W.T. Conner on Imputed Guilt

August 26, 2013

CONNER, WALTER THOMAS (1877–1952). Walter Thomas (W. T.) Conner, Southern Baptist theologian, received an A.B. degree from Baylor in 1906; in 1908 he received both a Th.B. from Baylor Theological Seminary (which chartered in March 1908 as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and an A.M. degree from Baylor University. At Rochester Theological Seminary, he received a B.D. in 1910. Conner studied at the University of Chicago and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky, where he received his Th.D. degree in 1916. When Southern Baptist Theological Seminary began to award the Ph.D. degree instead of the Th.D., Conner upgrading to Ph.D. status with an additional thesis on the topic “The Idea of Incarnation in the Gospel of John” in 1931.

Conner was ordained by Harmony Baptist Church, Caps, Texas, in 1899, where he was serving as pastor. He served as pastor at numerous Baptist churches and was the first pastor of Seminary Hill Baptist Church (now Gambrell Street Baptist Church) in Fort Worth. In the Southern Baptist Convention, Conner often lectured at conferences and assemblies and spoke at state and national conventions. The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board utilized him as a counselor and advisor in selecting missionary candidates.

Conner’s enduring legacy to Southern Baptist life lies in his 39-year teaching career at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He joined Southwestern in 1910, and endeavored to make theology practical rather than speculative; in the faculty his recommendations for prospective teachers were tantamount to administrative approval; and in the administration his long tenure provided continuity from the first president to the third. Systematic theology was Conner’s main responsibility, and he soon distinguished himself as the preeminent Southern Baptist theologian during the 1930s and 1940s. As a theologian, he was at home among both laymen and scholars. His lectures and books were written with the layman in mind, but they display an underlying academic depth and extensive knowledge of his field. His theology reflects the influence of three former professors: Benajah H. Carroll of Baylor, A. H. Strong of Rochester, and E. Y. Mullins of Louisville. But Conner’s theology still displays his own acumen; his theological works reflect a biblical rather than systematic approach. Conner’s complete theological system is best expressed in his works Revelation and God (1936) and The Gospel of Redemption (1945). He wrote 15 books and numerous articles for professional journals and other periodicals. He was a member of the Southwestern Society of Biblical Study and Research, and in 1946 he delivered the Wilkinson Lectures at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago.

“We are safe in saying that no member of Adam’s race will be eternally lost apart from personal choice and personal guilt. Any interpretation that says that we as individual members of Adam’s race are lost because of covenant made with Adam in the Garden of Eden or because we were present in Adam and participated in his sin as an act of sin-any such interpretation as either of this is not interpreting Paul. It is in one case following some questionable principles of law in the realm of religion and in the other some questionable metaphysics invented several centuries after Paul. One goes back to a Dutch lawyer, the other to subtle Christian speculator of North Africa who brought much of both good and bad into Christian theology…

…What Paul meant to show us in Romans 5:12-21 was a wonderful Redeemer who gives more than we lost in Adam. But in a cloud of theological dust raised about the imputed sin of Adam we have lost sight of Paul’s wonderful Redeemer and have seen only Adam’s sin and an imputed guilt that never existed except in our imaginations.”

W. T. Conner, The Faith of the New Testament, (281-82), 1940.

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Tim Rogers (@Timothy_Rogers)

Conner says it clearly–the system of the Dutch Lawyer, which is based on the Christian speculator of North Africa, places more emphasis on man and who he is than it does on God and what He has done. We are told that God’s sovereignty is what we SB Traditionalists reject while we have a system forced on us that emphasizes the fall of man instead of the greatness of God. Are we fallen creatures? Yes!! Are we sinful creatures? Yes!!! Are we worms deserving nothing but Hell and the grave? Yes, Yes, and a thousand times Yes!!!! But, if we look at the God of the Bible and focus on the fall of man we have missed the entire point of God’s love and redemption—that is he came to save sinners of whom I am chief. We are not to focus on ourselves, but on Him and His act of Love manifested on the Cross of Calvary.


    Rather than place more emphasis on man, the view opposed by Conner describes better the great gulf that exists between man and God and thereby emphasizes the necessity for God to act if any are to be saved.

    So, who are the Dutch lawyer and the Christian speculator of North Africa? Calvin and Augustine? If so, is this a veiled attempt to mark these guys as not real theologians? Otherwise, what was his purpose?

    Message to Norm: I notice that some of my messages will initially post and then disappear later on. This morning when I was here, there were two messages; now only one. Someone else noted this problems in a recent comment.

      Johnathan Pritchett

      Actually, the real issue is that the view opposed by Conner describes nothing in the Bible in general and Romans 5:12-21 in particular. It diminishes the exceeding greatness of Christ and makes it all about something the text never says.


        Not really. Conner identifies the problem as one of “personal choice and personal guilt.” The reformed position says that it is much worse than that; it is one of imputed guilt apart from personal choice – guilt, not by choice, but by nature. The issue boils down to the effect Adam’s sin had on his children. In Romans 5, we read, “…by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners,…” which we must allow to be a true statement that remains true in addition to whatever else the Bible says is true. So, what do we do with that?

RD Magee

I’m not sure from reading this what the impact or consequences are for the descendants of Adam in regards to his fall, except he seems to say that Adam’s fall did not result in imputed guilt. What did it result in? What did Christ’s act of obedience result in for those who are in Christ?

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