"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"
October 2005                Vol. 4  No. 10

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Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

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

Bruce T. Gourley, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Table of Contents



I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "Wayland's Warnings"

The Baptist Soapbox: Clyde Fant


Dispatches From the Frontlines of America's Culture War: Bruce Prescott

         "Fundamentalism's Devious Debates for Established Religion"

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole


Baptist Women Ministers You Should Know: Pamela Durso

         "Molly Marshall"

Writing Local Church History: Robert Gardner

         "Georgia Baptist History Depository"

BSB Book Review:  The First Liberty: America’s Foundation in Religious Freedom
         by William Lee Miller

         Reviewed  by William E. Hull
Dates to Note


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I Believe

"Wayland's Warnings"

By Walter B. Shurden


I believe . . .

            that one of the most influential Baptist books published in the nineteenth century was Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptists. It was written by Francis Wayland, one of the most prominent Baptist theologians and educators of the North in the nineteenth century.

            Wayland served as the fourth president of prestigious Brown University from 1827 to1855 where he helped change the face of American higher education. Though a Baptist college president who spent his life in support of ministerial education and though the respected author of numerous books, Wayland insisted that Baptists should produce a ministry that could appeal to the learned and the unlearned, the upper crust and the lower crust. Writing in 1856 in Notes, Wayland drew a distinct difference between what he called the “old” Baptist ministers and the “new,” more educated, ones of his era.

            Wayland, educated and an educator, had enormous appreciation for the mostly uneducated “old” Baptist preachers. The “old” preachers were those who served around 1800. They preached from “experimental religion,” by which Wayland meant an “experiential” faith. They also preached in the language of the common people. They preached without manuscripts! And most of them, he said, preached without the benefit of a liberal education. Moreover, Wayland observed, these “old” preachers won the common people to Christ.

            With these observations, Wayland was far from rejecting his life’s work of education. Rather, he was prophetically giving the Baptists of his day and ours some necessary warnings. Here are four warnings for our day that I take away from a reading of Wayland’s 1856 book.

            Warning: Baptists of our day who have moved up socially and economically must work hard at not becoming a “class movement,” composed of the middle and upper classes. We should work hard at this not simply because it stymies our efforts to reach the masses and therefore experience growth. We should work hard at this because of the message of the gospel itself: God loves ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. God loves the educated and the uneducated, the upper class and the lower class, the rich and the poor, the sophisticated and the unsophisticated. Robert G. Torbet said that Baptists grew in America because they reached the common person. Reminder: “And the common people heard him gladly.”

            Warning: We should never overestimate what the upper classes and the educated want when they come to our churches for worship. They want, in Jess Moody’s pietistic words, “to hear the sound of sandaled feet walking beside them.” They want to be turned toward God, toward the transcendent in life. They want, though they seldom say it, to find purpose and meaning and significance for their lives. Is anyone among us really surprised that Rick Warren’s simple book has sold so furiously? People of all socio-economic classes want water that quenches their deep thirst and bread that satisfies their deep hunger. They want spiritual power emanating from the pulpit, spiritual inspiration from the music, and spiritual authenticity from the prayers.

            Warning: Young preachers, and old, can make no bigger mistake than to try to be “intellectual” or “impressive” in preaching the Good News. Young preachers are not preaching for the approval of their college and seminary professors. They are preaching to bring healing to the plumber on the third row whose only son is dying with leukemia.

            Warning: Baptists of our day, working in an educated and educating age, will have to work hard to retain the power of what Wayland called “experimental religion.” Heart religion is critical. We can never let “heart religion” be separated from “head religion” or “hand religion,” from rigorous thinking and costly action. Neither, however, can we let its power be forgotten, no matter what socio-economic class we preach to or from. 

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Dr. John


Dr. John Claypool cast an enormous influence over the American pulpit, especially the Baptist pulpit.  In honor of Dr. Claypool, The Center for Baptist Studies has published a collection of reader-submitted "Claypool Stories."  You may read the Claypool Stories by clicking here.

For our readers who may have an interest in Claypool's books, Insight Press currently offers four titles:  Glad Reunion, The Preaching Event (The Beecher Lectures), The Saga of Life (formerly entitled Stages), and Tracks of a Fellow Struggler.

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 Clyde Fant, noted Baptist preacher, teacher of preaching, and Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Stetson University.

