Vol. 6 No. 6

  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

         "The Coalition for Baptist Principles"

The Baptist Soapbox: Daniel Vestal

         "Why I Am Excited About the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant"
Baptists and Creation Care: Neil Westbrook

         "Recycling as a Spiritual Discipline"

Baptists and Public Policy: Melissa Rogers

         "Bringing More Baptists into the Public Policy Conversation"

The World's Greatest Baptist Preachers: Fausto A. Vasconcelos

         "Brazil's Greatest Baptist Preacher Ever"
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "June and January Baptists"

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.


I Believe

"The Coalition for Baptist Principles"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
that most of you readers of The Baptist Studies Bulletin will delight to know of a group within the ABC-USA called “The Coalition for Baptist Principles.” You can find out for yourself who they are, how they got started, and what they stand for by going to their website. They speak for themselves much better than I could ever speak for them. I did not even know that they existed until October 2005 when the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Worcester, MA, Dr. Tom McKibbens, a former fellow Mississippian, a former fellow Southern Baptist, and a former fellow Southern Seminarian, contacted me about the group.
          The first thing that strikes me about this group is the irony that they exist at all!! Why in heaven’s name do we need such a group within a Baptist denomination? I thought that Baptist denominations were in fact “Coalitions for Baptist Principles!” Sadly, tragically, Baptist denominations have a tendency to lose their way. They get waylaid with a dangerous case of historical amnesia. They forget the very principles that birthed and nurtured them. They move from freedom to fear. They get scared. And then they get dangerous.
          They get dangerous because they move from a Christ-centered to a creed-centered faith.
          They get dangerous because they move from freedom for the individual to fear of the individual.
          They get dangerous because they move from freedom of the local congregation to fear of what a congregation may do on its own.
          They get dangerous because they move from a prophetic critique of government and culture to a priestly embrace of both.
          They get dangerous because they move from religious freedom for ALL to fear of freedom for ALL.
          In the fourth issue of this Bulletin back in April of 2002, I wrote an article entitled “Why I Wish We Could Have Gone Home to the American Baptists.” (You can still see it here.) In that article I pined for closer relationships between my contemporary denominational home, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and my historical denominational home, the American Baptist Churches, USA.
          My enthusiasm for closer Baptist ties rises as I read about the posture (see The Judson Declaration) and work of “The Coalition for Baptist Principles” within the ABC. It causes me to wish more for the two national denominational bodies to draw closer together.            
          It will happen! It will happen in Washington, DC from June 27 to July 2 when their respective groups meet. I hope to see you there at both the CBF and the ABC meetings, contending for “Baptist Principles.”  

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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 Daniel Vestal, Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

"Why I am Excited About the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant"
By Daniel Vestal

           For too much of our history the Baptist witness has been fractured by a divisive spirit. We have found it difficult to collaborate and communicate with one another across racial, geographic and theological divides. We have focused more on our differences than on our shared commitments.
           "The New Baptist Covenant" offers Baptists in North America an opportunity to renew our love for one another in a very public and profound way. It is, I believe, a "kairos" moment for us to forge a new Baptist ethos that shows the world our devotion to Christ's Kingdom above partisan differences. That ethos will be characterized by a vision of global justice, authentic spirituality and missional churches.
           Each of the Baptist bodies represented in this covenant has unique contributions to make to this emerging ethos. Each has a treasured history and each has a valued voice in the public square. But when we join our voices in a harmonious chorus, our witness is more profound and effective. Our individual distinctives are not lost, but something beautiful happens that is greater than the sum of the parts.
           A new Baptist ecumenicity will have many positive results. One is that the ministry of each of the participating organizations will be strengthened. Another is that fresh avenues for collaboration will unfold and existing partnerships will be celebrated. Relationships will be created and encouraged. Networks will be born. Fellowship will be enriched. God will be glorified.
           It seems to me that something of a convergence is taking place within the Baptist family, and I am humbled and grateful for it. It is unprecedented in my lifetime, and it is worth our fervent prayer, energetic efforts and enthusiastic support.

