"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"
September 2005                Vol. 4  No. 9

Visit The Center for Baptist Studies' Web Site at

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

         "Claypool: Baptistpalian"

The Baptist Soapbox: Martin E. Marty

         "Thinking Inside the Mailbox"

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

         "Shaking North Carolina's Biblical Foundations"

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

         "In the Wake of Katrina, 'Think Small'"

Baptist Women Ministers You Should Know: Pamela Durso

         "Addie Davis"

Writing Local Church History: Doug Weaver

         "Some Thoughts on Writing Local Church History"

BSB Book Review:  The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-Blessed, Christ-
         Haunted Idea
by David Dark

         Reviewed  by William E. Hull

BSB Book Review Special:  Women Deacons and Deaconesses: 400 Years of Baptist Service
         by Charles W. Deweese

         Reviewed  by Connie Jones
Dates to Note


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I Believe

"Claypool: Baptistpalian"

By Walter B. Shurden


I believe . . .

            that something of an era passed in moderate/liberal Baptist life when John Claypool breathed his last breath on Saturday, September 3, 2005 in Atlanta, GA. Oh! I know that Claypool was not a Baptist and had not been a Baptist since 1986 when he was ordained an Episcopal priest. And I know that the Episcopal Church will get to claim him in the annals of the American pulpit.

            But I also know that if you had scratched Claypool, you would have found some Baptist piety, even Baptist convictions running very, very deep within him. My money says that he had more Baptist than Episcopalian friends and not because the Episcopalians did not love him as much as the Baptists. He simply had lived around Baptists longer, influenced more of us more profoundly, and gently and graciously carved his name upon our souls in a way that he did not have time to do with the Episcopalians. Sadly, one of the greatest contributions that Baptists have made to American religion is the great numbers of talented ministers we have lost to other denominations. Claypool is Exhibit A.

            Nothing pleased many of us more than the fact that moderate Baptists reaffirmed Claypool in the latter years of his ministry. Some thought erroneously, after Claypool’s divorce and after he joined the Episcopalians, that his Baptist ties were gone forever. Not so! We loved him too much for that, we respected him too much for that, and we were  indebted to him too much for that. And so he ended his life loyal to his Episcopal ordination but teaching preaching at Baptist-related McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. Claypool was a “Baptistpalian.”

            In the late 1960s and early 70s when I was a green, twenty-nine year old pastor of the First Baptist Church in Ruston, LA, I religiously, weekly, eagerly read Claypool’s sermons, published by the Crescent Hill Baptist Church, in Louisville, KY. I read them first for my soul’s sake. But as a young preacher, I also studied those sermons, trying to find out what he was doing in the pulpit that made him so much the talk of Baptist life. Why even the great faculty then at Southern Seminary in Louisville would gather on Mondays and talk about what Claypool had preached on Sundays! Something was happening in the Crescent Hill pulpit!

            Volumes will be written in the future about what made Claypool such a distinctively great preacher. I venture an abbreviated preface to all those volumes. First, he had a solid theological center. His sermons grew from that solid center. There was a “Claypoolology,” and his parishioners understood it. The Ph.D.s and the plumbers both understood it, and that fact alone is an underestimated value of great preaching. Someday soon a graduate student will have the joy of enunciating “Claypoolology” in a dissertation. We await it!

            Second, Claypool understood the human condition because he understood himself. Much of his preaching was “confessional,” what the older Baptist preachers would have designated as “experiential” preaching. Contemporary homileticians may lampoon “confessional preaching” if they wish, but I dare any of them to let us compare ten of their doctrinal or textual or expository sermons to ten of Claypool’s “confessional sermons” and then let the house vote! Third, Claypool knew the Bible. “Claypoolology” grew from biblical soil. His “confessional preaching” was scriptural, not egocentric. He never wore the Bible on his sleeve, and he never accepted theories such as inerrancy, but Claypool had the Bible thoroughly embedded in both his mind and his heart. He was a theological progressive who never minimized Holy Scripture. Those who try to understand him will never understand him if they gloss over that fact. Fourth, he made eye contact. He preached without notes or a manuscript. He preached to people, not a desk. Fifth, he had a distinct, quiet, sing-song, some even called it monotonous, voice style. No one else could quite imitate it, and if you heard them trying, you knew quickly that it was indeed an imitation. And you could name the original! Sixth, he had an uncanny knack for illustrating profound theological ideas with the most corn pone (always adorned in evening dress) illustrations.

