Vol. 6 No. 12

  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

The Center for Baptist Studies wishes all our subscribers
A Blessed Advent, A Merry Christmas, and A Happy New Year.




I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "What Are You Going to Do?"

The Baptist Soapbox: John Pierce

         "Blogging at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration"
The Spirituality of Baptist Leaders in Seventeenth Century America:
Tripp Martin

         "The Spirituality of Obadiah Holmes"

My Six Favorite Books on Southern Religion: Wayne Flynt

         Jim Wallis, The Soul of Politics: A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change.
         New York City: The New Press-Orbis Books, 1994.

BSB Book Review: Rick Wilson

         Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century
         by Walter Rauschenbusch

In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "Taking Christ Out of Christmas"

Dates to Note

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I Believe

"What Are You Going to Do?"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
that people ask interesting questions when one retires. As I head toward “retirement” on 31 December 2007 and resign from my present role, the one question I have been asked again and again is, “What are you going to do?”
           That question suggests much about our culture. We are an activist rather than a contemplative people.  We find our meaning in producing rather than in being. I plead guilty but, candidly, without an excessive amount of guilt. “Doing” matters. Non-doing leads to boredom and boredom births demons of many sizes, most of which major in trivialities.
           I have always thought that Franciscan Richard Rohr got it right. He labeled the ministry he founded in 1986 in Albuquerque as “The Center for Action and Contemplation.” Isn’t that what our lives are to be, centers of action and contemplation?  Isn’t that the balance that we want during both our “working” days and our “retirement” days?
           “What are you going to do?” Well, I certainly do not plan to quit “doing,” but I am going to try to transform the mornings into my kind of contemplation, IF I am capable of doing so. While I do not have my afternoons and evenings completely worked out, I have my morning schedule set: get up when I wish, drink two cups of coffee with Kay, read the Macon Telegraph, eat a bit of breakfast, walk a couple of miles (more, I hope!), take a shower and shave (if I wish), read some sacred stuff, read my email and some online editorials from national newspapers, then eat lunch! Mornings are for contemplation!!
           “What are you going to do?” I am going to continue to play. Unfortunately, most people work in order to play. All of my life my work has been my play. So, I am going to continue to read and write and speak. Reading and writing and speaking have been a large part of my work/play. Four institutions (First Baptist Church, Ruston, LA, Carson-Newman College, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mercer University) for whom I have worked/played have actually paid me money to read and write and speak.  I will continue to read and write and speak because it is part of the fun of my life.  During this stage, however, I will read, write, and speak when I want to and if I want to!
           “What are you going to do?” I am going to wear gladly the face of Mercer University wherever I go and whatever I do. I am not a graduate of Mercer University, but twenty-five years on these grounds have made a proud Mercerian out of me. Mercer is a unique kind of Baptist university, and I cannot imagine a better place for me to have spent the last twenty-five years of my ministry and professorial career.
           “What are you going to do?” We have three grown children and five (soon to be six) grandchildren. There is much room there in the future for lots of action and profound contemplation. And I will continue to look for you friends at Baptist watering holes in future years.

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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.

NEW!  Church Bulletin Inserts for the New Baptist Covenant

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 John Pierce, Executive Editor of Baptists Today and member of the New Baptist Covenant Communications Committee.

"Blogging at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration"
John Pierce