Author's Note:  I am originally from Louisiana, a former pastor of two Southern Baptist churches in the state. My father was the mayor of Shreveport for twenty years. In the last days, grief and outrage have held a contest inside me. So I wrote this Lamentation--because I have to.


By Clyde Fant

How like a widow sits the city once so beautiful!
She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks,
Because there is none to comfort her.
She stretched forth her hands, but none came to her;
They heard how she was groaning, but none came unto her.
In her streets the flood bereaves;
In the sodden houses there is death.
The leaders and elders of the city have fled, but the poor are trapped within her levees.

Her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
Those who promised to help are worse than her enemies.
When she cried aloud, none came;
Smooth words made promises,
But they were empty rhetoric, wells without water, phantom bread.
Shame! Shame upon us all.

Who would have believed it!
She who sang even when she mourned,
The people who danced even in their want:
Now they are dying.
Their colorful robes are stained with mud;
They are gray, all gray, pallor of the dead.

Weep, weep for the great city!
Orators of platitudes, politicians of promises, it is you who betrayed her!
You took her safety from her; you neglected her when she reached out to you.
You channeled her rivers and harnessed her waters–but for yourselves! For the profits of your friends!
You caused her marshes to dry and her wilderness to recede,
You brought the might of the waves and the winds to her very doors.
The poor, those who dwelt in the lowest places, in miserable shanties of wood, termite-ridden and forlorn,
Where none but the hopeless would dwell:
You have murdered them, and their corpses drift in the brackish floods,
But their cries have gone up to God!

Woe to you, Republicans!
For you pumped wealth from their lands and sent their sons to die in your wars,
But they are as nothing to you.
"Who is my neighbor?" You do not know yet the answer to this ancient question.
Are your only neighbors your friends in the country clubs or the board rooms?
Your grandfathers set the slaves free, and you return them to a worse bondage of perpetual poverty!
Then you redistrict them to take away the few voices they have,
But God will cause the ruined city to cry on their behalf!
Shame! Shame for your hypocritical use of God's name to lure the unwary.

Woe to you also, Democrats!
You were the fathers of slavery, first sons of the South!
You damned the poor to generations of ignorance and want.
You fathers segregated them, and you promised to bring them into your family.
But where were you when they needed you?
For you lack the courage of your convictions! You curry the favor of those who despise your people!
You have become impotent by your timidity.
You endorse the wars,
You approve miserable crumbs for education and employment,
You court the indifferent, smug suburbs–may you live among them eternally, bored forever by their white sameness!
Shame! Shame for the graft in your statehouses;
Your selfishness has turned your people from you in disgust.

Woe to you Christians who pride yourselves in the name Conservative,
Who call all generous spirits and inclusive hearts liberals,
Who see wars as strength and peace as weakness!
The Prince of Peace rebuke you!

Woe to you also, Liberal Christians!
You scorn the common and cause the simple to feel inferior in your midst.
Your hearts are ever open, but your pocketbooks are always closed!
He who lived among the poor rebuke you!

Woe to you, television preachers and megachurch pastors! False prophets!
You deceive the people with your bleats of piety while you endorse wars and favor your rich benefactors.
Your prophecies of end times have come true–in your own generation!
Look upon the city! Look upon hell on earth!
See what your leaders have wrought, the shame of the earth!
All mock us and call us fools,
We who send armies across oceans but cannot cross the Mississippi to help our own!
Shame, shame upon you!

I hate, I despise your solemn assemblies,
The self-hypnotic repetitions of your praise-songs are a scandal in my ears.
Come before me no more lifting up unholy hands,
Do not use my name to grow your personal kingdoms
Or to bless your political ambitions.
What do think I desire? Barrels of oil from Iraq?
Herds of sacred cows from Texas?
Go now and learn what this means:
I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
Lovingkindness, and not benign neglect.

Weep, weep for my city,
For my people,
For my children.

For they are dead.

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Culture Wars

Dispatches From the Frontlines of America's Culture War:  In recent years, the subject of faith and politics in America has consistently made headlines in secular newspapers as the Religious Right has sought to dismantle the separation between church and state.  Bruce Prescott is the Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, President of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and host of the Sunday morning show "Religious Talk" on KREF Radio 1400 AM.


