Vol. 7 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

Bruce T. Gourley, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin


We wish you a blessed Advent season and a merry Christmas!




In Response To . . . : Bruce T. Gourley

         "A 400-Year Conversation"

Celebrating 400 Years of Being Baptist: A Free Church Bulletin Insert Series

         "Baptist Beginnings, 1609"

The Baptist Soapbox: Jerrod H. Hugenot

         "Making Great Neighbors"

Children's Ministry in the Local Church: Julie Whidden Long

         "The Congregation's Role in Faith Formation"
Fisher Humphreys Answers Your Questions:
Fisher Humphreys
"What is the Theological Basis of 'Moderate Baptist Christians'?"

Books That Matter: Wil Platt

         God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home, and

         by Susan M. Shaw

Dates to Note

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In Response to . . . :  Currently the Interim Director of the Center for Baptist Studies, Bruce has been on the staff of the Center since 2004.  He previously served as a campus minister and professor of church history.  In addition, he is involved in a number of areas of moderate Baptist life through the medium of the Internet.

"A 400-Year Conversation"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           Next month Baptists begin a year long celebration of their four hundredth birthday. In 1609 John Smyth and Thomas Helwys parted ways with the Church of England and established the first Baptist church in the world. In 2009, the world will have an opportunity to see Baptists again for the first time.
           The emergence and ascendancy of fundamentalism in the twentieth-century communicated a false perception of Baptist identity and served to publicly derail much of our Baptist heritage. True, fundamentalist Baptists are yet Baptists, although the central tenets of the movement―creedalism, textual inerrancy, pro church-state leanings, and anti-pluralism―are contrary to historic Baptist beliefs. Against the backdrop of fundamentalist distractions, the most important task of the four hundredth anniversary of Baptists is to publicly reintroduce the Baptist heritage, both within and without our church buildings. To this end, the Center for Baptist Studies is teaming up with the Baptist History and Heritage Society to provide monthly, free church bulletin inserts to the Baptist public throughout the coming year. Hundreds of churches have already signed up to use the inserts.
          In a larger perspective, 2009 will provide an excellent opportunity to publicly discuss and reaffirm core Baptist historical beliefs. Many of the same conversations heard within today's Baptist circles echo 1609 dialogue: scripture, pluralism, religious liberty, separation of church and state, baptism, and local church autonomy, for example. Whereas Baptists in the early seventeenth century discussed these issues from the perspective of a persecuted religious minority, Baptists today have a significant religious presence worldwide: the Baptist World Alliance represents 105 million persons. While today's moderate Baptists have far more influence and reach than their earliest spiritual ancestors, in the twenty-first century historic Baptist beliefs sometimes are taken for granted (local church autonomy) or overlooked (separation of church and state), adding urgency to the task of remembering our past.
          On a local level, when is the last time your congregation participated in a discussion of the Baptist principles which birthed and have sustained your church? Are your congregants aware of how their individual and collective faiths were shaped by their Baptist forebears? Do the members of your congregation who do not have a Baptist background understand how modern Christianity has been indelibly influenced by the Baptist heritage of believer's baptism, local church autonomy, and religious liberty?
           Each edition of the Baptist Studies Bulletin in the coming year will seek to foster conversation about Baptist history and heritage. We hope your church will join in the dialogue, and if you choose to do, we encourage you to let us know.

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Celebrating 400 Years of Being Baptist:  The Center for Baptist Studies and the Baptist History and Heritage Society present a twelve-month series of free church bulletin inserts for use in teaching Baptist heritage in the local church during the 400 year anniversary of Baptists. The image below is a copy of one side of this month's pdf document that you can obtain for free by contacting Pam Durso of the Baptist History and Heritage Society.  

Bulletins are
material and
can only be
used for
within a church.
For permission
to reprint any
text or images,
please contact:

Pamela R. Durso 
by email at
or by phone at (678) 547-6095.

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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 Jerrod Hugenot, coordinating minister of the First Baptist Church of Bennington, Vermont, an American Baptist congregation.

"Making Great Neighbors"
By Jerrod Hugenot


           Growing up in rural Kansas, the nearest neighbors were a distance away, rarely seen. Being good practitioners of the Protestant work ethic, we rarely took time out for socializing. Life was about by the unending toil of the day: fence to mend, fields to plow, cattle to pasture, grain and hay to haul. On rare occasions, a little potluck would be held on a Saturday evening where the men talked of grain prices, the women talked of the vacations they wished they could take, and the kids played in the yard, sliding down ancient slipper slides and screaming with glee. The meals rarely happened but they were wonderful!
           My childhood memories prompt a theological observation: how we choose to live in this world matters. In God’s good wisdom, God made us social creatures. Created to be in relationship with others, we humans tend to spend most of our time doing so only in part. Instead, we spend much of our time racing around, tending to the affairs of life, and settling for repeating the mantra of “I’m too busy” rather than engaging in conversations and a common meal that is not “fast food”.
           A worse habit, however, happens when we look around us and see persons who we choose not to see. We engage in practices, written and unwritten, keeping those persons acutely aware of our disinterest in making them our neighbors. Much too often, some people are kept at arm’s length from being “our” neighbors.
           In the Christian tradition, Jesus teaches that the sum of faith is to love God and our neighbor. If we take it seriously, a sacred text that says, “take your neighbor as seriously as you do your devotion to God” should press us, letting an ancient word tweak our modern sensibilities and myopias. Practicing well such a faith might wind up freeing us to live in ways we have left unexplored or forgotten.
To love your neighbor as yourself is to realize “one’s own welfare is intertwined with that of the other,” writes scholar Warren Carter. In his masterful commentary on Matthew’s gospel, Carter claims that this theme of radical hospitality weaves throughout the narrative. Jesus instructs the disciples and the crowds how to love the poor, the dispossessed, the unclean, and yes, even one’s own enemy. He encourages his followers to lead what Carter calls “a life of indiscriminate loving.”
           To love indiscriminately is a noble vision, but living it out is another thing altogether! Jesus weaves together the sum of faith (“love God with all of our own being”) with the realities of life, where we falter too often in loving someone completely, especially if they seem too much the part of “the other”. Jesus teaches that the righteous way of leading life has little to do with exacting purity and ironclad authoritarianism. Only in humility and due deference to one another can we start embodying, rather than merely citing, the values of the sum of the faith we seek to keep.
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, offers a helpful word. Williams writes, “We can cling harder and harder to the rock of our threatened identity—a choice, finally, for self-delusion over truth; or we can accept that we shall have no ultimate choice but to let go, and in that letting go, give room to what’s there around us—to the sheer impression of the moment, to the need of the person next to you, to the fear that needs to be looked at, acknowledged and calmed (not denied). If that happens, the heart has room for many strangers, near and far.”
This past week, I found the words of Jesus coming alive at First Baptist. The congregation invited other religious communities involved with the Greater Bennington Area Interfaith Council to gather for a potluck meal. I thought we would have two dozen at best, given that it was a midweek evening. Nobody will make time as we are all much too busy. Sigh!
            Instead, we found ourselves putting up more chairs to accommodate the fifty persons who attended. Around each table, persons from differing religious faiths broke bread and had some great conversations. By the end of the evening, the question was being asked, “When can my own faith community host the next meal?”
Religious communities can be places of great exclusion (written and unwritten) or great inclusion. Indeed, I suspicion one reason for the Church’s decline in North America has been a neglect of the radical hospitality embodied by Jesus and the earliest Christians. If we listen attentively, our sacred text schools us well. Our neighbor is the one in whom the very reason we keep the faith is embodied. In our neighbor and our engagement and treatment of them, we discover how well we love God fully and authentically. The “wholly other” becomes our way toward becoming holy. As Rowan Williams says, when we realize this, “the heart has room for many strangers, near and far.”


Editor's Note: This commentary originally appeared on the website of First Baptist Church, Bennington, Vermont.

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Children's Ministry in the Local Church:  Julie Whidden Long, Minister to Children and Families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, understands the importance of children in life of the local church. Rev. Long pens this six-month series examining children's ministry. She is the author of the recently published book, Portraits of Courage: Stories of Baptist Heroes (published by the Baptist History and Heritage Society and Mercer University Press), a volume written for older children.

"The Congregation's Role in Faith Formation"
By Julie Whidden Long

            Do you have childhood memories of church?  Or have you watched your own children or grandchildren experience church in a meaningful way?  Many of us recall Sunday School teachers or other children’s workers who made an impact on us and shaped our faith.  But I can also point to people like Mr. Wendell, the usher who always pulled a piece of candy out of his shirt pocket when he saw me coming, or like Mrs. Hinely, who wrote me notes of encouragement after I performed in a children’s musical.  Do you remember those ordinary saints who loved you as a child, and in doing so, nurtured your spiritual life? 
            My experiences as a child in church convinced me that the whole church, not just the children’s workers, takes part in a child’s faith formation.  Families are crucial in forming the faith of children, but we ordinary folks in Baptist congregations should not minimize our role in the life of our church’s children.  How can the church as a whole guide faith formation of its children? 
            Every church member can help kids know that they belong.  I bet if you asked adults in your congregation why they joined your church, many of them would answer, “I joined because I was welcomed here,” or “I felt like this is where I belonged.”  We want to go where we belong!  The same is true of children.  Helping kids know that they belong is the responsibility of all members of the community, not just those who work with them.
            Recently I asked several kids in our congregation, “What is the best thing about our church?”  Several gave the expected answers:  Sunday school, summer camp, playing with the other kids.  But one insightful fourth grader amazed me when he said, “Everybody helps each other.  Nobody is left behind.  When we have an activity, everybody comes.  Nothing at church is only for some people.”  That kid had been formed in the faith because he belonged!
            Baptist congregations can nurture faith in their children by involving them in all the activities and rituals of the faith community.  Segregating kids in their own corner of the building works against what we need to be doing for them.  It does not instill a sense of belonging or give them opportunities to build relationships and find role models.  Nor does it cultivate in them an appreciation for church traditions and practices as they grow older.   When children participate in rituals and rites of the church, belong as full members of the community, accept opportunities to lead, and are loved as Jesus calls us to love, their faith is formed in a lasting way. 
             Adult role models and friends offer children examples of the faith that they are being taught about in the classroom.  Adult mentors can be teaching tools more powerful than all of the other activities that they will experience.  Children will remember the people of the faith community when they forget the Bible facts they learned at a church program.  Their relationships will keep them connected to the church and the faith tradition as they grow.
             Ministry to children in Baptist congregations should not be about creating fun and exciting programs.  What children really want and need is to be a part of something bigger than they are.  They want to find meaning for their lives, just as adults do.  The soul care of our children is an important responsibility that every participant in the community of faith should take seriously, remembering that a church program cannot spiritually form a child, but a family living in an intergenerational community of faith can. 

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Fisher Humphreys Answers Your Questions:  The Center for Baptist Studies introduces an occasional series authored by Fisher Humphreys, retired Professor of Theology at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University.  Dr. Humphreys fields theological queries from Bulletin readers, openly responding to select questions.  If you would like to submit a question to Dr. Humphreys, email us and we will pass it along to him for consideration.

"What is the Theological Basis of 'Moderate Baptist Christians'?"
By Fisher Humphreys

             During the heat of the controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention (1979-90), participants could not agree on how to describe what was happening. The old leaders called it “the Fundamentalist takeover,” and the new leaders called it “the conservative resurgence.”
             Nor could the participants agree on what to call themselves or each other. Three titles were proposed for each group.
             The new leaders and their supporters were called traditionalists, Fundamentalists, and conservatives. The word traditionalists never much caught on. Most of them didn’t like the word Fundamentalists.
             The old leaders and their supporters were called progressives, liberals, and moderates.  The word progressives didn’t much catch on. Most of them didn’t like the word liberals; in fact, some of them argued quite plausibly that they were the real Baptist conservatives because they intended to retain traditional Baptist commitments such as a careful separation of church and state.
             After the dust settled, the nomenclature that had become standard for the two groups was conservatives and moderates. The new leaders and their supporters are happy to be called conservatives. However, many of the old leaders and their supporters are unhappy being called moderates. I initially shared that unhappiness, but I’ve changed my mind. I like being a moderate.
             The fact that moderate was somebody else’s word for us doesn’t bother me. After all, in the first century Jesus’ followers didn’t name themselves Christians. Outsiders did, and Christians embraced the name. In the seventeenth century, Baptists didn’t name themselves Baptists. Outsiders did, and Baptists came to embrace the name. That’s how I feel about the name moderates.
             Before I say why I like the name, I want to point out that moderate is not our primary identity. Our primary identity is that we are Christians. What kind of Christians? Our secondary identity is that we are Baptists. What kind of Baptists? Our tertiary identity is that we are moderates.
             So, why do I think that being moderate is a good thing?
             Principally because the Bible says it is: “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (Phil. 4:5). The word translated “moderation” is epieikēs. Paul used that word again when he wrote that Christian leaders should be “not violent but gentle” (1 Tim. 3:3, NRSV). He used the same word again in Titus 3:2 when he advised Christians “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show courtesy to everyone.”
             These passages display that to be moderate is to not be an extremist, it is to not be violent, and it is to not be quarrelsome.
             So what’s not to like?
             Principally that in some people’s minds, to be moderate is to be wishy-washy. It is to lack convictions, or else to lack the courage to live by your convictions. It is to be weak and ineffectual.
             None of that is true about biblical moderation or about moderate Baptists. Moderate Baptists are strong and effective people. They have deep convictions and the courage to live by them. One of their convictions is that extremism is not a virtue. Another is that, in our efforts to carry out God’s purposes in the world, we must never resort to violence. Another is that chronic quarreling is not healthy. These convictions come straight out of Paul’s teaching about moderation.
             This is a wonderful time to be a moderate Baptist Christian. I don’t know what group first suggested that we be called moderate, but I’m glad they did because they helped us to retrieve an important part of our Christian heritage.

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Books That Matter:  Wil Platt is Professor of History, Emeritus of Mercer University.  In addition to his service in the Department of History of the College of Liberal Arts from 1966 to 2000, he was assistant or associate dean of the College for sixteen years.  Since the fall of 2002, he has been a volunteer for the Center for Baptist Studies and now serves as Assistant to the Interim Director.
God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home, and Society
by Susan M. Shaw

Reviewed by Wil Platt

 I have a very good friend who served for over thirty years on the ministerial staff for the Baptist congregation that is my spiritual home. He would sometimes jokingly (and privately!) say that he was opposed to women deacons (we have only recently elected several). His objection was not based upon his theological views or his interpretation of scripture. He stated the reason for his opposition bluntly: “Those women will work me to death!” Yes, we all know that without the dedicated labor of women the programs of most Baptist churches would come to a screeching halt. And yet they have been forced to work in a patriarchal environment that attempts to set limits on what they can do. The situation has worsened since the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The issue of women, particularly women in ministry, is a factor that divides Baptists in the South into conservative and moderate camps.
             In God Speaks to Us, Too, Susan M. Shaw seeks to discover the attitudes of a broad range of Southern Baptist women. Dr. Shaw is Director of the Women Studies Program at Oregon State University where she has served since 1996. Her present position disguises her background, however, because she is a child of Southern Baptists and a daughter of the South. She grew up in Rome, Georgia, graduated from Berry College with a degree in English, and went on to complete a master’s degree and a Ph. D. in religious education at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. After teaching religion at several Baptist colleges (personal attacks on her were common) and serving as an adjunct instructor for several Baptist seminaries, she found her way into the more hospitable environment of women studies. She was an ordained Baptist minister, but left Southern Baptist life in 1995 and became a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC). She sees herself as a “Baptist minister in exile” in the UCC. She also sees herself as “an insider and an outsider,” because she knows the SBC and its people intimately and yet, as a trained social scientist, she has the ability to view them objectively.
             The book was based upon interviews with 159 women who were members of or former members of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The majority of participants in the study were white women; only ten percent of the interviewees were women of color. The “control group” consisted of Dr. Shaw’s mother and her mother’s closest friends (known as “the Clique”). She interviewed these women five times, both individually and as members of a “focus group” at the beginning and at the end of her research. The interviewees were residents of Georgia, North and South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and California. They represented a broad range of ages and educational backgrounds, women in their sixties and seventies who had been homemakers all of their lives as well as young seminarians who had aspirations to become pastors of Baptist churches. The book contains a roster of the women in the study; some of the names, like folk singer Kate Campbell and Dorothy Patterson, wife of conservative leader Paige Patterson, will be very familiar to readers. Some women declined the invitation to be interviewed because of the fear of losing their jobs; several were interviewed but requested that pseudonyms be used rather than actual names. Quotations from the personal interviews and focus groups are used throughout the book to illustrate the contrasting attitudes expressed by the women in the study.
             The volume contains a long introduction on the making of Southern Baptist identity and eight chapters devoted to topics of relevance for Southern Baptist women such as their experiences of salvation and baptism, their views of the Bible, the impact of race on their lives, their attitudes towards feminism, and the idea of soul competency. The chapter on feminism is entitled "I am Woman." Dr. Shaw states that she found Baptist women to be "conflicted" about this topic. While some were “proudly feminist,” others were adamantly not feminist; most saw feminists as extremists. However, all of the women believed in women’s equality, and when she defined feminism as “a belief in and willingness to work for equality between men and women,” almost all participants agreed that they might be feminists under this definition. She found attitudes toward feminism to be generational (older women being more reluctant to espouse the cause) and dependent upon proximity to the movement. She was surprised by older women’s attitudes toward the role of women in the church. Many of them believed that women should be deacons; the more progressive ones could conceive of situations where women might serve as pastors. Middle-aged women seem to be the most comfortable with feminism, but they do not wish to identify with radical extremes. While some younger women are “emphatically feminist,” others seem to be unaware of the gains produced by the movement. Equality and social justice were issues of concern for all participants.
              As is indicated by the short title of the book, Dr. Shaw believes that the idea of soul competency “may be most salient in Southern Baptist women’s construction of identity. . . .” She further states that this idea may be “what distinguishes Southern Baptist women from other conservative Protestant women.” It is appropriate to quote from her more extensively:

