June 2006              Vol. 5  No. 6  

A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists
Yesterday and Today

This issue of the Baptist Studies Bulletin is dedicated to R. Kirby Godsey, who this month retires from Mercer University, having served as president since 1979.  The longest-serving president in Mercer's history, Godsey's support was instrumental in founding The Center for Baptist Studies and initiating publication of the Baptist Studies Bulletin, now in its fifth year of circulation.

Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
Visit The Center for Baptist Studies' Web Site at

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

         "A Toast to Raleigh Kirby Godsey"

The Baptist Soapbox: R. Kirby Godsey

         "The Power of the Baptist Idea"

BSB Book Review Special:  Centering Our Souls: Devotional Reflections of a
         University President

         by R. Kirby Godsey

         Reviewed  by Melissa Rogers
Creative Ministries in the Local Baptist Church
Devita Parnell and Alysha Keyser

         "Creative Ministries in Local Baptist Churches in Georgia"

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

         "Longing to Change the Church We Love"
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "In Response to . . . Kevin Phillips and Sam Brownback on Theocracy"
Dates to Note

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I Believe

"A Toast to Raleigh Kirby Godsey"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .

  that R. Kirby Godsey has proved himself to be Baptists’ premier educational leader in North America for the last quarter of a century. On the last day of this month he will conclude twenty seven incomparable years as president of Mercer University.
           As he leaves the presidential office I toast that part of Dr. Godsey without which I think he would not be completing his sterling career.
           I toast not his brilliant mind that has acquired four graduate degrees (including one Ph.D. in theology and another in philosophy), produced three books, and written numerous articles and hundreds of speeches.
           I toast not his visionary leadership that has changed the face of Mercer University in Macon and Atlanta and the place of Mercer University in higher education in America.
           I toast not his relational skills that can speak to a first year student as authentically and comfortably as he can to a millionaire donor.
           I toast not his indefatigable work ethic that has been a challenge as well as a model for all who work with him.
           I toast not his civic spirit and his dynamic leadership in helping the Macon, Georgia community leaders to think bigger and better.
           I toast not his uncanny practical mind, a mind that knows how to lead people to get from A to D.
           I toast not his golden rhetorical skills, with which he has led and defended the University for these twenty-seven years.
           As Kirby Godsey leaves the presidency of Mercer University, I toast the deeply inward and devotional side of the man. Candidly, I toast his SOUL.
           Scratch Kirby Godsey very deeply and he will bleed ole time Alabama Baptist blood. Why the first girl he ever kissed in his life, he kissed at a Sacred Harp singing at a rural church in Alabama! And at a little Baptist church in Hackleburg, Alabama in the summer prior to his junior year in high school he responded to a call to enter the ministry. That memorable inner, mystical experience gave him a compelling sense of vocation. Though he spent his entire career in academia, he never forsook that vocation or forgot the Hackleburg experience.
           Two books were formative in his college education. One of these was Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion, an inspiring call by a Quaker for a spiritual centering of human life. The second book helped many collegians of Dr. Godsey’s era to find a new and sturdier faith. It was Your God is Too Small by J. B. Phillips. That book stretched Dr. Godsey’s young soul.
           Grace is a pivotal word in the vocabulary of Kirby Godsey. “Grace,” he said, “is God’s first and last word.” Speaking of the popular hymn, “Amazing Grace,” Godsey has said, “I find that every time I hear its words, its melody embraces my emotions.” He learned the melodies of grace, if not the words, on a cotton farm from his paternal grandmother, Janie Scott. He lights up when talking about her, and he describes her as “a fortressa strong beautiful woman who could make any day a good day.” He spent every summer with her until he was fifteen years old. Reminiscing about her influence on him, he said, “Day by day and year by year, I learned of grace through her sensitive and liberal spirit. She didn’t have any theology to teach me. I learned from her boundless openness, her enduring patience, and her unfettered compassion. From Janie, I learned that grace is the power of salvation.”
           If as a kid he learned grace from the unsophisticated, as an adult and a graduate student in theology, he learned grace from one of the major theologians in America. Nels F. S. Ferre, author of the The Sun and the Umbrella, an infamous book for theological conservatives, became a major influence on Godsey. Ferre was the subject of Godsey’s doctoral dissertation at New Orleans Seminary. In typical graduate student fashion, Godsey called it “The Implications of Ultimate Universal Redemption for Ethics as Reflected in the Writings of Nels F.S. Ferre.” The concept of agape love lay at the heart of Ferre theology. While writing his dissertation, Godsey forged a personal friendship with Ferre. To this day Ferre sits high on the ladder of Godsey’s admiration.  Ferre’s integration of devotion and intellect is clearly reflected in the life and work of Dr. Godsey.
           As a professor, a dean, and a university president, Dr. Godsey’s life has been bent toward the intellect. He is thoroughly committed to the role of reason. But he has trumpeted long and hard to students, faculty, and trustees at Mercer University the limitations of reason and the necessity of the life of the spirit. 
           You miss an indispensable part of Kirby Godsey if you overlook his SOUL. One of his three published books is entitled, significantly I think, Centering Our Souls: Devotional Reflections of a University President.  His first book, When We Talk about God, Let’s Be Honest, was so controversial and created such a ruckus that people missed the fact that Dr. Godsey himself called it “devotional theology.” That book is a theology of the heart as much as it is a theology of the mind.
           Cheers for Janie Scott, Hackleburg, Alabama, Thomas Kelly, J. B. Phillips, and Nels F.S. Ferre for shaping the inward parts of R. Kirby Godsey.
           To call him “pietistic” is to go too far; to call him deeply, though unostentatiously, spiritual is to understand, in my judgment, the essence of the man.
           Dr. Godsey, a toast to your Alabama Baptist soul!

