The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002 Page: 186
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
straw in this often spooky Baptist reformation book from the University Press of
Kentucky's canon. Enough straw for a scarecrow or two, anyway.
Straw is not all, of course. There are several dozen diamonds, some dirt, and
even traces of dung-which Luther-loving Baptists prefer to refer to as
"bullgeschichte"-all mixed in. Accordingly, John B. Boles's dust jacket review
that "this book should be read by everyone interested in twentieth-century south-
ern religion" is not only true but understated. Those interested in subjects such
as the roots of Jimmy Carter or even in the study of eugenics will find their
hands full here. Author Stricklin's virtually unknown protagonist, Walter Nathan
Johnson of North Carolina, whose papers and obscure periodical (The Next Step
in the Churches) Stricklin discovered in Wake Forest, is among Georgia Jimmy's
spiritual roots; and "brother Walt," as he was known, skated perilously close to
the utopian ideal not of a race of Aryans but a race of Baptists! His admiration
for the policies of Josef Stalin also certainly set him apart from standard-issue
Southern Baptists. For that reason alone the book begs attention.
One of the larger diamonds Stricklin displays is exactly what his title promises:
a genealogy. Beginning with the obscure Johnson, whom Stricklin labels "a radi-
cal Baptist when that expression was not a contradiction in terms," he traces the
ideological descendants of Johnson all the way to Jimmy Carter via Clarence
Jordan of Cotton Patch Gospels and Koinonia Farm fame. Other branches, twigs,
and stems in Stricklin's fascinating philosophical family tree include a host of
well-known Southern Baptist moderates and liberals including Martin England,
Carlyle Marney, O. T. Binkley, Wayne Oates, Henlee Barnette, Warren Carr, E.
McNeill Poteat Jr., Will D. Campbell, Foy Valentine, Ken Sehested, Martha
Gilmore, and Bill Moyers.
One of the bales of straw Stricklin sculpts is exactly what his title promises but
does not deliver-at least not proportionately. Conservative dissent has easily
been the biggest protest in the SBC in the twentieth century, but Stricklin exam-
ines it only briefly and not altogether accurately, as if it is a mere appendage to
Baptist reformation efforts. And it is a story having no relationship at all to Walt
Johnson, except insofar as Johnson's disciples were mostly thorns in conservative
flesh, as is clear they were from the telling 1999 autobiography, A Hill on Which
to Die, by conservative Texas Judge Paul Pressler. Also greatly overlooked, though
mentioned briefly, was the sizable SBC dissenter, Brooks Hays, who has no osten-
sible connection to Johnson. Billy Graham, Johnson's fellow Tar Heel but no
spiritual descendant, receives only condemnatory notice by Stricklin, even
though Graham did as much or more than anyone for progressive race relations.
Thus, a title far better representing the actual contents of this books would be
The Roots of Jimmy Carter and Clarence Jordan or else The Ideological Descendants of
Walter Johnson and Other Assorted Dissenters. Accordingly, there is much twentieth-
century Baptist dissent still to be written by someone who does not take
Stricklin's title at face value. In addition, Stricklin leaves totally untouched one
of the most fascinating stories about Johnson's papers that remains to be told, a
story still stored in the archives at Southeastern Baptist Seminary where Stricklin
first found them.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/m1/194/: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.