"Fundamentalism's Devious Debates for Established Religion"
By Bruce Prescott


            At one time fundamentalist Christians believed that the world could be changed by the foolishness of preaching. That was before they fancied themselves to be cultured sophisticates and acquired a taste for rational apologetics. Today, whatever lip service they may still give the gospel, their actions demonstrate that they have been acculturated into believing that real changes are effected by the power of politics and the sophistry of slick attorneys.
             Evidence for this observation is currently under exhibit in Dover, Pennsylvania. On display is Philip Johnson’s slick legal strategy for getting American courts to permit school boards to require educators to discredit scientific methodology and teach religion in public schools.
             Johnson developed his strategy after reviewing the arguments set forth in Supreme Court decisions that ruled unconstitutional the teaching of “creationism” in the science classes of public schools. He decided that teaching creationism might pass constitutional muster by slightly modifying an old rational (teleological) argument for the existence of God. All that was necessary was to present the argument for “intelligent design” without naming the Designer (God) and then pretend that the argument had nothing to do with religion.
             The stage was set to test Johnson’s strategy when Christians familiar with it effected political change by taking over the Dover school board and decreed that “Intelligent Design” would be taught as science.  Then their efforts were officially blessed by the nation’s supreme politician, the President of the United States.

             In December 2004 eleven parents of children in the Dover schools filed suit in Federal District Court contending that the school district’s policies violate the First Amendment. Adjudication of that case began in the last week of September 2005.
             Few believe that the Federal Court’s ruling on this case will remain uncontested. Dover’s debate will surely land in the Supreme Court beside another exhibition of modern fundamentalism’s new found faith in the power of politics and slick attorneys–the California “Pledge” case.
             Just days before the Dover case went to trial, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled once again that the insertion of the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance violate the First Amendment’s proscription that “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion.” That court’s decision in a previous case, filed by atheist Michael Newdow, was vacated on a technicality.
             The 9th Circuit’s ruling holds that Congress violated the First Amendment in 1954 when it cited the need to “deny the atheistic and materialistic concepts of communism” and voted to add “under God” to the pledge of allegiance. The original pledge, written by Francis Bellamy, a strict church-state separationist and  Baptist minister, did not include the “under God” phrase.

             The pledge case is important because it reveals the threat that shook fundamentalism’s confidence in the adequacy of proclamation alone to spread the gospel–the menace of atheism and communism.  It also marks the moment when Christian fundamentalism turned to political solutions to address such threats–both domestic and foreign.
             Turning from proclamation to politics, however, requires much duplicitous testimony. 
In public, politically powerful preachers will declare that the nation must acknowledge allegiance to God and will contend that the public square would be naked without meaningful references to Deity. In court, slick lawyers will argue that the oath in the pledge does not establish a religion because the words “under God” have “no significant religious content."  
How fundamentalist Christians can so callously profane the name of their Lord–making it legally meaningless and publicly bearing false witness about it–reveals something about the depth of either their understanding or their spirituality, especially when they are leading a simultaneous crusade to post the Decalogue in public places. That, however, is another story.

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Bible and Poor

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole is a Baptist minister with Lifeshare Community Ministries in 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.


By Charles E. Poole


The following is a sermon preached on September 30, 2005 by Chuck Poole at the annual general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi.


              In our times of worship this evening and tomorrow, we will ask two questions concerning poverty and the church.  Tomorrow morning the question will be “How?” How should the people of God respond to the needs of those who live in poverty?

              But tonight’s questions is “Why?” Why should the people of God respond to the material, physical needs of persons who live in poverty? The answer to tomorrow’s “How?” question is not always clear.  But the answer to “Why?”  is actually pretty simple.  The reason the people of God should respond to the physical, material needs of the poor is because our lives are formed by the church, and the church is formed by the careful, truthful reading of scripture, and scripture clearly, consistently calls us to respond to the physical, material needs of the poor.  That clear, consistent call emerges as early as Exodus and lingers as late as I John.  In Exodus 22:25, the Bible says, “If you lend money to the poor you shall not charge them interest.” In Leviticus 19:9-10, the Bible says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the edges of your field.  You shall leave the edges for the poor.” In Deuteronomy 15:7-11, the Bible says, “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.  The poor will always be with you, therefore I command you, open  your hand to the poor.” In Proverbs 17:5, the Bible says, “Those who mock the poor insult the Lord.” In Isaiah 1:17, the Bible says, “Rescue the powerless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” In Isaiah 58:7, the Bible says, “Share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your homes.  When you see the naked clothe them.” In Luke 3:10, the Bible says, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” In Luke 6:30, the Bible says, “Give to anyone who begs from you.”  In Luke 14:13, the Bible says, “When you give a dinner, invite the poor.” In James 2:15-16, the Bible says, “If a brother or sister lacks adequate clothing and daily food, and one of you says, “God bless you” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what good is that?” In I John 3:17, the Bible says, “How can God’s love abide in anyone who has this world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help them.” 