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September 24-26, St. Simons, Georgia

Main Presenter - John Killinger
Featured Speaker - Fisher Humphreys
Music Leader - L.C. Lane
and many other great speakers!

Limited Enrollment. The Consultation sold out the
past two years.  Hurry and make your reservations!

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 Dr. R. Kirby Godsey, to whom this edition of the Baptist Studies Bulletin is dedicated.  The following article by Dr. Godsey is reprinted from the Bulletin's inaugural issue of January 2002.

"The Power of the Baptist Idea"
R. Kirby Godsey

 Baptists are a denomination in decline. The denomination has become deeply introverted, suffering from a paralysis of self-indulgence, mired in trivial disputes, and consumed by impotent political maneuvering. The Baptist organization, as a matter of fact, has become a corporate giant with large bureaucratic superstructures featuring tall office towers, staggering operating budgets, and effective programs of self-promotion. In the environs of such corporate success, it always becomes increasingly difficult for the gospel not to become a casualty of a denominational preoccupation with power and success.
            In part, because of the accumulation of properties, wealth, and power, the decline of a denomination is rarely apparent. Denominations lose their spiritual bearings long before they lose their social or economic footing. Like the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation when the wealth and power of the Church was at its height, the call to give was offered as a way of trying to secure God’s pleasure. Indulgences, by any other name, are still indulgences. The simplicity of ministry easily becomes subjugated to the task of preserving the numerical advances of the church or the denomination, coping with inflation and assuring that employment and financial support are preserved. Economics tend to prevail.
            In simplest terms, success breeds fear. Success means that there is more success to defend. More achievements are required and more records must be exceeded in order to demonstrate denominational potency. As the sirens of power and success take hold, the focus of ministries often shifts from the helping ministries, such as healthcare, education, hunger relief, toward a focus on numerical accountability of dollars raised and souls saved. The primary goal is more to convert souls than to save lives. The recent change in the priorities of denominational mission programs signal the shift from caring to adding converts, even though the gospel embodied in acts of caring is often more powerful and compelling than the gospel of gaining converts through abstract evangelism. The evangelism of preaching is less messy than the evangelism of caring.
            We should, perhaps, ask whether this denominational decline can be reversed. In all candor, probably not. In general, as denominations become more successful, they become more self-absorbed. Large bureaucracies inevitably face erosion and decay. The passion for the gospel becomes largely displaced by the passion to grow the enterprise resulting in an ascendancy of party politics preoccupied with control.
            While the decline of the denomination may not be reversed, the Baptist idea will certainly live. The Baptist idea is far more powerful than any specific historical embodiment of that idea. The Baptist idea will live and will flourish in small groups and in certain congregations. The Baptist idea affirms that no person, and no organization or church body, stands between the believer and God. The Baptist denomination, which was begun as a fellowship of folk who were bound together by the energy of this idea that granted freedom and passion has, quite naturally, in its own religious evolution become transformed into a giant intermediate gatekeeper between God and the people, both interpreting the official beliefs of the church and serving as the official agent of ministry. Yet, we should find comfort and courage in the realization that no instance of denominational decline will ever be strong enough to diminish or destroy the power of the Baptist idea.

