"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"

September  2003                 Vol. 2  No. 9


Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

Walter B. Shurden, Executive Director and Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Greg Thompson, Associate Director, The Center for Baptist Studies

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Robert Richardson, Coordinator, Mercer Certificate Program in Baptist Studies

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:


I Believe . . . : by Walter B. Shurden

              The Denominational Traditions and Post-Denominationalism

The Baptist Soapbox: by Sarah Jackson Shelton

         "How Can I Be a Baptist Pastor"

BSB Book Review Specials: Bill Leonard: Baptist Ways, A History

            Reviews by Briggs, Blevins, Gourley, and Martin

Baptist Firsts: by Charles Deweese

             “The First African American Baptist Foreign Missionary”

Baptists in America and Church State Issues: by Brent Walker

           "Where Do The Ten Commandments Belong? "

Baptist Spirituality in America: by Loyd Allen

              “Spiritual Formation in the Baptist Academy, South”

Baptist Hymnody and Worship in America: by  Harry Eskew

               "Baptist Pastors Compile Hymnals"

Baptist Articles: by Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants

              Americanism or Christianity? Church Techies! Church Social Ministry

Baptistville: by Greg Thompson

             Happenings in Baptistville


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I Believe

I Believe . . . by Walter Shurden


The Denominational Traditions and Post-Denominationalism


I believe . . .


            , as an ecumenically-inclined Baptist of the South, that I would like to voice a serious demurral to much of the contemporary trend to jump on the bandwagon babble of “post-denominationalism.” We are living, many say, in a post-denominational Christian world. They mean, I think, that denominations are passé, that the particular shape, the peculiar profile of individual denominations do not matter anymore. The mantra, which I heard from a hard-working Baptist pastor, goes like this: “People are not interested anymore in the denomination they join; they are only interested in what a particular church can do for their family and their children.” I have a good friend, a Baptist pastor, who confessed to me his sin of hiding all of his “Baptist” books in a closet in his study. Later, when he got ready to preach a series of sermons on Baptist Convictions, he confessed that he hoped to slip in the back door of his parishioners’ souls, so as not to offend them with his denominational sectarianism. 

            I doubt seriously that we are as far along on the post-denominational trail as some insist. But even if we are, should we be?

            People no longer care, so some say, about denominational distinctives. Once one looks beyond the surface of the situation, one doubts seriously that most treat denominational distinctives so trivially or cavalierly. For example, I doubt seriously if devout Lutherans are interested in forfeiting “justification by grace through faith” or that Pentecostals are about to lose their charismatic foundations or that Methodists are surrendering their churchly connectionalism or that the Presbyterians are throwing out completely their concept of the sovereignty of God.

            Even, however, if denominational traditions are considered irrelevant by some, should some of the rest of us work in nonsectarian ways to elevate the best about denominational distinctives? Is there not something there worth saving and saying?

            I have heard it said that one cannot grow a church any longer with a denominational adjective fixed to the church sign. It is much better, so the argument goes, to drop the denominational label and go generic. Even if that judgment contains an element of truth in terms of the “evangelistic outreach” of the churches, is there integrity there? If you switch the denominational sign to a generic one but retain the theological, ecclesiological, and ethical distinctives of what goes on inside the house, are you not just a bit guilty of what the federal government has designated as the “truth-in-packaging” law? If the “truth-in-packaging” law applies to a can of soup or a box of breakfast cereal, does it not apply to religious faith? Does not what is on the outside of the package have to conform to what is on the inside? Isn’t there genuine integrity in the sign that reads “Calvary Baptist” and underneath in smaller letters: “Independent, Pre-millenial, Bible-believing, and Blood-bought.” Now that’s clarity! I know what that church stands for! I also can determine if I want to stand with them! But “The Church of Grace” does not tell me much. “The Church of the Good Shepherd” or “Victory Tabernacle” not only do not tell me much, they are less than honest labels if I get on the inside and discover that I am in a traditionally moderate Baptist church or a fundamentalist Baptist church maintaining typical Baptist loyalties.

            It is a bit of irony that when so many individuals are “coming out of the closet” to proclaim their sexual identity some churches are “going into the closet,” hiding their true identity. Could it be that they are often hiding for the sake of a surface ecumenism and a shallow evangelism?



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Baptist Soapbox

The Baptist Soapbox : Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist (therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The Baptist Studies Bulletin (though sometimes they are). Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Sarah Jackson Shelton, Pastor, Covenant Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL.

