Vol. 6 No. 8

  The Jesse Mercer Plaza
  Mercer University, Macon Campus 


Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
A Monthly EMagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today

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




I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "Baptist Freedom is Not Recklessness"

The Baptist Soapbox: Jimmy Allen

         "The Importance and Urgency of the New Baptist Covenant Celebration"
The Spirituality of Baptist Leaders in Seventeenth Century America
Wm. Loyd Allen

         "The Spirituality of William Screven (1629-1713)"

My Six Favorite Books on Southern Religion: Wayne Flynt

         Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology of the Social Gospel
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "Julie Pennington-Russell and Dorothy Patterson"

Dates to Note

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23-25 September 2007

The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort
St. Simons Island, GA

Featuring Barbara Brown Taylor

Click here for more information and registration.

Photo credit: Don Chambers


I Believe

"Baptist Freedom is Not Recklessness"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
that the Baptist freedom that many Baptists unapologetically exalt is not a synonym for recklessness. Rather, “freedom” is the essential DNA of the Baptist organism. 
           I am sure there are exceptions, but I am very honest when I say to you that I don’t know any Baptist who has lobbied for “freedom” who has also equated that freedom with irresponsibility. The most progressive Baptists that I have ever known or read understood that there is a Statue of Responsibility beside the Statue of Liberty in the Baptist house.
           We know that freedom in Christ mandates service for Christ. The best definition of church that I have ever heard is “All who love Christ in the service of all who suffer.” Those of us who call for Baptist freedom know that.
           So contrary to what some seem to allege, “Soul Freedom” is not a Baptist mantra of liberalism, drunk on self-indulgence. The entire theological spectrum, from fundamentalist to liberal and all that is between, requires freedom. Without it nonenot one of us!has a permanent place to stand.
           So, “Freedom” is not a nasty little slogan designed to dodge serious discipleship. Freedom is the only path that leads to a serious following of the Carpenter. And that is what the voluntary nature of Baptist life is all about! Serious discipleship! When Baptists called for believer’s baptism, they wanted one thing: for every individual to have the freedom to take seriously following Jesus. That is why every baptismal pool in every Baptist church throughout the world is watery testimony to soul freedom.
           Baptists have not shouted “freedom” to escape the will of God; they have treasured freedom so that they could obey the will of God.
           Our Baptist ancestors and all who follow in their train did not embrace soul freedom to denounce the Bible as the Word of God; they caressed freedom so that they could affirm the Bible as the Word of God. 
           It never dawned on our ancestors to pit “soul freedom” against “biblical authority.” They did recognize, however, that “soul freedom” could and would issue in diverse interpretations of the Bible.
           So let’s be clear. “Soul freedom” encourages diverse interpretations. It does not suggest in the least, however, that Baptists have no firm certainty regarding the centrality of Holy Scripture. Our struggling forebears were as certain and dogmatic (and at times sarcastic and mean) about their views as the most fervent bishops in the Church of England. They were as certain and dogmatic as the most rigid Puritans of New England. However, there was a huge, huge difference! The theological dogmatism of the bishops and the Puritans led to coerced uniformity, while the spiritual convictions of Baptists' led to voluntary diversity.
           I encourage you to go back and read Baptists’ earliest cries for freedom. Read Thomas Helwys’ 1612 The Mystery of Iniquity and John Clarke’s 1652 Ill Newes from New England and Obadiah Holmes’ 1675 Last Will and Testimony. These Baptists, who spoke from the underside of life, did not use freedom to engage in a kind of navel-gazing individual freedom with no concern for the greater common good. They did not plead freedom to bypass the Bible. They agitated for freedom, they went to jail for freedom, they bled for freedom because they believed the Bible required it.  They believed in the seventeenth century what you and I must believe in the twenty-first century: freedom of conscience is God’s Will for creation!

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The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends

The New Baptist Covenant

More than 30 organizations representing more than 20 million
Baptists will gather in Atlanta.  President Jimmy Carter will
present a keynote address as participants gather under the
theme of "Unity in Christ" and usher in a new day for the
Baptist witness in North America.