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McAfee Institute for Healthy Congregations, McAfee School of Theology,
Center For Baptist Studies and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia

October 26, 2006 @ Religious Life Center, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia
Begins at 9:30 AM, Concludes at 3:30 PM

Featuring: Dr. Dennis Burton, Workshop Leader

For more information and to register, contact Dr. Larry McSwain.

  BSB Book Review Special: 

BSB presents a review of Centering Our Souls: Devotional Reflections of a University President  by R. Kirby Godsey (Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 2005).

Melissa Rogers, Visiting Professor of Religion and Public Policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School, is our reviewer.

           Those who have lived through the last few decades of Baptist life know that there has been and continues to be substantial change and controversy surrounding many Baptist-affiliated institutions of higher learning.   This environment has wreaked havoc on some of these institutions and not a few lives.  But, as Kirby Godsey’s new volume demonstrates, it is possible for leaders of religiously-affiliated institutions to be faithful without being dogmatic, successful without being self-centered, bloodied by denominational fights but not bitter, and open-minded without being untethered. 
           A key contribution Godsey makes in his book, Centering Our Souls: Devotional Reflections of a University President, is to champion freedom of inquiry in our religious institutions, particularly those of higher learning.  He writes: “Our schools should never seek to protect people from the canons of truth.  If our pursuit of learning contradicts our view of God, it may be that God is trying to tell us something.”   
           Godsey does not limit his point to the context of higher education, however.  He also argues that we must not check our difficult questions at the door of the church house.  At a time when some religious leaders are handing out color-by-numbers palettes for our faith journeys, shutting down arguments and silencing dissent, these statements are welcome.
           It is equally important, however, as Kirby Godsey notes, to recognize that there are limits to our intellectual pursuits.  “Knowledge alone will not bring solace to the soul or wisdom to the mind,” he says.   In one of the most important parts of the book, President Godsey calls for “pious intelligence” in Christian education, using a phrase coined by Jesse Mercer in 1822.  Godsey explains that he uses the word “pious” to “signal an understanding of the reverence for life, to see that a person’s life, indeed the meaning of the world itself, cannot be fathomed without reference to God.”
           Here is the “center,” Godsey says: strip away the distractions and focus on serving God and those around us.  “Measure your life . . .  by how much you love God and how much you care about other people.”  And when we become afraid in this life, which we will, we must act counter-intuitively.  Rather than retreat, Godsey says, we must “[o]pen [ourselves]” and “risk giving.”  He concludes: “Our option is not to live with or without fear.  Our option is to live with or without courage.”  To that I can only say, amen.

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Local Church

Creative Ministries in the Local Baptist Church:  This series highlights local churches who are intentionally creative in their approach to ministry.  This month's featured local church ministry emphasis focuses on a variety of creative ministries in which local churches in Georgia are involved, as compiled by the Congregational Life Department of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia. 

"Creative Ministries in Local Baptist Churches in Georgia"
By Devita Parnell, Associate Coordinator for Congregational Life,
and Alysha Keyser, Summer Intern, Congregational Life