 “How Can I Be a Baptist Pastor?”

by Sarah Jackson Shelton


Varieties of questions come to us through the course of a life time: “How is school going?” “How are the children?” “Are you settling in?” While these are normal questions that might be asked of or by us at any time, I have to admit that none of these is the question I get asked the most. The most oft asked question of me is: “How can you be a Baptist pastor?”

How can I be a Baptist pastor? One answer is because God has called and equipped me. As an entering freshman, I knew that God had called me into a fulltime Christian vocation. It was not until I was at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary that I understood that call to include being a pastor. Trying to understand the stirrings in my soul, I talked with Dr. Findley Edge. Worried about the new thing that God was beginning, Dr. Edge assured me: “Wouldn’t you rather be a part of something new rather than a part of something that has always been?” And everything within me said, “yes!”

How can I be a Baptist pastor? Another answer is because Baptists have historically believed in the local autonomy of the church. My Association has recently struggled with this. Some have not welcomed my presence in a pulpit that is within “their” Association. However, when things came to a vote, it was overwhelmingly decided that the local autonomy of each church would be upheld and that we could remain in fellowship with one another.

How can I be a Baptist pastor? My favorite answer is because there is a family of faith who is true to their convictions and took the risk to call me to serve alongside them as their pastor. Baptist Church of the Covenant celebrates the gifts that God has uniquely bestowed on each individual. They believe that if you come to church with the intent to worship, then you will always be welcome. As a consequence, they have consistently been an example of inclusivity and grace. Because of their history, it was only natural that they would call me, a woman, and allow me the privilege of leading worship, dedicating babies, baptizing new believers, and marrying and burying those whom they love. The confidence they place in me assures me that, yes, even I can be a Baptist pastor!


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BSB Book Review

BSB BOOK REVIEW SPECIAL: Bill J. Leonard, Dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University has written a new one-volume history of Baptists, placing him in the venerable tradition of Vedder, Torbet, and McBeth. Because BSB considers this a major publishing event in Baptist life, we have asked four Baptist historians to review the book. The diverse backgrounds of these four will not, we hope, escape the reader’s attention.  John Briggs is a British Baptist historian, Carolyn Blevins is a female Baptist historian, Sandy Martin is an African American Baptist historian, and Bruce Gourley represents the younger, emerging Baptist historians.  With the title of Baptist Ways, A History and containing 480 pages, Dr. Leonard’s book was published by Judson Press only a few weeks ago.


Professor John H.Y. Briggs, M.A. is Senior Research Fellow in Church history and Director of the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage at Regent's Park College, Oxford University, Oxford, England.


 Briggs on Baptist Ways

British Baptists, who are at best medium distance runners, have to admit the stamina of their American cousins for their readiness to run the marathon. And for that we are indebted to them. It is in that tradition that Leonard, following Torbet and McBeth, writes. The logic is clear. If the story is well told then the origins must be thoroughly dealt with, and the story is not complete without concern for global impact. So the story quite naturally becomes a long and complex one, which Bill Leonard manages to accomplish in 425 pages of text, which is little more than half the space that Leon McBeth has at his disposal in his 1987 volume, and historiography has moved on in the two decades since then.

 There is both more history to write–think of the momentous changes in context and in substance that have impacted on the history of the church in that period-and new calls for inclusiveness in the writing. There is then here a recognition that the muted women of past records must be given more of a voice. Similarly the contribution of ethnic minorities needs to be included in the story. These and the attention given to hymnody and the centrality of scripture are applauded by Edwin Gaustad in his Foreword.

By contrast Leonard admits that some readers will look for particular stories in vain, and defends his account by arguing that it is ‘representative’ of the whole, so it is by that canon, not the canon of comprehensiveness that the book is to be judged. The critical question is not whether the account is complete–it is not–but whether it is fair, whether it is a good self disclosure of the story of the people called Baptists that will properly represent them both to their own constituency and to a wider readership.

It took me 408 pages to give an account of English Baptists in the Nineteenth Century*; Leonard deals with Baptists in Britain, a larger subject in just 16pp. To complain that it is starved of detail–why, for example, did Robert Hall, as the child of a transdenominational revival argue for open communion?-would be unfair: if that is your complaint you have the remedy in following up the footnotes and the very helpful bibliography. Complaint, if complaint it is, is against the genre not the present exemplification of it. The important thing is that Leonard identifies the important themes and deals with them fairly, even eirenically.

I turned to Leonard’s necessarily brief account of English Baptists in the twentieth century with considerable interest, but with the disadvantage of only having read half of the new history of English Baptists in draft. I believe that Leonard’s account is both faithful but different and therefore significant. I would like to see this volume in all our College libraries, but not only there on the shelves but well thumbed because it has been well used, for our students need the global vision that this volume supplies, for not least, there is great ignorance of the fascinating story of developments among American Baptists, so important to our world image but so little understood by many in Britain.

