March 2006              Vol. 5  No. 3

A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists
Yesterday and Today


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

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I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "Recovering Tradition"

The Baptist Soapbox: Jim Strickland

         "The Sabbath House"
The Baptist University in the 21st Century
: Stanley G. Lott

         "The Future of Baptist Higher Education"
Creative Ministries in the Local Baptist Church
: Rick Jordan

         "Common Sense College Ministry"

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

         "Bono Speaks to Baptists"
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "Baptists Backtracking on Freedom"
Dates to Note

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I Believe

"Recovering Tradition"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .

            that William Sloane Coffin, one of the most insightful of God’s people, is right when he says that “we have both to recover tradition and to recover from it” (Letters to a Young Doubter, p. 63). Recovering from some of the Baptist tradition (Landmarkism, Fundamentalism, etc.) is mandatory, but that is for another day.
            For now I want to argue for the recovery of the Baptist tradition.  I received a copy of a letter recently that opened with the following line: “I am a pastor, and the people that I pastor have very little knowledge of Baptist Beliefs. They know that Jesus saves, and not much more.”
            It is urgent that Baptist churches celebrate their Baptist heritage at least once a year with a Baptist Heritage Sunday. Living in a so-called post-denominational world, such a call may surely sound sinfully sectarian. To the contrary, a Baptist Heritage Sunday may help to save us from sectarianism. It provides an opportunity to stress our connection with the greater Church of Christ.
            A Baptist Heritage Sunday also presents us with an opportunity to teach and preach some of the cardinal convictions of Baptists. I know it is a bit crass, but let me quote myself. In the very first lines of the very first issue of this Bulletin back in January of 2002 I said,

            “I believe . . . that traditional Baptist convictions—what we call 'Baptist   distinctives'—are more important today than at any time in the last two centuries of Baptist history. Only the 17th and 18th centuries, the period in which Baptists struggled for their right to exist, rival the need today for the Baptist vision of the Christian faith. Today, however, it is our nation, not simply our denomination, which needs a good dose of our distinctives.”

My home church’s version of such a Sunday is called “Why I Am a Baptist Sunday.” We have a visiting minister to preach on the subject in a personal and biblical way. Over the years we have had such outstanding Baptists as Cecil Sherman, Delanna O’Brien, James Dunn, Loyd Allen, Keith Parks, Charles Deweese, Daniel Vestal, Emmanuel McCall, and several others to tell us why they are Baptists.
            If your church has an annual celebration of the Baptist vision, we at The Center for Baptist Studies would like to know what you do and how you do it. Send me an email at, and we will try to share what you do with others.
            If your church does not have a Baptist Heritage Sunday, why not try it? You may find some help for celebrating such a Sunday in your church by looking at “For Your Local Church” on our site ( and click on “”Preaching Helps/Sermon Ideas” and “Baptist Heritage Week.”

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Baptist Soapbox

The Baptist Soapbox: Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist (therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The Baptist Studies Bulletin, though sometimes they are). Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Jim Strickland, director of the Sabbath House near Bryson City, North Carolina.

"The Sabbath House"
Jim Strickland

          Many years ago I was pastor of a church in a small farming community in south Georgia.  One sunny autumn day I was out visiting and stopped to chat with an old farmer who was a member of our church.  We were standing on the edge of a large field of cotton, watching a machine pick six rows of cotton at once.  Having grown up in south Alabama around cotton farming, I commented, “My grandfather would not believe that a machine could pick six rows of cotton in a matter of minutes.”  The old farmer looked at me, smiled, and said, “Yes, we have wonderful machines today that help us in farming, but I really miss my mules.”  I was puzzled and asked him why.  He said, “These machines can work day and night, seven days a week, without needing rest.  My mules could work for about six days, but then they needed to rest. If they didn’t get some rest, they didn’t have any energy the next week. Their need for rest made me rest, too.”
          On many occasions in my thirty-five years as a pastor I remembered that wise old farmer’s words.  However, like many conscientious pastors, I did not take my own needs seriously enough, and like the farmer’s mules I trudged through a good portion of my days without the energy I needed to do my best work.
          The Sabbath House was born out of the experience of a group of ministers who had been meeting together annually for ten years in a secluded mountain retreat in western North Carolina.  Each year we left our work behind and gathered to rest, to talk, and to laugh.  Our time together became our annual one-week sabbatical.  As the years passed, we began to realize that the experience had become crucial to our ministries, and that we wanted to help make such Sabbath experiences available to others.
          Dedicated to the recovery of the Sabbath principle in today’s world, The Sabbath House makes retreats available to individuals, couples, and groups–both lay and clergy.  These retreats are not program driven, but are dedicated to the Sabbath needs of those who come for rest and re-creation.  We are often asked, “What is the program at your retreats?”  We answer, “Those who come are the program.  What do you need from the experience?  This is your time.”
          The Sabbath experience is crucial to spirituality, especially when our schedules are tied to machines that never need to rest.  The grace of Sabbath time invites us to stop our machines and our work, and to get above it all for rest–rest that restores our energy, our spirit, and our creativity.
          The Sabbath House is located near Bryson City, North Carolina on a secluded mountainside adjacent to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Retreat times are generally available from March through December each year, with comfortable accommodations for one to twelve persons.  Wonderful home cooked meals are provided upon request, or groups may prepare their own.  Our porches look out over beautiful mountain vistas accompanied by the sounds of our mountain creek.  Time at The Sabbath House is uncrowded, unhurried, and uncommon.
          For more information call Jim Strickland or Rachel Lackey at 828-488-5209 or email us at or  