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Baptists and Creation Care
This series focuses on Baptist responses to environmental issues.  Neil Westbrook currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Neel Road Baptist Church in Salisbury, NC.  He is currently working towards a Doctor of Ministry at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in the area of marriage and the Church.  You can visit his blog at or contact him directly at

"Recycling as a Spiritual Discipline"
By Neil Westbrook

Open up any book about the spiritual life or the spiritual disciplines and you will likely find a stock set of practices including prayer, scripture reading, and fasting.  What you are not likely to find is anyone who regards recycling as a spiritual discipline.  In fact, you are more likely to read about recycling on a cup of coffee from Starbucks than you are in most of today’s books written about Christian discipleship or the spiritual disciplines!
              I started recycling at home about a year ago and it has changed my life and my perspective on Christian discipleship.  For me, recycling is a spiritual discipline.  For me, spiritual disciplines are simple practices that can create an opportunity for us to experience God’s presence in our daily lives.  They are behavioral habits that draw us closer to God and deepen our knowledge of and relationship with the creator of the universe.  Recycling reminds me that God is indeed the awesome creator of the universe!
              Recycling has transformed me spiritually and broadened my perspective on Christian discipleship in the following ways:

  1. I now recognize how wasteful I am and how wasteful we are as a society.  Nearly everything we touch everyday can be recycled.  Our wastefulness is rooted in our sinfulness and is our sinfulness.
  2. Recycling has transformed the way I interpret the scriptures.  I now realize that one of the key meta-narratives throughout the Bible is humanity’s relationship with and responsibility for taking care of the earth.  “For God so loved the world…” and so should we.  It is from within this framework that we can speak intelligibly about eco-social issues such as global warming with a particular and peculiarly Christian voice. 
  3. I believe that the salvation of humanity is uniquely and creatively intertwined with the salvation of all of creation.  By virtue of our humanity we are obligated to take care of God’s creation.
  4. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are obligated to encourage one another and be accountable to one another when it comes to taking care of creation.

              These changes in my own life and perspective have inspired me to share the gospel of creation care and recycling with others.  My former church recently formed a partnership with the local government’s recycling division to offer the only 24 hour recycling drop-off in the county.  We provided an unused parking lot that is easily accessible to the public and the county provided a large blue recycling bin that accepts all recyclable items.  Now it is easier and more convenient for businesses and residents in the area to recycle.   
              As a spiritual discipline recycling has the potential for spiritual transformation in the lives of individuals, congregations, and communities.  At the same time it improves the quality of life for all living creatures.  Here are some very practical ways that Christians can implement the idea of recycling as a spiritual discipline:

  1. Recycle at home.  All you need is an empty box to put stuff in.
  2. Place decorative recycling bins near the exits of the sanctuary to receive worship bulletins after worship services are over. 
  3. Place recycling bins in designated locations and encourage Sunday School classes to recycle old literature and other out of date paper.
  4. Form a recycling team or creation care ministry team in your church to organize recycling efforts. 
  5. Get children involved!  Encourage children’s Sunday School classes to recycle once a quarter. 
  6. Place a small paper recycling bin in every minister’s office!  Lots of junk mail! 
  7. Go BIG!  Partner with a private recycling company or your local government’s recycling division to have a recycling bin placed in a convenient location.  Encourage other churches and nonprofits such as Meals on Wheels to be good stewards in the community!

             To learn more about recycling as a spiritual discipline or how to start recycling in your church contact me directly or visit 

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Public Policy

Baptists and Public Policy
  Some Baptist groups, including the Alliance of Baptists, Baptist Center for Ethics, Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty (BJCRL), and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, have long been engaged in policy work. This series is designed to spark conversations among a wider circle of Baptists who are now considering engaging in this kind of activity. Melissa Rogers is visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School, previously serving as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and as general counsel to the BJCRL.