 *Editor’s note: Professor Briggs refers to his The English Baptists of the 19th Century, The Baptist Historical Society, Baptist House, 129 Broadway, Didcot, OX11 8RT, England, 1994.


Carolyn DeArmond Blevins is Associate Professor of Religion at Carson Newman College in Jefferson City, TN. She has written and spoken widely on the role of women in Baptist history.


Blevins on Baptist Ways

Telling the Baptist story in a single volume is an overwhelming task. Bill Leonard was brave enough to attempt it, disciplined enough to complete it, and thorough enough to do it very well. While the primary focus in on Baptists in the United States and Britian, Leonard includes glimpses of Baptist life on every inhabited continent and in many nations. To do all of that within 425 pages is a triumph of good writing. The task of deciding what to include and what to leave out was no doubt daunting.

            In spite of that challenge, Leonard carefully documents the role of women in Baptist heritage. “And wife” is a common phrase in Baptist records. Every time it is possible, Leonard provides the woman’s given name, providing a clearer identity for some of the early women who were involved in our early heritage. Most of his references to women are to those who were missionaries, whose stories are most frequently preserved. The work of women’s mission societies around the world in promoting and supporting missions is recognized as a crucial element of Baptist life.

            A unique feature of Leonard’s book is the attention given to female writers of hymns and poems. A diversity of Baptist women from slaves to preachers to Baptist World Alliance leaders are included.  Baptist women who read Baptist Ways will discover their foremothers throughout the history.

            Recognizing that all pertinent information cannot be included, it is nevertheless quite dismaying to discover that he omitted crucial parts of women’s story. Leonard acknowledges the role of over thirty women’s missionary societies from around the world, but curiously the only mention of the Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC is the statement of its founding in 1888. This largest Baptist women’s group whose work was the core of support for the significant missionary enterprise of the Southern Baptist Convention merits more than a passing reference to its founding.

            The chapter on the twentieth century surprises the reader. Women seem to fall off the pages of Baptist history. Where are the stories: of women’s significant mission support and involvement; of the heated debates of women’s ordination and leadership; and of emerging women’s ministry groups? Writing sixteen years earlier, Leon McBeth did not identify as many women as has Leonard, but he did discuss the valuable work of the mission societies and briefly examine the ordination issues. Leonard seems to run out of space in his recording of the last century. Instead of addressing the struggles of women in several Baptist groups in recent years, he gives a nod to the issue in the last few paragraphs of the book by saying that “Baptists continue to divide over such issues as the role of women in ministry.” An examination of the very helpful bibliography provided a clue to some of his omissions. While there is a fine collection of Baptist works from around the world, some of the best works relating to Baptist women are omitted.

            Although I found some missing chapters of the women’s story, Leonard’s work is a much needed and valuable contribution to the preserving of Baptist heritage.


Bruce Gourley, a former campus minister, is author of The Godmakers, the present Online Editor of Baptists Today, and a Ph.D. student in Southern History, Auburn University.


Gourley on Baptist Ways

The latest volume in the lineage of Baptist denominational surveys, Baptist Ways paints a portrait of a complex and diverse faith group, encompassing nearly 400 years of Baptist history in focusing on individuals, institutions, and movements.  Leonard’s thesis is that Baptist identity ranges across a broad spectrum of theology, church polity, and experience.  Rather than being a linear history, the volume is presented as a history of the many “ways” Baptists have thought and acted.  This distinction is particularly significant in light of competing claims of Baptist heritage among today’s Baptists. 

            Positing that the key to understanding Baptists is the recognition of both convergence and divergence within the denominational family, Leonard frames the historical thoughts and actions of Baptists in terms of dialectics, such as “The Authority of Scripture and the Liberty of Conscience,” “Regeneration: Dramatic Event and Sustaining Process,” “Doctrinal Statements: Invariably Confessional, Selectively Creedal,” and “Religious Liberty and Christian Citizenship.”

            Although much of this volume is standard Baptist history ably restated by Leonard with a nod to the contemporary social history school of thought, students of American Baptist history will find both notable and serendipitous insights from Leonard’s pen.  For instance, Roger Williams, in addition to being the founding father of Baptists in America, is noted as favoring the wearing of veils for women (73).  John Leland, champion of religious liberty, is also recognized for his early anti-slavery views (131, 185-186).  In addition, a particularly salient quote from Parkinson’s 1809 A Selection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs provides vivid (and humorous) insight into the hymnody debate among Baptists in America of that era (126).

