Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Mentors #4: E. Glenn Hinson

One of my teachers whom I have not mentioned frequently on this blog is E. Glenn Hinson, church historian, contemplative & advocate of strong, disciplined practices of spiritual formation, ecumenist, peacemaker, and advocate of the liberal strand of Baptist theology. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Hinson grew up on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks near Sullivan. A poor Baptist farmboy growing up in the Great Depression and WWII, his path to success began with a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis where he earned a B. A. in history mathematics (correction from Sallie Lanier). As with many of us, university tested Hinson’s faith and he credits a wise counselor at the Baptist Student Union (BSU) on campus for showing him that if “all truth is God’s truth,” and if Christian faith was a relationship with the living God, then one could fearlessly investigate anything, test everything, and trust God through it all. That orientation led Hinson forevermore to see fundamentalism as a kind of fear or even a “works righteousness” that desires to earn God’s favor through holding “right beliefs” and being intolerant of all, even other Christians, who see things differently.

Hinson took this new orientation and a call to ministry to the mother seminary of his denomination (Southern Baptist Convention), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. There he finished his B.D. near the top of his class (earning several awards) and took a Th.D. in New Testament, writing a dissertation in which he concluded that the Apostle Paul did not write the pastoral epistles–a daring conclusion for a Southern Baptist in the 1950s.

SBTS wanted to recruit the brilliant student from Missouri, but needed church historians more than Neutestamentlers. Hinson switched gears and pursued a second doctorate, a DPhil. at Oxford University in early church history. (He studied, of course, at Regent’s Park College, the Baptist theological college at Oxford.)  His background in New Testament has allowed him over the years to make many careful connections between the Apostolic era and the Patristic writings.

Becoming friends with Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and spiritual writer whose abbey (Gethsemani) was near Louisville, Hinson became deeply involved in the ecumenical movement of spiritual renewal–connecting the revivalist spirituality of most Southern Baptists to ancient and medieval spiritual practices. His ecumenical efforts included participation in the Faith & Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at a time when his branch of the Baptist movement was not a member of the WCC. He has lectured in Catholic, Orthodox, and many different Protestant institutions.

For 30 years, Hinson taught Church History at Southern Seminary, becoming one of the most published faculty members. He has written major works in early Church history (e.g., The Evangelization of the Roman Empire; The Church Triumphant; The Early Church: Origins to the Dawn of the Middle Ages) , biography (e.g., Seekers After Mature Faith; Love at the Heart of Things: A Biography of Douglas V. Steere); religious liberty(e.g., Soul Liberty; Religious Liberty: The Christian Roots of Our Fundamental Freedoms); spiritual formation (e.g., A Serious Call to a Contemplative Lifestyle; Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership), over 30 books and contributions to books in all.

Hinson has even used his NT scholarship and written Jesus Christ for the “Faith of Our Fathers” series in the early 1960s. This work was later to be the cause of some controversy, although the series died and few noticed Hinson’s volume at the time. The assignment by the publishers was for Hinson to write a “biography” of Jesus that included only what historians could prove or be reasonably sure of as historians. So, Hinson summarized the major conclusions of “historical Jesus” research at the time. He noted that the tools of historiography did not allow him as a historian to affirm Jesus’ resurrection, although as a believer Hinson could and did affirm Jesus’ resurrection.

Years later, in the 1980s, when Hinson was a major critic of fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention, Hinson’s enemies used that book to claim that Hinson did not believe in the resurrection–which is false. One can debate whether or not Hinson is right about the limits of historiography, but that is an argument about what historians can reasonably assert, NOT an argument over the resurrection itself. Trustees at SBTS repeatedly cleared Hinson of any charges of heresy, but one of the injustices of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention was that there was no such thing as protection against double jeopardy: Hinson and other professors could be cleared one semester only to face another individual or group putting forward the SAME CHARGES with NO NEW EVIDENCE the next semester.

When Pres. Roy Honeycutt retired from SBTS, Hinson retired rather than attempt to teach under a fundamentalist administration. From 1994-2000, Hinson was Professor of Church History and Christian Spirituality at The Baptist Seminary in Richmond (BTSR) and an Adjunct Professor at Union Theological Seminary of Virginia/Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He has also held many visiting professorships. Currently, he is Visiting Professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Senior Professor of Church History and Christian Spiritual Formation at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (a non-fundamentalist alternative to the now fundamentalist-controlled SBTS), and Visiting Professor at Lexington Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ). During this post-SBTS period, Hinson has affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

As with anyone, I haven’t always agreed with my beloved professor: Hinson denies the Anabaptist roots of Baptists, for instance, seeing English Puritanism as the sole root of the Baptist movement–a view I contest. I find less value than he does in the works of Teilhard de Chardin, whereas Hinson finds Teilhard’s work to provide a philosophy of history. But I have learned from him to appreciate the history of the entire church as MY history and learned steep myself in the “classics of Christian devotion” as guidance in spiritual formation and discipline. We share a deep commitment to Christian nonviolence (Hinson’s is more Quaker-influenced while mine is more Anabaptist in shape) and the work of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Hinson was the original editor of The Baptist Peacemaker.

