SBTS Press releases “Confessing the Faith,” a commentary on Abstract of Principles
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) — Written nearly 25 years after R. Albert Mohler Jr. called for the restoration of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s confessional identity, a new book published by SBTS Press honors the enduring importance of the Abstract of Principles. In Confessing the Faith: The Living Legacy of Southern Seminary’s Abstract of Principles, Mohler, SBTS president and the book’s editor, and 19 faculty members contribute chapters defending each article of faith established in the institution’s 1858 confessional document.
The Abstract of Principles, penned by Basil Manly Jr., serves as the founding document for the seminary and all professors are required to affirm and teach in accordance with its statements. But when Mohler enrolled at SBTS three decades ago, he said some of his professors openly disagreed with the Abstract, including Dale Moody, who handed students personal revisions of the document. In the introduction to Confessing the Faith, Mohler says the current faculty’s contributions to the book and commitment to the Abstract are evidence “the theological recovery for which we had longed, prayed, and worked has come to pass.”
“The Abstract of Principles was instrumental in the recovery of this seminary,” Mohler writes. “This volume is more than a doctrinal exposition or devotional exercise. It is the display of public fidelity to a confession of faith, to the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In an interview with Southern News, Mohler reflected on his 1993 inaugural convocation address, “Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There,” in which he emphasized the foundational importance of the Abstract of Principles. While he expressed a joyful gratitude for a faculty that now affirms these truths, he said this new book is an opportunity to remember the school’s confessional identity.
“At times we need to make certain we’re holding up our own confession of faith and making clear that this is not just what we believe; it’s who we are,” Mohler said. “We do that in convocation when newly elected professors sign the Abstract of Principles publicly, in full view of the seminary and of the watching world, but this book is a way of making clear for now and for future generations these are the truths we hold and hold boldly.”
Like other Protestant confessions before it, the Abstract of Principles begins with an article defending the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Mohler contributes the chapter for Article I, noting this statement on the Scriptures was critical in the seminary’s establishment “as a bastion of biblical authority” and necessary for its renewal in the 20th century.
Mohler explains how the Abstract affirms the attributes of Scripture as the only “sufficient, certain, and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience,” which was a central issue to the Reformation. The Bible is essential to knowledge of and obedience to Christ, Mohler writes. In concluding the chapter, Mohler hearkens back to John Broadus’ famous saying when he reminds the reader of Southern Seminary’s primary purpose “to produce men who will be preachers ‘mighty in the Scriptures.’”
Article I “establishes Southern Seminary as confessional, it establishes that confession as based upon biblical authority, and it establishes the authority and inspiration of Scripture as the necessary place to start any theological conversation,” Mohler said in the interview. “It also makes very clear that the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention wasn’t developing new doctrine but affirming what Southern Baptists had believed from the beginning, and especially affirming the verbal inspiration of Scripture, as well as its infallibility and inerrancy.”
Referencing the swiftness of the cultural and moral revolution, Mohler said “it’s incredibly important that Southern Seminary publicly, authentically, and gladly holds to the convictions upon which the institution was established over 150 years ago.” But he also noted that the Abstract predates the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message by nearly 70 years and serves as a testament to denominational identity.
“It’s not an accident that The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the mother theological institution of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mohler said. “As the Southern Baptist Convention faces the full onslaught of the modern age, it’s going to be important for Southern Baptists to understand why confessionalism is so important and why the Abstract of Principles plays such a major role, in not only the life of this institution but in the process of Southern Baptist coming to know who they are and what they believe.”
The remaining 19 articles feature commentary from Southern Seminary professors, among them Bruce A. Ware on Article IV, “Providence”; Thomas R. Schreiner on Article XI, “Justification”; Gregg R. Allison on Article XIV, “The Church”; and Tom J. Nettles on Article XVIII, “Liberty of Conscience.”
In addition to the commentary, the book includes Mohler’s inaugural convocation address and an appendix with James P. Boyce’s “Three Changes to Theological Institutions,” the founder’s 1856 address explaining the need for a document like the Abstract for the seminary’s doctrinal preservation.
Copies of the book can be ordered exclusively at Southern’s LifeWay Campus Store. For phone orders, call (502) 897-4506.