            As many of you know, Claypool was to preach twice at The Mercer Preaching Consultation ’05 at St. Simons Island, GA on September 19, 2005. To the very end he was anticipating that event as a signal of his own healing and health. He struggled valiantly against his dastardly multiple myeloma to meet with us on St. Simons. He will not be able to make it. But, as Claypool would have wanted, the event will go on. And it will be dedicated to his marvelous life in the pulpit.

            His real name was John Rowan Claypool IV. He earned a special place in our hearts as “Claypool.” Some of us will go to our graves talking about what he said and the way he said it–and why in all the world we didn’t think of saying it the way he said it.           

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Dr. John

Dr. John Claypool cast an enormous influence over the American pulpit, especially the Baptist pulpit. He may have influenced as many moderate/liberal white Baptist preachers in the South as any person in the last 45 years. The Center for Baptist Studies would like to add to its site a collection of "Claypool Stories." These stories may come in the form of personal tributes to the man. They may be stories of a personal experience you had with Dr. Claypool. You may want to tell about a specific sermon of Dr. Claypool's that made a difference in your life. We will be glad to collect your contributions and post them so that all may read. Send your "Claypool Story" to Bruce T. Gourley at as an attachment to an email.

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 Martin E. Marty in an article from SightingsSightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at


"Thinking Inside the Mailbox"

By Martin E. Marty

            "Putting Jesus in Every Mailbox." That headline on a story by Shaila Dewan (New York Times, August 16) provides an opportunity for us to try to make a point about religion in public life. First, to crib from the Dewan report on the Jesus Video Project America (related to Campus Crusade): This is a mass mailing of a DVD on the life of Jesus, intended to reach every American home through "saturation evangelism." While 20 million copies have gone out, at the present rate you may not be reached until 2040. Never mind, it's already an old movie, which Time saw as a meticulous effort at authenticity, but which the New York Times called "painfully monotonous." Even a promoter who bought 1.7 million copies at $2 to $3 a disk and mailed them to every Alabama household gave it what sounds like only a 1.5-star rating. "The actor who plays Jesus breathes noticeably as he lies in the tomb." (There goes the Time accolade about authenticity!) In other words, it's a bit amateurish, but that does not deter supporters from supporting it.
            As for reception: In a Georgia town, it had been viewed by 62 out of 100 homes; in Peoria, Illinois, only 32 out of 100 saw it. Dewan, interviewing in one county, found no one offended, but "it was also difficult to find anyone who had actually watched the DVD." She did turn up a soul here and there who had been "saved" by its message. Viewers who felt that their sacred mailbox had been violated, as some did in heavily Jewish West Palm Beach, taped DVDs to bricks and mailed them back, hoping the sender would have to pay postage. Some think the money should have gone to the poor, something said whenever someone in another faith offends by spending money.
            Enough. You get the point. Now my point: Here is an excellent example of the way citizens can legitimately propagate their faith, try to convert others, and bolster their ranks. Those of us who oppose efforts to festoon classrooms and courtrooms with "Our God is better 'n your God" artifacts, or to sound the call to worship in such settings, should have no legal or policy reasons to want to restrict these "free enterprise," "non-governmentally endorsed" expressions. Some may think it bad manners to crowd little mailboxes with such mailings. Some may be in the mood of late comic Jimmy Durante, who turned slightly profane when asking, "Why doesn't everybody leave everybody else the hell alone?" Some will join us in recycling the DVDs along with other junk mail. (The Martys daily get three or four unsolicited magazines and a score more of unwanted and never-to-be-opened solicitations and advertisements.)
            Picky we can be. It may be that all of us are subsidizing these ventures if they benefit from lowered postage rates that force a need to raise others, but if we want to get that scrupulous and refined, we are never going to be happy citizens, mailers, or addressees. Aggressive religious door-knockers, in towns where door-to-door solicitation is legal, may be irritants, but they are acting within their rights.

            Back to basics: If the proselytizing or advertising occurs in settings that do not imply governmental privilege or favor, let some mail, some knock, and others knock those who knock. And religion will prosper in public life.

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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.


"Shaking North Carolina's Biblical Foundations"
By Bruce Prescott


              A recent controversy over which “Holy Scriptures” on which Muslims must place their hands when swearing to tell the truth threatens to shake the biblical foundations of the state of North Carolina.  When finally resolved, it might also set a precedent that sends aftershocks across the nation.