His personal faith has also long been a source of personal inspiration: Hinson suffered a stroke and loss of some hearing in the late 1960s, but has persevered in service to Christ and the church despite this and much other adversity. I am glad to have been taught so much by this great mentor and friend.

Note: The Fall 2004 issue of the Review and Expositor (the oldest faculty journal of theology founded by Baptists in North America) is devoted as a Festschrift to Hinson.  The Spiritual Formation Network, dedicated to helping all Christians become spiritually mature, has created (in 2007) the E. Glenn Hinson Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation Scholarship.


October 27, 2006 - Posted by | Baptists, heroes, mentors, theology


  1. I’m with you on the Anabaptist connection.

    Comment by Howie Luvzus | October 27, 2006

  2. Howie, I follow the evidence laid out by folks like Ernst Payne & W.R. Estep on the connections between Anabaptists and General Baptists. Glen Stassen has shown that Menno Simons’ Foundation of Christian Doctrine is a major source behind the 1st & 2nd London Confessions of the Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists, too. So, I figure folk like Hinson are just afraid of the ghost of Landmarkism if they admit any Anabaptist connection.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 27, 2006

  3. My first year of seminary I had class with Hinson, where people read and presented on different books. Consequently I discovered Julian of Norwich and Theresa of Avila. I went on to have several more classes with him.

    He actually left BTSR in 2000. Stephen Brachlow followed him after.

    Comment by Matthew61 | October 27, 2006

  4. Yeah, Martin, I had both church history classes with Hinson and a course called “Classics of Christian Devotion” that was much like you describe. Hinson usually took his SBTS classes to the Abbey of Gethsemane to learn about Trappist spirituality and about Thomas Merton.

    The unjustified attacks on a person who was doing more than almost anyone to restore spirituality to theological education shows both the illogic and the sterile rationalism of fundamentalism. Thanks for the correction on Hinson’s time at BTSR.

    I like Stephen Brachlow, but he shares the misguided attempt to divorce Baptists from all Anabaptist heritage.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 27, 2006

  5. M-

    I really appreciate this work. This is filling in a lot of stuff I missed by not attending a Baptist (big B) seminary.

    Comment by Ryon Price | October 30, 2006

  6. Well, Ryan, there are always tradeoffs. It was often hard to concentrate on one’s education at SBTS during the ’80s because one never knew when the “purge” would come. “The Controversy,” as the SBC feud was known, colored most of the educational enterprise.

    Where did you go to seminary?

    I have just recently started reading some of your blog. You have some good stuff there.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 31, 2006

  7. M-

    I am a Dukie. I studied under C. Freeman (which means I’m a McClendonite) and took a class with Mike Broadway. He remains a tremendous inspiration and what he is doing to change the world will be lost unto us this side of the eschaton.

    I should blog more probably.

    Comment by Ryon Price | October 31, 2006

  8. I’m also very influenced by McClendon. My dissertation was a testing and slight modification of McClendon’s “baptist vision.” Yoder was my external reader. Mike Broadway is a close friend and I know Curtis–since before he got that great job at Duke.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 31, 2006

  9. Michael,

    I am a 98 graduate of BTSR and now Director of Congregational Life at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I really appreciate your bio on Hinson – well done. I had him for several classes and experienced my first contemplative retreat under him. He is exceptional. Unfortunately, I came to appreciate him much too late. Thanks again.

    Rick Bennett

    Comment by Rick Bennett | January 16, 2008

  10. Michael, thanks for the bio on Hinson. Most of my background about professors at SBTS and the theological climate is hearsay, as a recent graduate of the institution. I represent a baptist ministry at a catholic institution. I was surprised to learn from a catholic theology professor (L. Cunningham) that he knew of SBTS and thought highly of a professor (Hinson) who had taught there. Apparently they both were involved in ecumenical dialogues together and frequented Gethsemani. I consider myself a conservative theologically, a moderate politically, and I have found an interest in the Christian Devotion classics. That interest was actually stimulated by a few current professors of the seminary.

    Comment by A. Thompson | February 19, 2008

  11. Michael,

    I came upon your blog as I was doing a web search on Glenn Hinson. I am a former Bapist, earned a M.Div. at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (’81). I heard professor Hinson at a lectureship series while I was a student at Samford U. in Birmingham, AL. It was an utterly fascinating and captivating experience to hear Dr. Hinson – one of those paradigm shifts in my education. My spirituality was often at odds with the fundamentalist wing of the SBC. I moved on in my pilgrimage, finding refuge and encouragement in the Christian mystics and eventually coming into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church (my wife and daughter and I all came together on Easter, 2001). I am a committed ecumenist and adherent to peace & nonviolence as an ideal. Glad to find your website, and thank you so much for the bio of E. Glenn Hinson.

