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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

T.B. Maston - Conscience for Southern Baptists

Today at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, I will be presenting a paper entitled The Impact of Social Progressive T.B. Maston Upon Southern Baptist Life in the 20th Century. T.B. Maston was one of the most significant Southern Baptists of the twentieth century. More than any other figure, Maston was the preeminent shaper of Christian ethics and Christian social concern among Southern Baptists. His emphasis on applying the gospel to all aspects of life made his name synonymous with Christian ethics in the Southern Baptist Convention. A student of Richard Niebuhr at Yale, Maston taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1922-1963. Upon retirement, Maston continued to lecture at colleges and universities around the world. His 27 books and hundreds of periodicals have been widely read.

During his four-decade long teaching career at SWBTS, T.B. Maston taught around 10,000 seminarians. Several thousand of Maston's students took three of more of his courses. Many of his students served in high-ranking denominational roles. During the years of 1977-1978, three of the top elected officials to the Southern Baptist Convention - Jimmy Allen, Olan Runnels, and Lee Porter - were former students of Maston. Also during this period, four of the six presidents of SBC seminaries were former students: William Pinson, Russell Dilday, Milton Ferguson, and Randally Lolley. Many of Maston's students became professors and taught in virtually every field of study at the six Southern Baptist seminaries.

49 doctoral students at SWBTS received their Th.D. in Christian Ethics under T.B. Maston. Almost all of Maston's doctoral graduates have served as pastors, denominational workers, professors, or administrators in higher education. This influential list of ethicists includes 47 pastors, 21 denominational executives, 15 seminary professors, 15 college professors, 13 missionaries, 4 government officials, and 2 military chaplains. High ranking denominational executives among Maston's doctoral graduates include two seminary presidents, two college presidents, and four presidents of state Baptist conventions, two-vice presidents, and one president of the Southern Baptist Convention. All but two of Maston's doctoral graduates remained active Southern Baptists. 17 of the 30 professional Baptist ethicists working full-time for the SBC CLC were heavily influenced by Maston in its first thirty years of existence. In Texas, 3 of the first 4 directors of the BGCT's CLC received their doctoral degrees under Maston - Foy Valentine, Jimmy Allen, and James Dunn.

And a snippet from the paper....

Bill Moyers, former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson and internationally known journalist who studied with T.B. Maston once said, “When I’m asked to define Christian ethics, my best answer is Tom Maston. What the Old Testament prophets taught, he lived. He showed us that the theatre of Christian ethics is not the pulpit, the classroom or the counselor’s corner, but all of life.”[1] William Pinson, another former Maston student, added “Frequently, he served as a conscience for Southern Baptists troubling us regarding our racism, materialism, and provincialism.”[2]

T.B. Maston was clearly a pioneering progressive on selected social issues for Southern Baptists. As early as 1927, Maston challenged the racial orthodoxy of the South. Based on the biblical premise that “God is no respecter of persons,” Maston urged Southern Baptists to accept the gospel truth that all races are equal. Consequently, he contended that spiritual equality involves social equality and churches should take the lead in integrating themselves and opposing racial discrimination.

As a voice for freedom of conscience and religious liberty, Maston continued the Southern Baptist emphasis on the principle of separation of church and state. His focus on religious liberty helped to keep Southern Baptists thinking about what their cherished principle meant. For example, he argued for a progressive application of church-state separation in his opposition toward tuition tax credits for students of private schools.

The impact of T.B. Maston upon Southern Baptist life is best seen in his influence upon subsequent Southern Baptist leaders and institutions. T.B. Maston was an integral player in the formation of the Christian Life Commissions of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. In the 1960s and 1970s, when moderates dominated Southern Baptist life, the Christian Life Commission of the SBC followed in the footsteps of Maston’s progressive social ethic. Foy Valentine, the leader of the SBC CLC, was deeply influenced to his former professor, T.B. Maston. From its inception, the Texas CLC has articulated some progressive social views that were first voiced by T.B. Maston. James Dunn, who led the Texas CLC from 1968-1980 and who then went on to promote religious liberty for the Baptist Joint Committee in the 1980s has acknowledged his indebtedness to the teachings of T.B. Maston.[3] When students of Southern Baptist history analyze leading figures of the 1970s and 1980s, the names of Maston’s students are everywhere to be found. In addition to Foy Valentine and James Dunn, the list includes, but is not limited to, Jimmy Allen, Randall Lolley, and William Pinson.[4]

In 1979, then president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, William Pinson said “few men have been as widely known or as deeply loved as T.B. Maston. Few have blended ethics and evangelism, scholarship and pietism, a conservative theological outlook and a progressive social concern as well as he.”[5] At the dawn of the 21st century, however, Pinson’s words are likely no longer true. Many, and perhaps most, Baptists in the South have forgotten the contributions and impact of T.B. Maston upon Southern Baptist life in the 20th century. His progressive social ethic combined with a traditional evangelistic orthodoxy, is now seen as a position that is inherently contradictory. It is time once again for Baptists to review the contributions of T. B. Maston as they reflect upon the meaning of Baptist identity.

[1] Dunn, The Christian and the State, 29.

[2] Pinson, Texas Baptist Contributions to Ethics, 18.

[3] Oral Memoirs of James Milton Dunn, Waco, 1974, Baylor University Institute of Oral History, 1-5.

[4] Dunn, “Through Graduates,” 94-95. Throughout his ministry, Jimmy Allen served in various roles: Executive Director of the Texas Christian Life Commission, Executive Director of the Radio and Television Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Antonio, Texas. Randall Lolley served as President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1974 to 1988. William Pinson served as the President of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (1977-1982) and as the Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (1983-2000).

