Pressler's readers should watch blood pressure
November 30 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Pressler's readers should watch blood pressure | Friday, Nov 30, 2001

Friday, Nov 30, 2001

Pressler's readers should watch blood pressure

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor A Hill on Which to Die, by Paul Pressler (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 362 pages.

Judge Paul Pressler's memoir of his role in the conservative makeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is subtitled "One Southern Baptist's Journey." It is a revealing journey.

Pressler's approach to life as an arbiter of right and wrong began long before he worked family, business and political connections into an appointment to the Texas judiciary.

Pressler's book includes a running critique of the many churches and Christian organizations he encountered as a student, in the Navy and in later life. He found most of them wanting.

A Texas native from a wealthy family, Pressler attended prep school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire before going on to Princeton University in New Jersey and later joining the Navy. During his time in the Northeast, Pressler was exposed to a quite liberal view of scripture in both the classroom and the local church. He responded by organizing conservative religious organizations on campus and new Bible studies in churches.

Upon his return to Texas, Pressler attended several prominent Baptist churches. More than once, he found the pastor to be too liberal and worked to change the church's direction, moving to another church when unsuccessful. For a number of years in Houston, Pressler's primary church involvement was in teaching and leading a large youth group in a Presbyterian congregation.

Thus, when Pressler determined that the SBC was becoming too liberal and devoted himself to changing its course, it was a natural progression.

Likewise, when Pressler used information gained from Bill Powell to design the strategy that ultimately won control of the SBC for conservatives, he naturally and effectively employed the same kind of personal persuasion, powerful alliances and political maneuvering he had learned as a member of the Texas legislature.

Pressler's degree of devotion to the conservative cause is impressive, as it contributed to health problems, took him away from his family and caused a rift with his parents. Yet, Pressler firmly believes he has followed God's leadership. He regards his appointment to the Texas Appellate Court as providential, since the job only required him to be present for two days each week the court was in session. This enabled Pressler to travel extensively to promote the campaign to elect committed inerrantists to the SBC presidency.

When Pressler insists that there was no "conservative organization," it is because there was no need for one: he reveals that he was the organization, with a garage filled with files and students hired at peak times to man the phones and assist with the filing.

The reader has no doubt that Pressler's leadership in orchestrating the SBC's conservative makeover was a matter of a deep conviction for him. It is the firm conviction that the inerrantist view is the only appropriate means of understanding the Bible. This for him is the defining issue of theology: from the preface onward he labels anyone who does not adopt the inerrantist approach to scripture as a liberal.

Although Pressler clearly has encountered many persons holding a variety of moderate to liberal views, he seems to regard them all of a piece, and equally dangerous. Pressler consistently implies that liberal pastors (by his definition) will always lead a church into decline, even though he had contact with (and rejected) a number of large and dynamic churches that had moderate leadership.

Another inconsistency also jars the reader. Pressler unequivocally berates the media for labeling the conservative movement as "fundamentalist." He acknowledges that the term is theologically accurate according to its original meaning, but insists that the media should not use it to describe conservatives because the term has taken on a negative connotation.

Yet, Pressler uniformly refers to all non-inerrantists as "liberal," even though the term is both inaccurate and clearly pejorative in the way he uses it. He asks for consideration that he is unwilling to give.

One statement that occurs early in the book is telling, and has implications for all that follows. In describing a conversation with a professor from Union Theological Seminary in New York, Pressler writes, "The professor was using our vocabulary but not our dictionary." A Hill on Which to Die makes it apparent that Pressler's driven devotion to the conservative cause is motivated by the meanings found in his own personal dictionary - and by a determination to make those meanings normative for the SBC.

Pressler's memoir provides intriguing reading for any Baptist who cares about the sea change in SBC leadership over the past two decades. Be warned, however: Readers of either stripe would do well to keep their blood pressure medications handy.

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11/30/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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