              There is no shortage of mysteries about the Bible.  There are a number of issues on which the Bible speaks with more than one voice, leaving us to choose and interpret among those many voices.  But when it comes to the subject of the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless, there is no question about what the Bible says.  When it comes to those who are struggling and suffering, the Bible speaks with one clear voice. There aren’t even any “wellyeahbuts.” You are, no doubt, well acquainted with the wellyeahbut category of Biblical interpretation. For example, one person says the Bible teaches that God’s mind never changes, because I Samuel 15:29 says that God doesn’t change God’s mind, but another person says, “Well, yeah, but what about Exodus 32:14 which says that “God changed God’s mind?” One person says that Christians can endorse war because Romans 13:4 says the government wields the sword for God, but another person says, “Well, yeah, but what about Matthew 5:39 where Jesus says, “Resist not an evildoer.” One person says that only males can be ministers because I Corinthians 14:34 says for women to be silent in the church, but another person says, “Well, yeah, but what about Acts 2:17-18, where the Bible says that God is pouring out God’s spirit with no regard for gender so that God’s daughters and God’s sons can proclaim God’s words?”  One person will say that the Bible supports capital punishment because Deuteronomy 19:21, says, “Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” but another person will say, “Well, yeah, but what about Romans 12:17, which says “Do not repay evil for evil.” One person will say that Christianity has replaced Judaism because Ephesians 2:15 says, “Christ has abolished the law,” but another person will say, “Well, yeah, but what about Matthew 5:17, where Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law.”

              The list of “wellyeahbuts” is longer, but you get the picture. When it comes to the Bible, there are lots of “wellyeahbuts,” because on many matters the Bible speaks with more than one voice, which is why scripture must be interpreted in the light of the ultimate revelation of God, Jesus our Lord.  But when it comes to the question of how the people of God should respond to the needs of the poor, there aren’t even any “wellyeahbuts,” just one clear call to compassion and action. The Bible clearly and consistently calls the people of God to respond to the material, physical needs of the poor.  And, since we are people whose lives are formed by the church, and since the church is formed by the careful, truthful reading of scripture, we cannot do anything other than care for the poor.

              If the question is “Why?”, that is the answer.  It really is that simple. Now, if the question is “How?”, that’s another story. “How?” is a hard one.  But “How?” is for tomorrow.  For tonight, the question is “Why?”.  And if the question is “Why?”, the answer is clear.  Its in here. It’s in the Book. Front to back. Beginning to end.

              As usual, Fred Craddock said it best when he said, “Live in the pages of this Book, and it will cause you to empty your pockets for someone else’s children.”


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Baptist Women Ministers


Baptist Women Ministers You Should Know:  The writer of this series, Pam Durso, is the Associate Director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society.  According to Pam, "In recent years, I have been privileged to meet and befriend a good number of Baptist women ministers, and I have been inspired by their stories. They have faced opposition and criticism, and yet they have persevered in following God's calling. Their courage has given me hope and has also brought hope to Baptists who dream of a new day when churches will embrace all those whom God has called and gifted for ministry." She, along with her husband Keith, recently co-edited Courage and Hope: The Stories of Ten Baptist Women Ministers.


"Molly Marshall"
by Pamela Durso


    Throughout her ministry as a Baptist educator and minister, Molly Marshall has modeled servant leadership for students, her church members, her friends, and her admirers.  She has written widely, preached in churches throughout the country, and lectured on seminary and college campuses and at academic meetings.  For the past twenty-five years, she has invested herself in the lives of young ministers and has challenged them to examine their theological beliefs and to live out their faith.

    Molly grew up in a Baptist family in northeastern Oklahoma. Her maternal great-grandfather, W.S. Wiley, a Baptist preacher, rode horseback throughout the Oklahoma territory, starting Sunday Schools, planting churches, and preaching to Native Americans. Molly’s family attended the First Baptist Church of Muskogee. That church was in many ways a typical Southern Baptist church, expecting its members to attend regularly, which Molly did. She was baptized at age eight.