Learn more about this exciting and historic celebration convening
January 30 - February 1, 2008 in Atlanta




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 Jimmy Allen, long-time Baptist leader and Coordinator/Program Chair of the New Baptist Covenant Celebration.

"The Importance and Urgency of the New Baptist Covenant Celebration"
Jimmy Allen

              The gathering of Baptist believers of North America in the World Congress Center in Atlanta January 30-February 1, 2008 is unprecedented and long overdue. It is filled with positive possibilities. It was born, as many of the most effective movements of God have been, in the hearts of two Baptist laymen. Bill Underwood, lawyer and new President of Mercer University and Jimmy Carter, Sunday School teacher and former President of the United States, invited a cross section of leaders represented in the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance to explore what could be done to discover common ground around the mandate of Jesus in Luke 4.
              The meeting has met with a ready response by the majority of leadership groups of Baptists in North America. Participating Baptist organizations represent more than twenty one million of the thirty seven million Baptists in North America. It will reach across the chasms created by racial, economic and regional barriers that have divided us for more than a century. The last time a meeting of all kinds of Baptists came together to worship, plan, and prioritize our witness in the world was in 1814. That meeting, known as the Triennial Convention, centered on foreign missions. The 2008 meeting centers in fulfilling the command of Jesus to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, restore sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaim the acceptable year of our Lord. Tragic divisions over racism and slavery issues divided our nation. It also divided and diverted the efforts to join the local churches of the Baptist movement in a united effort that could grow to reach across regional, racial, economic, and doctrinal lines.
              A few decades ago the rumor was spread by that God was dead. Conferences were held to perform autopsies, lament disappearance of signs of life, and search for ways in which humanity could grope its way into a faithless future. It turned out that people were weeping at the wrong funeral, sorrowing over the wrong things. A resurgence of energy of searching soul spilled over the levees of organized religion and into many levels of our culture's youth, business, mega churches, interest in the mystical, arts and books, movies, sports. God was not dead after all. He was simply moving in new and powerful ways in a secularized and materialistic society.
              Now the rumors center on post denominationalism. The fragmented, fractured, and failing structures of religious denominations have many of us grieving over what might have been. We see the erosion of the mission passions we once knew. There was a day in which we were introduced to the world through our church houses. That day is gone. Thomas Friedman is right in his pivotal book on globalization titled The World Is Flat. The forces of change coming out of instant communication through the Internet mean that our young can develop personal communications instantly across the globe. Travel throughout the world has created not just a tourist touch with other cultures, but economic ties and relationships across the globe. We get our instructions on how to use our electronic equipment from people sitting in India, Bangladesh, or Indonesia. Hands on participation missions means that we go personally to help build homes, treat people in medical clinics, teach short term classes in Christian nurture, and feed the hungry. We need to discover means to share God's unchanging good news in this changing world.
              A society being reshaped by forces beyond our comprehension has caused some institutions of religion to seek to use the powers of the state to preserve their places of influence. Ego struggles, isolation of people of diverse opinions despite the vitality of their faith, an erosion of denominational loyalty, "mountain out of mole hill" religion plagues us. But we are weeping at the wrong funeral, sorrowing over the wrong things. Denominations are not dying, they are changing strategies. They are essential ingredients of what is and face the changing challenges of what must be.
              I had no idea almost three decades ago as I presided over the formation of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that we were creating out of our woundedness a laboratory for change and renewal. NETWORKING IS THE KEY. God is moving again in new and powerful ways. Now we are ready under God's guidance to move into the whole new movement of national and international impact.
              Dr. Herbert Reynolds, Baylor University President Emeritus, said the week before his death that "this tremendously important initiative can have the most profound impact on the advancement of Christianity in this hemisphere since the First Great Awakening in America in the 18th century."

Photo of Jimmy Allen is from an interview with PBS.

