In the history of denominations there is often one individual who is credited with having set the standards for those who followed. For Southern Baptists no one figure stands out more than John Albert Broadus (1827-1895), pastor, scholar and preacher extraordinaire. Much has been written about Broadus, so one may wonder why another book? John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy, edited by David S. Dockery and Roger D. Duke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008) is a collection of essays by prominent Baptist scholars meant to provide the reader with a well-balanced view of Broadus' role in shaping the defining characteristics of what it means to be Southern Baptist.
In his brief Introduction to the volume, Timothy George points out that although Broadus was very much a southerner, he was equally at home delivering a lecture series at Yale Divinity School or preaching a sermon at the Charlottesville (Va.) Baptist Church, where he served as pastor during the 1850s. During the Civil War, he served as a chaplain to the Confederate Army. As his reputation spread after the Civil War, Broadus shared the same platform with the noted English Christian speaker Henry Drummond at D. L. Moody's annual Northfield Conference. None other than Charles Spurgeon called Broadus the "greatest of living preachers." The book's contributors demonstrate that many of what are often termed the "distinctives" of Southern Baptist faith were emphasized by Broadus.
Roger D. Duke explains how Broadus' popularity as a preacher was based on both his conviction that the art of preaching must emphasize making the deep truths of God's inspired word understandable to the congregation, in order that the Holy Spirit might use the sermon to bring the lost to a saving knowledge of the gospel. In his classic work A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (1870), Broadus quoted St. Augustine: "Make the truth plain, make it pleasing, make it moving" (72). But the exposition of truth was to be based upon a sound scholarly study of the Scriptures themselves and the best biblical scholarship of the day. Broadus was himself a scholar trained in the classic philosophers as well as in biblical Hebrew and Greek. He was also trained in the scholarly languages of his time--classical Greek, Latin, German and French. Richard Melick notes that as a "preacher-scholar" and a "pastor-teacher" Broadus was exceptional for his day. He also suggests that in his scholarship and preaching Broadus anticipated many of the issues that concern Baptists today.
In one of the most interesting essays in the book, "How to Preach Marketable Messages without Selling Out the Savior: Broadus on the role of Sensationalism in Preaching," Beecher L. Johnson shows that Broadus has some advice for seminarians preparing to pastor churches and preach the gospel in today's commercialized, media-driven world of middle class evangelicalism. Broadus spoke out forcefully in his day against the growing practice of sensationalism in preaching. It was not the legitimate appeal to the senses that Broadus criticized. In a lecture on the subject, he said: "Preachers must do all they can with propriety do, to make preaching attract attention-wake men up-compel them to listen, think, remember" (216). But Johnson notes that Broadus "also warned of the divisiveness of preaching on politics, the evil of promoting heresy to draw a crowd, and the shallow spiritual environment that too strong a focus on secular themes fostered" (219).
Broadus saw certain dangers in the use of sensationalism in preaching. Once employed, it would be nearly impossible to maintain the intensity, since the audience would expect a new "high" with each sermon. It also demeaned what Broadus felt was the sacred act of preaching. As Johnson points out, for Broadus the cross of Christ was the only legitimate draw, "the only thing that in the end would prove to be sufficient in leading men to Christ, transforming them, and keeping them in the faith." As Johnson concludes, for Broadus and those who shared his convictions, the pulpit was "no place for cuteness" (222). In short, Broadus feared that sensationalism in preaching would impair the listener's ability to discern the truth in a message, obscure the gospel, and at best, "inadvertently downgrade the message of Scripture to the level of life enhancement and the role of Christ to that of `life coach'" (237). As a solution, Broadus urged the preacher to look to Christ as his model. He should use plain language intelligible to the audience in order that the truth of the Bible might be made available to the common man or woman, that the lost might be saved, and the kingdom of God advanced.
In his concluding essay, "Broadus's Living Legacy," James Patterson points to Broadus's timeliness on an issue that has drawn much attention among Southern Baptists today, that is, the role of Calvinism. Broadus was one of the founding faculty of Southern Seminary, and he, like his colleagues, "openly identified themselves as Calvinists." But it was not the dogmatic, five-point Calvinism associated with the Synod of Dort (1618-19). It was one that "upheld a robust view of divine providence, single predestination, a `corrupt' Adamic sin nature, monogeristic salvation, and perseverance of the saints." In short, it was "an evangelical Calvinism that suitably balanced God's controlling hand in human history with an urgent sense of proclaiming the gospel to the lost" (245-246).
John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy should find its way onto the shelves of seminary libraries and into the personal libraries of ministers-especially but not only--Southern Baptists. It is both a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of Southern Baptist history and stimulus for a well informed presentation of the gospel message in a postmodern world.