              A couple of years ago Syidah Mateen asked a judge if she could use the Quran instead of a Bible as the foundation for her oath to testify truthfully.  The judge wasn’t sure whether that was legal, so he had her simply affirm to tell the truth and asked for a higher opinion on the legality of using the Quran.  Guilford County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge W. Douglas Albright, a strict constructionist jurist, ruled that “An oath on the Quran is not a lawful oath under our law” and added that “Everybody understands what the holy scriptures are.  If they don’t, we’re in a mess.”

              The ruling that “Holy Scriptures” could only refer to the Bible quickly generated criticism that the court was endorsing a particular religion and thereby violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  North Carolina’s Administrative Office of the Courts was asked to determine the validity of Albright’s ruling.  That office, however, has been dragging its feet.  Last month, State Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, Jr. said he had no idea when the agency would decide how to address the issue.  In August, the ACLU filed suit to get a decision.

              There were reasons for the state’s procrastination.  One is simply the press of ordinary business.  Another reason is that those who insist that the U.S. is a “Christian Nation” will not take any ruling permitting the use of scriptures other than the Bible lightly.  As Michele Combs, communications director for the Christian Coalition, said, “Some traditions that we’ve had for 200 years need to stay.” 

              The Christian Coalition’s opposition to the plurality of scriptures in courtrooms fits hand in glove with the goals of the political revolution that it has been helping to achieve through patient and methodical grassroots politicking.  What is gradually being overthrown is the First Amendment’s guarantee that the government will treat people of all faiths and of no particular faith with equal dignity and respect. 

              After a quarter-century effort, the Religious Right has secured a majority of the legislators and chief executives of our state and federal governments.  Their presidents and governors and legislators are busy stacking the country’s judiciary with “strict constructionist” jurists like U.S. Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts who may eventually confirm Albright’s ruling–no matter what North Carolina’s courts eventually decide.

              Undoubtedly, it is true that virtually all of the original inhabitants of North Carolina understood “Holy Scriptures” to refer to the Christian Bible.  Equally indisputable is the fact that many of the current citizens of that state no longer accept the Christian Bible as “Holy Scriptures.”  If constitutions are understood to be “living documents,” then the purpose of the oath could serve as a guide to interpretation.  Since the purpose of the oath is to help secure truthful testimony, “Holy Scriptures” could refer to the most sacred text of the person making the oath.

              Strict constructionist jurists, however, disdain any thought that constitutions could be living documents.  In their opinion, the original meaning of the words “Holy Scriptures” will prevail until Muslims and others successfully convince their Christian neighbors to change the state constitution. 

              In effect, by simply affirming that “some traditions that we’ve had for 200 years need to stay,” the Religious Right is assuring that the forever contentious debate about liberty of conscience and freedom of religion moves from the principled and reasoned discourse of the courtroom to the passionate and inflamed rhetoric of the public square. 

              Unlike the strict constructionists, the founders of our republic were fully aware of the volatile nature of the differences that arise when religious beliefs and practices are imposed by force of law.  That is why they forbade Congress to pass any laws establishing a religion or prohibiting its free exercise.

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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.


"In the Wake of Katrina, 'Think Small'"
By Charles E. Poole


            Exactly two years ago, in September of 2003, I left the pastorate of Northminster Baptist Church to become the pastor of “a church without walls,” a street preacher, serving alongside families in low-income, high-difficulty neighborhoods in Jackson and in the Delta.  At their very gracious blessing service for this new ministry, the Northminster congregation invited Walter Shurden to offer the sermon.  The central point of Dr. Shurden’s message that day was “think small.” He encouraged us not to be overwhelmed by the needs we faced, but simply to do what we could and trust God to do what we couldn’t.

            In these subsequent two years, I have had numerous occasions to recall Dr. Shurden’s admonition to “think small;” to avoid the paralysis of being unable to do everything for everybody by being content to do something for somebody.  But never has the exhortation to “think small” been more needed than now, as we seek to respond to the enormous suffering caused by Katrina. 

            In her wake, Katrina has left those who were not poor homeless, and those who were poor desperate.  The enormity of it all is paralyzing.  Where do we start? What can we do? How can we help?

