The Baptist Story – A Review

By: Spence Spencer

There has been a need for a new textbook on Baptist History for some time. Leon McBeth’s book, The Baptist Heritage had its day, but his presentation of Baptists was slanted toward his perspective on a number of issues. Also, McBeth’s book was published in 1987 before the culmination of the SBC’s conservative resurgence.

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As such, The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement is a welcome volume. Three historians collaborated to write this 300-page volume. Anthony Chute serves at California Baptist University, Michael Haykin teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Nathan Finn recently left Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for Union University. The collaborative effort is helpful on a textbook that covers hundreds of years of data because each man has a different area of expertise.

The Baptist Story aims to tell the tale of Baptists from their beginnings to the present in an irenic matter. Besides eating, Baptists excel at quibbling over seemingly trivial matters. The priesthood of all believers (or freedom of conscience) has at times given rise to a contentious spirit in some. The three authors of this work seek to give an even handed explanation for the origins of Baptists, the historic soteriology of the Baptists, and some of the social ills that Baptists have tolerated or even aggravated. This is neither a whitewashing nor an exposé.

SUMMARY

The book contains three sections. The first section deals with Baptists in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is the period of Baptist beginnings, through a time of persecution and possible extinction. At the end of that period, however, Baptists were growing and beginning the modern missionary movement in hopes of taking the gospel to all parts of the globe.

In section two, the authors trace Baptist History through the 19th century, which was a time of rapid expansion and rise to prominence of the Baptists. In particular, the low-church approach of Baptists with little requirement of formal education of clergy allowed a more rapid growth. It also led to theological ignorance, which made Baptists subject to fragmentation and heresy in the face of the challenges of Modernism.

Section three documents the twentieth century through the present. The impact of the World Wars, the Social Gospel, and Liberation Theology are all documented in these chapters. So is the continued growth of Baptists in most lands. The book would be remiss if the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention were neglected, so thankfully the coverage of that important topic is adequate.

The fourth section outlines some of the basic beliefs of Baptists: those things that make Baptists distinct from other denominations. This final section is the only prescriptive section of the volume; the remainder of the volume is fairly even-handed historical description. Even in this prescription, though, the authors are attempting to describe what has historically made Baptists different. It is apparent, though, that many of these things are also held to be good by them.

ANALYSIS

The greatest contribution of this volume is that it provides an updated resource for those seeking to teach or understand Baptist History. Nearly thirty years after McBeth’s book was published, it was beginning to fall out of favor in many circles. Bebbington’s volume, Baptists Through the Centuries, will likely remain popular. However, The Baptist Story provides a different perspective on Baptists that may be more helpful for American students and better adapted to the college level.

This volume has explanatory power. It is readable and informative. It explains the Baptist movement without devolving into petty critique and promotion of factions. This is a book that explains the Baptist story in a global context, shedding light on the 1/3rd (or so) of worldwide Baptist believers that live outside of the United States. As such it serves to explain the American story and illuminate the global story beyond a missionary narrative. This is a book worth owning.

The Baptist Story aims to be a college level textbook and to provide visual cues along the way. There are textboxes with primary source quotes and pictures of key individuals and locations throughout the text. In addition to these graphics, it would have been beneficial for the volume to include charts and timelines that provide visual representations of the historical progression of Baptists. The Baptist history is complex, so that there is a constant battle between sorting information topically and chronologically. Timelines and charts would have helped readers navigate the transitions.

Another potential improvement for a second edition would be to add a glossary with some of the key theological terms. This is not a theology textbook, it is a history. Still, when concepts like the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology are mentioned, it would be convenient to have a brief explanation close at hand. It is impossible to understand the history of a religious movement without a firm understanding of some contours of the theology. A future edition could be enhanced by supplementing the text with a brief theological glossary.

CONCLUSION

This is an outstanding overview of Baptist History. I wish it had been published when I took my Baptist History nearly a decade ago. I read thousands of pages of primary sources to gain a similar understanding of the sweep of Baptist History. It is my hope this book will find a prominent place in theological education of Baptist students in the future, as well as in local churches as a means to explain how we got where we are.

The Baptist Story – From English Sect to Global Movement

By Dr. Anthony L. Chute, Dr. Nathan A. Finn, Michael A. G. Haykin

Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

This post is cross-posted from Spence’s personal blog.

Spence Spencer is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the Director of Assessment and Institutional Research at Oklahoma Baptist University.

