Vol. 6 No. 10

  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

         "My Hopes for Baptists in America, 2000-2050"

The Baptist Soapbox: Joe Kutter

         "Why I Am Excited About the New Baptist Covenant"
The Spirituality of Baptist Leaders in Seventeenth Century America
Charles Deweese

         "The Spirituality of John Myles"

Special Report: Mercer Preaching Consultation 2007: Wil Platt

         "Mercer Preaching Consultation 2007"
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "Al Mohler and Andy Stanley on the Future of Christianity and Planet Earth"

Dates to Note

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I Believe

"My Hopes for Baptists in America, 2000-2050"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
 that some of you have heard that I plan to retire on 31 December 2007. I have been in the ministry since I was eighteen years old, fifty-two years now. At retirement I will have completed almost a quarter of a century of work at historic Mercer University. The three questions, in reverse order, that I have received the most when friends discover that I am going to retire are: (1) What do you think is going to happen to Baptists in the future? (2) What is going to happen to the Center for Baptist Studies? (3) What are you going to DO, which I translate as “what is going to happen to you?” I will try to answer these three questions in the three articles that I have left to write as executive director of the Center for Baptist Studies.
            What is going to happen to Baptists? I sure would like to have the chance to see how the Baptist movement unfolds by the middle of the twenty-first century, but I will have been history myself by that time.  So I can only identify my hopes, not describe Baptist history, for this period.
            As I have often said, I hope Baptists will learn to take seriously what Jesus took seriously. I hope that we will begin to accent “following” Jesus rather than “believing in” Jesus. If ever the Baptist people in America come close to creed-adopting, my fervent wish is that they would officially adopt The Jesus Creed in Mark 12:29-31.  It comes from Jesus. It is biblical. It is theological. It is ethical. It is soul-stretching. It is mind-expanding. It is demanding. It is unifying. And, for me at least, though I am an open and willing target for the charge of “minimalism,” it is enough.
            I hope for Baptists to possess both fervor in the ministry of justice and passion in the ministry of proclamation and outreach. I hope for my Baptist heirs both an outward and an inner spirituality, a concern for the public life of society and the private life of the soul.  Most Baptists have been better at the latter than the former, but in 2050 I long for Baptists to be both prophets and priests. The church and the world desperately need both. And I think that Howard Thurman, great ecumenical Baptist preacher, was correct in saying and practicing that the way to this two-fold ministry is through deep, personal, experiential worship, where the sanctuary becomes a place where a person declares, “I choose.”  
I hope for the spirit, not necessarily the structures, of ecumenism to prevail among Baptists. I hope that Baptist groups, where it is possible, will draw closer to each other, and I think that the best hope for that unity can be found in the Baptist World Alliance, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and the New Baptist Covenant Celebration. I also fervently hope that Baptists will draw much closer to our sisters and brothers in other Christian denominations. I have come to believe that so much that divides us, including baptism by immersion, is sheer shortsightedness, if not downright sinfulness.  
 In addition to an ecumenical spirit, I hope for Baptists an intense commitment to Baptist voluntarism and all that Baptist voluntarism entails: an experiential faith that sets the individual soul afire, a regenerate church pulsating with life and love and vitality, a conversion baptism that is hard, not easy, to walk away from, freedom of conscience for ALL people who heroically defy state and church intrusion, and an utter disdain for a theocracy that favors one religious group over another. 
            I hope Baptists will move with respect, not fear, toward other religious traditions and toward those without a religious tradition. I want to see Baptists develop that kind of respect without minimizing in the slightest the commitment to the Baptist vision of Christianity. 
            I hope Baptists will stay close to biblical authority while openly and honestly embracing the authority of the local church, the individual experience, the Christian tradition, and human reason. Truth be told, we Baptists have always used all of these authorities; we simply have failed to acknowledge them, having become addicted to the words of “Sola Scriptura.”
            I hope Baptists will remain a missionary people who believe it their duty to tell the people of the world of the love of God as manifested in Jesus of Nazareth. I hope that we can find new motives for missions, since hell has just about burned out for many.  I hope that we will conceptualize anew what it means to be “lost.” The “lost” are not those who do not believe doctrinal formulations but those who have no idea what a gracious God can do with their lives, those who need to be “saved” from wasted, useless, and meaningless living (Gehenna!), from self-condemnation and shame, and those who yearn for the Transcendent Presence in life.
            Theologically I hope for a Baptist family in 2050 that will do everything for the Kingdom of God that is in their human power to do (Carlyle Marney once said that it had been forty years since he asked God to do anything that he could do), refusing to fall back on a false Calvinism that speaks only of what God can and will do. I also hope that while Baptists will do all that is within their human power to accomplish that they will learn to depend faithfully on God’s spirit to do all that they cannot do. I have always been fond of that line from John Leland in his 1791 Letter of Valediction on Leaving Virginia: “I conclude that the eternal purposes of God, and the freedom of the human will, are both truths; and it is a matter of fact, that the preaching that has been most blessed of God, and most profitable to men, is the doctrine of sovereign grace in the salvation of souls, mixed with a little of what is called Arminianism.”