            In the face of so much suffering and so many questions, I offer my own echo of Dr. Shurden’s sermon: Think small. Make this your mantra: “If we wait until we can do everything for everybody before we do something for somebody we’ll never do anything for anybody.” So think small.  Buy some Wal-Mart or Target gift cards, for example, and send them to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship offices of Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama.  They will then get them to a church or family who can use them to obtain needed items.

            That’s just one suggestion among many possibilities.  It is, admittedly, a small act of Christian friendship.  But small may be the only place to start in the face of something as big as Katrina.

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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.


"Addie Davis"
by Pamela Durso


      Few Baptist women ministers have been as influential as Addie Davis, and yet this quiet, humble woman seems oblivious to her significant contribution to the Baptist tradition. On August 9, 1964, she became the first Southern Baptist woman to be ordained to the gospel ministry. Becoming part of Baptist history, however, was not Addie’s intention. Rather, her ordination was a fulfillment of her childhood dream. As a girl, Addie pretended to be a preacher, and her childhood playing soon grew into a calling. Yet because Southern Baptists had no women preachers, she kept her dream to herself.

      After many years of waiting to pursue her dream, Addie finally enrolled, in 1960, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. There she felt compelled to share honestly about her calling and her desire to preach with Sydnor Stealey, the seminary’s president, who assured her that following her dream would be difficult. His words proved to be prophetic. As she neared graduation, Addie began looking for a pastoral position in a Southern Baptist church. After many unsuccessful months, Addie contacted the American Baptist Convention and soon was called to pastor First Baptist Church in Readsboro, Vermont.

      Before moving to Vermont, however, Addie decided to pursue ordination. She contacted some churches in Raleigh before finally talking with Warren Carr, pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. Carr later recounted his conversation with Addie about her call. He discovered her certainty that God had called her “to be a preacher,” and he remembered that she seemed unaware of the fact that no Southern Baptist church had ever ordained a woman minister.

      Despite the support of the Watts Street congregation and the recommendation of the ordination committee, many persons opposed Addie’s ordination. Carr received nearly fifty letters criticizing him and the church. Addie also received numerous letters, some coming from as far away as California. A Richmond, Virginia, man demanded, “Renounce your ordination!”  Another man called her “a child of the Devil.” Addie never bothered to answer any of the letters. Instead, she determined to “just take it as a grain of salt and keep on.”

      Following the ordination, Addie moved to Vermont and pastored the Readsboro church for eight years. During her ministry there, the Vermont State Baptist Convention named her Vermont’s Pastor of the Year in 1971. In the fall of 1972, she accepted a call from Second Baptist Church of East Providence, Rhode Island.

      In 1982, Addie returned to her family home in Covington, Virginia, hoping to find a Baptist church to pastor. Instead, she was surprised by an even more conservative attitude toward women in ministry among Southern Baptists: “I had expected to be able to pick up my work and take up another church. . . . But I was surprised by the ultra-conservative attitude I have found.” Not finding a Baptist church to pastor, however, did not end Addie’s ministry. She soon began serving the Rich Patch Union Church, a rural ecumenical church in Alleghany County.

      In the forty years since her ordination, Addie has committed her life to ministry, even when faced with difficult barriers and almost impossible obstacles. She has trusted God to provide places of service and voices of encouragement, and she has encouraged women to “keep on dreaming and cherish the dream God has given you!”


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 Doug Weaver, Assistant Professor of Religion, Baylor University.

"Some Thoughts on Writing Local Church History"

By Doug Weaver

            The writing of local church history has often been an exercise of “hagiography,” i.e., a biography of saints. The practice is understandable, of course. Churches want to celebrate an anniversary or remember significant accomplishments in their history. An attitude of “triumphalism” long characterized denominational histories: “let me tell you about why and how we are the best.”

            Local church history can, and should, still be written about significant individuals and their commitment to ministry as well as significant events in a congregation’s history. History should record and celebrate the “good.” Attention should also be given, however, to the warts of the church’s past. Personal attacks have NO place in a local church history (or in the church), but a balanced account of ministry successes and struggles will resonate with readers who want to celebrate AND learn from the past in order to help inform and guide their church’s vision for the future.

            Recent histories written by trained historians place local church history in the broader context of cultural and denominational history. This approach lets readers know that their church didn’t exist in a vacuum, and it also asks, “In what ways did my church respond to larger events around us?” How did the church respond to the civil rights movement, the role of women in ministry, the controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention? How have political issues impacted our congregation? At times, writers are unable to uncover answers to these questions in church documents, but when they can, local church history becomes increasingly valuable as a window toward understanding how cultural and denominational issues impact churches, and vice versa.

