THE BAPTIST STUDIES BULLETIN
"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"
June 2004 Vol. 3 No. 6
Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
Walter B. Shurden, Executive Director and Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin
Bruce T. Gourley, Associate Director, The Center for Baptist Studies
Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin
Robert Richardson, Coordinator, Mercer Certificate Program in Baptist Studies
I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden
The Baptist Soapbox: Daniel Goodman
"Why Baptists Need to Dialogue with Jews"
"The Baptists in Brazil Today"
"What is a Conservative Liberal Baptist?"
The Baptist Spirit: Strengths and Challenges: Charles W. Deweese
"Defining Religion Narrowly Compromises Religious Freedom"
Baptist Books: by Bruce Gourley
Edwin Gaustad's Proclaim Liberty
By Walter B. Shurden
I believe . . .
that we need to give some Baptist cheers ...
to Allen Abbott and the American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire and Ken and Sandy Hale and the Baptist Fellowship of the Northeast for meeting together May 7-8 in Manchester. We Baptists need more of this kind of “reunion” between churches of the ABC and CBF.
to Wayne Smith, a retired school principal, and Central Baptist Church of Bearden, TN, for SAMARITAN MINISTRY, a ministry to persons with HIV and AIDS in the Knoxville, TN, area. Interested persons may email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the church’s site at www.cbcbearden.org/samaritan.html. We Baptists need more of this kind of ministry to those who feel shut out and unloved.
to national CBF for donating $12,000 to Haiti and the Dominican Republic for victims overwhelmed by recent floods. The village of Mapou, Haiti, was hit the hardest, and the entire village was under water. We Baptists need more of this kind of compassion.
to Charles Deweese and Pam Durso for the annual meeting of the Baptist History and Heritage Society. Here is an organization worthy of the financial support of all Baptists. If you are looking for a place that will preserve Baptist convictions and a place to park some money for the future, email Charles Deweese at CDeweese@tnbaptist.org. We Baptists need some deep pockets to help conserve and endow the Baptist story.
to Amy Peeler of Princeton Theological Seminary, Andy Lane of Mercer University, and Jacob D. Myers of Princeton Theological Seminary for their first, second, and third place awards in the Mercer Baptist Heritage Student Essay Award for 2004. For details on the award go to www.mercer.edu/baptiststudies and click “Student Essay.” We Baptists need more Baptist students digging into the Baptist past and relating it to the present.
to Martin E. Marty, Lutheran church historian who has had cheers galore during his incomparable career and needs none from us Baptists, for his new, brief biography of Martin Luther. We Baptists need more of this kind of historical writing.
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 Dr. Daniel Goodman, who teaches New Testament at Gardner-Webb Divinity School.
"Why Baptists Need to Dialogue with Jews"
By Daniel Goodman
Many Christians aren't quite sure what to do with the Jews. On the one hand, we share part of the Jewish Scripture and part of the Jewish history in such a way that they have become our Scripture and our history. Thus, we gratefully admit an enormous debt to Jews and Judaism. On the other hand, we struggle to interpret the Jewish “no” to Jesus. And despite two millennia of restating its case - sometimes with a ferocity that now haunts the Christian memory - Christianity has not persuaded the Jews to embrace the claims of the gospel.
Christians' solution to this double-mindedness has habitually been (1) to usurp the Jewish history of the Bible, while (2) castigating the Jews as “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, forever opposing the Holy Spirit,” to quote Stephen's judgment in Acts 7. Neither of these habits, however, serves Jesus' followers very well as an action of Christian discipleship. The first is a violation of the 8th commandment; the second is a violation of the 9th.
Instead, Baptists need to dialogue with Jews as a matter of Christian discipleship. Or, to state the matter more self-servingly, Baptists should dialogue with Jews and Judaism because dialogue teaches us how to be more authentically Christian.
In the first place, dialogue compels us to live forwardly. Religion is notoriously retrospective, drawing much of its identity and mission from looking backwards - back to sacred writings, back to sacred figures, back to sacred happenings. But the Jewish-Christian past is marred by caricatures, slanders, and the inevitable violence that accompanies such animosity. For Jewish-Christian relations, the past may be our teacher but it need not be our model. Discipleship, however, is eschatological; it is forward-living. Dialogue, too, is forward-living as it attempts to recalibrate our religion not according to the past but toward inhabiting a sacred future. Dialogue creates a future for Christians and Jews that our respective pasts simply cannot envision.