[5] Pinson, Texas Baptist Contributions to Ethics, 17-19. Maston protégé, Jimmy Allen, demonstrated what his teacher taught: a strong evangelistic ministry (500 baptized his first year) and a strong social ministry while the pastor of First Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas. Joe Trull, interview by author, 27 April 2007, Waco, Texas.

See The Impact of Social Progressive T.B. Maston Upon Southern Baptist Life in the 20th Century

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Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks for sharing this, Aaron. One of the concerns I've started to hear moderate Baptists voice is that our seminaries simply don't have the faculty to educate Christian ethicists as Maston and others did in the past. Both of my two friends who are studying for PhD's in Christian ethics are at Catholic universities, because the moderate Baptist world didn't offer the training they need. We're going to be in trouble very soon if we don't find a way to train people to apply ethics in public life - soon.

8:35 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...


Thumbs up to you for that.

I, I, I, can't explain that slip.

4:54 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...


6:46 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...


Tom's comment must have been deleted somehow. In the original post, I typed sex instead of six which Tom pointed out and made a joke.


I do wonder why the CBF seminaries or certain seminaries have not put as much influence on ethics? Strapped for cash? I assume financial reasons. Though, it's about time that moderate Baptists recover (in the schools) our social concerns. We have the BJC - but we lost the CLC.

A bigger problem for moderates is...we have no Baptist Phd or Thd programs. Baylor Religion has upped their standards to compete with Duke, Notre Dame, and Princeton.

I guess the moderate ministers of the future will settle for Dmins instead of Phds. And future moderate professors will have solely non-Baptist degrees.

9:08 PM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Maston was important, all right. His influence was strongest in the Southwest. In the Southeast, other social progressives (Henlee Barnette, Clarence Jordan, Edwin McNeil Poteat) had more influence.

9:04 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

The Poteats were indeed influential. Though much of that influence came before Maston.

A good argument could be made concerning Barnette v. Mason. They were both the leading ethicists of the day. Honestly, I chose Maston over Barnette (who I knew as a little kid in Louisville) because Dunn was a Maston student. My thesis is on Dunn and the research on Maston has helped with that thesis.

The paper was more concerned with those involved in the Southern Baptist Convention. Jordan was a SBTS student but he quickly became an outsider to mainstream Southern Baptist life and gave up on the Convention. I believe he called himself an ex-Southern Baptist.

The influence of Jordan and Campbell was real but on active Southern Baptists - I'm not sure.

Foy Valentine said this - not about Jordan (since he lived at Koinonia, I doubt he'd disrespect Jordan).

The dissenter who chafed at the Southern Baptist models and structures according to Valentine was “the outsider, who yaps at the outside,…drinking a little whiskey, and privately just doing his own thing. They have some influence, to be sure, but it’s really pretty peripheral.”

11:00 AM

Anonymous Benjamin S. Cole said...


Don't you hate that I'm not in seminars any longer to interact with your paper?

11:59 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Actually, yes.

Dr. Hankins was the only Baptist willing to interact with yesterday.

4:25 PM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I think the person to whom Foy Valentine was alluding was Carlyle Marney, but was possibly Will D. Campbell.

Don't underestimate Clarence Jordan's influence. He referred to himself as "ex-Southern Baptist" because the local SBC congregation in Americus excommunicated everyone at Koinonia for "race mixing." Jordan traveled all over the country speaking in both American and Southern Baptist congregations, camp meetings, conferences and ethics classrooms. Also, folks like Henlee Barnette (Jordan's good friend) and others kept sending their students to investigate Koinonia for themselves--some stayed and others left inspired to find their own radical paths. Also, Jordan's books began showing up all over the SBC and elsewhere.
I think one would be very hard put to find more than a handful of SBC progressives or radicals in the Southeast who were not influenced directly or indirectly by Clarence Jordan.

As for Barnette & Maston being the leading SBC ethicists of their day (almost the only ones for awhile), you are right on target. Barnette's students like Paul Simmons, Glen Stassen, and others tended to become either ethicists themselves or pastors with Ph.Ds in Christian ethics who led major social social movements (e.g., W.W. Finlator). Maston's students usually ended up in the BJC (Valentine, Dunn) or with state or SBC-wide Christian Life Commissions (Dunn, again, with the Texas CLC; others) or as missionary ethicists (Bob and Sherry Adams).

I also think that the centrist to progressive Baptist seminaries may not need to develop Ph.D. programs. We could take a page from the Mennonites at this point and say that all ministers must have a seminary degree from a Baptist school, but if they go on to Ph.D. work do it at an ecumenical school (e.g.,Union of New York, Duke, Emory, Vanderbilt, Chicago, Harvard, Yale, etc.). This gets us people grounded in Baptist tradition, but not ingrown--exposed to ecumenical trends.

11:52 AM

Blogger Mike Broadway said...

I was blessed to know Dr. Maston in the last years of his life, although I knew of him long before that because of my dad's great respect for him. One of my first projects in doctoral studies at Duke was to examine his methodologies for studying the Bible and doing Christian ethics.

The lack of responses to the T. B. Maston presentation may also reveal an aspect of Baptist theological scholarship that has been prevalent over the decades. Most Baptists who study history, theology, and Bible are unlikely to mine their own tradition. Few write about Maston in these days.

There is an advantage to developing programs which encourage study of Baptist churches and figures at the doctoral level. Michael is right that not all Baptist scholars need to get their doctorates at Baptist schools. Students now at U. of Dayton, Marquette, Duke, Emory, and other places will receive much from the diverse perspectives they encounter. But a few studying with a Baptist faculty who are not Southern Baptist will also help to strengthen the tradition.

2:09 PM


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