A new battle over the Bible is shaping up in the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant communion, whose annual meeting begins next week in Houston.
The controversy centers on charges from a conservative group, the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship, that some church leaders, particularly in Baptist theological seminaries, hold unorthodox views of the Bible.
Harold Lindsell, president of the unofficial Faith and Message Fellowship and editor emeritus of the independent evangelical journal, Christianity Today, has charged that not one of the communion's six seminaries teaches unequivocally that the Bible "is free from all error."
The question of biblical inerrancy has already split one Protestant body - the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod - and is a major controversy in evangelical circles currently.
Those who hold the inerrancy theory view all parts of the Bible, including the creation accounts and such Old Testament stories as Jonah's survival in the whale's belly, to be literally true, as well as inspired by God.
Other believers hold that while the truths of the Bible are divinely inspired, the form in which they are recorded - parables, poetry, myths - are chosen by those wrote the books that eventually became the Bible.
The Faith and Message Fellowship, which has existed for a number of years, though in the past has been able to wield little clout, also is aiming at affecting the selection of the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In an unprecedented amount of politicking for Southern Baptist circles, the group has held meetings in at least 15 states where Southern Baptists are strong, to mobilize support for a president of the SBC committed to biblical inerrancy.
The convention's current president, Jimmy R. Allen of San Antonio, has criticized the politicking as distracting Baptists from their central calling, which he believes is evangelizing.