    Comment by Charles Kinnaird | June 8, 2008

  12. Michael, thank you for your well informed biography on Glenn Hinson who I count as a friend. We met during the winter of 1989 while I was on retreat at the abbey of Gethsemani and took the opportunity of visiting him at SBTS. It was part of a “tour,” to meet mentors who had influenced me through their writings. During that visit I also met Douglas and Dorothy Steere both of whom were delighted with my meeting Glenn. Since 1989, I have corresponded off and on with him and ahve found his wisdom and understanding on faith and practice to be exceptional. Glenn has visited Baptist communities here in Australia in recent times. I am a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia and chaplain of Wesley College,Melbourne.

    Comment by Peter Wiltshire | June 24, 2008

  13. Hinson’s undergraduate work was in mathmatics

    Comment by Sallie Lanier | September 15, 2008

  14. I stumbled across this blog while trying to find info on a Merton conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick this weekend…. I am doing what I am doing partly because of Glen. I was around Glen not only at school SBTS between 1985-1989 I attended Deer Park Baptist Church with him. And went to Berlin with him in 1987 for the opening of the Bonhoeffer center. I hung out with his son and his daughter was in a youth group I briefly lead. Glen taught me about prayer spirituality and ecumenism. I am a Chaplain in a Veterans facility in Saint John New Brunswick. I always get a kick when i meet a new priest and they see how I know my way around their litergical practices and their traditions. That is partly thanks to my having met Glenn.
    Baptist through out the Maritimes at least the ones to whom I have had the privledge of preaching have been touched by Glenn when ever I preach on prayer because of the way he has shaped my thinking.
    One of the most powerful sermons I have heard was from Glenn in Winter of 1986 when he preached in the Manning Chapel Am I a Heritic?
    I heard from Micheal Higgins a Merton Scholar who I met last week that Glenn has since died is that true? I hope not but if it is I am sure those hard nosed fundamentalists will get the shock of their life when they walk into Glory and see his shock of golden hair.

    Comment by John Martin | September 29, 2008

  15. John Martin,

    i spoke to E. Glenn Hinson this morning.

    he is very much alive and still teaching

    and writing.

    on a personel note though..his hearing is all but gone

    he has an aid help him with his student’s questions.

    he is no longer able to hold a conversation on the telephone.

    his good wife was kind enough to bring the telephone to him….as i asked that she have him speak to me.

    i assure you , that was our very own beloved Glenn Hinson on the other end of the line.

    sallie lanier of north east georgia

    Comment by Sallie Lanier | October 17, 2008

  16. […] Baptist historian and mystic, E. Glenn Hinson. […]

    Pingback by Index of Posts on Theological Mentors « Levellers | April 2, 2009

  17. Thanks for the correction. I will edit that line, although I got the history part from a bio sketch in the SBTS archives.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 9, 2009

  18. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not take a class from Glenn Hinson. My wife was his manuscript typist and I got to know him though her. I hated it when people threw rocks at him. they did not know the man behind the wisdom and prophecy. When my wife’s mother was facing surgery, he noticed the look on her face and inquired of her pain. Later that day he paid for airfare for her to take care of her mother. He did this type of thing out of the overflow of his life. I am grateful to God to have known this man of faith on my own journey.

    Comment by Ernest Izard | July 18, 2010

  19. I first met Glenn at SBTS in 1956 as he was finishing his B.D. and bagging groceries at A and P in St. Matthews, near the seminary. He studied with many of my friends at Washington Univ. near University City where I attended High School. Glenn and my father may have attended “grammar school” the same “one room” schoolhouse in Sullivan, Missouri. We often talked of South St. Louis and our common roots. My family were from Pennsylvania Mennonite stock who found their way to St. Louis before the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Glenn led me through the first off campus D. Min. course in Spirituality, while I was a career Navy Chaplain. He always appreciated my “existential” experience with a ministry of spiritual formation with Marines and Sailors. Later, after retirement, he challenged me to complete what I had started with the D. Min. So, at the age of 51 I did PH.D. with him. Through him I met the great church historians, spiritual writers, and theologians. I was proud to be a “Hinsonite.” a phrase attributed to Phyllis Rogerson Pleasants, who continued his tradition at Richmond. His greatest legacy is not in the books or articles/book reviews but in the “human documents” he helped to shape and form. In my mind’s eye I can still see him bagging groceries at A and P. On one occasion I was in the Dean’s Office at Southern and a gentleman came in and asked to see “Dr. Hinson.” I told him I would take him to Glenn’s office and began to tell him about Glenn and his great attachment to Baptist life in Missouri. When we got to Glenn’s Office I found out this gentleman was the chief person who called Glenn a “heretic.” Glenn not only met the man but romanced him in his own gentle way with that impish look that he often showed along with a great sense of humor and intellect. I am still a Hinsonite who still suffers greatly from Agent Orange who was loved and encouraged by this wonderful man. He exemplifies what my beloved Marines call, “Semper Fi!” Indeed! DSH

    Comment by David S. Hunsicker | August 1, 2010

  20. Dr. Hinson stands very tall in the memory of my time at SBTS. His influence on my education was profound and, in important way, decisive.

    I appreciate all the good testimonies to him on this site.

    Comment by Patrick Henry Reardon | September 15, 2010

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