A Tribute to Criswell: Part 2 Preacher of the SBC

The above video is from Southeastern Seminary’s Spring Convocation 2014 when they installed Jim Shaddix as the W. A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching. It features Criswell’s sermon from the 1985 Pastor’s Conference at the Southern Baptist Convention entitled “Whether we Live or Die” that was a watershed moment in the battle over the Bible within the SBC. 

B21 exists to be a voice for the next generation of pastors and leaders in the SBC, but we also began with a strong commitment of honoring the past. Many great men have come before us, and we want to take the next three posts to honor one.

W. A. Criswell may be the best preacher to come along in the past hundred years in any denomination.This simple country boy from Eldorado, Oklahoma grew to be a clarion voice in the Southern Baptist Convention. Throughout a ministry spanning almost fifty years Criswell proved to be a leading voice not only for his own pulpit at First Baptist Dallas, but for the Southern Baptist Convention and evangelicalism as a whole.

As a preacher, Dr. Criswell was resolutely devoted to the Scriptures. In fact, as highlighted in this Christianity Today article, he spent eighteen years preaching through the Bible verse by verse, week in and week out. If you are looking for a faithful expositor and powerful communicator, head over to Criswell’s Sermon Library where, due to endowment, all of Criswell’s sermons (video, audio, transcript, outline) will be free till Jesus returns!

Preacher of the SBC

Criswell is considered by many to be the most powerful preacher in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. From early in his ministry he was heavily involved in the Southern Baptist Convention, and at a crucial time in our convention’s history he became one of its leading voices. In the years since he has been called the “godfather” of the convention and the “patriarch” of the Conservative Resurgence.

Criswell preached at the first Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastor’s Conference and over the years his sermons from that conference are legendary. In 1985, Criswell rocked the SBC with his sermon on the direction of the denomination. He publicly denounced the higher critical views that had pervaded SBC life. In 1987, he delivered the timeless classic, “The Curse of Liberalism,” at the Convention in San Antonio, Texas. Here he spoke the famous line, “Because of the opprobrious epithet ‘liberal,’ today they call themselves moderates. A skunk by any other name, still stinks!”1 With a golden voice and clothed in his familiar white suit, Criswell, without apology, firmly stood on the authority and inerrancy of the Bible.

And it was in the heat of the “Battle for the Bible” where Criswell’s voice rang clearest. Dr. Paige Patterson comments on Criswell’s preaching in this context:

Sermons preached in the midst of crises, such as ‘Death in Detente,’ preached in the midst of negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union over the Salt Treaty and the message preached at the 1985 Dallas Pastors’ Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention in the height of the controversy about the Bible are among the most outstanding.2

At times, especially troubling times, Criswell would be a loud voice for the conservative movement. Criswell wrote, “If a man does not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, he has no place in any pulpit in the land. All his preachments are nothing but speculations, and if he has not the authority of God back of what he says, he has nothing to say.”3 He also was firm that preachers must hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. “Let me speak to Southern Baptists. If our preachers, evangelists, pastors, churches, and institutions are true to that expression of faith (inerrancy), we shall live. If we repudiate it, we shall die.”4

Criswell left such a tangible legacy in our convention that he has been honored in academic chairs at four Southern Baptist seminaries to model for new generations the verse-by-verse teaching that led thousands to Christ during his lifetime. In the convocation message at the establishment of the expository preaching chair at Southeastern president Danny Akin told the many seminary students in attendance, “If not for men like Dr. Criswell, you would not be here today.”

We at Baptist21 are convinced that those words apply not only to our seminary students, but to the new generation of pastors and leaders within our convention as well.     Baptist21 is honored to highlight the Criswell Library each year at our panel at the SBC and this year is the same. Criswell Library offers 4100 sermons from over 50 years of Criswell’s ministry absolutely freeClick here for more information.

W. A. Criswell, Sermon: The Curse of Liberalism (San Antonio: Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference, 1987). Patterson, “The Imponderables of God,” 245. Criswell, Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True, 204-205. Ibid., 219.