In response to an Associated Baptist Press survey, my first choice for the top Baptist related news story of 2007 was the announcement of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. Even though the large gathering will occur early in 2008, discussions surrounding the event were varied and ongoing throughout the past year since the day two former U.S. presidents made the plans public.
             The Celebration is significant in terms of scope, controversy and potential historical impact. Never has such a diverse group of Baptist leaders cooperatively planned an event that will include such prominent Baptist speakers.
             There was an early misunderstanding by some—in large part due to poor reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution—that a new Baptist organization was being forged. Not so. Negative reaction continues from those, particularly Southern Baptists, who have pulled away from any form of cooperation with the larger worldwide Baptist movement and focused on the further narrowing of their own membership.
             Southern Baptists and some other kinds, with political disagreements with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, have dismissed the program as having a secular political agenda. The involvement of prominent Republicans on the program has not ceased all accusations of
             However, many of us are looking beyond the politic persuasion of individual speakers and seeing a rich, unprecedented, interracial opportunity for worship, fellowship and cooperative ministry that crosses geographical and convention lines. Baptists Today looks forward to being present and to providing timely reports. We have a team of four bloggers lined up to give continually updated information at
             Online editor Bruce Gourley and guest blogger Aaron “Big Daddy” Weaver will do live blogging as events unfurl. Think of them as doing “play-by-play” reporting of the action.
Contributing editor Tony Cartledge and I will do the “color commentary,” seeking to give interpretation and analysis of the various addresses.
             Additionally, we will post or link to the varied news stories coming out of the meeting. So we invite you to keep up with the historical gathering of Baptists Jan. 30 – Feb. 1 at We’ll be there whether you can make it or not.

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The Center for Baptist Studies Presents:

The Oldest Baptist Church
in America

First Baptist Church
Rhode Island

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First Baptist Providence stands as a
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Visit the website


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 Tripp Martin, Associate Pastor of Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.

"The Spirituality of Obadiah Holmes"
By Tripp Martin

               The year was 1651, and three men set out from Rhode Island to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to proclaim the message of believer’s baptism and to visit a fellow Baptist, William Witter.  It was a seemingly benign mission, but Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, and John Crandall risked criminal repercussions, as believer’s baptism was against the law.  Obadiah Holmes, a gutsy Baptist who was led more by conviction than formal education, was arrested and thrown in jail with his companions during this journey.  With no foresight into the lasting effects for the cause of religious freedom, Holmes refused to pay his fine or allow anyone else to pay it for him.
               Obadiah Holmes had not always been a Baptist; his children were baptized as infants, but his search for a deeper understanding of God changed his view of baptism.  Holmes chose believer’s baptism because he encountered the grace of God in the power of freely choosing to follow Christ.  He believed in the power of decision as a gift from God that fostered conviction and allowed him to participate in the mission of God.  With conviction, Holmes was baptized as a believer, and he continued to be faithful to Christ’s mission despite the cost.
               Standing in front of the public eye, Holmes was brutally whipped thirty times for his refusal to pay.  After experiencing the freedom of believer’s baptism, Holmes refused to have that freedom denied or limited, since it was a freedom bestowed by God.  Due to Holmes’ conviction and actions, John Clarke was able to illustrate the dire persecution happening in New England.  This story was documented in Clarke’s Ill Newes From New-England and became essential leverage in lobbying for religious liberty as Clarke petitioned for the charter of Rhode Island.  Subsequently, the charter established in 1663 maintained religious freedom for all. 
               Regardless of persecution, Holmes held firmly to his conviction.  When an individual willingly participates in the mission of God, the full power of God’s grace is unleashed, and thus, Holmes’ protest had vast implications.  He wrote that baptism is a “visible believer with his own consent being baptized in common water.”  Conviction, conscience, and consent are words that depict the character of believer’s baptism.  These words unveil the potential of God’s transforming love in the world because they invite people to embody the good news of Christ. 
               Holmes was convinced that faith could not be borrowed; rather, it must be owned, not just initially but on a continual basis.  Whereas Holmes proclaimed believer’s baptism, he did not place his trust in it.  In the way that believer’s baptism calls people to participate in the mission of God, Holmes held to it firmly, but only as it represented true conviction, conscience, and consent in following Christ.  Through conviction, people willingly choose to follow Christ in word and deed, which allows the presence of Christ to be manifested in them by the grace of God.  For Obadiah Holmes, the gospel of Christ was manifested in proclaiming religious liberty as he protested the denial of that freedom.
In addition to consent in believer’s baptism, Holmes stressed the need for personal re-examination, so that a person can continue to listen for the presence of Christ and cultivate conviction and conscience.  He wrote, “I must tell you that it has been a most hard and difficult lesson to learn: to know my own heart.”  Believer’s baptism is the beginning of a lifelong process of re-examination and commitment to follow Christ.  Holmes found the strength through re-examination to speak out for religious liberty and even shoulder persecution as he stood up for this freedom, which is granted to everyone by God.  This freedom permits the development of conviction, conscience, and consent, inviting people to embody the grace of God in the world.