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The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends the following Books:

A New Narrative History of Baptists in the United States
by Pamela R. Durso and Keith E. Durso
from the Baptist History and Heritage Society

"This very readable and engaging history of Baptists is a valuable resource for informing Baptists in the pew and the pulpit of their rich heritage." Carolyn D. Blevins, Associate Professor of Religion, Carson-Newman College.  Click here for more information.

Loving God With Your Mind
by E. B. Self

"With open-ended answers to difficult questions about God, Dr. Self challenges believers and non-believers alike to think about God in new and creative ways. With refreshingly simple language, the author discusses complex problems of of faith, providing thought-provoking solutions." Dr. Stanley Crab, retired missionary. For more information, please email BenCar Associates.

Baptist Univ.

The Baptist University in the 21st Century:  This special series explores the role of Baptist universities in contemporary Baptist life, from the perspective of Baptist university presidents.  This month's contributor is Stanley Lott, former president of Chowan College, and now retired.

"The Future of Baptist Higher Education"
By Stanley G. Lott

             Assessing the future of Baptist Higher education is problematic because it is not monolithic.  The institutions in this category range from large to small, rich to poor and well-known to obscure.  Many that once belonged to this group no longer claim an affiliation.  The defections are continuing and denominational membership, particularly among our top schools, is shrinking. 
             From the founding of Harvard in 1636, denominationally sponsored or affiliated schools proliferated across the country, with many of them being Baptist. Over time, a large number of these institutions abandoned their relationship to the denomination that gave birth and/or backing to them.  (See James Burtchaell’s, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches.)  I believe that in the past and the present, we can see the future of Baptist higher education.
             First, as institutions increase in size, resources, and reputation, they are more likely to abandon the connection with their denomination.  It is instructive to look at what happened with Harvard, Emory, Duke, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and other schools that broke rank with the faith of their founders.  Even though many of these institutions have divinity schools, their mission statements are silent about their denominational affiliation or heritage.
             Among Baptist institutions, we can observe what has happened to Furman, Stetson, University of Richmond, and Wake Forest University.  These schools are working hard to be nationally competitive.  To achieve this goal, they must focus on size, resources, and reputation.  These schools no longer are affiliated with Baptists and they are virtually silent about their Baptist heritage    Meredith College and Missouri Baptist University have recently broken ties with Baptists.  Spokespersons for Belmont and Georgetown Universities have announced plans to do the same.  Virginia Baptists have basically stopped funding their schools and Georgia Baptists have announced their intention to cut ties with Mercer University.
             The future for some of these institutions has arrived and it is a future without connection to Baptists.  For the others, it appears almost inevitable that they will take the same path.  Over time new presidents and ambitious trustees, along with a variety of pressures, slowly will move these institutions away from the Baptist affiliation. 
             Baylor University, the flagship of Baptist higher education, may be an exception.  In his ground breaking analysis, Quality With Soul, Robert Benne examines the impact of secularization on religious colleges and universities.  He creates a continuum between fully Christian and fully secularized colleges.  About this continuum he says, “More colleges find themselves in the gray areas between the brightness of the fully Christian college and the darkness of full secularization than find themselves on either pole.”  Benne lists six institutions that have successfully combined quality with soul and Baylor is among them.
             The second principle at work can be seen in many Methodist and Presbyterian schools.  Although they receive minimal support from their respective denominations, there is a relatively strong and healthy relationship between school and denomination. This appears to be an outgrowth of the mutual respect and trust that exists between the two entities.  On the one hand, the schools openly declare their affiliation and effectively reflect it in their programs.  On the other hand, the denomination gives them the freedom to develop reputations of excellence.  The Presbyterian schools include such institutions as Davidson, Maryville, Warren Wilson, Centre, and Austin College.  Centenary, Cornell College, Hendrix, Millsaps, and Mount Union are some of the schools affiliated with the Methodists.
             Baptist institutions that otherwise are comparable to those listed above generally are not doing as well. Either they are being smothered by the fundamentalist movement, or they have conceded control to the fundamentalists.  Because they do not understand and fear academic freedom, fundamentalists oppose and try to suppress it.  Since academic freedom is the bedrock of academic excellence, the outcome of the fundamentalist effort is institutional mediocrity.   Even though these schools receive only a fraction of their budgets from Baptists, fundamentalists demand complete control.   Consequently, only a few of these institutions will escape these pressures and build a reputation for excellence.
             In view of these factors, it is difficult for me to be optimistic about the future of Baptist higher education.  While it certainly will not occur in my lifetime, the way things are going now lead me to conclude that within fifty years, Baptist institutions that are able to combine quality and soul will number only a handful.