Schaeffer’s Wheaton Lectures: Speaking the Historic Christian Position into the 20th Century

By: Dr. Bruce Little

In September, 1965 Francis A. Schaeffer set off a small explosion in the evangelical world with his lectures at Wheaton College’s Spiritual Emphasis week. Schaeffer gave ten lectures, one in the morning during chapel (30 minutes) and the other in the evening (40-45 minutes) Monday through Friday. In that brief time Schaeffer delivered a message that reverberated across the evangelical landscape providing important answers for many and provoking criticism from others. Now 50 years later the effects are still being felt.

Schaeffer had been invited by Dr. Hudson Armerding, recently elected president of Wheaton, to bring a series of messages on evangelism and spirituality to open the school year.  In correspondence, however, Schaeffer requested that the lectures should not be promoted as evangelistic meetings in the common understanding of the word and suggested a title something like: “Christian Reality, Intellectually and In Practice in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century.” The actual title was “Speaking the Historic Christian Position into The 20th Century”.  Later that year the same lectures were delivered at Westmont College. In addition, earlier that year some of the same material had been presented in Boston at a series of lectures organized by Harold O. J. Brown. Brown was working with InterVarsity campus ministry as well as on staff at Park Street Baptist Church while working on a PhD at Harvard.  Due to the avalanche of requests for the lectures, Wheaton requested permission to transcribe the lectures. Whereas Schaeffer was intending to write a book containing many of the key ideas presented in the lectures, he agreed to the transcription but only for distribution to Wheaton and Westmont staff and students. In 1968, Schaeffer published the book bearing the title: The God Who Is There: Speaking Historic Christianity into the 20th Century.

Speaking of these lectures as historic in terms of evangelical thinking is not hyperbole.  Schaeffer touched a nerve, especially in the young evangelicals of the day who were tempted to move to neo-orthodoxy or give up on evangelicalism altogether. One must remember this was in the mid-sixties when so much that had been accepted as right came under attack –all authority was under suspicion. Schaeffer clearly understood what was going on. As one report put it, Schaeffer understood the students better than they understood themselves. When in October Dr. Armerding contacted Schaeffer about coming to Wheaton to do a summer school class, initially Schaeffer hesitated because since returning to Switzerland he had received enough invitations to keep him traveling for nine months.

Schaeffer surprised the young evangelical minds when he pointed out that honest questions required honest answers – honest answers about the world and man. If, he stated, Christians were to communicate the Gospel to 20th century man it must be rooted in the framework of truth, truth that could be open to honest discussion. Truth was dependent on reality, and reality was what it was because God is there – He is the Creator. For Schaeffer, the biblical system could be considered to be true without any appeal to authority. Christianity is true because it is true to what is there, what he called the truth of the universe. Every person must live in the world as it is; as true personality – person as true person because God is person. Furthermore, salvation and spirituality had truth-content without which they both became meaningless.

Schaeffer explained that communication with modern man could begin with reality – the truth of what was. He called this pre-evangelism. Man lives in a world created by God and if a man has non-biblical presuppositions about this world, then his pre-suppositions will create a tension with the real world. In order for man to live with the tension, he builds a “roof” to protect himself from the blows of reality. In pre-evangelism the Christian, in love, removes the roof so man can really feel the strength of the tension between the real world and his non-biblical presuppositions.  Modern man must see for himself the logical conclusions of his own presuppositions. When this happens, the Christian then lovingly takes the Word of God and shows how the person can live properly in this reality – God’s reality because God is there and salvation speaks to this reality.

Though some would later accuse Schaeffer of being too rationalistic, his lectures clearer proved that accusation false. Schaeffer explained that a person could never start with man as an independent, autonomous being and build a cantilever bridge to God. However, in Christian communication with modern man, it is possible to begin with man because he is a personal being made in the image of God who is personal.  Man is truly fallen, but in ways he still bears the image of God; therefore, man can know about his world – he is fallen, but he is not junk. Repeatedly Schaeffer spoke of this as the mannishness of man. Man still had categories of thought that fit the world as the world truly is, he longs for certain things, and he desires certain things. Man is a true person, he is not a machine as naturalism had made him. So, Christians must respect humanity as personal, and this was precisely the point of contact with modern man.

Truly, this was explosive to the young evangelical minds resulting in a renewed passion to reach the lost.

Dr. Bruce Little is Senior Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Francis A. Schaeffer Collection at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary