Vol. 6 No. 9

  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

         "Freedom is Terrifying"

The Baptist Soapbox: Frank Broome

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

         "The Spirituality of John Clarke"

My Six Favorite Books on Southern Religion: Wayne Flynt

         David Edwin Harrell, All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic
         Revivals in Modern America
(Indiana University Pres, 1975).
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "Politically Correct 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.

Photo credit: Don Chambers


I Believe

"Freedom is Terrifying"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
that freedom terrifies!  It terrifies us all. It terrifies those who want it. It terrifies those who have to give it up.
           Freedom even terrifies those who lobby and struggle for it.  Ask Martin Luther what kept him tossing in his bed at night for years. Ask your teenagers today. Once we get this explosive in our hands and hearts we wonder where and how far this new found liberty will lead. Freedom plagues the freed one with self-doubt: Will I be able to handle this stuff? How do I negotiate my way through life with this dynamite in my hands?  Freedom is terrifying. It is so terrifying that some Baptist churches yield up their creative independence for a passivity that results in paralysis.  It is so terrifying that some Baptists surrender one of their most precious rights of all: the right to the Bible for themselves. They get intimidated by louder and more certain voices.
           But freedom is also terrifying for those who have to give it up! Ask the Catholic Church of Luther’s time. Ask any mother or father of teenagers. Freedom-giving is an act of unmitigated courage and uncommon trust.
           Read the early criticisms of Baptists. The adversaries viewed Baptists as theological and ecclesiastical terrorists because of the Baptist emphasis on freedom.  In 1680 John Russel, second pastor of the First Baptist Church of Boston, fired off an apologetic for Baptists. Russel had to defend Baptists against what he called "scandalous things"
being schismatics, embracing immoral persons, disturbing the peace, undermining true churches, neglecting public worship, engaging in idolatry, and acting subversive of civil government.
 These stubborn, cussed ancestors of ours deliberately, premeditatively broke laws. Baptists practiced civil disobedience long before the 1960s. The Puritans viewed our folks as subversives of both church and state. The Baptists of Boston responded: "what we have done is not in rebellion nor transgression to turn from following the Lord or worshipping him . . . , but that we may with more freedom of spirit worship the Lord together in purity." Freedom of spirit! They needed it in the seventeenth century, and we need to treasure it in the twenty-first century.
 Freedom is terrifying. And freedom is terrifying because freedom means change.  And change, what the New Testament calls “metanoia,” that’s some of the hardest work of all. Is there any more wrenching work in the whole wide world? Isn’t that the work that really makes us sweat? Have you seen that T-Shirt? In bold letters on the front are the words: CHANGE IS GOOD! Then below it in very tiny letters are the words: “you go first.”  Remember that the next time you ask others to change. Remember that when you are going through agonizingly personal change.
           Molly Marshall reminded us at Green Lake one night a few years back that we have too often equated the Holy Spirit with tranquility and peace. We too soon want to sing “there’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place,” rather than “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  But we forget at our peril. At times Jesus disturbed. He divided. He angered. In Scripture the Spirit of God is depicted not simply as calming water but as scorching Fire, Thunder, and Lightening!
           Take conflict and struggle and trouble out of our history and you don’t have much left. It is altogether possible to read biblical history, Christian history, and Baptist history and to conclude that some of the biggest conflicts in those stories were the nudgings of God’s Spirit.
           Freedom is a heady wine. One must pour it very carefully. One must drink it even more carefully. Freedom terrifies.

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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 Frank Broome, Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia.