            However, the volume ultimately falls short in some ways, most notably in regard to the inherent tension between page count and content.  For example, 31 pages (including notes) cannot suffice for a satisfying treatment of the dynamics and tensions of 20th century Baptists in the United States.  In addition, the volume does not fully flesh out the growth and diversity of 20th century African, Asian, and South American Baptists.  And although Baptist Ways delves deeper than most surveys in noting John Leland’s early opposition to slavery, the volume fails to mention Leland’s evolving views on the slavery issue.  Finally, modern technology provides the opportunity for publishers to provide a CD-ROM to accompany textbooks.  An electronic library of photos and key documents could have further enhanced Leonard’s excellent printed volume.

            In the final analysis, the highly readable yet scholarly Baptist Ways is an excellent survey volume.  Although a denominational history, the volume book provides glimpses into the lives and thoughts of ordinary Baptists.  Women, African-Americans, and a host of lesser known Baptist groups, both American and international, receive much-deserved attention as the reader is reminded that Baptists have many faces.  Suitable for the both the classroom and the living room, this volume reflects a sensitivity to Baptist diversity at a time when Baptists are increasingly polarized.  As a one volume introduction to Baptist history, Baptist Ways is a must read and a worthy successor to previous Baptist surveys. 


Sandy Martin is professor in the department of religion at the University of Georgia. He has done extensive research and writing in the area of African American Baptists.


Martin on Baptist Ways

      Bill J. Leonard, dean and professor of church history at Wake Forest University Divinity School, has written an engrossing, in depth, and readable history of Baptists. An organizationally, doctrinally, racially, gender, and geographically inclusive work, it could very accurately be titled, Baptist Ways:  A Global History. Chapters 1-4 examine origins of Baptist basic principles. Chapters 5 and 6 outline the formation of Baptist identity and organization. Chapters 7-9 trace the nineteenth century establishment of national organizations. Chapter 10-16 provide an overview of U.S. Baptists and those in the Caribbean, black America, Great Britain beyond England, Africa, Asia, “continental” Europe.

      Those interested in African American religious and black Baptist history will be pleased with the inclusion of Baptists of African descent. Leonard covers black Baptists in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa as agents employing imagination, skill, and devotion to the building and spread of Christianity rather than mere objects or issues with whom white Baptists have to deal. Furthermore, the author treats both pleasant and unsavory interactions between whites and blacks, refusing to “sugar coat” the historical issues of slavery, segregation, and racial prejudice.   

      As a positive example in his work, Leonard references the nineteenth century cooperation of black and white Baptists of the South in pursuit of African missions;  as a negative example,  he notes that some very prominent white Baptist “heroes” evidenced racially chauvinistic and segregationist attitudes. The author also conveys diversity among black Baptists:  geographical and national distributions, women and men, political differences, and National and Primitive conventions.

      A book of such mammoth proportions is bound to contain some aspects that could be improved in subsequent editions. First, there are a few errors or misprints regarding African American Baptists. For example,  the American Baptist Free Mission Society was not a black denomination (p. 250) as is made clear elsewhere (e.g., p. 188), but an interracial body of abolitionists. Leonard (p. 250) probably means to reference the black American Baptist Missionary Convention.  

      More importantly, Afro-Baptist history, and the general Baptist story, would benefit by a greater distribution of black Baptist activities throughout the book rather than main concentrations in a couple of chapters. For example,  including some of the information in chapters 10 and 11 on Caribbean and African American Baptists in chapter 6, which covers U.S. Baptists in the eighteenth century,  would underscore that the Silver Bluff, First African, and Springfield Baptist churches in South Carolina and Georgia represented tenacious efforts of black Baptists to gain a religious freedom that white Baptists were beginning to take for granted. Also, George Liele’s journey from Georgia to Jamaica and David George’s relocation from Georgia to Nova Scotia, Canada, and, subsequently, Sierra Leone (1792) would demonstrate more profoundly black Baptists’ early involvement in the worldwide expansion of the faith and their pioneering efforts in Jamaica and Africa in the 1780s and 1790s, prior to the arrival of white counterparts and even antedating William Carey’s presence in India!  

      These few suggestions for subsequent editions notwithstanding, Leonard has written an exceedingly valuable, well-researched, comprehensive, usable, balanced, “must have” text that will prove to be a classic in the areas of Baptist and American religious history.

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Baptist Firsts

Baptist Firsts: Charles W. Deweese, Executive Director-Treasurer of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, writes this section of BSB. He identifies some of the “firsts” in Baptist life in America.