"Bringing More Baptists into the Public Policy Conversation"
By Melissa Rogers

              In this series, I have argued that more Baptists ought to be vocal on policy issues.  I’ve cited the Biblical call for justice as a source of motivation for increasing our activism and suggested some ways in which such activism can respect democracy, religious liberty, religion.  (The previous essays in this series are
here, here, here, here, and here.)
At this point, I believe the key to moving forward is to bring more Baptists into the conversation.  Fortunately, there are some events on the horizon that will help us do so. 
Two upcoming national meetings will provide a wealth of opportunities for Baptists to grapple with issues that have policy implications.  The first is the annual meeting of the
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on June 28 and 29, 2007, in Washington, D.C.  CBF workshops and events are scheduled on poverty, AIDS, religious liberty, immigration, and the environment, among other issues.  In addition, Christian Ethics Today will hold a pre-convention conference on June 27 that is entitled The Minister and Politics: How To Be Political Without Being Partisan.
 The second upcoming national meeting is the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, which will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, from January 30-February 1, 2008.  This meeting will unite an incredibly diverse group of Baptists for worship and work.  The website for the New Baptist Covenant says that the convocation will feature plenary and “special-interest sessions dealing with topics such as racism, religious liberty, poverty, the AIDS pandemic, faith in public policy, stewardship of the earth, evangelism, financial stewardship, and prophetic preaching.”
 We also need to make these issues part of our discussions at the state and local level.  The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia (CBFV) is one state Baptist body that has already taken the bull by the horns.  It recently heard a compelling sermon from Colleen Burroughs on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and subsequently decided as a body to support those goals. 
In addition to discussions focusing on specific ministry and policy goals, Baptist bodies also should consider organizing broader discussions that explore the relationship of Christianity and Christians to the state.  These discussions could take place in a variety of settings―churches, associations of churches, and parachurch bodies. (By the way, I encourage actual policy activism through parachurch rather than church bodies, but I believe it is useful to hold these kinds of discussions both within and outside of churches.)  A rather comprehensive version of this idea would be a discussion series that would address various theological and ethical approaches to Christians’ relationship to the state, both currently and historically; the relevant legal issues; and some types of policy work and cultural engagement that various groups and individuals are doing today.  However the discussions are structured, they should include diverse theological and political perspectives.  Conversations like these will help us think through the issues and make informed decisions about them. 
              For my part, I would urge more Baptists to join in the call for justice and religious freedom for all.  Because the decisions governmental bodies make about poverty and disease, war and peace, life and death, the freedom of conscience, and stewardship of the environment (among other issues) are not just policy decisions.  They are also moral judgments.  I believe Baptists have some things to say about these matters, and I hope we do so. 

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The World's Greatest Baptist Preachers
: This special biographical series reaches around the globe in search of the greatest Baptist preachers.  Here you will meet preachers who have had a tremendous impact upon their respective continents.  This month's contributor is Fausto A. Vasconcelos, Director, Divisions of Evangelism/Education, Study/Research of the Baptist World Alliance.

"Brazil's Greatest Baptist Preacher Ever"
By Fausto A. Vasconcelos

           God has blessed Brazilian Baptists with great preachers since September 10, 1871, when the first Baptist church was planted in the land of the Southern Cross. Any single choice of Brazil’s greatest Baptist preacher ever should be questioned.
           In his book Historia dos Batistas no Brasil (History of Baptists in Brazil) the late Rev. Jose dos Reis Pereira, a noted Brazilian Baptist historian, highlighted a few names whose preaching skills had national impact. One such preacher is Dr. Rubens Lopes.  He is my choice as Brazil’s greatest Baptist preacher.
           Born on October 1, 1914, Rubens Lopes earned a Bachelor of Theological Sciences from the Theological College of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil, Sao Paulo, in 1936. He also earned a Bachelor of Law Degree from the University of Sao Paulo in 1959.
           His ordination to the Ministry of the Word took place at the Vila Mariana Baptist Church, Sao Paulo, on January 14, 1938. On December 31, 1939, Rubens Lopes was formally inducted as the senior pastor of Vila Mariana Baptist Church. It was his only pastorate, which he so admirably conducted for 40 years until his death on November 3, 1979.
Rubens Lopes married Mrs. Hercy Botelho Lopes on April 4, 1940. God blessed them with four childrenNeide, Lucia, Rubens Eduardo and Saulo Ricardoand three granddaughters: Silva Regina, Simone and Lucia.
           Rubens Lopes was also an exceptional denominational leader. He served as president of the Brazilian Baptist Convention, president of the State of Sao Paulo Baptist Convention, founder and president of the State of Sao Paulo Baptist Pastors’ Conference. He was also a Baptist World Alliance (BWA) vice-president.
           He became internationally known among Baptists in the 1960s when he led Brazilian Baptists in their historical National Campaign of Evangelization and then the Baptists of the Americas in the Crusade of the Americas. Both of these evangelistic campaigns used the same theme, “Jesus Christ, the Only Hope.”  On August 4, 1969, he challenged the BWA Executive Committee meeting in Baden, Vienna, to carry out a World Crusade of Evangelization, which resulted in the World Mission of Reconciliation of the '70s.
           Above all, however, Dr. Rubens Lopes was a great pulpiteer, a respected sacred orator, and an articulate communicator of God’s Word. His ability to be succinct, his mastery of the Portuguese language, his voice, his gestures, his demeanor in the pulpit, and his spiritual anointing made him a revered name among Brazilian Baptists to this day.
           His pastoral ministry and denominational leadership were linked together by his preaching, because he exercised his leadership through preaching. The idea that resulted in both the National Campaign of Evangelization and the Crusade of the Americas was born out of his sermon entitled “Neo-Pioneirismo” (Neo-Pioneer Spirit), which he delivered at the Southern Baptist missionaries’ meeting in Salvador, BA, on May 23, 1963. He was a preacher-leader and a leader-preacher!
Here’s how he concluded a reflection entitled “A Whole Life in Two Pages: My Life”: “Such a small life, it can be written on two pages! This is my life. God knows that I did all I was able to. By His grace only. What about now? Well, I will keep walking till the end. Doing a little bit more. With weapons in my hand, so I will die at work. I am wearing a military campaign fatigue. I will only wear a military parade uniform in Heaven.”  
           On Saturday afternoon, November 3, 1979, the Lord called Dr. Rubens Lopes home in his study at his beloved church. Time had arrived for him to wear the military parade uniform.