"Why I Am Excited About the New Baptist Covenant"
By Frank Broome

            A couple of months ago Mercer University President Bill Underwood asked me to serve as one of several co-chairs of the communication committee for the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant meeting. To be honest I wasn’t looking for something else to do.  Those of us at the CBFGA office have plenty on our plate.  However, I accepted because I think this meeting will be significant.
            More than 30 Baptist organizations will come together for a new era of cooperation on a variety of issues facing our world.  Organizers have expressed a desire to see sustained action come out of this event around such issues as mission and evangelism projects, health care initiatives, poverty eradication efforts, and promotion of religious liberty.
            I can hear our critics already.  Some will say it is a political meeting because the likes of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore will be there.  To that I will say so will Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Charles Grassley.  Other speakers include Marian Wright Edleman, Bill Moyers, Joel Gregory, Julie Pennington-Russell, Charles Adams, Tony Campolo, and William Shaw.  What these individuals have in common is not a political agenda.  They do not agree with each other on a variety of issues.  They are, however, Christians who have identified with the Baptist family.  Each of them has something to say, and we should listen.
            A special web site ( has been designed to answer the basic questions of registration, housing, plenary sessions, and workshops for the January 30-February 1, 2008, meeting at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.  I encourage you to register and make your hotel reservations as soon as possible.
            No one knows for sure where all of this will lead.  I plan to go with an open mind and joyous heart desiring to see what the Spirit has in store for the Baptist part of God’s family.
            In the end, God’s Spirit will lead.

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

"The Spirituality of John Clarke"
By Tripp Martin

             In the midst of a religious climate that valued freedom for the majority only, a young John Clarke arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637.  Many people who had fled to America embraced religious freedom for themselves but not for everyone, using governmental authority to enforce religious practices.  Several years after Clarke’s arrival, he was introduced to the practice of believer’s baptism by immersion by Robert Lenthall, a friend in Newport where he had settled.  Embracing this type of baptism would lead Clarke down a road of persecution, but a road worth traveling.  Believer’s baptism by immersion would become a conviction upon which Clarke would stand despite the costs, and it would characterize his spirituality.
             Hailed as a leader in the struggle for religious liberty, Clarke’s outspoken convictions have served many.  John Clarke was an educated man who worked as a physician, minister, lobbyist, and author.  He had a significant role in establishing the settlement of Newport and the state of Rhode Island through petitioning for its charter, which was the first to ensure religious freedom for all people. 
             In 1651, John Clarke found himself in jail levied with a heavy fine because of his beliefs about baptism.  Clarke, along with Obadiah Holmes and John Crandall, traveled to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to visit William Witter, a Baptist without fellow Baptists, for fellowship and evangelism.  The three men visiting Witter were arrested, charged with practicing an illegal form of baptism, thrown in jail, and threatened with lashings if they did not each pay a fine.  Clarke sat in jail for three weeks after refusing to pay, which was eventually absolved by a friend.
             The limits placed on Clarke’s freedom did not discourage his faith; if anything, it ignited a passion for ministry in establishing religious liberty.  Clarke did not sit idly by in the face of cruelty for at the heart his faith was a Baptist spirituality or rather, a spirituality of baptism.  After Jesus emerged from the waters of baptism, he immersed himself into the waters of life and ministry.  Jesus did not shelter himself from the pains, injustices, or needs of the world, but engaged the world around him.  In following the example of Jesus, the same conviction that led Clarke into the baptismal waters led him to fight for religious freedom. 
             In order to respond authentically to Christ, faith must be free and not coerced, which distinguished Clarke’s spirituality.  As examples of the spiritual life: sincere worship, meaningful prayer, and heartfelt ministry are sustained by a spirituality of baptism, where a free response to the love of God allows for transformation in a person’s life.  Clarke proclaimed the baptismal confession, “Jesus is Lord and Christ,” and his ministry was born.  For Clarke, standing in the waters of baptism called him to stand with all who faced religious persecution and who could not freely enter those same waters.  In Clarke’s experience, no authority was above Christ in matters of faith, so every time he spoke out for religious freedom he was proclaiming again, “Jesus is Lord and Christ.”  Clarke recognized the significance of this claim and willingly immersed his life in its truth.
             Clarke served as a modern day Phillip through inviting people to believer’s baptism.  As Phillip traveled to Gaza from Jerusalem, Phillip met an Ethiopian eunuch and explained to him the words from the prophet Isaiah that he had been reading (Acts 8.26-40).  After hearing about the good news of Christ, the eunuch asked, “Look, here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  Free to respond and make a commitment to Christ as Lord, the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized.  After sitting in the place of the Ethiopian eunuch, John Clarke then assumed the seat of Phillip, not just teaching others about Christ but preventing them from being coerced in their faith so that they may be able to ask freely, “Look, here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 

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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.