 The First African American Baptist Foreign Missionary

By Charles W. Deweese


Baptists like to talk about the origins of their mission-sending agencies. The Baptist Missionary Society of England was formed in 1792 and soon sent the famous missionary William Carey to India. The Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society originated in 1802 as the first state organization of its kind in the United States. In 1814, Baptists across America created the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions as the first national body of Baptists in America. The Southern Baptist Convention established its Domestic and Foreign Mission Boards in 1845. The leadership of all these mission-sending bodies was all white.

One of the earliest missionaries to go from America was an African American. George Leile (variously spelled Liele and Lisle) was born in Virginia about 1750. Enslaved to Deacon Henry Sharpe, he was converted as a youth. Sensing Leile's potential for ministry, his owner freed him. Ordained, Leile preached at Silver Bluff, South Carolina, and later in Savannah, Georgia, where by the late 1770s he had formed and served as pastor of the African Baptist Church.

In the early 1780s, Leile moved to Jamaica. Not only did he become the first Baptist missionary to Jamaica, he was one of the first Baptist missionaries from the United States to any location outside the U.S. Further, he was one of the first Baptist missionaries from any country in the world to any other country. Amazingly, Leile arrived in Jamaica about a decade before Carey arrived in India.

In Jamaica, Leile formed a strong Baptist church. In 1796, he prepared a covenant used by that church. That document spelled out Leile's and the church's beliefs and practices. For example, "We hold to be Baptised in a river, or in a place where there is much water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Again, "We hold to the ordinance of washing one another's feet."—Charles W. Deweese, Baptist Church Covenants (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990), 190.

            From now on, when we think of Baptist missionary origins, perhaps we need to think African American.


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Church State Issues

Baptists in America and Church State Issues: a column on hot button  issues related to religion and government written by J. Brent Walker, Executive Director, The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.


“Where Do The Ten Commandments Belong?”

By J. Brent Walker


In the emotionally volatile debate over whether “Roy’s Rock” should stay in the Alabama State Judicial Building, one supporter of the display vowed, “they’ll never be able to remove it from our hearts.”

That is precisely the point.

The debate that led to the Ten Commandments monument being moved from the center of Alabama’s state supreme court building is not about whether the Commandments teach sound theology or wholesome ethics. The question is not whether the Commandments embody the right teachings. The question is who is the right teacher–the government or the families, the churches and synagogues? I can think of few things more desirable than for people to read and obey the Ten Commandments. I can think of little worse than for government officials to tell citizens to do so.

Indeed, writing the Ten Commandments “on our hearts” is the way to ensure that they will never be loaded onto a proverbial hydraulic lift and moved to a less visible place.

The Ten Commandments display in Alabama clearly violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. But important theological and practical reasons should convince people of faith to object to government getting involved in displaying, and thereby endorsing, holy writ.

First, it puts government officials in the role of secular high priests deciding which rendition of the Ten Commandments will be enshrined as orthodox. Which one, Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5? Which version, Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant? Which translation, King James, New International, or New Revised Standard? Caesar should not make these fundamentally religious decisions.

Second, making such decisions will engender rivalry among religious denominations, sects and traditions. As has been recently demonstrated, governmental displays of the Ten Commandments is a quick way to generate a religious struggle that would make losers of us all. In our religiously pluralistic nation, the worst thing government can do is to take sides in matters of religion. The Commandments have fared quite well for several millennia without the help of American politicians.

Third, supporters seek to justify the displaying of the Ten Commandments by exhibiting them along with other secular documents, such as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. While this in some cases may shore up constitutionality, it’s terrible theology. Christians highly respect the place of the Commandments in the Exodus story and the life of the church. To place the Commandments alongside and on equal footing with these secular documents depreciates the high regard placed in them by Christians.

Finally, it is quite proper for Americans–even American politicians–to “acknowledge God.” As Justice William O. Douglas wrote, Americans “are a religious people.” Our civil discourse is replete with religious talk. But, it is entirely something else for a government official to endorse a specific passage of Holy Scripture as orthodox and normative for all.

Let us write the Ten Commandments on our hearts, as Jeremiah instructed, instead of displaying them in government courthouses. Then we’ll be able to incarnate the love of God perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ, and make a real difference in our world.

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Baptist Spirituality

Baptist Spirituality in America: a column on the distinctive spiritual emphases of Baptists in America by W. Loyd Allen, Professor of Church History and Spiritual Formation, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia.


“Spiritual Formation in the Baptist Academy, South”

by W. Loyd Allen


           In a recent convocation address at the James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology, I took a look at the recent history of spiritual formation in the Baptist academic tradition of which I am a product. Here is a summary of my findings.