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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. 

"June and January Baptists"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           For better or for worse, the month of June defines Baptists in the eyes of America.  June is when the Southern Baptist Convention holds its annual meeting, and the controversies in SBC life of the past 28 years have led religious journalists in America to train their pens and word processors on the world of Southern Baptists for a few short days.  The result has been reporting and analysis that reveal the hypocrisy and problematic stances taken by messengers at the SBC meeting, and has rarely been favorable to Baptists, as many outsiders view the SBC as representative of Baptists as a whole (for example, note how many newspaper stories regarding this year's SBC meeting placed the word "Baptists" in the title, rather than "Southern Baptists").
          As usual, this year's SBC annual meeting was dutifully covered by religious reporters, who in turn will pay little attention to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly at the end of this month.  Yet this year's SBC meeting proved to be a bit different, witnessing the second year in a row internal dissent within the convention.  In short, a loyalist moderating voice, empowered by the information-leveling advent of blogging, has emerged within the SBC in response to a host of issues confronting the denomination, including charismatic practices, financial scandals, mission field policies, clergy sex-abuse and Calvinism.  The  jury is out on whether or not the new faction in SBC life will ultimately be able to rein in the fundamentalist power structures and reverse, or simply stem, long-term statistical declines within the denomination.  However, all Baptists in America should welcome the moderating voice emerging in SBC life, as public perception of all Baptists in the nation largely hinges on what happens during June at the SBC annual meeting.
          At the same time, the larger Baptist family is America is facing an opportunity to more clearly redefine how the public views Baptists.  On January 30, 2008 as many as 20,000 Baptists, representing some 20 million Baptists in America, will gather in Atlanta under the umbrella of a New Baptist Covenant in a public demonstration of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ by focusing on the very issues that were most important to Jesus.  To a public accustomed to Baptists misappropriating the Bible to build their own kingdoms, condemning those with whom they disagree, fighting for their own rights rather than the rights of others, and enforcing their own political agendas, the demonstration of Gospel unity in January may well seem revolutionary.  And perhaps the New Baptist Covenant will remove the June spotlight that has so long stigmatized Baptists in America.

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Editor's Note:  Please consider emailing or writing your local religion newspaper reporter and requesting that he or she cover the New Baptist Covenant event.


Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

10 Tips for a Spiritual Summer

A compilation of practical suggestions to make your summer more meaningful and worshipful.

Report from the Capitol
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

The latest edition of the Report provides information about the upcoming Cooperative
Baptist General Assembly in D.C., as well as a report on religious freedom in Iraq.


Dates to Note

June 27, 2007, Pre-CBF Annual Conference, Christian Ethics Today (CET), Hyatt Grand Hotel in D.C.  Theme: "The Minister and Politics: Being Prophetic Without Being Partisan."  Speakers: Jim Wallis, Greg Boyd, Melissa Rogers and Tony Campolo.  Go to the CET site for more information.

June 28-29, 2007, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Washington D.C.  Theme: "Free to Be the Presence of Christ." Click here for more information, including registration.

September 23-25, 2007, Mercer Preaching Consultation 07, St. Simon's Island, Georgia.  Featuring Barbara Brown Taylor." 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.

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

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