Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Texas and Baptist Sunday Schools, 1829-1996. By Ronald C. Ellison. (Austin: Eakin
Press, 1997. Pp. xii+197. Foreword by Bernie Spooner, preface, illustra-
tions, appendices, index. ISBN 1-57168-905-2. $18.95, cloth.)
Beaumont Baptist Ellison has identified and penetrated some historically
important virgin land with this indispensable synthesis of Texas Baptist Sunday
School vignettes from Thomas Pilgrim to Bernard Spooner. Nevertheless, if his
research universe is like unto a forty-acre field (though it is actually more like a
ioo,ooo-acre King Ranch), he has hoed only the first row. And he has hoed nei-
ther straight nor deep. But, if this unbibliographed yet amply footnoted book is
any indication, he is certainly among the first to hoe at all. That accomplishment
alone more than offsets the book's somewhat disappointing delivery, inasmuch
as Sunday Schools are one of the most overlooked subjects in American religious
history. Color Ellison an important pioneer, if not quite yet the "important
church historian" his dust jacket hawks.
Ellison's first flaw is his ambitious title. It promises far more than his content
delivers. He devotes a mere 197 pages (thirteen of which are index) to 168
years of history--or a mere 1.17 pages per year-with some of those pages total-
ly unrelated to Texas, Baptists, or Sunday Schools. Had the title been Brief
Biographical Bytes of Assorted Southern Baptist Sunday School Bureaucrats with Some
Related and Non-Related Bits of Baptist, Sunday School, Texas and American History
Thrown in for Good Measure, it would have been far more precise-though no
less wandering. He gives the impression that there really isn't much Sunday
School history to write, when in fact most years from at least 1900oo to 1996
could use 197 pages each. If the author's repeated assurances are true that
"countess [sic] hous" (p. ix) were spent "to accurately reconstruct" [sic] (p. x)
Baptist Sunday School work in Texas, it may yet take an infinite number of
hours "to really accurately and fully reconstruct" it. What Ellison has done
instead is to lay a useful, if lazily meandering, statistical and biographical foun-
dation upon which a respectable second edition with the same title can be
Examples of the author's irrelevancies and misplaced emphases abound. He
finds room in his limited space to cite the International Mark Twain Society (p.
108), but no room to mention Sunday School picnics, bus ministries, curricu-
lum disputes, or even the world's largest Sunday School of Fort Worth's J.
Frank Norris. He makes room for the sixteenth century's Zwingli in
Switzerland but no room for the twentieth century's Texan, Zig Ziglar, who is
arguably the best known Baptist Sunday School teacher in the world-apart
from Jimmy Carter, Willie Nelson (who once taught at Metropolitan Baptist
Chruch in Fort Worth), Jesse James, and John D. Rockefeller. Even Ellison's
irrelevant snippets of general Texas and Baptist history include references to
minor subjects such as "General" Houston and "Governor" Houston, but do
not include such majors as the conversion and baptism of "Saint" Sam into
Southern Baptistdom, Houston's amazing apology to his horse, the assassina-
tion of William Cowper Brann, or W. A. Criswell's "Wheelbarrow Sermon,"
arguably the most sensational sermon in Texas Baptist-and perhaps
American Baptist-history. Nevertheless, his one wheelbarrow vignette (p.
126) is relevant and worth a chuckle.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/. Accessed July 4, 2015.