Spiritual formation is a name given to the gradual transformation of Christians into Christ-likeness. Author Robert Mulholland defines spiritual formation in his book for seminary students as “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (Invitation to a Journey, p. 12). Its study and practice within higher education institutions training ministers has become common.

The academic discipline of spiritual formation is vital to ministerial education. Teaching ministry without spiritual formation would be like teaching dance without movement. Students can learn plenty about ministry apart from spiritual formation, but when it is absent, they never fully live out their calling in the world.

So how has spiritual formation fared in the Baptist academy? Poorly, if the recent history of the ministerial education institutions of Baptists in the South is any indication. The community of Southern Baptist scholars in the second half of the twentieth century, at least, generally declined responsibility for intentional spiritual formation.

The Baptist seminary I attended in the 1970s covered spiritual formation, per se, in two sentences uttered by the seminary’s president at student orientation. In the first sentence, he told my entering class that our spiritual development was absolutely vital to our ministry. In the second and last sentence, he said he hoped we would each find a local church to nurture us in that essential task. My Southern Baptist academic tradition has usually said, “Spiritual formation is the church’s task, not ours.” 

One reason for this is the ambiguity about the academy’s relationship to the church found in the Baptist doctrines of ecclesiology. Baptists know the seminary is not the church; at the same time, Baptists affirm the seminary is church-related. The hyper-ecclesiology of the nineteenth century Landmark movement accentuated the isolation of sacred matters solely to the local congregation. “Spiritual stuff” belonged in the church, not in church-related institutions. Basic spiritual disciplines, such as taking the Lord Supper for instance, have long been denied to communities where ministers are being educated.

Another reason the Baptist academy has slighted spiritual formation in ministerial education is the desire to fit the model of the modern secular academy where objective reason is widely considered the sole arbiter of truth. “Leave your personal faith commitments at the door,” this model says, “They can only cloud your judgment.”

On the other hand, ministerial education assumes personal religious commitment as a necessity for the deepest kind of knowing. Most seminaries require a statement of personal faith commitment for admission. Christian spiritual formation simply cannot occur without this conscious, subjective faith.

Both pro-education and anti-intellectual Baptists seek the former—objective intellectual truths—more than the latter. Both think a correctly informed minister is a well-educated one. The modernist pro-education model and the rationalist anti-intellectual reaction in the Baptist academy often lead to the same dead end: right information prized above personal transformation. Spiritual formation helps Baptists get beyond this impasse.

Things are changing. After Vatican II in the 1960s gave Protestants access to the vast resources of the monastic spiritual tradition, spiritual formation gradually became part of Baptist seminary life through the pioneering work of certain professors, including E. Glenn Hinson and Edward Thornton at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and William Clemmons at Southeastern. Today most Baptist institutions offering the M.Div. degree include faculty positions with titles such as spirituality, spiritual formation, discipleship, or something similar. (I am Professor of Church History and Spiritual Formation.)

Trends in the larger culture also favor a better integration of spiritual formation into academic life. Spirituality and spiritual practices are commonplace. One segment of our larger culture, called post modernism, helps by valuing “wise blood” as well as disinterested reason. In other words, it helps Baptist students be receptive to the truth that some things the body must learn before the head can comprehend them. You cannot learn piano playing or fasting merely by listening or reading.

           The theory and practice of classical spiritual formation through proven spiritual disciplines is a recent planting in the Baptist academy. Its fruits will appear in the future ministry of Baptist students being formed today.




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Baptist Hymnody

Baptist Hymnody and Worship in America: a column on historic worship practices of Baptists in North America and their contemporary relevance for Baptist life written by  Harry Eskew, Emeritus Professor of Church Music, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  Dr. Eskew taught at NOBTS for almost four decades and is a prolific writer on Baptist hymnology.

“Baptist Pastors Compile Hymnals”

By Harry Eskew


            Today in many of our Baptist churches, the church staff separates the music from the preaching. However, in the early years among Baptists, it was pastors who wrote many of our hymns and selected the hymns for inclusion into our hymnals. Even the hymnal that we know today went through many transitions before it assumed its present form. Since the hymnal is such an integral and often formative part of our worship and culture, it is important to examine and even evaluate the changes that have occurred through the years.

The basic content, size, and distribution of our hymnals have changed drastically. In the early 1800s a hymnal was a book of words only. Music was published in separate books designed primarily for use in singing schools, called tunebooks. People learned the music in the singing schools and brought this knowledge with them into the church. There they might use the same music for a number of texts or vice versa. The omission of music from the hymnal enabled the compilers to publish it in a practical size—small enough to fit into a large pocket. There were no hymnals in pew racks for worshipers to use. Many of the people could neither read nor write. Thus, hymnals were not commonly in the hands of a worshiping congregation.