In the second place, dialogue reminds us that discipleship requires humility. When we choose to dialogue with Jews and Judaism, we set aside two competing, less humble approaches: Apologetics (convincing Christians we're right!) and Proselytizing (convincing Jews we're right!) . Both are inadequate because, lacking humility, they cannot muster the honesty to affirm that Judaism speaks a compelling testimony about the God we both witness. Without humility in our conversations with Jews, we may have information sharing, we may have well-stated defenses of positions, we will certainly have stereotypes and misconceptions, but we will not have dialogue. Yet only dialogue truly serves our commitment to discipleship.
In the last place, dialogue teaches us that religious difference is not failure. Jews and Christians understand that theological compromise or reconciliation is unacceptable, even undesirable. This is an admission that strengthens, not weakens, the participants and the process. No one wants watered down Judaism or watered down Christianity, just to make them look more alike. Jews and Christians do indeed worship the same God and ascribe authority to shared writings, but we also understand God's redemption and revelation in starkly different terms. This is difference, not failure! Dialogue that looks squarely at these disagreements and addresses them honestly will help each religion become more robust in understanding its own unique insights into this common God we serve.
Christian discipleship, in its essence, is about becoming new. But to become something new, we must cease, in some ways, to be something old. And that, in all of its historical implications, is the promise of Jewish-Christian dialogue for Christian discipleship.
Emails From Baptists Around the World: An Email on Baptists in Baptists Today. Fausto Aguiar de Vasconcelos is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Rio de Janerio and President of the Brazilian Baptist Convention.
"The Baptists in Brazil Today"
By Fausto Aguiar de Vasconcelos
Baptists, The Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole is a Baptist minister with Lifeshare Community Ministries out of Jackson, Mississippi where he delights in ministering alongside the poor. "Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, served Baptist churches for twenty-five years. Among the churches he has served are First Baptist Church, Macon, GA, First Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, MS.
"What is a Conservative Liberal Baptist?"
By Charles E. Poole
Conservative and Liberal have long enjoyed full-time work and prominent careers as big words in Baptist life. Back in the eighties and nineties, political and theological fundamentalists made effective use of the word “liberal” to indict their opponents. We moderates were sometimes heard trying to defend our “conservatism” against those indictments, but ultimately we were left behind by a political takeover that is often called, by its proponents, a “conservative resurgence.”
just one snapshot from the busy lives of conservative and liberal in the lexicon of Baptist life. Their
careers as big words are longer and more complicated than that, but, suffice
it to say, they have not lacked for work among Baptists. But despite their
long (and normally predictable) service in Baptist life, conservative and
liberal take some rather odd turns when it comes to Baptists, the
Bible and the poor. Simply put, here is what happens: The more conservative
you are about the Bible, the more liberal you become toward the poor. If you
doubt that, watch this: “ The poor will always be with you, therefore open
your hand to the poor” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
“ Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into
your home” (Isaiah 58:7). “ Give to
anyone who begs from you” (Matthew 5:42). “ Those of you who have two coats
must give one to anyone who has no coat” (Luke 3:11) .
As you can see from those samples, to be conservative about the Bible will require one to be very liberal toward the poor. Indeed, one cannot conserve the central teachings of Jesus without developing a “ bleeding heart” for those who struggle on the hard margins of life.
One of the best Baptists of all time is Will Campbell. In his book, And Also With You, Brother Will recalls a cold, gray January day when Mississippi’s Episcopal leaders met at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Jackson to elect a new Bishop. Prominent among the names under consideration was Duncan Gray, Jr., who had spoken and lived with clarity and courage on the gospel side of the struggle for civil rights. Campbell writes that Duncan Gray’s prophetic stand on matters of racial justice had left many of his colleagues reluctant to elect him to the office of Bishop because they feared he was too liberal.
