E. Y. Mullins towers over the Baptist landscape of the twentieth century. He uniquely represents the effort of Baptists (and Southern Baptists in particular) to come to terms with the challenges of the modern age. His mediating theological method and moderating mode of denominational leadership leaves him difficult to define in precise terms. Thus, the arguments about E. Y. Mullins — and his central affirmation of “soul competency” — are certain to continue far into the future.
Mercer University Press has released a new edition of Mullins’ most famous work, The Axioms of Religion, first published in 1908. Edited by C. Douglas Weaver of Baylor University, the new edition offers a new generation of Baptists an opportunity to enter the debate.
Weaver helpfully adds both notes to the text and an introduction to the work as a whole. Both are welcome additions. Weaver’s introduction offers a very good summary of the debates concerning Mullins, even as it also reveals his great respect and affection for both the man and his most famous book. Weaver argues that Mullins wrote the book as an apologist for the Baptist vision of the New Testament Church.
In recent years, Mullins has been criticized by conservatives for his excessive individualism and stress on religious experience. Weaver cites my own published criticism in this regard, and he does so fairly. He also acknowledges the criticisms offered by some on the Baptist left, who also decry Mullins for his individualism. The framers of “The Baptist Manifesto” (1997) argue that Mullins elevated the individual above the Christian community. Interestingly, Weaver argues: “Manifesto theologians seem to be evolving into Baptist-Catholics who increasingly affirm catholic community, the collective authority of the church, and the historic creeds (e.g., Nicene) in opposition to any substantive role for soul competency in decision making.”
Weaver seeks to rescue Mullins from these criticisms, but he does not evade the big questions. He wonders aloud if Mullins grew more conservative as he grew older, and he also admits that Mullins was often unclear in his positions — a posture Weaver attributes to denominational pressures. What, exactly, did Mullins believe about creation and evolution? The reader is left frustrated.
I will not expand upon my own criticisms of E. Y. Mullins here. Interested readers can look to my own introductory chapter on Mullins, available online. Suffice it to say that E. Y. Mullins cannot be ignored, and this new edition, helpfully edited by Professor Weaver and happily made available by Mercer University Press, will aid a new generation of Baptists in coming to terms with this seminal figure.
I now hold the office E. Y. Mullins once held, and I serve the institution he so devotedly led. Even as I offer my own criticisms of Mullins and his theological method, I am grateful for the orchard he tended with such care.
E. Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion, ed. C. Douglas Weaver (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2010 ).