            How should a local church history be organized? Each chapter can focus on a theme. A more traditional approach is to organize chronologically, most likely by the pastors’ tenures in a church’s life (or, the history can be divided by significant milestones or in other ways).   

            When organizing chronologically, the same themes–whenever possible–can be traced in every chapter. Readers can then easily see the church’s journey on important issues such as “the church’s history of race relations,” “the involvement of women in the church’s ministry,” and “the church’s focus on evangelism, youth ministry or the social gospel.” Some themes (ministries) will have recently appeared or long since ceased, but the following themes usually need attention in each era of the church’s history: Pastor, Staff, Facilities, Ministries (educational, deacons, music, youth, seniors etc…), Women, Race Relations, Social Gospel, Ecumenism (interaction with other denominations in the community), Missions, Denominational Involvement, and Stewardship. Baptist distinctives such as local church autonomy, the value of the individual, cooperation with others, the importance of the Bible are often “fleshed out” in tracing these themes.

            Can a history divided by pastoral tenures be a “history of pastors” and neglectful of lay contributions? Yes, especially since church newsletters–a primary source of information–contain “pastor columns” that often provide needed illuminating material regarding church events and attitudes. Using a thematic approach within each era, however, brings focus on the indispensable work of the laity. Deacons' minutes, WMU materials, and tidbits tucked away in church newsletters reveal the importance of the laity. Not every lay member will see his/her name in the history (that is what appendices are for, if necessary) but local church history clearly reveals the influential ministerial roles of church members that never find their way into a general denominational history. If you are a new church, start collecting sources: information about the church AND its members. You never know what a later historian will want or will find illuminating about the practice of faith in your community.         

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Book Review BSB Book Review: 


BSB presents a review of The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-Blessed, Christ-Haunted Idea by David Dark, Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.


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


            Dramatic changes are taking place today in church-state relations, not only in Baptist denominational life, but especially in the new alignments being forged between politicians and preachers. Why this headlong retreat from the separation that served us well through most of our nation’s history? One powerful dynamic is the post-9/11 effort to redefine patriotism in terms of America’s destiny to be a unique agent of the divine in world affairs. Once both church and state are seen as expressions of the Kingdom of God, why bother to separate them? Is not each strengthened by the other as partners on a common mission?

            Without ever directly addressing the church-state agenda, David Dark is keenly aware of the pitfalls in privileging any religion but, even more, of absolutizing America as a religion. Once total loyalty is vested in anything other than God, self-congratulation replaces self-criticism. Orwellian “groupthink” is used to manipulate reality lest anyone dare to challenge the reigning cultural orthodoxy. Disagreement is quickly demonized with toxic levels of anger. The body politic gradually loses the capacity to imagine the salvific power of self-doubt, the value of repentance and confession, and the transformative potential of forgiving one’s enemies so as to be able to love them in a context of compassionate neighborliness.

            The most intriguing thing about Dark’s book is his strategy for addressing this deification of the American experiment. Somehow a strongly countercultural dialectic, a prophetic iconoclasm, a subversive rhetoric is needed to pry the nation loose from its theologically induced self-satisfaction. This demythologizing of the American idea will not come from the church because it has made Christianity too private to take on the “principalities and powers” as Barth did at Barmen.  The Bible has a wonderful way of upsetting our reigning take on reality, but we have so long ignored its radical claims that we no longer know how to assert them. So what to do? Dark’s answer is to dig deeply into the American story for a better “gospel” of what we as a people were meant to be. This approach has the advantage of being patriotic because it judges America, not by some imported ideology, but by calling it to be faithful to its own best witness.

            The bulk of the book is a quick tour of how such a lover’s quarrel might be conducted. Here I can only list a few of the key players: political leaders such as George Washington (his prisoner policy) and Abraham Lincoln; novelists such as Nathanial Hawthorne and Herman Melville, supplemented by William Faulkner and Thomas Pynchon; musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan; the science fiction of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone;” the movies of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Billy Wilder; and the biographies of Dorothy Day, Bayard Rustin, Will Campbell, and Daniel Berrigan. What do these evangelists of the American Way have in common? A determination to not take themselves too seriously, a suspicion that reality is not well represented by the media spinmeisters, a willingness to bet that God will resurrect and restore those who risk everything in loving even their enemies.