           Southern Baptist women tend to ‘go along to get along’ until they think God has told
           them otherwise. Their belief in their own competence to stand before God, to hear the
           voice of God, to interpret scripture for themselves, and to do what they feel God has
           called them to do is central in their construction of themselves and their willingness to
           resist wholesale subordination. Any submission to men, therefore, is always tentative;
           only God holds full sway over their loyalties and conscience, and only they have the
           right and the ability to determine what God says to them.

              Readers of this book, be they male or female, will be richly rewarded. Susan M. Shaw knows her subject well; she also has an excellent grasp of Baptist history and distinctives.

This book was published by the The University Press of Kentucky and is available from the Press or various bookstores.

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Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Saddleback Pastor Warren Driven to Expand His Reach
(December, 2008)
Michael Horton, author of the new volume Christless Christianity, denounces Rick Warren for promoting "deeds, not creeds," declaring that such a paradigm nullifies the validity of the Gospel.  "God didn't become flesh and die on a cross for me to know I need to care about the environment or I need to look after my neighbor," Horton asserts.  

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Atheists Share Holiday Stages
Washington Post
(December 2008)
When the state of Illinois agreed to allow private citizens to place a Nativity scene inside the capitol this Christmas season, and the ACLU decided not to challenge to decision, Christian supporters were so elated they invited other groups to join in the free holiday expressions.

Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion
(December 2008)
A December article about the diaries of William H. Whitsitt has resulted in an ongoing conversation about modes of baptism in Baptist life.


Dates to Note

January  31, 2009, Birmingham, regional gathering of the New Baptist Covenant. The event will be held at 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Former President Jimmy Carter will be present for a leadership breakfast and to provide a keynote address in the sanctuary of 16th Street Baptist Church. For more information or to register, click here.

February  6-7, 2009, Now Serving Atlanta, hosted by McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia.  A great opportunity for college students to connect with each other and the needs of the world around them.  For more information or to register, click here.

February 9-14, 2009, Global Baptist Peace Conference, Rome, Italy. The conference will consist of six days including intensive training in conflict transformation, nonviolent prophetic action, and other relevant topics, inspiring speakers, workshops, and worship.
Information: detailed schedule, printable brochure, printable poster.

February 23-24, 2009, T. B. Maston Lectures, Carson-Newman College Jefferson City, Tennessee. Monday, February 23 7:30 P.M. Thomas Recital Hall. Tuesday, February 24 9:30 A.M First Baptist Church. Featured speaker: Rev. Paul Rauschenbush, Associate Dean of the Chapel, Princeton University.

March 5-6, 2009, Social Research Conference Series, The Religious-Secular Divide: The US Case, New York City. Join distinguished scholars and intellectuals in exploring the nature and future of religion, spirituality, and secularism in the United States, looking at their changing relations both historically and through contemporary debates. The keynote address will be delivered by Charles Taylor, Professor, Northwestern University. More information.

June 4-6, 2009, Baptist History and Heritage Society Annual Meeting, Huntsville, Alabama.  Hosted by First Baptist Church, Huntsville. Theme: Events Shaping Baptist Heritage in America. More information.

June 26-28, 2009, American Baptist Churches USA biennial meeting, Pasadena, California. More information.

July 2-3, 2009, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Houston, Texas.  More information.

July 15-18, 2009, International Conference on Baptist Studies V, Whitley College (Baptist College of Victoria), Melbourne, Australia.  The conference takes Baptists as its subject matter, but participation is not restricted to Baptists, either as speakers or attendees.  The theme is "Interfaces--Baptists and Others," which includes relations with other Christians, other faiths, and other movements such as the Enlightenment.  It may be explored by means of case studies, some of which may be very specific in time and place while others may cover long periods and more than one country.  Offers of papers to last no more than 25 minutes in delivery (although the full text may be longer) are welcome.  Please submit the title to the conference coordinator, Professor David W. Bebbington, Department of History, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4TB, Scotland.  A volume of conference papers will appear in the Studies in Baptist History and Thought series, published by Paternoster Press.  The college will provide participants with full board over the three days of the meeting and all charges will be kept as low as possible.  Programs and application forms will be available in a few months.

If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to this list, please let us know.

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