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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.

Jim Wallis, The Soul of Politics: A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change. New York City: The New Press-Orbis Books, 1994.

By Wayne Flynt

                Most readers first encountered the remarkable work of Jim Wallis after the 2004 election when the national media “revealed” the independent quality of his thought in God’s Politics: How the Republicans Got It Wrong and the Democrats Didn’t Get It.   But long before the religion-charged 2004 election, Wallis had been singing the same song, largely for socially conscious evangelicals who treasured Sojourners magazine and believed in Wallis they had found a prophetic voice for our times.  In this earlier book, Wallis announced most of the themes that brought him to national prominence a decade later. 
                The religious right has no monopoly on morality or spirituality.  The secular left must speak to the crucial issues of personal meaning and individual values. The old political dichotomies of liberal/conservative, left/right have exhausted their intellectual capital. Liberals seem bereft of any sense of personal accountability for anything that happens in American society.  Like a character from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, they seem to think that there ain’t no right, and there ain’t no wrong, there’s just things people do;  and that’s as far as any man’s got a right to say.
                Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to think that all there is to morality is what people do.  Centuries of deprivation, discrimination, and second class citizenship should count for nothing in the great moral equations of our times.  Structural injustice and social oppression, racism, sexism, poverty, all would  melt neatly away if only people would make the correct personal decisions.  The idea that politics is in fact a selfish power struggle between self-interested groups on the right and left, who care little for the commonweal,  seems totally lost  in our public dialogue. 
                America needs a new kind of politics, Wallis concludes, rooted in a new kind of spirituality.  This new kind of politics would be rooted in biblical righteousness and would refuse to separate political ideas from their consequences on human beings or on the rest of creation.  Social change would begin by reclaiming  “the moral values of personal responsibility, social compassion, and economic justice.” america suffers both from a crisis in the quality of  political leadership and a lack of compelling social vision.
                Evidence for Wallis’s analysis can be seen everywhere in America: a rate of child poverty above 20 percent; 45 million Americans without health insurance; crumbling public schools; a huge shortage of early childhood education; an epidemic of unwed mothers; more black males in prison than in college; the degradation of the environment; the consumerism of shopping mall culture; the vulgarization of mass media to the lowest common denominator; a generation whose cultural heroes are Beevis and Butthead. As Wallis contends, social oppression and cultural degeneracy are the twin themes of our age, one rooted in structural injustice and the other in the collapse of moral values.
                Wallis pleads for a new, non-ideological politics based on solving problems.  There is, he argues, neither a liberal nor a conservative way to pick up garbage.  Some ways are more efficient than others, and garbage people serve a critical role in a community and deserve to be paid a living wage.  But beyond that, the key issue is finding an effective, efficient way to get the job done.  Of course, political reality demands that we never underestimate the human capacity for corruption and evil.  And Christian politics requires that we never discount the capacity for human change and reformation. 
                Before it was fashionable, Wallis calls for a theology of environmentalism and the need for some limitation on the upper limits of American wealth.  He calls for economic decentralization, community-based economies, ecological planning, appropriate land use, sustainable organic farming, and reasonable regional self-sufficiency. 
                Probably no reader will agree with everything Wallis proposes.  But long before politicians from both parties tried to co-opt him, he had written a manifesto that proved he would be a hard man for the political sirens of our times to seduce no matter how sweet their songs.