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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 Joe Kutter, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.

"Why I Am Excited About the New Baptist Covenant"
By Joe Kutter

            When the world was much younger, or I was younger in the world, Kool and the Gang sang,

      “Celebrate good times, come on…
      There’s a party goin’ on right here
      A celebration to last throughout the years
      So bring your good times and your laughter too
      We’re going to celebrate your laughter with you.

            We are going to Atlanta to celebrate and it’s going to be a Baptist party – probably not what Kool and the Gang imagined.
            We will certainly celebrate the reality of traditional and historic Baptist values. The wall of separation between church and state will not be threatened. Soul Freedom will not be diluted. The Priesthood of Believers will not be assaulted by corporate theories of leadership. We will hear both that “whosoever believes will be saved” and “that the world through him (Christ) will be saved.”  God’s twin imperatives that evangelism will be pursued and that justice will prevail will not be set in opposition to one another. And above all, we will celebrate that Christ alone is the Lord of the conscience and no theory of biblical authority will be used to diminish his ultimate place in God’s drama of revelation and salvation.
             I am anticipating an amazing experience. Twenty to thirty thousand Baptists will gather to celebrate that which we hold in common rather than squabble over our differences. We will be blessed by a veritable “Who’s Who” of preachers who will certainly both inform and inspire us in the way of the Gospel. I am thrilled by the national civic leaders who will be with us, from both major political parties, ready to transcend party differences to affirm and celebrate the faith and values that we hold in common.
             The frustrating part of the program centers on the workshops that will be offered. It is impossible to participate in all of the good ones! Choices must be made; what a marvelous problem to have!
             I believe that this historic gathering will set the record straight for millions of misinformed Americans. Baptists have not all handcuffed themselves to a particular wing of a particular wing. Baptists have not sold out the intellect for a peculiar form of revelation. Baptists have not walked away from God-given responsibilities for the world that have been entrusted into our keeping. When the Psalmist declares that “the earth is the Lord’s,” we know that we have been granted the majestic privilege and responsibility for the care of the Lord’s earth. We have not closed our ears to the ancient prophetic mandate, “Let justice roll down like the waters,” and the ancient God-driven vision of shalom has not been blocked from our sight.
             It’s going to be a party! We will celebrate the magnificent heritage that has been entrusted into our keeping and I am excited.

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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 Charles W. Deweese, Executive Director for the Baptist History and Heritage Society, headquartered in Atlanta.

