I hope you will forgive me for not responding when I received a copy of your autobiography. I intended to read it promptly and write, but several other jobs intervened.
The brevity of your memoirs chastened me. I couldn’t help thinking that my autobiography, A Miracle of Grace, is nearly 500 pages. The conciseness of yours says something about you and your modesty. My expansiveness bears witness to either a big ego or low self-esteem.
That confession aside, so much in your story touched my heart and edified me. One reason for that is the humble and honest way you told your story. You told me something I had never noticed—that you have poor eyesight. As I listened to your account, however, I heard echoes of a truth Douglas Steere often reiterated: Life’s interruptions often turn out to be God’s opportunities.” Coping with limited vision had a lot to do with the character and personality of the Mitch Carnell I’ve been privileged to know.
From the first time we met, Mitch, I’ve felt a sense of kinship with you, and Our Father has heightened that sense. One thing that could account for it might be some people who’ve crossed both of our paths and left their mark on us. John Claypool is the person who prompted me to do graduate studies at Southern, and he always remained a model figure in my life. Several of those to whom you ascribe an important place in the shaping of who you are were my students at one time or another at Southern Seminary: Tom McKibbens, Mollie Marshall, Scott Walker, Scott McBroom, John Hughes. All were among the very best students I ever taught, and I’ve maintained some contact with all except John Hughes up to now.
You and I have both borne a lot of pain in watching what has happened to the Southern Baptist Convention. In reading Our Father I could see that you experienced the trauma at the local church level, whereas you will see that most of my agony connected with Southern Seminary, where I taught for more than thirty years. As a matter of fact, a compulsion to explain why I did what I did prompted me to write an autobiography. I had misgivings about doing so, as I suspect you have, for it takes a big ego to do that. Like most autobiographies, it is an apologia pro vita sua, to borrow the tile of John Henry Newman’s autobiography. I felt that others needed to know why I opposed fundamentalism so vigorously and predicted, as I think you can now see, that it would severely damage the work of the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Seminary is today the most glaring example of the basic objective they had in taking over the seminary: prepare ministers to lead churches and people in a culture that hasn’t existed for a century, if ever. What says that more clearly than the Creation Science Center at Southern and insistence that the earth can’t be more than 7,000 years old!
Despite that bleak prognosis, Mitch, I’ve always felt that even churches headed by fundamentalist pastors had members who adhered to our basic Baptist tenets: the voluntary principle in religion (“To be authentic and responsible, faith must be free.”), religious liberty, separation of church and state as a way to guard it, and voluntary association to carry out the world mission of Christ. Our Father confirms me in such thinking. You may have engaged in fierce debate at FBC, Charleston, but you and others persevered and helped to right a listing ship. For that I thank God.
My sincerest thanks for your friendship.Glenn Hinson, Professor, Baptist Seminaro of Kentucky