Lately, I’ve been brushing up on my Baptist history by reading memoirs and biographies of figures from the past. This quote from John Sampey, a seminary president who was deeply involved in weekly lessons for smaller groups, stood out to me:
“When the advocates insisted that the lessons be pupil-centered, I countered by insisting that the lessons should be Christ-centered. I sought to make Jesus Christ the center of each cycle… For 46 years I sought to exalt the redemptive element of the Bible. And how many noble men of the Lesson Committee joined meputting Christ Jesus and His salvation in the center of our lesson system!”
Reflecting on Sampey’s legacy and his desire for Christ-centered curriculum, I wrote this column for Baptist Press:
I confess to being a bit of a Baptist history nerd. In my office are pictures of two Southern Baptist heroes — John A. Broadus and E.Y. Mullins. I admire Broadus for his example of Christ-centered preaching and Mullins for his denominational statesmanship and advocacy of religious liberty in Romania, where I was involved in missions for several years.
I may soon be placing another picture on my desk, that of John R. Sampey (1863-1946).
The past few weeks, I’ve been reading a print-on-demand copy of his memoirs, written in the twilight of his long life after having served as a professor of Old Testament for nearly 60 years, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the worst of the Great Depression (1929-42) and president of the SBC from 1936-38.
Sampey’s autobiography is full of activity that displays his passion for evangelism, scholarship and missionary work, particularly in Brazil. But what strikes me about his memoirs is how often he talks about the church’s ongoing discipleship ministry, particularly through Sunday School.
Sampey was a brilliant Old Testament theologian, but he didn’t simply busy himself with discussions and debates in the ivory towers of academia. In his book, we find him traveling frequently to Nashville to meet with workers at the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources). We see him serving on the International Sunday School Lesson Committee, recommending study plans and Bible passages. This was a scholar who knew the conversations in Sunday School every week are just as formative and important as the debates in academic halls or the sermons from a pastor’s pulpit.
In 1914, some were complaining that the lessons lacked a “redemptive” focus… [Continue reading – John R. Sampey and Christ-Centered Bible Study]