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A Baptist Studies Bulletin Book Review:  Rick Wilson is Chair of the Christianity Department at Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.

Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century
by Walter Rauschenbusch
HarperCollins, 2007 (376 pages)

Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century is the centennial release of Walter Rauschenbusch’s  Christianity and the Social Crisis. The new volume preserves the original and makes it a point of departure for a symposium with many of today’s most-noted theologians. Each chapter of Rauschenbusch’s 1907 initial appeal for Christians to consider the biblical challenges to develop a “social gospel” is followed by a review by an heir of Rauschenbusch who reflects upon the work Rauschenbusch did and the work yet waiting to be done.
            Those who have read Rauschenbusch over the years will revel again in his simple prose. Newcomers to the work of Rauschenbusch will be caught by surprise to discover that a century-old reflection of faith still is relevant.
            Through seven chapters Rauschenbusch mapped out a where-we-have-been and a where-we-need-to-be for readers at the dawn of the twentieth century. Looking back Rauschenbusch excavates the role of Hebrew prophets in focusing Christian principles (chapter 1), explores how Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom of God was more than a “social movement” (2), recalls how the early church had an impact upon social structures (3), and wonders why the Church failed to develop a sustained imperative for social change (4). Looking forward Rauschenbusch provides analysis of the social context of his day (5), articulates a rationale for the Church’s commitments to foster social change (6), and offers directions for “a new apostolate to meet the needs in a new harvest-time of history” (chapter 7, 333).
            Contemporary readers of a century-old classic are in debt to Paul Rauschenbusch of Princeton University. Paul, a great-grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, had wisdom to pursue a republication of Christianity and the Social Crisis that includes voices from the dawn of the twenty-first century. Readers also are in debt to eight interlocutors, each who reread and review a chapter from the original. What is remarkable about the review essays is that all refuse to take easy shots at Rauschenbusch. Their respectful responses are models for all who read and attempt to offer critiques of theological works. Changing times offer new insights that give contemporary readers some advantage over pioneers who came before. At the same time, each seizes the opportunity and directs attention to more work yet-to-be-done.
             Phyllis Trible applauds Rauschenbusch’s focus upon the Hebrew prophets and then suggests that they, too, had blind spots. Tony Campolo confesses to being a late-comer to the social gospel and expresses reserve about a Kingdom of God theology that may eclipse a strong Christology. Sister Joan Chittister praises the work of Rauschenbusch and hopes for a revival of his themes. Surprisingly, Stanley Hauerwas applauds one of the last century’s most “liberal” theologians. Cornel West is the most critical of the respondents but with good cause since he comments upon Rauschenbusch’s analysis of “the present crisis” a century ago. James Forbes, like Sister Joan, offers a paean to Rauschenbusch’s legacy. Jim Wallis approaches West’s critical tone by suggesting specific things Christians at the turn of the century should be doing.
             The final thoughts from Richard Rorty–who was a grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch–are sobering. Rorty was, by his own confession, an “unbeliever” who still had hopes that the Church in history could have effected social change in our world. His words, “Buds that Never Opened,” may be read as a challenge to the Church to cultivate and water the seeds of the Kingdom that Walter Rauschenbusch saw strewn throughout history.
             Read this book. Take up the conversations prompted by the array of interlocutors. There remains work to be done in the name of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

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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 a photographer, and is ABD in his doctoral studies in American History at Auburn University. 

