Southern Baptists have a long line of key figures that have shaped the way the denomination is today. These individuals’ faith has endured sufferings and trials that have produced a peculiar glory. Today, Southern Baptists are who they are because of the faithfulness of those who have gone before them. This paper will discuss five key individuals including Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, Jesse Mercer, W.A. Criswell, and R. Albert Mohler.
Though Judson’s early years were filled with skepticism, he would eventually come to a crisis of faith. While in this dark place, he would seek the counsel of some professors from Andover Seminary which he would attend soon after. While at Andover, Judson would become a believer and show an interest in missions overseas. On February 6, 1812, he and five of his friends would be commissioned by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and would sail for India. Through studying the Scriptures while crossing the sea, he would come to understand the biblical idea of baptism thus converting as a Baptist.
Judson would become the first appointee by the newly formed Baptist Board of Foreign Missions and the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination. He would work for nearly four decades in the Burma where he would experience the trials of imprisonment as well as the deaths of two of his three wives. However, that did not deter him from doing what he felt God call him to do while here on earth. “The Baptist community in the United States owed an incalculable debt to Judson, for he gave them not only an overseas missionary program but also a sense of national denominational identity and purpose.”
Moon was one of the first single women missionaries to be commissioned. She would travel to China where she would work the rest of her life for the glory of God. She primarily worked with the villages of Tengchow and Pingtu. She would devote her life to the communities of people within these villages.
Her life as a missionary was not easy and she would witness many others burnout from the missionary life. This would include her own sister as well. However, Moon would endure and would “accept the ‘real drudgery’ of mission life.” She cared and loved for the people of China all the way to her dying day.
Moon would change the course of Baptist history forever. Writing to Southern Baptist women, she would end the “hand-to-mouth” way of raising support. In her letter, she would ask that women would take an offering at Christmastime which would fund to send more women missionaries. “This letter helped to swing the tide in favor of organizing the Woman’s Missionary Union, Auxillary to Southern Baptist Convention, on May 11, 1888.”
Mercer was a son of a prominent Baptist preacher, Silas. Yet, Mercer was a Baptist with his own accolades. He would be responsible for the flourishing of The Christian Index. He would be the founding father of a college that is now known as Mercer University. He would also be the original moderator for the newly formed Georgia Baptist Convention. This convention would the second oldest in America.
In the days of Mercer, the traditional views of Calvinism were being replaced by a modified view brought on by Andrew Fuller. Mercer was instrumental in maintaining the traditional views while accepting many of the new methods being introduced.
W. A. Criswell
Criswell was an esteemed pastor in the mid-1900s whose church membership would grow to be over 15,000 and had a budget that surpassed three million. He would also become one of the most prominent proponents of dispensational pre-millenialism. Because this was a popular theme of preaching at the time, “it gave Criswell an ideological leadership role…” Many say that Criswell is the main instigator for fundamentalism movement in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In 1968, Criswell would be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. While he had defended segregation in South Carolina in 1956, Criswell had renounced it upon his election to the SBC. The end of the Civil Rights movement was upon America and Criswell would celebrate his new stance on segregation. He would also be re-elected as president of the SBC in 1969.
R. Albert Mohler
Mohler is the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is presently serving to this day. He was initiated as president in 1993 and has continued to shape the future for Baptists among a divisive culture. One of the main agendas of Mohler is the understanding that religious authority is found in the Word of God alone.
Mohler would need to set aside the theological legacy of one of his predecessors before he could begin to put his own theological agenda in place. Mohler would begin to address the legacy of E.Y. Mullins and his work, The Axioms of Religion. Mohler would change the direction of the Seminary back to the theological understanding of the centrality of Biblical revelation rather than personal experience. This would be redirecting the Seminary back to a theological understanding of the founders.
Allen, Catherine B. “The Legacy of Lottie Moon.” International Bulletin Of Missionary Research 17, no. 4 (October 1993): 146-152. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2017).
Brackney, William H. “The Legacy of Adoniram Judson.” International Bulletin Of Missionary Research 22, no. 3 (July 1998): 122-127. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2017).
Burch, Jarrett. “A piety above the common standard: Jesse Mercer and Evangelistic Calvinism.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 4 (December 2005): 870-874. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2017).
Fletcher, Jesse C. “Shapers of the Southern Baptist Spirit.” Baptist History And Heritage 30, no. 3 (July 1995): 6-15. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2017).
Hull, William E. “Mullins and Mohler: a study in strategy.” Perspectives In Religious Studies 31, no. 3 (September 2004): 311-324. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2017).
 Brackney, William H. “The Legacy of Adoniram Judson.” International Bulletin Of Missionary Research 22, no. 3 (July 1998): 124.
 Ibid., 124.
 Allen, Catherine B. “The Legacy of Lottie Moon.” International Bulletin Of Missionary Research 17, no. 4 (October 1993): 148; 150.
 Ibid., 148.
 Ibid., 150.
 Burch, Jarrett. “A piety above the common standard: Jesse Mercer and Evangelistic Calvinism.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 4 (December 2005): 870.
 Ibid., 870.
 Fletcher, Jesse C. “Shapers of the Southern Baptist Spirit.” Baptist History And Heritage 30, no. 3 (July 1995): 7.
 Ibid., 8.
 Hull, William E. “Mullins and Mohler: a study in strategy.” Perspectives In Religious Studies 31, no. 3 (September 2004): 311.