        CBF of Georgia receives hundreds of newsletters each week from churches around the state. These newsletters show that many Georgia churches are implementing creative practices in education, worship and missions. These practices challenge every age group, from children to senior adults and vary from normal, weekly meetings to special events held during the summer months.
            At Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon, Dr. Jim Dant implements special Sunday night worship events for the summer. This year’s series is called “Outside These Walls.” The congregation will only meet one Sunday night a month this summer, but each meeting will be held in a special location. These vesper services include a Celtic Communion Service at an Episcopal church, a walk through a local historic cemetery incorporating prayers for our nation, and a tour of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame to learn about gospel music and heritage. Other summer Sunday evening series have included a walking/running “club” around the church property with outside devotions taking lessons from an athlete’s life and a series on faith and art with such guests as florists, art historians, and chalk artists sharing about the integration of faith and art in their lives. At the end of the art series, a church wide art show was held where church members could display their artistic creations.
            Another popular set of classes being held at many churches is life application classes. While not really a new idea, churches still have the chance to be creative with the classes they offer. First Baptist Church of Augusta, for example, offered a class on retirement planning. Instead of focusing on the financial aspect of retirement, this class explored the psychological and emotional transitions, as well as questions about what to do with one’s time when retired. Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta has also offered life application courses, with a wide variety of topics, including taxes, fly fishing, planting a flower garden and arranging flow
            Creative ideas can also be found in younger age groups. Several churches have developed creative alternatives to traditional programs to teach children and youth about missions. Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens has a youth program called MAPP stands for Mission and Prayer Partners, while the .net part of the title is meant to indicate a global focus. Students learn about global missions, Christianity in other cultures, and also get to participate in world-wide mission projects. Milledge Avenue also has a children’s program called L.O.L., which stands for “Living Out Loud!” While also teaching Bible skills and Baptist Heritage, this program allows children through 5th grade to work on mission projects.
            Finally, churches are increasingly focusing on creative ways to be involved in local community missions. First Baptist Church of Rome sponsors an annual “Hands of Christ Day!”a church-wide mission day to do work in the surrounding community.  Projects include working with Habitat for Humanity, assembling military care packages, landscaping and gardening at local shelters and houses of elderly congregation members, and distributing water with custom church labels at local parks or anywhere there are people gathered. “Hands of Christ Day!” is FBC Rome’s local project similar to a more nationally known event called Operation Inasmuch (, which is based on Jesus’ words: “Truly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).  “Missions in Motion” is another adult missions group at First Baptist Church of Griffin. The individuals regularly participate in activities like working at the local food pantry, a soup kitchen, and a tutoring program for at-risk kindergarten and first graders.
            If you have questions about any of the activities in this article, please contact Devita Parnell at CBF of Georgia by calling 478-742-1191 or by email at

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Website Recommendation:  Elevate the Debate

"Elevate the Debate is an active website encouraging citizens to publish their thoughts and advocacy on public policy in America. We are not a political nor fundraising organization. We are a small group of concerned citizens donating our time toward improving America through honest debate. To submit your article please follow these simple steps: 1. become a member by completing the member form 2. submit an article via e-mail. Submissions will be reviewed for appropriateness and then added to the collection of articles included in this site."


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.

"Longing to Change The Church We Love"
By Charles E. Poole

          Several years ago when Willie Morris died, President Bill Clinton wrote, concerning Morris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning writing about the South, “Willie taught us how to love a place and want to change it at the same time.”
          That sentence lands very near to the way I feel about the church. I love the church. The church always has been, and always will be, the institutional center of my life. The best people I know are the people I have sat with and sung with, wept with and laughed with, learned from and eaten with in church. The church is where it’s at. I love the church.
          But I also long for the church to change. Since I’m a Baptist minister writing for a Baptist journal, I’ll say I long for Baptist churches to change, to somehow be delivered from our appetite for “newer, nicer and bigger” and learn to be content with what we have so that we will have more to give, in Jesus’ name, to those whose needs were most often on the lips of our Lordthe disabled, the outcast, the poor.
          Money runs out. To choose to do more in one area is to be forced to do less in another. It’s just a fact. What a church says “Yes” to today does determine what they will say “No” to tomorrow. Yesterday I was in a home where there are six kids, none of whom had a bed on which to sleep. I see similar situations, though rarely that extreme, almost everyday. How can that be in the city that is most assuredly “the buckle on the Bible belt?” There are, I am sure, many reasons; sociological, economic and educational. But among the reasons children can live without beds in the shadow of big busy churches is the fact that churches are busy being big and getting bigger. When does it stop? When does the church learn to say “enough?” When do Baptist churches, who are known for loving the Bible, begin to apply the Bible’s “Jesus-words” to their own congregational decision making? After all, the Bible is the church’s Book before it is ever any individual’s book, and the church can’t call individuals to embrace gospel teaching that the church itself has not yet embraced in its own institutional life.
          Back to the beginning, I love the church. I owe it my Christian life, so I also owe it my time, my energy and my money. But you really can love something and want to change it at the same time. When it comes to Baptists, the Bible and those who live in poverty, we church folk need to change, and, by the grace of God, we are. We are changing, and we will change more, because we are the church of Jesus Christ, who, by His Spirit, is helping us become His body on earth. It’s a slow process, but our Lord will keep nudging us, moving us, changing us until we become what the Bible has already named usthe body of Christ.