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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 is the collegiate ministry of First Baptist Church, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, directed by Rhonda Giles.  The author of this article is Rick Jordan, Church Resources Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

"Common Sense College Ministry"
By Rick Jordan

Common sense would tell you that to have a successful, congregationally-based ministry to college students, you would need: 1) a college close by, preferably adjacent to the church; 2) a minister trained to specialize in this age group who works exclusively in this area; 3) lots of money; 4) a program that focuses on entertainment and/or recreation; and 5) an understanding that, hey, these kids are in college, so don’t expect them to really get active in a church away from home.
           Rhonda Gailes must have forgotten to listen to all that common sense. For twelve years, Rhonda has served First Baptist Church of Blowing Rock, NC, first as a part-time youth minister, then a full time youth minister, then as youth minister with added responsibilities with children and the Child Development Center. She has her undergraduate degree from Montreat College with a concentration in youth ministries. With that education and with her load of responsibilities, no one could expect her to add college ministry, especially since the closest college, Appalachian State University, is in Boone, a 30-45 minute drive from the church. Still, about eight years ago, Rhonda felt a conviction to disciple college students.
           “We started with our own high school graduates who went to ASU. Eighteen to twenty-five year olds have the highest church drop-out rate. Why is that? I realized that these were Christians, but we hadn’t been training them to be really good church members. In the children’s ministries, it was all about taking care of them and the same for the youth ministries. It was all focused on what we could give them. So why should we be surprised when they get a year older that they feel no responsibility to give to others or to the church? What we were doing was developing really poor adult church members.”
           Starting with eight students, Rhonda changed her philosophy of ministry. Now the church averages 40-50 students every Sunday morning. “And we give them responsibilities. They’re adults and we treat them that way. Our students are asked to serve and with that service comes fellowship with other members, most of them older, and accountability.” ASU students are serving the church as choir members, ushers, committee members, and leaders in the youth ministry. One served on the most recent pastor search committee. For every worship service, the Scripture reader is a college student. Each summer, many of these students go on mission trips. Though the number of student attendees has quadrupled, Rhonda insists, “I could care less about the numbers. I just want long-term, day-after-day Christians. College students have been taught by society that success is measured by what you can get rather than what you can give. Where will the church be in 15 years with that kind of leadership coming into it? God’s plan is to reach the world through the local church, but most of us are in small churches, so we can’t depend on the mega-churches to do the outreach and discipling. We in the typical-sized churches are responsible for doing that.” In the twelve years of Rhonda’s ministry, five youth from the church and twenty college students have gone into full-time Christian ministry.
           Rhonda begins each school year with an invitation to the ASU students who mark on their records that they want a Baptist affiliated church. She visits the Baptist Student Union, puts up flyers and takes out an ad in the ASU phone directory. “But mostly, it’s word of mouth,” she says. “It only takes four or five students to get fired up about our Monday night Bible study to bring in a crowd.” Each Monday evening the students have dinner together and then get some “spiritual meat.”  “We focus less on socialization and more on spiritual formation.” There is no Sunday School for college students. Instead, a 10 AM worship service, designed and led by the students, is held. It is a multi-media, experiential, Praise and Worship, testimonial type of service. Called ATT (for Approaching The Throne), Rhonda notes, “This is not a substitute for the 11 AM service. They come to that, too. ATT is a supplement. Everyone who comes to ATT comes to the church’s traditional service, too. In my opinion, it’s not worth splitting the church over a doggone song.”
           A few years ago, the pastor preached a sermon with the message that “the only way to store up treasures is to invest in the people going there.” One member came to the pastor convicted that he should give more money to the church. The pastor suggested a scholarship for interns. Now, $8,000 a year is given for the support of four college students who work with Rhonda doing hands-on ministry in the youth and children’s areas during the school year. They visit the children and youth at their schools, build relationships with the parents, plan and take charge of ATT, and even do lock-ins. “I’m in charge over-all, but they each have particular responsibilities.” The interns add a new spark to the youth ministry. “Our students (youth and college) fill the first four rows of the church. There’s an attitude difference. It’s cool to be involved."