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The Spirituality of Baptist Leaders in Seventeenth Century America
This series focuses on early Baptist spirituality, offering insight from the past for today's Baptists.  This month's contributor is Wm. Loyd Allen.  Loyd is Professor of Church History and Spiritual Formation at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology.

"The Spirituality of William Screven (1629-1713)"
By Wm. Loyd Allen

             Evidence is scarce for William Screven’s spiritualityhis experience of a living encounter with God, and the resulting transformations in his inward and outward life. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Roger Williams’s treatises open windows into their respective souls, but no such first-hand accounts of Screven’s private thoughts or testimony survive, save a few letters and documents about official church matters. History is all but silent on his faith during five of his eight decades of life. The best reconstruction of Screven’s life is Robert A. Baker’s. Baker’s recent research exposes all previous attempts as seriously flawed in significant essentials.
             According to Baker, William Screven (1629-1713) was an English Baptist lay preacher who signed the Particular Baptist Somerset Confession of Faith. He immigrated to America by 1668, where he settled at Kittery, Maine, for about thirty years. There he became a successful businessman, married into a prominent family, and politically opposed Massachusetts’s theocratic claims on Maine. In 1681, Screven was baptized into the Boston Baptist church. (Baker speculates Boston would not accept his former English baptism without references.) Within a year the Boston congregation ordained him as the founding pastor of a congregation in Kittery. Several court records relate actions, including jail, taken against him for defying the laws of the established church. Screven moved his church to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1696. The congregation evolved into the First Baptist Church of Charleston, mother church of Southern Baptists in the American South. Screven remained pastor until 1706, seven years before his death.
             William Screven probably shared most elements of Baptist spirituality common to his contemporaries. Three influences on his particular spiritual life are clearly preserved in the documents: his Puritan heritage with its Calvinist theology; his stand for liberty of conscience; and his reliance upon the local church for spiritual formation. Screven’s spirituality was of Calvinist Puritan lineage, which sought inward transformation and outward amendment of life by God’s grace in preparation for the return of Christ. “To that end,” wrote Screven, “let us pray, every one himself, for himself, and for one another, that God would please to search our
hearts and reins, so as that we may walk with God here, and hereafter dwell with him in glory.” Bible study and preaching were the main disciplines for spiritual formation handed on by the Calvinist Puritans. Screven centered his vocation on this discipline. The church at Boston recognized Screven’s Spirit-given gift to “open and apply the word of God” by which “the Lord Jesus” used him for “begetting and building up of souls in the knowledge of God.” Baptist freedoms modified Screven’s Puritan legacy. Puritan tradition gave Screven a spirituality saturated with scriptural images, but his Baptist interpretations led him to reject Puritan views of hierarchical spiritual authority in favor of liberty of conscience as the foundation for divinely
initiated encounter. Like most Baptists of this era, issues of church and state dominated much of Screven’s religious experience. For him, the divine/human encounter was by its very nature exempt from state interference. A number of surviving court records testify to his commitment to follow individual conscience’s priority in Christian obedience above that of civil theocracy, such as those of Massachusetts or Maine. Screven also greatly valued Calvinist theology, but Baptist freedom denied it the central place in his spirituality. His last known letter advises a local church to seek a pastor who held Particular (Calvinist) Baptist views, but Screven welcomed General (non-Calvinist) Baptists into his Charleston congregation from the start.
             The key to Screven’s spirituality is dedication to life in Baptist community. Though edged out of dominant social, civil and religious circles by his Baptist convictions, he refused to exchange his standing within the covenanted community for social, civil, or economic advantage. He regularly made the 100 mile round trip from Kittery to Boston to be part of a local church. In signing the Kittery church covenant, which he likely wrote, the new pastor pledged with his congregants to walk together in faith with God and one another that they might best follow the light “att present through his grace given us, or here after he shall please to discover & make knowne to us thro his Holy Spiritt.” The covenant uses John 14:4’s depiction of branches living in mutual interdependence on the one vine as its biblical image of life together in Christ. The local Baptist church made William Screven’s “spiritual clock tick."