    At the age of fourteen, Molly recognized that God had called her to the ministry. Because opportunities for women in ministry were limited in the 1960s, she felt that her only options for being faithful to her calling were to be a missionary, to marry a preacher, or to be a youth minister. Believing God had called her to work with youth, Molly enrolled at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

    Upon graduation, Molly headed, in 1973, to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and completed a Master of Divinity degree. She then moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, spending two years as a minister of youth and single adults at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church. This ministry experience helped her to formulate an understanding of vocation and to recognize that she was called to the ministry of teaching. Molly then enrolled in Southern’s doctoral program.

    As Molly neared the completion of the doctoral program, St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville ordained her to the gospel ministry. A few weeks later, she became the pastor of Jordan Baptist Church in Sanders, Kentucky. In December 1983, Molly became one of the first Baptist women to earn a doctoral degree from Southern and to be ordained. A final exciting event occurred in 1983 when Southern offered her a teaching position.

    After fundamentalists gained control of the SBC, Southern trustees appointed Albert Mohler, Jr., as the new president of the seminary. The following year Mohler carefully built a case that Molly’s teachings and beliefs conflicted with the school’s doctrinal statement. When she would not resign, the administration gave Molly an ultimatum: Resign by August 19, 1994, or the president would file charges against her. Molly delayed her resignation for several more months in order not to abandon doctoral students whose dissertations she was directing. Finally, on December 31, 1994, Molly submitted her resignation. Four months later, hundreds of students and faculty gathered on the grounds of Southern to protest the curbing of free speech in the seminary’s classrooms and the coerced resignation of Molly and other faculty members.

     Following the traumatic events of 1994, Molly moved on. In 1995, she began teaching at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, first serving as visiting professor of theology, worship, and spiritual formation. She then became professor of theology and spiritual formation in 1997, making her the first female tenured professor at the seminary, and then in 2005, she was named president of Central, making her the first woman president of a Baptist seminary.

    Throughout her years in ministry, Molly has served as a model of courage, faith and hope for hundreds of other women and men, and she continues in that role today, challenging Baptists to embrace new pathways for ministry.

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Local Church History

Writing Local Church History:  The story of Baptists in America is the stories of local churches of believers.  In the 21st century, more resources than ever are available to help the local church, whether large or small, publish its unique history.  This series of articles spotlights the growing importance of local church history and offers perspective and insight from church historians working in the field of local church history.  This month's contributor is Robert Gardner, Senior Researcher in Baptist History, Mercer University, Macon, GA.

"The Georgia Baptist History Depository"

By Robert Gardner


            Are you a member of a church that is approaching a significant anniversary? Or, regardless of your church’s age, has someone decided that it should have its history recorded? In view of this situation, you have volunteeredor have been conscripted!to do the research and writing.

            If you are in Georgia, one very important location for finding information is the Georgia Baptist History Depository, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon.

            Ideally, the librarians at the Depository can lead you to all that you will need for your project. (Remember, I said ideally!)

            The Depository includes histories of Baptists that will provide the necessary background to place your church’s story in its proper perspective. There are world-wide, American, Georgia, and associational histories that you will need to study.

            More to the immediate point, the Depository includes local church record books, some in manuscript form and others in microform. Some of these might have come from your church. Others might relate to other local churches that you have helped to organize.

            Vertical files exist containing information regarding thousands of pastors in the state. The lives of your various pastors do not constitute the history of your church, but they are important parts of it.

            The annual minutes of the association or associations with which your church has been affiliated await your scrutiny. If there are periods in your church’s history for which few or no local records are available, associational minutes often contain a richness of material about your church. They will usually tell you about your major leaders, financial matters, internal organizations, and the part that your church has taken in associational affairs.

            On the state level, of course the annual printed minutes of your state convention or general association are at the Depository. These will also tell you about leaders, your monetary support of wider denominational affairs, and the role of your church in broader Baptist life.

            Particularly for “special events,” The Christian Index or some other Baptist state publication may very well include coverage from your congregation. (Local newspapers, not in the Depository, will probably tell you more.)

            Files of photographs continue to grow in the Depository, showing persons, buildings, and events that may involve your church.