You can hear more from Rhonda Gailes and her philosophy of congregationally based college ministry during breakouts at the next CBFNC General Assembly, March 18-19.

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The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends the Following Conferences:

“The Harmonies of Liberty:  A Symposium on
the Role of Religion in Public Life”

The University of Alabama Law School
Tuscaloosa, Alabama

March 31, 2006

Featuring:  Hon. William H. Pryor, Jr., Dr. Wayne Flynt, Rev. James Evans, Dr. Carol Ann Vaughan, and others.

Description:  A symposium on the role of religion in public life. Representing diverse viewpoints and origins. Symposium participants will go beyond sound bites to really wrestle with the difficult issues that arise where matters of faith intersect with matters of public consequence.

Registration:  For more information, and to register, click here.

“Baptist Explorations of the Freedom Impulse”
Sponsored by The Pintlala Baptist Church and
Mainstream Alabama Baptists

April 1, 2006 Pintlala Baptist Church, Hope Hull, Alabama

Featuring:  Charles Deweese, Frank Wells, Gerald Johnson, Robin Newsworthy, Bob Patterson

Program, Cost and Registation:  The program is from 9:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. The cost is $10 per person, to be paid upon arrival.  Lunch is included.  Click here to view the program.


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.

"Bono Speaks to Baptists"
By Charles E. Poole

          In his recent speech in Washington, D.C. at the President’s National Prayer Breakfast, U-2 rock star/activist Bono reminded his audience that the Bible contains over 2,000 references to the poor.
          I understand that invoking Bono to remind Baptists about the Bible is not unlike enlisting Conway Twitty to enthuse Episcopalians about incense, but the fact is, Bono has a point. His point is that there is no more persistent pattern in scripture than God’s concern for the poor.
          That pattern begins in Exodus 22:25 when God says, “If you lend money to the poor you shall not charge them interest.” It doesn’t wind down until I John 3:17, “How does 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?” And, in between, God’s concern for the poor, the vulnerable and the needy comes up about 2,000 times.
          And since, for Baptists, the Bible is the “rule and guide for faith and practice,” here’s a modest proposal for Baptist ministers, deacons, committee members and church-folk in general: The next time the suggestion that the church should be spending less on its own institutional advancement and more on the needs of the poor is met with the popular rejoinder that “The church is not a social-services agency,” you might want to share Bono’s finding that the Bible mentions the poor about 2,000 times. And since, for Baptists, the Bible is the church’s Book, that means that churches must give themselves to the poor in generous and loving ways, not because we want to be social service agencies, but because we want to be churches. 

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In Response To ...