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My Six Favorite Books on Southern Religion
  Wayne Flynt, retired Distinguished Professor of History at Auburn University, is a world-renowned historian of the American South whose contributions to the study of religion in the South are immense.  For the second half of 2007, Dr. Flynt shares with the Baptist Studies Bulletin his favorite volumes on the subject of Southern Religion.

Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology of the Social Gospel
By Wayne Flynt

There is nothing worse than getting a conversation started off in the wrong direction.  For all the influence of Walter Rauschenbusch, that is what he did in this influential Baptist classic.  Begun as the Taylor Lectures at Yale shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, the book was not so much about social justice as it was about positioning social justice in a theological framework.  Greatly expanded from the original lectures, that is exactly what it did.  And for a man who claimed to be a church historian, not a theologian, Rauschenbusch knew his theology. 
            The book begins on solid ground.  Drawing on his own first hand experience pastoring a German-American Baptist church in the dreadful Hell’s Kitchen New York slum, Rauschenbusch protested a “dumb-bell system of thought” that put the social gospel on one end of the bar and individual salvation on the other. The strength of the gospel, he argued, was its unity. 
            Whereas theology appealed very little to ordinary people, ethics dramatically affected their lives and either brought them nearer to God or drove them away by the relevance or irrelevance of belief applied to their daily problems. In one of his best lines, Rauschenbusch argues that “the working creed of the common man is usually very brief.  A man may tote a large load of theology and live on a small part of it.”
            Rauschenbusch positions the origins of social justice in the prophetic teachings of the Old Testament and the parables of Jesus. Though social justice composed much of the bedrock of Christianity, subsequent layers of church teaching virtually covered over this original core.   That being the case, it is too bad that Rauschenbusch did not use anecdote and contemporary social description to challenge the understanding of Matthew 25.  Charity simply offered little hope to the multitudes of poor people occupying 90,000 tenements in New York City.  Some fundamental social and economic policies had to change.
             But Rauschenbusch instead spends the rest of his treatise on forays into theology: the social gospel and the consciousness of sin; the social gospel and the fall; the social gospel and original sin; the social gospel and personal salvation; the social gospel and the Kingdom of God; the social gospel and the conception of God; etc. Occasionally he uses biblical analysis (“If we can trust the Bible, God is against capitalism, its methods, spirit, and results.”) but usually he strays into the kinds of arcane theological discussion which he criticized as irrelevant to the poor.
             Subsequent historians of religion were understandably led astray by the book.  For instance, arguably the most influential historian of the twentieth century and certainly the keenest analyst of southern history, C. Vann Woodward, took from Rauschenbusch the notion that the social gospel was wedded to liberal theology (which it certainly was in Rauschenbusch’s thinking) and ecumenism.  Since neither of these took root in the South, he dismissed the social gospel as irrelevant to the region as well.  Not so!  In fact I spent the better part of 40 years arguing that social justice lends itself as well to conservatives who take seriously prophetic biblical teachings as to liberals. At least that was true among many Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian ministers between 1900 and 1940.   To believe in the need for such ethical broadening of  Christianity, one need only have read the Bible and lived in  burgeoning cities such as Birmingham, Tampa, Memphis, or New Orleans, with all their social problems,  in the early twentieth century.  Similar social and economic conditions and the same Bible led  many southern preachers to the same conclusion as Rauschenbusch about the applicability of the gospel to the working class lest that class be lost to the church.
             Recent biographies of Rauschenbusch based on his extensive sermon files have noted that even the author of this book seldom preached what he wrote.  His sermons called for personal salvation and ethical life based on biblical text and application of the teachings of Jesus to contemporary life.  Too bad he did not root the social gospel in the same biblical bedrock.    

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In Response

In Response to
. . . : 
The Associate Director of the Center for Baptist Studies, Bruce previously served as a campus minister and professor of Church History.  In addition, he is an Internet entrepreneur and photographer, and is ABD in his doctoral studies in American History at Auburn University. 