"Taking the Christ Out of Christmas"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           'Tis the season for many Christians to complain that Christmas is under siege by a hostile, anti-Christian American culture.
           Let's forget, for a moment, that American Christians readily embrace the unbiblical consumerism and materialism that characterizes the Christmas season.  And, of course, there is the slightly unsettling fact that the history of Christmas is rooted in an ancient pagan celebration later co-opted by Christianity.  These annoyances aside, we should get upset that the religious aspect of Christmas is sometimes downplayed by society, and when someone slights our faith, we need to stand up and fight them.  Right?
           Christmas, after all, should be a celebration of Jesus.  And the Jesus of the Gospels surely wrapped himself in a human body for the purpose of championing the pure and undefiled among earth's inhabitants, condemning those of other faiths or no faith, and calling down the wrath of God upon the pagan society that characterized the Roman Empire.  Thus by demanding that unbelieving individuals and a pluralistic society bow to our wishesor else!―we honor the spirit of Jesus at Christmas.  Right?
           As silly as it sounds, that is exactly the message that popular Christendom is communicating to American society: we demand our rights right now, and we'll stomp into the ground any who stand in our way, all because we love Jesus and you don't. 
           Let's get real.  The biggest enemies of Christmas in modern America are those who claim the name of Christ yet are wandering in a self-righteous wilderness, turning the Bread of Life into stones and hurling holy rocks at unbelievers.

           Is it possible that somewhere this Christmas season, a follower of Christ will stand up and champion equal rights for persons of other faiths or no faith in American society?  Is it possible that somewhere this Christmas season a local Christian church will extend a hand of friendship to a nearby Hindu or Muslim congregation?  Is it possible that somewhere this Christmas season a local newspaper's "Letters to the Editor" section will be spared the annual chorus of complaints of "Christ" being taken out of Christmas?
           This is the time of year in which joy, hope, peace and love are celebrated in songs of faith and the merriment of family and community gatherings.  We are able to celebrate the season because Jesus forsook his own heavenly rights and joyfully came to live among and serve sin-ridden humanity.  My hope this Advent season is that somewhere in America, at least a few members of the family called Christians, in addition to moving beyond the enticements of materialism and consumerism, will manage to avoid the temptations of the wilderness of self-righteousness and instead live as servants and light among their fellow human beings.  Only then will Christ remain in Christmas.

Visit Bruce's personal website.

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Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Shurden Feted at Mercer
Baptists Today Blog

Walter B. Shurden was recently honored by Mercer University with a retirement dinner.  John Pierce offers his observations of the event.

Global Divisions Faced as Baptists Plan to Convene
by Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter, writing for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, offers his thoughts on the upcoming New Baptist Covenant Celebration.

Religious Right Meltdown: More Fact Than Fiction
Media Transparency

Despite rumblings in the traditional press about a religious right 'crackup,' key conservative Christian organizations are bringing in 'more money than ever' says Americans United for Separation of Church and State


Dates to Note

January 30 - February 1, 2008, New Baptist Covenant Celebration, Atlanta, Georgia.  See advertisement above or click here for more information.

February 3, 2008, Martha Stearns Marshall Preaching Day, sponsored by Baptist Women in Ministry.  Click here for more information.

April 1-2, 2008, Urban Mission Workshop, McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.  Speakers include Rev. Joanna Adams, Rev. Timothy McDonald, Rev. Tony Lankford and others.  More information is available online or by emailing Larry McSwain at

April 3, 2008, 25th Anniversary Celebration and Judson-Rice Dinner honoring Walker Knight, Loudermilk Center, Downtown Atlanta, 6:30 PM.  Visit Baptists Today online or call 1-877-752-5658 for more information.

May 22-24, 2008, Baptist History & Heritage Society Annual Meeting, Mercer Atlanta campus.  The theme is "Baptists and First Amendment Issues."  Visit the BHHS website for more information.

June 19-20, 2008, Annual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Memphis, Tennessee, Cook Convention Center.  Information and registration.

July 16-19, 2008, British Baptist Historical Society Centenary Conference, International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague.  Theme: Baptists and the World: Renewing the Vision. Keynote Speaker: Dr. Bill Leonard. If you have a proposal for a short paper, email Dr. Ian Randall at by March 1, 2008.  Click here for more information and registration information.

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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