            One other document can be found at Mercer. Earlier this year we expanded and updated a helpful pamphlet, Preserving the Past for the Present and Future: Writing a History of Your Church & Saving the Records of Your Church. This twenty-page booklet may be read free of charge at the Depository or taken home (or sent by mail postpaid) for five dollars.


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Book Review BSB Book Review: 


BSB presents a review of The First Liberty: America’s Foundation in Religious Freedom, Expanded and Updated, by William Lee Miller, Georgetown University Press, 2003.


William E. Hull, Research Professor, Samford University, is our reviewer.


            In recent months, the effort to confirm Supreme Court justices has highlighted the demand of some for candidates who are “originalists” or “strict constructionists.”  Self-styled “conservatives” have succeeded in convincing many Americans that what matters most in rendering judicial decisions is the meaning that the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the controlling document of our nation’s jurisprudence.  (Warning: do not pursue that approach very far when dealing with slaves or women!)

            So it is with church/state issues now in the forefront of political debate.  The rhetoric of the Religious Right is vehement in demanding that we return to the faith of our founders who gave us the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.  A good way to do just that is to study the work of William Miller here reviewed.  First published by Knopf in 1986, it has been revised by the addition of a new introduction on the impact of 9/11 as the launching of a global religious war, by a survey of relevant Supreme Court cases since the first edition, and by a thoughtful conclusion on the way that religion functions in our contemporary culture.  Here is early American history written with sparkling sobriety as an antidote to the fulminations of a James Dobson or Roy Moore.

            Miller traces our distinctive understanding of religious liberty to three foundations:  (1) The Enlightenment rationalism of Thomas Jefferson which “deregulated” the religious marketplace by insisting that each mind be free to determine its own religious beliefs without political restraint, most notably in “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” (1777),  (2) The Democratic pluralism of James Madison which mandated “free trade in religion” especially as the nation moved westward, seen in his “Memorial and Remonstrance” (1785) which was crucial in implementing the philosophical breakthrough of Jefferson,  (3) The Reformation sectarianism of Roger Williams which cut the nerve of religious conflict by making the conscience inviolable, argued forcefully in The Bloody Tenant of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience (1644).

            The key contention of Miller is that it was the interaction and gradual integration of these three disparate strands that created the distinctive American approach to religious liberty.  In the delicate interplay of influences, each tradition was subtly modified by the others.  Enlightenment rationalism lost its anti-religious bias so obvious in France, democratic pluralism learned to honor religious conviction as a result of the dissenting witness of separatists, while the heirs of the radical Reformation lost the hard edge of their defiant dogmatism as they were “liberalized” by democratic pluralism.  Those unwilling to embrace all three tributaries and allow their “reciprocating effects” to create a new synthesis never fully grasp the uniqueness of religious freedom in America.

            It is just here that the key problem raised by this book must be faced.  How many Americans are willing for their pursuit of truth to be tested by the interplay of unhindered argument?  Specifically, how many Baptists are ready to embrace the rationalism bequeathed by the Enlightenment and the pluralism that is an inevitable byproduct of democracy?  Miller might reply that he has not posed some idealistic formula in hypothetical fashion that must be followed to achieve religious freedom but has merely identified the historical strands that met and merged to create the achievement that we enjoy today.  And yet it is a history that most Americans have forgotten or never knew.  Miller has lived with the history until it now lives in him.  Perhaps if we paid enough attention to his book the same might happen to us.


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Dates to


Dates to Note


November 13-14, CBF of Georgia Fall Convocation.  First Baptist Church, Griffin, GA.  Speaker: Millard Fuller.


May 4-5, 2006, "The University Campus: Tomorrow's Moderate Baptists."  First Baptist Church, Decatur, GA.  Sponsored by National Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, and The Center for Baptist Studies.  For more information, email


July 12-15, 2006, International Conference on Baptist Studies IV, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The Fourth International Conference on Baptist Studies will help to mark the centennial celebrations of the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches.  The theme is "Baptists and Mission," which includes home and foreign missions, evangelism, and social concern. For more information, contact Professor D. W. Bebbington, Department of History, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4TB, Scotland, United Kingdom (e-mail:


June 21-24, 2006, National Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, GA.  For more information, go to


For a full calendar of Baptist events, visit the Online Baptist Community Calendar.

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