"Julie Pennington-Russell and Dorothy Patterson"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           This month two possible futures for women in Baptist life are taking center stage, with Texas playing a role in both.
           One possible future of women in Baptist life is represented by Julie Pennington-Russell, until this month the Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.  Under her tenure, the congregation, a dying inner city church in prior years, developed into one of the most dynamic Baptist congregations in America, tripling in attendance, attracting large numbers of young adults, and developing a successful ministry to inner city residents.  Having revived Calvary Baptist, Pennington-Russell assumes the pastorate of historic First Baptist of Decatur, Georgia, this coming Sunday.  Affiliated with both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention, First Decatur, located in an Atlanta suburb, straddles areas of both wealth and poverty.  And although an increasing number of women fill Baptist pulpits, few have yet risen to the prominence of Pennington-Russell.
           The other possible future for Baptist women is that offered by Dorothy Patterson, wife of Paige Patterson, architect of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and current president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  The Pattersons are opposed to women in ordained ministry roles.  This month Southwestern begins offering special classes for Baptist women, including: Orientation to Homemaking, Nutrition, Value of a Child, Meal Preparation, Homemaking Practicum, and Clothing Construction.  Dorothy Patterson will teach in the seminary's new homemaking program that bloggers (Southern Baptists and otherwise) are condemning as a farce.  The Associated Press has picked up on this latest story of a major Southern Baptist seminary taking steps to prevent women from assuming leadership roles in Baptist life.  Patterson is adamant that women cannot be spiritual leaders, despite the fact that the Bible and Baptist history both bear witness of numerous women as spiritual leaders called of God to the tasks of preaching, teaching and other leadership roles.  Men are at the top of the "spiritual hierarchy," according to Patterson, occupying positions women cannot attain.  "From Genesis in creation it is clear that we [men and women] have different roles. Now, you can go around moping and pouting about that; you can take the road of the feminists and rename yourself; you can rename the world and take over that; you can rename Godand that’s just what the feminists dobut it won’t change God’s plan.”
           Pennington-Russell, like hundreds of other Baptist women pastors, is both a spiritual leader and a mother.  Raising children in a Christian home is important (for both men and women, although men are not allowed to take courses in Southwestern Seminary's Homemaking program), but does not preclude a call to vocational ministry.  The future of Baptist women in ministry is at stake:  Pennington-Russell or Patterson?  The freedom to obey God's call to ministry, or confinement to 1950s gender roles that trump God and the Bible?  A growing congregation or a seminary in decline?  A progressive vision or fundamentalist retrenchment?
           Which future lies ahead for Baptist women?  The prosperity or decline of Baptists in America may well hinge on the answer to this very question.

Visit Bruce's personal website.
Photos:  Julie Pennington-Russell (top-left), Dorothy Patterson (bottom-right)

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Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Why Clinton? Reflections on the New Baptist Covenant
Mel Deason, Mainstream Alabama Baptists

Deason offers insightful answers to questions some Baptists are raising about the inclusion of Bill Clinton in the upcoming New Baptist Covenant meeting.

Creeds, Chaos, and the Holy Spirit
A Response to Creedal Baptists, by Carol Crawford Holcomb

Crawford Holcomb, associate professor of Christian studies at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, reminds Baptists why putting faith in creeds denies the very essence of the historical Baptist faith.

Baptists Today Blogs
Fresh Commentary from a Baptist Perspective

Tony Cartledge, former editor of North Carolina's Biblical Recorder, headlines Baptists Today's entry into the blogosphere.  John Pierce, editor of Baptists Today, also contributes to the new Baptist Today Blogs.


Dates to Note

September 23-25, 2007, Mercer Preaching Consultation 07, St. Simon's Island, Georgia.  Featuring Barbara Brown Taylor." Click here for more information, including registration.

September 28-29, 2007, 180th Anniversary Celebration of First Baptist Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Click here for more information, including registration.

January 30 - February 1, 2008, The New Baptist Covenant, Atlanta, Georgia.  Be a part of an historic display of Baptist unity around the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to this list, please let us know.  For a full calendar of Baptist events, visit the Online Baptist Community Calendar.

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