David Edwin Harrell, All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic
         Revivals in Modern America

By Wayne Flynt

Ed Harrell was one of the pioneers of Southern religious history.  As a Vanderbilt University graduate student of Prof. Henry L. Swint during the 1950s, he shared pioneer status with Sam Hill, Rufus Spain, and a handful of other trail-blazers.  But whereas they plowed familiar ground among mainstream religious groups, Harrell chose a different path.  Beginning with his broad social studies of the Churches of Christ, he soon branched into new territory.  Until the publication of this seminal work, virtually no serious historian had bothered to research Pentecostals and Charismatics. 
           Tracking their theological origins to George Fox, John Wesley, the Plymouth Brethren, William Booth and the Salvation Army,  their social origins were in the economic deprivation of the rural South and Southwest. 
           Although Harrell focused on Oral Roberts and William Branham, he provided readers with an entire galaxy of hucksters, healing revivalists, and spell-binding pulpit orators: T.L. Osborn, Jack Coe, A. A. Allen, William Freeman, Gordon Lindsay, among others. Most of them were born into rural poverty.  Richard Hall was born into rural poverty in the mountains of North Carolina.  Jack Coe grew up an orphan in Oklahoma City.  T.L. Osborn was one of thirteen poor children who grew up in Depression era Oklahoma.  A.A. Allen was reared in poverty by a drunkard father and a morally loose mother in Arkansas.  William Freeman was born in a log cabin in poverty-stricken Missouri.   
           Many historians encountered for the first time publications such as Lindsay’s Voice of Healing magazine that provided a loose framework and forum for the healing revivalists.
           Harrell emphasizes the way in which the healing revivals crossed racial and class boundaries to enroll a fellowship of the dispossessed.  He also notes how the revival left behind the limiting tents for the mainline churches, even creating the unlikely Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship. By the 1940s Pentecostalism had become tolerant enough to overlook doctrinal differences, but had convictions strong enough to launch a nationwide revival that paralleled in small town and rural America what the more famous Billy Graham was doing in the urban spot light.    
           In time the charismatic revival would overshadow the small Pentecostal denominations that spawned it, and become the most rapidly growing branch of Christianity worldwide.  But Harrell was the first historian to see the signs and wonders which mesmerized so many Southern poor whites and blacks. 
           Of course, the movement spawned many enemies as well.  The national press was unremitting in its ridicule and criticism.  Even more destructive were internal divisions and dissentions about doctrine, denominations, and finances.  The occasional scandals did considerable damage as well. 
           Few history books about religion cross over from the world of interested scholars to the broader world of actual participants in historical events.  All Things Are Possible did precisely that.  Having sold more than 50,000 copies worldwide, the book is as likely found on the desk of a Pentecostal preacher as in an academic library.  Universities and colleges as different as Yale and the University of Chicago on one end of the spectrum and Lee College and Oral Roberts University on the other have classes using the book.  And for anyone, scholar or participant in these historic events, who wants to understand the healing revivals of modern Pentecostalism, this book is the starting place.

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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. 