"The Spirituality of John Myles"
Charles W. Deweese

John Myles (1621?-1684) was an early Baptist pastor, educated at Oxford, who ministered in Wales, England, and America. Myles’s spirituality had distinct characteristics.
             Bible-based approach to theology and life
—Myles’s 1656 writing, An Antidote Against the Infection of the Times, revealed a heavy dependence on Scripture. Containing considerations for sinners, admonitions to saints, and invitations to backsliders, this work contained hundreds of biblical references. And Myles included in his writing a suggestion for all readers: “You are commanded to search the Scriptures.” Thus, the pivotal starting point for understanding Myles’s spirituality is recognizing that for him the Bible was the ultimate written authority for his life and ministry.
Pioneering spirit and unwavering commitment to his concept of the Baptist vision of Christianity—Myles’s cutting-edge achievements made him one of the true shapers of Baptist life in the 1600s. He organized the first Baptist church in Wales in 1649 and the first Baptist church in Massachusetts (and fourth in America) in 1663, drew up the earliest church covenant of Baptists in America in 1663, and baptized William Screven, who would become the founder of Baptist life in the South in the late 1600s. Myles possessed inner qualities that drew him into powerful defense and advancement of a dissident Christian tradition. 
             Myles courageously resisted persecution in order to move the Baptist cause forward. In 1662, passage of the Act of Uniformity resulted in the forbidding of Baptist worship services and even put a price on Myles’s head. Rather than submit to the threats of persecution and abandon Baptist life, Myles left Wales and settled in Rehoboth in the Plymouth Colony of Massachusetts and founded a Baptist church there in 1663. In 1667, the Plymouth authorities investigated Myles’s activities and fined him five pounds for preaching. Permitted to relocate, Myles and his followers moved to Swansea, Massachusetts.
             What would cause a Baptist minister in the 1600s, when modes of transportation and communication were poor, and when there were only a few Baptists on the planet, especially in America, to defy opposition in two countries in order to assist the Baptist cause in its earliest stages? Is it possible that he possessed a view of God who would stand with him, comfort him, and give him courage? Is it possible that he had a clearer understanding than most of Jesus’ claim that whoever would be His disciples must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Christ?   
 Flexibility and ecumenical orientation in approaching Baptist beliefs and practices—Myles was a Baptist who did not pretend to have all the answers. As a Baptist in the making at the front end of a dissenting tradition, he refused to confine his faith to some black-and-white code of ethics. At times, he even took stances at variance with views that some Baptists today might describe as rather critical: communion and the relationship of church and state.
             First, Myles, a Calvinist, held to a closed communion position while helping to found several Baptist congregations in Wales in the late 1640s and in the 1650s. Later, after he helped organize a Baptist church at Rehoboth, Massachusetts, in 1663, that congregation practiced open communion and open membership. The church in its 1663 covenant agreed to hold communion with other Christians even “though differing from us in such controversial points [such as infant baptism] as are not absolutely and essentially necessary to salvation.” Perhaps the spiritual conviction that underlay Myles’s shift in views was his growing feeling that for Christians of all kinds to walk together in “covenant” needed to take priority over “dividing principles or practices.” Myles, at heart, was a Baptist for whom the charity of inclusion superseded the risks of exclusion.
             Second, although Myles refused to let the state dictate the nature of his spiritual life, he apparently did take the position that he could best advance the Baptist cause by not taking a strict separationist view. While in Wales, during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, Myles served as a Trier for Wales. Triers helped to determine the fitness of ministers in all traditions. Some nonconformists criticized Myles for serving on the public payroll while serving as pastor. In Massachusetts, Myles’s connection with the Reformed tradition made him acceptable to the Puritan establishment, and he was even hostile toward some non-Christian bodies, some non-Baptist groups, and even radical separationists such as the famous Baptist leader John Clarke. Myles’s spirituality seemed to accommodate the broader theology and politics of his time in order to help guarantee the success of his version of how to be Baptist.

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A Baptist Studies Bulletin Special Report:  Wil Platt, retired Professor of History at Mercer University and a staff member of the Center for Baptist Studies, provides a recap of the recently concluded Mercer Preaching Consultation 2007. 

"Mercer Preaching Consultation 2007"
By Wil Platt

             The Mercer Preaching Consultation 2007 was held at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort on St. Simons Island, GA during 23-25 September.  The meeting attracted a record attendance.  Mercer President William D. Underwood welcomed the attendees on Sunday evening and hosted a buffet dinner and fellowship.  Walter B. Shurden, Director of the Center for Baptist Studies, and Dean Alan Culpepper of the McAfee School of Theology presided over the sessions of the meeting.
             Under the theme, the "Practice of Presence," featured speaker Barbara Brown Taylor presented three stimulating lectures on being present to the Gospel, present to the text and present to God.  Of particular importance for pastors was her third lecture in which she stressed the necessity of the observance of sabbath at some point during the week for effective ministry.  Additional sessions on various topics of interest to pastors featured speakers drawn from the faculty of Mercer and Baptist churches in Georgia.
             Dr. Shurden announced that next year's Consultation will be held at the King and Prince on 28-30 September 2008.  The featured speakers will be Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN and Joel Gregory, Professor of Preaching at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University.  These speakers are sure to attract another record attendance.  Please note these dates on your calendars and remain alert for an announcement of an opportunity for early registration.

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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. 

