A review of In the Name of God: The Colliding Lives, Legends,
and Legacies of J. Frank Norris and George W. Truett
by O.S. Hawkins
Perhaps no other Baptist history book has been as eagerly anticipated in the past year as “In the Name of God” by O.S. Hawkins. The book was heavily promoted at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting and after its publication, Baptist Press even ran an article about it. The book has been endorsed by such Southern Baptist leaders as Albert Mohler, Jerry Vines, Jack Graham, and David Dockery.
“In the Name of God” does not disappoint the reader. The book tells the story of the two most significant Baptist leaders in the first half of the twentieth century: George Truett, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas and J. Frank Norris, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth. Though separated by only a few miles in Texas, these two men had very different philosophies of ministry and experienced a lifetime of controversy with each other.
What is important about Hawkins’ book is he finally sets the record straight about these two men. For years the standard line of thinking was Truett was the Southern Baptist saint who could do no wrong and Norris was the “devilish rascal” who could do no right. With an abundance of primary sources, Hawkins shows that both these statements are wrong.
For example, while George Truett was a godly man who was loved by all, his greatest weakness was he failed to see the faults in his Southern Baptist friends. So when theological liberalism crept into Baylor University, Truett remained silent because his friend S.P. Brooks was president of the school. Even more amazing, Hawkins shows how Truett’s close ally L.R. Scarborough fought hard against the liberalism at Southern Methodist University, but would not say anything about the same issues at Baylor.
On the other hand, J. Frank Norris’ problems are well known. He loved controversy, was a senationalist, and would quickly turn against supporters who he felt were disloyal, including his own son George Norris. However, Hawkins shows that many of the stories about Norris’ evils have been greatly exaggerated, if not fabricated. For instant, a common account is that Norris sent Truett, Scarborough, and other opponents gift-wrapped boxes of rotten fruit on Christmas. Yet, Professor T.B. Maston reported that the fruit he received from Norris was in perfect condition.
At the same time there is much within Norris to admire. He passionately preached the gospel, often with tears, and won thousands to Christ. He hired amazing Christian educators such as Arthur Flake and Louis Entzminger and built the largest Sunday School in the world. Furthermore Norris’ emphasis on verse-by-verse expository preaching as opposed to Truett’s topical oratory is the standard in most Baptist seminaries today.
When J. Frank Norris was still a young man, he was told by the elder Baptist statesman J.B. Gambrell that “denominational loyalty goes directly to matters doctrinally.” It was Norris, rather than Truett who took these words to heart. While Norris often set a bad example in carrying out Gambrell’s vision, it was his model that later influenced such men as W.A. Criswell, Paige Patterson, and the other leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Conservation Resurgence in the 1980s.
So much more could be said about this excellent book. The reconciliation stories in the final chapter are themselves worth the price of the book. O.S. Hawkins is an outstanding writer and researcher. For all those interested in Southern Baptist history, I highly recommend this book.
Reviewed by Ben Stratton, Pastor, Farmington Baptist Church, KY.
The editor of Baptist History Homepage found the book most interesting.
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