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In Response To ...

"In Response to . . . Kevin Phillips and Sam Brownback on Theocracy"
By Bruce T. Gourley

            This morning I received yet another forwarded email from a Baptist friend mocking the separation of church and state.  Forty years ago one would have been hard-pressed to find a Baptist in America who did not believe in the historical Baptist belief in the separation of church and state.  In his latest book, American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips, former Republican strategist in the Nixon administration, asserts that the influence of the Religious Right has transformed the modern Republican Party into the first religious political party in American history.  Earlier this month the Georgia Baptist Conference Center in Toccoa, Georgia, hosted a Christian Reconstruction conference in which featured speaker and Religious Right guru Gary North told an audience of 600 cheering Christians that he wants to replace democracy in America with theocracy.  Indeed, among religious conservatives in America today there is a popular belief that religion should overarch and control everything else in public and private life.  This so-called “biblical worldview” invokes images of theocratic Puritan New England, ironically, an era in which Baptists were severely persecuted by the “Christian” government.
            If the fundamentalist leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and their Religious Right allies have their way in subduing politics and culture to religion, what would America become?  Certain movies, such as the Da Vinci Code, would likely be banned for voicing heretical views. 
This has already happened in Pakistan, where the religious government (Muslim, in this instance) declared “the making of such movies doesn’t come under the purview of freedom of expression,” a decision applauded by many Christians in that country.  In addition, public education, viewed as evil by some Southern Baptists, including Al Mohler, would be shuttered and the responsibility for education handed to churches.  Indeed, the foundational freedoms of the American nation (freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition guaranteed by the First Amendment) would likely be discarded in favor of laws protecting the dominance of the favored religion.
            Lest the above scenario sound far-fetched, consider Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan).  The
favored candidate of the Religious Right in the upcoming 2008 presidential election, Brownback is committed to turning America into a theocracy in which religion replaces politics, the Ten Commandments replace current laws, social programs (schools, Social Security and welfare) are privatized or discarded, all abortions are prohibited, sex is a criminal act unless committed within heterosexual marriage, men lead families and women are limited to bearing and rearing children.  As a reporter who recently interviewed Brownback noted, he “doesn’t demand that everyone believe his God–only that they bow down before Him.”
            While a theocratic America seems hard to fathom, the increasingly vocal and influential segment of voters and politicians for whom religion trumps everything else reveals the precarious nature of longstanding democratic ideals of freedom and liberty.  Most Baptists who support the Brownback agenda probably do not realize they are betraying their own faith heritage.  Many fundamentalist Christians who adamantly oppose Muslim fundamentalism are likely blind to the cultural and religious biases they share with their enemies.  In the eyes of true believers, freedom and liberty are privileges that should be granted only to the theologically correct, and toleration extended only to those who outwardly obey God’s laws.
            Kevin Phillips is right to warn America that a theocracy is bubbling up within the Republican Party, imperiling the very foundation of our nation.  And I have decided that I will no longer merely hit the delete button when a Baptist friend sends me yet another forward denying America’s heritage of religious liberty and separation of church and state.  The stakes are too high and the times too perilous to allow the lies and deception to go unchallenged.

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Dates to

Dates to Note

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

September 24-26, 2006, The Mercer Preaching Consultation, St. Simon's Island, GA. Sponsored by the McAfee School of Theology and The Center for Baptist Studies.  Headline speaker: John Killinger.  Click here for more information.

October 26, 2006, Negotiating Conflict in the Congregation, Religious Life Center, Mercer University, Macon, GA.  Sponsored by McAfee Institute for Healthy Congregations, McAfee School of Theology, The Center For Baptist Studies and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia.  To register, mail to Dr. Larry McSwain, McAfee School of Theology, 3001 Mercer University Drive, Atlanta, GA 30341-4115 a check payable to McAfee School of Theology in the amount of $39 by October 20, 2006.  Registration at the door $49.

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

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