            What we call the separation of church and state is what Dark calls an acknowledgement of “the distance between our proud little kingdoms and God’s larger order, power, and glory, which are forever. It cannot be controlled, bought off, or ultimately silenced. And within it, our delusions are being subsumed. The Lord is risen” (166). Pay close attention to this impassioned plea, for unless we get that “distance” back, neither church nor state will be worth the difference between them.

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Book Review
BSB Book Review Special: 


BSB presents a special book review of the new volume Women Deacons and Deaconesses: 400 Years of Baptist Service, by Charles W. Deweese, Mercer University Press, 2005.


Connie Jones, Chair of Deacons, First Baptist Church of Christ, Macon, Georgia, is our reviewer.


From a lay perspective, Women Deacons and Deaconesses:  400 Years of Baptist Service, by Charles W. Deweese, provides a significant and timely contribution to Baptist history.  The author draws from a wide range of source documents in this review of biblical, historical, cultural, and practical layers of women’s ordination.  He faithfully reports both sides of a debate that has spanned four centuries, but unabashedly takes a clear stand of favoring women deacons.

 Deweese walks the reader through Baptist history, looking through the lens of women’s roles and ordination.  He reminds us, for example, that early Baptists (1609-1612 in Great Britain) affirmed and ordained women as deacons, as did Separate Baptists in the colonial South.  However, with the merger of Separate and Regular Baptists in the late 1700s, this practice virtually died out.  An astonishing piece of history, it clarifies the reality that, with the ordination of women, we are reclaiming an original Baptist practice.  (I would venture to say that not many of us learned that in Vacation Bible School!)

The book also chronicles the re-emergence of women deacons over the last fifty years, along with the stiff resistance that ensued. Fundamentalist views, largely voiced by the Southern Baptist Convention, have objected to the ordination of women because they see it as a bestowal of authority that runs counter to scripture, especially the writings of Paul. Moderate Baptists, on the other hand, notably the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, have focused on the views of Christ toward women, interpreted the apostle Paul’s writings in more contextual fashion, and encouraged the ordination of women deacons.  Deweese tracks  parallel trends among American Baptists, who have male and female deacons, but ordain neither; and among African-American Baptists who prefer deaconesses, serving as assistants to male deacons, and generally not ordained.

For some it will be difficult to read through the attempts so many have made for so long to refute and reject the ordination of women.  It is, therefore, heartening to learn of the thousands of churches that have addressed the issue and ordained women to ministry.

At the heart of this volume are the congregational stories of “working through,” and the personal reflections of women deacon chairs.  These narratives are a testimony to the historical autonomy that characterizes the Baptist way of “doing church.”  The voices of women who were ordained in the midst of these conflicts tell a unique story, and their stories have cumulative impact.  In this regard, Deweese does a masterful job of interweaving the larger trends of women’s ordination over four centuries with personal, congregational, and ultimately, biblical stories.

Deweese’s book would be a great text for a Baptist history class in the local church.  Congregations considering the ordination of women would find it a substantial resource for study and dialogue among members.  Local churches should document their own histories related to the ordination of women, and the women who were ordained. Deweese has modeled for us the importance of grounding our personal and congregational narrative in the larger Baptist story.

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Dates to


Dates to Note


September 18-20, The Mercer Preaching Consultation 2005, The King and Prince Hotel St. Simons Island, GA.  Co-sponsored by McAfee School of Theology and The Center for Baptist Studies.  The Cost is $50 Per Person.  Click here for more information, including the Program.


October 11, "Understanding Congregations: Traditional, Contemporary, Emerging." McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia, Day Hall.  Keynote speaker is Chris Seay, Pastor, Ekklesia in Houston, Texas.  Workshop leaders include Bill Wilson (FBC, Dalton, GA), Ron Johnson (McAfee), Karen Massey (McAfee), Bud Wrenn (Burlington, NC), Craig Sherouse (FBC, Griffin).  Registration at the Door: $49.  Advanced Registration by October 1--$39 (Lunch Included).  Mail your check to McAfee School of Theology, Attn: Larry McSwain, 3001 Mercer University Drive, Atlanta, GA 30341.  For more information, Call 678-547-6442 or go to               


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:


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

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