In the spring of 1905, while crossing the Texas panhandle by train, B.H. Carroll had a vision of establishing a school in the great southwest to train preachers. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was officially born three years later and made its home in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1910.
Carroll entrusted the training of the preachers to a man born and raised deep in the heart of Texas by the name of Jeff Ray. After serving as a pastor for more than 25 years, Ray dedicated the next 37 years of his life to the assignment of training men to preach. Between 1908 and 1944, approximately 5,000 men sat at Ray’s feet.
Ray boldly believed that “the act of preaching is at once the most sacred and the most important task ever committed to any man” because preaching “has always been and doubtless always will be the major note in winning men to Christ.” Ray also believed that the Bible was absolutely authoritative and therefore the sole source of the preacher’s message. Upon these convictions, Ray began Southwestern’s legacy of training men in expository preaching.
Remarkably, Ray anchored the trajectory of homiletical training at Southwestern in expository preaching despite the homiletical tide of his day. Ray’s volume, Expository Preaching, was in fact one of only five volumes published between 1910 and 1940 that dealt exclusively with expository preaching. Furthermore, Ray appears to be the only one to publish a work advocating exclusively for expository preaching until Jerry Vines published A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation in 1985. No wonder Ray argued that one was as unlikely to encounter a buffalo on the Texas prairie as he was to hear an expository sermon. Even as late as 1956, W.O. Carver lamented that “the truly able Southern Baptist expository preachers are very few” and that “our churches and our denomination are in great need of it.” As an advocate for expository preaching, Ray found himself in an extreme minority even among Southern Baptists.
Rhetorically speaking, Ray did not possess any extraordinary qualities. He was neither the gifted orator nor evangelist. He never occupied a pulpit of great notoriety. However, much like the 16th century Reformers, Ray held a certain theological conviction concerning the nature of Scripture that demanded a specific philosophy of preaching—expository preaching. Southern Baptists as a whole had always stood upon the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and yet, for one reason or another, had generally failed to allow this conviction to drive their homiletical practice. Ray, however, realized that the nature of Scripture warranted a singular homiletical approach. Therefore, he championed expository preaching in a day and a denomination that had largely dismissed it.
Ray passed the mantle of training men in expository preaching to subsequent homiletical generations at Southwestern represented by men such as Jesse Northcutt, Al Fasol, and now our current and newly elected Dean of the School of Preaching, David Allen. Allen had the privilege of growing up under the expository preaching ministry of Jerry Vines. One fascinating fact is that the first definition of expository preaching Vines cites in his A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation is Jeff Ray’s. Furthermore, Vines admits that the volume might have never been written had not Paige Patterson “urged me to begin and drove me to completion.” Patterson, one of the chief architects of the Conservative Resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention, had a sense of how great the need was for a Southern Baptist to author a text that taught a homiletical philosophy consistent with biblical inerrancy.
Today at Southwestern Seminary, that distinct homiletical philosophy rooted in biblical inerrancy is known as text-driven preaching. Allen does not claim to have coined the term, but he admits that he might have when he first began using it as a professor of preaching at Criswell College in the 1980s. According to Allen, text-driven preaching explains, illustrates and applies the meaning of a text in a sermon based on the substance, structure and spirit of the text. Ultimately, Southwestern’s advocacy for text-driven preaching based on the authority of Scripture is the maturation of ideas Ray planted at the seminary’s inception.
The establishment of the School of Preaching at Southwestern is as unique as Ray’s call more than a century ago for men to embrace and practice expository preaching. With a combined 217 years of preaching experience, David Allen, Steven Smith, Matthew McKellar, Vern Charette, Barry McCarty, Denny Autrey and Kyle Walker now stand under the leadership of Paige Patterson at Southwestern Seminary in a denomination committed to the authority of Scripture and call for the practice of text-driven preaching. From its inception, Southwestern has existed to train the called to Preach the Word and Reach the World. The School of Preaching now comes alongside six other schools in the continued effort to accomplish that mission until Christ’s return.
Jeff Ray, Expository Preaching (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1940), 16.
Jerry Vines, A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985). One possible exception to this claim is Douglas M. White, who, in 1952, published He Expounded: A Guide to Expository Preaching, which was later published as The Excellence of Exposition (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1977). Although White ministered all over the United States and in various countries, he served most prominently as pastor of First Baptist Church, Bassett, Va., for more than 25 years.
William O. Carver, Out of His Treasure: Unfinished Memoirs (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1956), 48.
Vines, A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation, vii.
Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, and Ned L. Mathews, eds. Text-Driven Peaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2010), 8.