"Politically Correct Baptists"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           Imagine that your local church invited a wide spectrum of well-known Baptists to speak at a conference on biblical Christianity―taking the love of Jesus to the neediest people in our world, just as Jesus did when he walked the earth.  The Baptists invited represented the theological spectrum of Baptists, some of which, in addition to well-known Christians, were politicians, Republicans as well as Democrats.
           Now imagine that some of the Baptists you invited decided that it would hurt their image to speak at a conference on biblical Christianity.  Why would it hurt their image?  Because they would, horror of horrors, share the stage with fellow Baptists who happen to belong to the opposing American political party!  And so, placing secular politics before the Gospel of Jesus Christ, some prominent Baptists turned down the invitation, while others backed out after having initially said they would participate.
           And as if this were not bad enough, now imagine that after the politically correct Baptists shunned your church's conference on biblical Christianity, some who shared their political ideologies attacked your church for hosting a conference on biblical Christianity that failed to represent the spectrum of Baptist life. 
           If this sounds too ludicrous to be true, think again.  Leading Baptists in America―liberal, moderate and conservative, Republican and Democrat―were invited to speak at the upcoming New Baptist Covenant meeting on biblical Christianity.  The Baptists who happen to be Democrats, and were invited to speak, agreed to do so.  But some Baptists who are also Republicans declined right away, refusing to stand on the same platform as Baptists who are also Democrats.  Another Baptist, a very prominent Republican, initially agreed to speak, then changed his mind, declaring he would not speak alongside Baptists who happen to be Democrats.  After those invited Republicans declined or backed out, many among the larger Baptist public who are also Republicans, began criticizing the New Baptist Covenant meeting as a political event, and continue to do so.
           I am not kidding.  There are some Baptists whose identity is so tied to a certain political party that they refuse the opportunity to give witness to biblical Christianity, because in so doing they would be associated with Baptists who happen to be members of a different political party.  Such shameful behavior places politics before faith.
           Yet the political correctness works both ways.  Some theologically moderate Baptists, some of whom may also be Democrats, are criticizing the New Baptist Covenant for not including the most liberal Baptists on the speaker's stage.

           Despite the political correctness and captivity of some Baptists, the upcoming New Baptist Covenant Celebration may well be the most diverse gathering of Baptists in America since the Triennial Convention meetings of the early 19th century, drawing from a wide variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds throughout America. 
            How marvelous and wonderful it would be for the most liberal and most fundamentalist of Baptists to be able to join hands in preaching the Gospel!  Yet, sadly, this is not going to happen anytime soon.  But at the least―at the very least―those from the broad middle of Baptist life, all but the most fundamentalist and most liberal, should be able to set aside their political and ideological differences to come together in witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a world that desperately needs the love of God.
            Do I hear an Amen?

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Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Most Americans Think U.S. Constitution is Christian
First Amendment Center

65% of Americans believe the nation's founders intended to establish a Christian nation, and 55% believe the Constitution establishes a Christian nation.  Widespread acceptance of such myths, as perpetuated by the Religious Right, reveal just how far America - and American Christians - have strayed from their heritage.

Has Rick Scarborough Assumed the Mantle of Jerry Falwell?
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Perhaps you've not heard of Rick Scarborough.  He's the Texas Baptist pastor who has wholeheartedly embraced the myth of America's founding as a Christian nation, and now he wants to control the "soul of our nation."  He may be coming to your city to tell you how to vote in 2008.

Your Postman May be a Pastor
Orlando Sentinel

Kudos to the Sentinel for examining bi-vocationalism among 21st century ministers, a trend that may actually be on the upswing.



Dates to Note

September 18-19, 2007, Tony Campolo Lectures, Newton Chapel, Mercer University, Macon, GA.  Email Craig McMahan at or call 478-301-2992 for additional information.

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, 2007, "Everybody is God's Somebody: The Public Ministries of Samuel DeWitt Proctor and Martin Luther King, Jr," by Reverend Adam Bond, a lecture presented by The American Baptist Historical Society and Mercer University.  Location:  Cecil B. Day Campus of Mercer University, Atlanta (Administration and Conference Center). Reception beings at 6 PM, and the lecture is at 7 PM.  RSVP to 678-547-6397 or

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

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

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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