Since many in the congregations could not read and didn’t have hymnals, the technique of “lining out” developed and was used throughout the churches. Lining-out is simply a practice in which a leader sings out the words and music of a hymn one line at a time. The congregation responds by repeating the line after the leader. There was no instrumental accompaniment. Lining-out is still practiced among some Primitive Baptist and African-American Baptist congregations and has become a musical form in itself. This era of reliance on unaccompanied human voices may be described as an oral period of congregational singing.

            As in the previous centuries, hymnals throughout much of the nineteenth century were compiled by pastors rather than hymnal committees as is common today. One of the first hymnals compiled by a Baptist preacher, Divine Hymns, or Spiritual Songs (1784) by the New Hampshire minister, Joshua Smith, was adopted by the First Baptist Church of Portland, Maine in 1803 after eleven editions. A forerunner for many later hymnals, Smith’s hymnal included an interesting ballad-hymn, “Christ the Appletree”:

            The tree of life, my soul hath seen,

            Laden with fruit, and always green;

            The trees of nature fruitless be,

            Compar’d with Christ the Appletree.

            Another Baptist pastor, John Courtney, compiled in that same year one of the earliest hymnals for Baptists in the South--the Christian Pocket Companion (1803)--for his congregation, the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia. “Pocket” is an important part of the title, for Courtney literally intended it to be carried in the pocket. Even though he compiled three hymnals, he would not permit the use of hymn books in his church. He preferred to line-out the hymns to his congregation.

Even while John Courtney continued to line-out hymns for his Virginia congregation, printed hymnals were becoming more common. The Deep South proved to be fallow ground for the Georgia Baptist pastor, Jesse Mercer, who compiled the earliest Baptist hymnal to appear there: The Cluster of Spiritual Songs, Divine Hymns, and Sacred Poems (3rd ed., Augusta, GA, 1810). Popularly known as Mercer’s Cluster, it had reached five editions by 1835. The demand for the 1835 edition was such that it was reprinted as late as 1871. Named for this Baptist pastor, Mercer University took the name of Jesse Mercer’s hymnal for its student campus newspaper, The Cluster. 

            The excitement for hymnal compiling was clearly building among Baptist pastors. In 1843 Boston area pastors Samuel F. Smith and Baron Stow collected 1180 hymn texts and published them together under the title, The Psalmist. It would take congregations more than seven years to sing every hymn in that collection if they sang as many as four hymns each Sunday! But the selection wasn’t comprehensive enough for the hymnal to gain broad acceptance in the South. Toward that end, pastors Richard Fuller and Jeremiah B. Jeter compiled A Supplement to the Psalmist in 1850, adding 106 hymns favored by Baptists of the South. Smith is remembered today as the author of one of America’s finest patriotic hymns, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” A strong advocate of foreign missions, Smith also authored the well-known missionary hymn, “The Morning Light Is Breaking.”

The movement in the direction of establishing a common repertory of hymns for use in Baptist churches gained momentum with the establishment of the Southern Baptist Publication Society in Charleston, South Carolina in 1847, just two years after the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Only four years later, the Convention at its meeting in Nashville would vote to recommend to the churches the hymnal, Baptist Psalmody (1850), compiled by Baptist pastors Basil Manly and Basil Manly, Jr. Among the early publications of the Southern Baptist Publication Society, Baptist Psalmody contained 1295 hymns. In 1860, Baptist Psalmody’s co-compiler, Basil Manly, Jr., a member of the original faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a hymn at the request of James P. Boyce, chairman of the faculty for the first commencement of the Seminary. This four-stanza hymn, “Soldiers of Christ, In Truth Arrayed,” has been sung at every Southern Seminary commencement and was included in the Baptist Hymnals of 1975 and 1991.

            The 1800s witnessed dramatic changes in the use of music for worship in Baptist churches. Baptist pastors perhaps reached their zenith as compilers of words-only hymnals and authors of hymn texts. Baptist churches developed a greater repertory of common hymns. The selection of hymns began to move away from the sole domain of the pastor. Hymnals grew from pocket-sized volumes to larger sizes and went from words-only editions to include both texts and tunes. The tunes sung by early Baptists in worship will be the main focus of our next article.

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Baptist Articles

Baptist Articles: Notes of journal articles: what they say, don’t say, almost say, and mis-say about Baptists. The following periodical notes are written by Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants, John F. Loftis Professor of Church History, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.