In his book Campbell observes that Gray’s detractors were afraid of the wrong thing. Duncan Gray was not too liberal for them; to the contrary, he was too conservative. It was Gray’s commitment to conserve the truth of Scripture that had compelled him to take such “liberal” stands on such controversial issues. It was his unyielding conservatism concerning the spirit of Jesus that had made Duncan Gray look so liberal in the eyes of so many.
That’s pretty much the way it goes, also, when it comes to Baptists, the Bible and the poor. The more careful one becomes about conserving the voices of the prophets and the words of our Lord, the more liberal one becomes about responding to the needs of the poor. In fact, here’s a little test you might want to try sometime. I call it “The Luke 3:11 Test.” Here’s how it goes: The next time a Baptist brother or sister starts telling you how conservative they are about the Bible, and how they believe every word is inerrant and such, ask them to let you look in their closet and count their coats.
just a little test to give. (Or take.)
The Baptist Spirit
The Baptist Spirit:
Strengths and Challenges Charles W.
Deweese, Executive Director-Treasurer of the Baptist History and Heritage
Society, writes this section of BSB. An articulate and passionate
Baptist, He identifies the historic Baptist Spirit in America.
By Charles W. Deweese
Freedom themes dominate Baptist ideals. Many Baptists have endured persecution to defend liberty; they are my heroes. Consider Thomas Hardcastle, pastor of the Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol, England, in the 1670s, who, according to the church's actual records, "was seven times imprisoned, for Christ and a good conscience, after he left off conformity."
In 1675-76, he wrote 22 prison letters to his congregation. Note how he connected suffering and liberty: "Who knows what good six week's imprisonment may do? And what the power of God can do, to work liberty by means of imprisonment, and convince an ungodly generation, that it is not interest and faction that makes us separate and meet together, but pure conscience?"
It is one thing to fight for and achieve liberty; it is another to use it responsibly. And Hardcastle drilled that into his congregation while writing from prison. On August 18, 1675, he encouraged his church this way: "Beloved, my imprisonment preaches louder than ever I did. . . . It is time for us to realize the gospel, and to consider upon what terms we took up profession, and what the cross of Christ means." He continued his sermon in writing: "Let us not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Let us stand by our posts. Let not the adversary reproach us that we dare not stand to our profession, and that we shall be weary in time, and that prisons will tame us, and take off the edge and briskness of our spirits. Let us walk answerably to our profession."
Then on September 13, he issued another challenge to his congregation: "Let our steadfastness, supplications, and humiliations run parallel with their [state-church of England] threatenings, persecutions, and disturbances."
When Hardcastle died in 1678, it is no wonder that his church placed in its official records that "he was a man, as it were a champion for the Lord, very courageous in his work and sufferings."
Hardcastle took his faith seriously. The Lordship of Christ meant something to him. The authority of the Bible affected his sense of mission. Believer's baptism connected him to his church in an unbreakable bond. Liberty of conscience built a high level of freedom and responsibility into his soul. Prison was not bondage; it was another pulpit from which to preach. For Hardcastle, being a Baptist Christian was worth dying for.
Do we really want to know what it means to be responsible Baptists in today's world? Perhaps we should read more about the Thomas Hardcastles of our history (who, by the way, continue to exist today) and let them point us in the right direction. Would your pastor be willing to go to prison for being Baptist? Would you? Would I?
Source: The Records of a Church of
Christ, Meeting in Broadmead, Bristol, 1640-1687, Edited for The Hanserd
Knollys Society by Edward Bean Underhill (London: J. Haddon, 1847).
Baptists in America and Church State Issues: a column on hot button issues related to religion and government written by K. Hollyn Hollman, General Counsel, The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.
"Defining Religion Narrowly Compromises Religious Freedom"
By K. Hollyn Hollman
Religion comes in many different forms. We know that within our denomination - and even within our congregations - numerous differences of belief exist among those identifying themselves as “Baptists.” Venture beyond this community, of course, and the diversity of religious beliefs only multiplies.
It is easy to defend religious liberty for one's own faith and maybe even for those with whom one shares some general doctrines and traditions. But does religious liberty reach to religions that embrace a pantheon of deities or those that do not affirm the existence of God at all? In a word, the answer is yes. A recent controversy in Texas reminds us that excessively narrow definitions of “religion” threaten religious liberty.