"Al Mohler and Andy Stanley on the Future of Christianity and Planet Earth"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           The other day I listened to a sermon entitled "Too Earthly Minded to Do Any Heavenly Good."  The premise is one I've heard for years: life on earth is full of trials and tribulations, and at best is a distraction to a Christian's heavenly rewards in the afterlife.  So, Christians should forget about trying to make a difference in this world (in terms of meeting social needs) and instead scoop up as many "souls" as possible on their way to heaven.
           A newer variation on the anti-earth theme is the attitude that some Christians espouse concerning environmentalism, especially as related to global warming.  Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, neatly sums up the opposition to environmentalism, while dismissing concerns about global warming: "We've got to expect this world to end badly…. Read the book. It doesn't end well."  According to Mohler and like-minded Christians, the biblical book of Revelation teaches a cataclysmic end to earth, and trying to save the planet from destruction is pointless.
           However, the anti-earth views expressed in heavenly fixations and global doom reflect certain human biases more than the biblical text.  In the Old Testament, God punished or blessed nations according to how they treated the poor, oppressed and outcasts.  Among God's chosen Hebrew people, belief in an afterlife did not develop until late in the OT era.  In the Gospels, Jesus' "Kingdom of Heaven," rather than being confined to a distant, futuristic, after-death place, was instead rooted in the here-and-now, with both earthly and spiritual dimensions.  "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived," was a central tenet of Jesus' teachings.  Special rituals or the repetition of magic words did not provide automatic admittance to a next-worldly existence.  Participation in Jesus' heaven meant meeting the whole needs of persons on planet earth.  Frequently asked how one could become righteous in God's sight, Jesus' answers bore one consistent theme:  one must turn his or her life over to God by renouncing self-centeredness and ministering to the needs of others.  No rituals or verbal formulas were necessary to be "saved," and all sinners were invited.  Jesus' "Kingdom of heaven" connected tangible earthly matters with one's after-death existence.  Only later would some Christians deconstruct Jesus' teaching of heaven by removing the earthly dimension, creating shortcuts to after-death bliss, and placing varied and evolving conditions on admittance.
           A recent Barna survey of young Americans aged 16-29 reveals just how far modern, popular Christianity has strayed from Jesus' teachings.  Just one decade ago, according to Barna, "the vast majority" of young people "outside the Christian faith ... felt favorably toward Christianity's role in society."  Now, however, a mere 16% of non-Christian young persons have a "good impression" of Christianity, while only 3% have "favorable views of evangelicals."  The 3% figure represents an eight-fold increase in negative views of evangelicals compared to the Boomer generation.  Among today's unchurched young people, vast majorities view Christianity as anti-homosexual (91%), judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%) and too involved in politics (75%).  One half of Christian young people also agree with these assessments.  It is interesting to note that Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his day for the very same reasonstheir lack of compassion for sinners, judgmental nature and hypocritical attitudes.
           Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Ministries in Atlanta and son of Charles Stanley, responded to the  Barna survey by suggesting it is time for Christianity to stop focusing solely on converting persons.  "If we were able to rewrite the script for the reputation of Christianity, I think we would put the emphasis on developing relationships with non-believers, serving them, loving them, and making them feel accepted.  Only then would we earn the right to share the gospel."  At the least, Stanley offers a step forward on the road back to Jesus' heaven.
           Al Mohler, however, seems to disagree with Stanley.  Any movement toward incorporating earthly concerns into one's concept of heaven is unacceptable, Jesus' teachings notwithstanding.  The conversion of souls into an after-death existence is all that really matters, and environmentalism is a bogeyman that distracts from this one-dimensional heaven.  Downplaying heaven as taught in the Gospels, Mohler's construct rests on the back of pre-millennial dispensationalism,
a modern heresy-turned-orthodoxy that interprets the book of Revelation in such a way as to elevate Christian self-righteousness while rallying believers to cheer the impending destruction of planet earth.
           Young Americans, however, are not fooled.  As Barna discovered, their "most frequent unprompted" criticism of modern Christianity is that it "no longer looks like Jesus."
           America's youth are warning us as Christians to return to Jesus.  May we heed their words before it is too late.

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Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Unto Caesar
The American Scholar

Bush's legacy consists of the undoing of Roger Williams and the Baptist heritage of separation of church and state, according to Ethan Fishman, a professor of political science at the University of Southern Alabama.

Faith and Progress
The American Interest

Calvin and Max Weber, finding fertile soil in capitalistic America, have created a unique religion that continues to have vast implications for individuals and society at large.

A Nation of Christians is Not a Christian Nation
Jon Meacham, New York Times

Meacham responds to John McCain's embrace of the myth of America's founding as a Christian nation.


Dates to Note

November 4-5, 2007, CBF/GA Fall Convocation, First Baptist Church, Savannah, GA. Click here for more information.

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

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.

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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