        Two of the articles reviewed for this issue challenge Christians to distinguish between what is Christian and what is American. “Freedom, Blessing, and Safety: Icons of American Christianity” (Words & World Vol. 23, no. 3, Summer 2003, pp. 237-241) was originally a sermon preached by Bohdan Hrobon of Slovakia when he was in the US. In this sermon contrasting Slovakia under Communism and post-9/11 America, Hrobon challenges Christians to consider that even good things such as freedom, blessing and safety need to be examined in light of the demands of the Gospel. Specifically he says people are not free when commercialism influences them to accumulate “stuff” they do not need. An abundance of material goods is not a blessing he argues and can prevent the realization of our dependence on God. Finally Hrobon proclaims that being safe is not a Christian virtue. Doing God’s will is a high-risk endeavor, but we should consider what would have happened if Jesus and his disciples decided to play it safe! Hrobon’s plea is to consider whether or not American Christians equate American culture with the Gospel.

Another challenge for American Christians to make a distinction between the Gospel and American political endeavors comes from Jim Wallis in the September-October 2003 issue of Sojourners (pp. 20-26). In this article Wallis analyzes President Bush’s domestic and foreign policy with respect to the religious language used to explain these policies to the American public. Regardless of one’s views on the current administration, Wallis’ article is worth reading for the issues it raises of (1) confusing nation, church, and God; (2) believing evil is those who do not support America and not wanting to take responsibility for the evil that lies within American policy decisions. Wallis argues that Christians should live uneasily with government, not confusing American civil religion with Christianity. Differentiating between nation, church and God requires Christians to make difficult choices Wallis recognizes. Such difficult choices can be the subject of provocative study and discussion in church, home and classroom.

David Wood interviewed Albert Borgmann concerning technology and Christianity in the August 23, 2003 issue of The Christian Century (pp. 22-25). Professor Borgmann, a philosopher, is author of Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology. While Wood talks about “taming technology”, Borgmann emphasizes taking responsibility for technology. He articulates how much good technology has done for humankind. The problem he says on p. 23 is not technology, which is the principal condition of contemporary life. Instead the problem is human refusal to take “responsibility for the condition”, to let the condition unthinkingly become the center. Borgmann urges Christians “to step back and take the measure of the worth of your life.” (p. 24) He challenges pastors “to be more confident of the good things that they’re doing and make it clear to people who are gathered for worship what an extraordinary thing this is and how such gatherings are suffused with grace.” Leading people to differentiate between conditions of life such as technology and the center of life will result from intelligently engaging contemporary society confident of God’s grace. (p. 25)

            In his editorial for the Spring 2003 issue of Social Work & Christianity (Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 1-13) David Sherwood discusses “Churches as Contexts for Social Work Practice: Connecting with the Mission and Identity of Congregations.” This is an enlightening article for churches considering either a volunteer parish social worker, a paid staff position, or even engaging in social work ministry. Sherwood writes that churches and social work come together as social workers take more seriously the role of spirituality, religion, and the community in constructing value and meaning, while churches take more seriously their ministry in the systemic social justice issues of the communities in which they exist. The pitfalls and benefits of this collusion are succinctly noted, as “this exciting integration of Christian faith and professional social work practice” is encouraged.

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Baptist Myths: A New Pamphlet Series

A series of eleven pamphlets that address negative perceptions held towards Baptists in popular American culture. These pamphlets are suitable for individual study, church classes, and academic courses. They are jointly published by the Baptist History and Heritage Society, The Center for Baptist Studies of Mercer University, and the Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society. Editor: Doug Weaver; Associate Editors: Charles W. Deweese & Walter B. Shurden.

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Baptistville: Conferences and Lectures


Quote of the Month:

 "Christian theology calls for a fairer tax system. I've spent a lot of time studying the New Testament, and it has three philosophies: love God, love each other, and take care of the least among you. I don't think anyone can justify putting an income tax on someone who makes $4,600 a year."     

--Governor  Bob Riley, Republican of Alabama


Mercer Preaching Consultation


 The Center for Baptist Studies

and McAfee School of Theology


September 28-30, 2003


St. Simons Island, Georgia

King and Prince Hotel


Cost: $50

For more details , go to our Home Page, click Conferences.


Teaching and Preaching the Baptist Heritage in the Local Church

 October 17, 2003

 Mercer University

 Macon, Georgia

Religious Life Building


Leaders: Dr. Walter Shurden,

                The Reverend Greg Thompson,

                Dr. Pam Durso,

                The Reverend Robbin Mundy,

                Dr. Quinn Pugh


Cost: $25

For more details, go to our Home Page