James P. Boyce is considered by many to be the “father” of historic Baptist Calvinism in American academia, especially Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Boyce’s name is never far from those who speak of the theological “founders” of Southern Baptists.
While Boyce’s theological influence among early Southern Baptists remains undeniable, did he retain the same degree of influence among his successors after he died?
The president of Beeson Divinity School, Timothy George, wrote an essay in 1985 entitled “Systematic Theology at Southern Seminary” and published in Southern seminary’s elder brother journal, Review and Expositor. In the section where he mentions the accomplishments of F.H. Kerfoot, Dr. George writes:
Upon his death in 1888 Boyce was succeeded by F. H. Kerfoot who in the previous year had already been elected co-professor of Systematic Theology and Church Government. Kerfoot served in this capacity until the summer of 1899, when he resigned to become the secretary of the Home Mission Board. Kerfoot’s major contribution to his discipline was to reissue in revised form Boyce’s Abstract Although he lauded Boyce as “the greatest leader that Southern Baptists have ever had,” Kerfoot did in fact include, always in small print or footnotes, several points on which he differed from his mentor. Kerfoot, for example, advocated a general as opposed to a limited atonement, and held that conversion preceded regeneration, thus reversing Boyce’s Calvinist ordering.22
—Review and Expositor 82, no. 1 (1985): 35
The two doctrines George mentions that Kerfoot thought needed special attention when he revised and published his mentor’s work are a) advocating a general atonement contra a limited atonement; b) arguing against the regeneration precedes faith doctrine Boyce had presumably inherited from Princeton.
Of interest is the absent acknowledgement by Founders Ministries (the largest network of Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention) of Kerfoot’s edition of Boyce’s systematic theology. They appear to only acknowledge Boyce’s original textbook not the commissioned edition by F.H. Kerfoot. Apparently, they do not wish to concede the waning of Calvinism in Baptist life before the end of the 19th century.
Whatever the case, George’s acknowledgement that Southern Baptists generally and Southern seminary particularly very early and very quickly after Boyce’s departure from Southern forsook his High Calvinism for a much more theologically and biblically acceptable version of Calvinism.