In Case You Missed It

1) What hath pastors to do with politics? The ERLC blog, Canon and Culture has a good series of posts dealing with this question. In part 2, Jonathan Leeman responds to the views of Jeffery Ventrella. It’s worth reading both posts.

2) You must read this excellent essay at CT magazine by Philip Jenkins on the possible extinction of Mideast Christians. Possible, he reminds us, is a tricky word.

3) Southeastern communications director, Amy Whitfield, writes about the temptation and dangers of living in a bubble.

4) Trevin Wax has a fascinating interview with Jake Hanson about his new book, Igniting the Fire, which looks at the early years and mentors of Billy Graham’s life.

5) The end of time as we know it? I think God, the creator of time, may have some input on this, too.

Grant Wacker to Speak about Billy Graham at the CFC

On Monday, Nov. 10th at 7 p.m., the Bush Center for Faith and Culture (CFC) hosts Grant Wacker, the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian History at Duke University Divinity School. Wacker will present his recently released biography of Billy Graham, America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation.Billy Graham

Wacker’s book addresses the question “How did a lanky farm kid from North Carolina become an evangelist hailed by the media as ‘America’s pastor’?” Not merely a conventional biography, Wacker provides an interpretive study that helps to explain why Billy Graham mattered so much and how he became the closest thing to a pope that Protestants have ever had.

The lecture hall of the CFC is located on the 2nd floor of Patterson Hall on the campus of Southeastern Seminary. The event is open to the public. Copies of America’s Pastor will be available for purchase. Dr. Wacker will sign books at the close of the event.Grant Wacker 300w

Recurring Themes in Baptist History

Nearly every semester, I teach a course at Southeastern Seminary titled Baptist History: Heritage, Identity, Polity. Like any subject that you study historically, Baptist history is characterized by a number of recurring themes. Some of these themes represent perennial debates among Baptists, while others speak to historical developments that continue to influence Baptists to the present day. I try to highlight these themes during the course of the semester in my lectures and in our class discussions.

While there are no doubt other themes that could be highlighted, I point to six as being particularly important. These topics come up in class again and again because, well, they come up among Baptists again and again!

1. Reform vs. Restoration: Some historians interpret Baptists as a reform movement that arose among English Protestants, while others see them as a restoration movement that sought to bypass earlier movements and return to the purity of New Testament Christianity. Furthermore, how Baptists themselves have understood their own identity as reformers or restorationists has varied at different points in history. How one approaches this issue necessarily affects his or her understanding of Baptist identity.

2. Calvinism vs. Arminianism: From their earliest days, Baptists have enjoyed no consensus on doctrines such as predestination, the extent/intent of the atonement, the relationship between divine grace and human belief, and the eternal security of those who believe. Some Baptists have been strong Calvinists, while others have been convictional Arminians. Many Baptists (including most Southern Baptists today) have attempted to argue that a position between Calvinism and Arminianism is the most biblical position. While this is an important topic that should be considered first and foremost from a biblical perspective, historically, there is no such thing as “the Baptist view” of the doctrines of grace.

3. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Church Membership: While all Baptists affirm believer’s baptism, there is no unanimity in terms of how baptism relates to the Lord’s Supper and church membership. Historically, most Baptists have argued that believer’s baptism is prerequisite to church membership and participation in the Lord’s Supper. However, many Baptists believe that believer’s baptism should not be prerequisite to communion. A small but growing minority of Baptists believes that believer’s baptism should not be a requirement of church membership. This spectrum of views was already present by the middle of the seventeenth century.

4. The Relationship between Church and State: Baptists have historically championed full religious liberty and church-state separation. However, Baptists have frequently disagreed about the implementation of this principle. Some Baptists want religious liberty within the context of a broadly Christian nation, while others want the state to take a secular (though not secularist) approach and remain neutral on religious matters. In America, this particular theme has been a point of tension from the 1960s onward. Some Baptists accuse the Supreme Court and sometimes legislative bodies of advocating secularism while other Baptists accuse political conservatives of rejecting, or at least downplaying, the importance of church-state separation.

5. The Centrality of Missions: From the eighteenth century onwards, missions has been arguably the defining theme in Baptist history. Nearly every theological and methodological debate among Baptists has been related in some way to the desire of Baptists to obey Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20. As much as any denomination, Baptists are a tradition defined by a high level of commitment to evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. We have certainly witnessed this theme play in some of our family discussions in recent Southern Baptist life.

6. Increasing Denominationalism: As Baptists became more committed to missions, they were forced to develop increasingly elaborate denominational structures to better facilitate cooperation for the sake of missions. Sometimes, denominationalism has served as a catalyst to missionary efforts. At other times, denominational structures have arguably hindered effective missionary advance due to alleged bureaucratic expansion. For some Baptists, their denominational identity is part and parcel of their wider Baptist identity, while other Baptists see themselves as only partially—perhaps even peripherally—part of a Baptist denomination.

Again, I have little doubt there are other themes that could be highlighted, but these are the ones that stand out to me. To my thinking, it is impossible to understand Baptist history—or contemporary debates about Baptist identity, denominationalism, etc.—without some familiarity with these six recurring themes.