"Baptists Backtracking on Freedom"
By Bruce T. Gourley

            One would be hard pressed to argue against “freedom” as the primary foundation of the American nation, despite historical shortcomings in realizing this ideal.  Baptists from the early seventeenth century onward contributed significantly, and indisputably, to the ideal of freedom on two fronts: religious liberty for all citizens (separation of church and state) and freedom of conscience within the Baptist family.
            This dual rallying cry of freedom remained the staple of Baptist belief in America from the early seventeenth century into the 1970s.  Then something unprecedented took shape as more and more Baptists backtracked on their heritage of freedom.  Today, many Baptists emphatically deny the historical reality of the separation of church and state and freedom of conscience, choosing instead to embrace myths and lies on a path to religious power and privilege sanctioned by government.
            For example, freedom of religion is now under attack in Missouri with the blessing of Missouri Baptist leader David Clippard.  On March 3, 2006, the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee approved a
resolution that advocates for official Christian prayer in public schools and asserts that elected officials “should protect the majority’s right to express their religious beliefs while showing respect for those who object.”  Clippard voiced his support: “The foundation of this country started with Christianity, and this just goes back and acknowledges where we started.”  If our nation’s founding fathers had sanctioned an official faith in the federal constitution, Baptists, a dissident, liberal, trouble-making minority in the eighteenth century, might yet today be whipped, beaten and jailed for merely expressing their faith in public!
            In addition, freedom of conscience is also under attack by fundamentalist Baptists.  Baptist Press of the Southern Baptist Convention periodically trots out commentaries on the evils of freedom of conscience, the
latest of which denies the Baptist heritage of freedom as nothing more than a “moderate virus” which includes “a deficient view of biblical authority, a radical view of individualism, a nigh unto secularist view of religious liberty.”  Recently Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, mocked attempts by Presbyterians “to preserve the freedom of conscience and the interpretation of Scripture,” a proposal he labeled a conclusive “failure.”
            To be certain, both religious liberty and freedom of conscience are historically liberal ideals, and modern fundamentalist Baptists are anything but amiable to that which smacks of liberalism.  Perhaps this is why some Baptists are committed to opposing freedom.  Mohler, speaking of the troubles within the Presbyterian denomination, asserts “If individual conscience is allowed to invalidate the clear teachings of Scripture, the denomination faces an unavoidable disaster.”
            Yet perhaps the following statement against freedom sums up best the modern fundamentalist Baptist hatred of liberalism and its corollary, freedom: “[liberalism] sets up a human standard, at the bar, of which the inspiration of the Bible is tried, and … condemned for coming in direct conflict with certain principles of human nature, termed the ‘higher law’ … Freedom will become its watchword … freedom to reject the Bible–free thinking, free loving, free acting, in a word freedom from all the moral restraints which make society virtuous and desirable.”
             Although this anti-freedom diatribe echoes the voices of today’s Baptist enemies of freedom, the author was Ebenezer W. Warren, a Georgia Baptist pastor and leader during the mid-nineteenth century.  Speaking at the conclusion of his 1861 sermon entitled, “Scriptural Vindication of Slavery,” Warren resoundingly condemned Baptist and government anti-slavery voices in the North for allowing the ideal of freedom to override the clear teachings of Scripture which sanctioned the enslavement of African-Americans. Representing the darkest chapter in the history of Baptists in the South, Warren declared the bondage of African-Americans as “a vital element of the Divine Revelation to man,” insisting that “Both Christianity and Slavery are from Heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time.”  Over 100 years after Warren’s sermon, many white Baptists yet refused to acknowledge the ideal of freedom for African-Americans.
 Tragically, one of the greatest dangers to the ideal of freedom today lies within the Baptist family and threatens both the authentic Baptist faith of our ancestors and the very foundation of our nation.  The Apostle Paul, speaking nearly 2000 years ago to Galatian Christians who were buffeted by enemies of freedom from within, offers a timeless word to us today:  “do not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the Gospel might remain in you …. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 2:5, 5:1).

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The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends:

that high school students graduating in 2006 or 2007 enter the religious liberty essay writing contest sponsored by the Baptist Joint Committee of Washington, D.C. Win a $1,000 and a trip to Washington! Click here for more information.

Dates to

Dates to Note

April 17-20, 2006, Wait on the Lord, Spiritual Formation Conference, Orlando. For all clergy and lay ministers. Presented by American Baptist Churches USA More information, including registration instructions, is available online.

April 21-23, 2006, Alliance of Baptists, 20th Annual Convocation, Southside Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama. Theme: Race: "We Have This Ministry–Reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Visit the website.

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, click here.

June 1-3, 2006, Baptist History and Heritage Society annual meeting, First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. The meeting will be hosted by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The theme for the meeting will be “The Contributions of Baptist Public Figures in America.” For more information, visit the society’s website  or e-mail Pam Durso at

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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