certain about what rank and file Florida Baptists believe.
McGee drafted a 68-question survey and used a research company to assist him in obtaining random samples from 502 Florida Southern Baptists.
The survey questions were aimed at discovering what Florida Southern Baptists (FSB) believed about the doctrine of inerrancy and were further grouped into six sub-categories for evaluation: “Do FSB affirm the deity of Christ?” “Do FSB affirm the doctrine of the Trinity?” “Do FSB affirm the resurrection of Jesus Christ?” “Do FSB affirm the miracles reported in the Bible?” “Do FSB affirm the supernatural events reported in Genesis?” and “Do FSB affirm the authority of the Bible in their personal lives?”
Results confirm some seem to deny the supernatural events recorded in Genesis and the authority of the Bible in their personal lives, McGee said in his report. And yet, more than 90 percent of respondents agree that the Bible is their final authority for making life decisions.
Specifically McGee asked respondents about questions in Genesis that contained information about historic events contained in Genesis chapters 1-11.
In his summary, McGee concludes the study reveals “a large percentage of Florida Southern Baptist church members affirm the doctrine (of inerrancy), but the underlining beliefs are not always consistently acknowledged.” He stated more research is needed.
What follows is a synopsis of McGee’s research that he prepared, excerpts of his dissertation, and information and charts he prepared for publication:
EXCERPT: One of the historical positions of Southern Baptists, as stated by Bush and Nettles in their book The Baptists and the Bible, is the belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. They explored the history of Southern Baptists’ belief of the authority, inspiration, and infallibility of the Bible and concluded that the Bible is and also has been the highest authority for Southern Baptists. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was in the midst of a political struggle over the Bible. Within the denomination were two groups—conservatives and moderates. Conservatives believed in biblical inerrancy that is the Bible is without error while moderates were strong Bible believers, but allowed more leeway for biblical interpretation. In 1979, led by Paige Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler, the conservatives sought to elect Southern Baptist presidents who would affirm inerrancy of the Bible. In 2000, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM 2000) was craft and approved by the SBC. Within the area of scripture the phrase “therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy and all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” was added and the phrase “the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ” was removed. With this change the SBC had attempted in more precise language to affirm the inerrancy of the Bible through the BFM 2000.
Since that time, the existing literature revealed a gap in the research. Namely, the general membership within the SBC had not been surveyed to determine the degree to which, if any, they affirmed the doctrine of inerrancy. The leadership and delegates within the SBC had affirmed the BFM 2000, but what was not known was if the general membership affirmed this belief and to what degree. A study was conducted in 2013 and a sample population of Florida Southern Baptist membership was selected.
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