Churches and other religious entities often qualify for broad exemptions under federal and state tax laws. In many ways, they are treated like other not-for-profit organizations. One of the requirements for this tax-exempt status is that an organization is created for charitable purposes, including “religious purposes.” This test in most cases is easily met. After all, who wants the government to make in-depth inquiries into religious beliefs and practices?
In an important departure from this permissive approach, the Texas comptroller's office recently made headlines when it denied tax exemptions for two organizations after finding that the applicants did not have a clearly defined system of belief in God, gods, or a higher power. In one case, the comptroller refused tax-exempt status for the Ethical Society of Austin; in another, the same office denied an exemption for a Unitarian Universalist Church. In both cases, the comptroller's decisions were eventually reversed, either through court order or after voluntary reconsideration. Nevertheless, the Texas cases underscore the dangers of restrictive definitions of religion by government authorities.
Religious liberty requires government not to interfere with the religious choices of individuals. In fact, the protection of religious liberty for all forbids the government from even endorsing religion. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in the 1989 Allegheny County case, “The Establishment Clause, at the very least, prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief.” This means that the government may not penalize unpopular answers to religious questions. Questions about the existence and nature of God certainly qualify as religious inquiries that are inappropriate for government authorities.
One of the main reasons for protecting religious liberty is to allow people with fundamentally different beliefs to live together in peace. Stark differences in views exist within most religious groups as well as among them. To protect religious liberty for all, the law should neither set up a hierarchy of religious beliefs nor should it discriminate against those with minority views and different concepts of God.
brief book notes written by Bruce Gourley,
Associate Director of The Center for Baptist Studies.
“Religious liberty is made up of a series of trifles, but religious liberty is no trifle,” Gaustad concludes in the last sentence of this volume. Proclaim Liberty tackles the history of a complex subject in a relatively short, non-technical fashion, yet provides solid scholarly insight and analysis.
Beginning with Virginia’s religious-oriented pact in the early seventeenth century, and continuing to the current controversy regarding faith-based initiatives, Gaustad surveys significant colonial legislation and U.S. federal court cases that have shaped the ebb and flow of church and state relations. Writing with clear and concise prose, he successfully argues that the separation of church and state, albeit increasingly complex, is as important an issue today as during the revolutionary era.
Much of the volume focuses on post-World War II U.S. Supreme Court cases, especially in regard to schools (both public and private). Gaustad also emphasizes the large number of 5-4 Supreme Court split decisions in recent decades, making much of the fluid nature of modern church and state legal decisions.
The briefness of
the volume is both its strength and weakness. Although effectively
summarizing a complex historical issue in less than two hundred pages, Gaustad
necessarily leaves some themes undeveloped. For example, the U.S. lower
courts receive little attention, and the history of political / ideological
background of Supreme Court justices is omitted. In addition, the book does
not contain footnotes. Nonetheless, this volume is an excellent and easily
readable introduction to the history of church and state relations, offering
valuable insight into the legacy of Baptists’ greatest contribution to
Dates to Note
June 24-26, 2004 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Birmingham, AL. For details, go to http://webmail.mercer.edu/redirect?http://www.thefellowship.info/.
June 24, 2004 Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society, Birmingham, AL. In conjunction with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly.
July 21-24, 2004, "Creating Space: An Experiential Prayer Retreat" at Sterchi Lodge, Hot Springs, NC. For details contact Paula Dempsey (email: email@example.com) or call 828.206.0383.
September 9, 2004, "Church State Issues in the 2004 Election: A Morning Dialogue With Brent Walker," Religious Life Building, Mercer University, Macon, GA. Contact Shurden_WB@Mercer.edu
September 26-28, 2004, The Mercer Preaching Consultation, The King and Prince Hotel, St. Simons Island, GA. For details go to www.mercer.edu/baptiststudies and click "conferences."
27-31, 2005, Centennial Congress of the Baptist World Alliance,
Birmingham, England. To register email Congress@bwanet.org , phone 703.790.8980, or
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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