Produced by The Center for Baptist
Studies, Mercer University
A Monthly EMagazine, Bridging Baptists
Yesterday and Today
Bruce T. Gourley,
Baptist Studies Bulletin
Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies
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.
"Twenty-First Century Religion
By Bruce T. Gourley
than a decade into the twenty-first century, the world's religious landscape
is undergoing noticeable change. Defined by 9/11, Version 1.0 of
Twenty-First Century Religion reflects fear and antagonism. Last week
the Religious Right 1.0 gathered to applaud their hero. A revival
atmosphere ensued as the faithful
cheered, clapped and shouted "Amen" as the president preached war-mongering in
the name of Christianity. But at the same
event patriarch James Dobson fretted that his movement
lacks a new generation of leadership. Frank Schaeffer, son of
Francis Schaeffer and now a vocal critic of Dobson and company, was more
blunt. Religious Right 1.0 (a.k.a. "Bush's last fans"), the younger
Schaeffer declared, had used the guise of conservatism to cover an agenda of "anti-American
agitators for a thinly disguised theocracy." Schaeffer lamented that
America is now faced with the talk of "undoing the damage done to our country
by the born-again president whose miserable presidency was brought into
existence by and aided and abetted by the religious right."
Meanwhile, two days ago the
Associated Press reported that the Muslim world is attacking freedom of
speech in creating "a battle plan to defend its religion from political
cartoonists and bigots." This latest undertaking by Islamic
Fundamentalism 1.0 follows on the heels of a
study that revealed that most of the suicide bombers in Iraq over the past
five years were alienated young religious Muslims who were recruited by
fundamentalists and indoctrinated in religious extremism under the guise of
In short, Twenty-First Century
Religion 1.0 was founded on the principle of fear and has been expressed in
militant efforts to suppress theological opposition. Untold tens of
thousands of lives have been lost in this clash of Religious Right 1.0 and
Islamic Fundamentalism 1.0. Fearing that the opponent is yet gaining an
upper hand through reproduction, Religious Right 1.0 is turning to "a
new cold war, a 'clash of civilizations' to be fought through women's bodies,
with the maternity ward as battleground," according to one scholar.
Meanwhile, Twenty-First Century
Religion 2.0 is emerging upon the scene. Surveying the smoldering
battlefield ashes and lives ruined by no-holds-barred theological warfare,
Religion 2.0 is rejecting the pulpit of fear and the use of theology as a tool
for conquering. Late last year
138 Muslim scholars and nearly
Christian leaders published letters seeking peace and reconciliation
between Muslims and Christians. Religious Right 2.0 leaders Rick Warren
(a well-known Baptist pastor) and David Neff (Vice-President of
Christianity Today) signed onto the effort, while Religious Right 1.0
leader Al Mohler (president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
criticized attempts to find "common ground" by "loving God and neighbor
together," declaring instead that the United States has a responsibility to
the war against Islamic fundamentalism. In a related development,
the Pope's 2006 call for
Christian-Muslim dialogue was followed earlier this month by an
announcement of the first
Catholic-Muslim Forum, to be held in Rome in November.
Religion 2.0 is also manifesting itself in other places, such as within a
growing Religious Left in America, the broader
Emerging Church movement, the resurgence of the
Baptist World Alliance
following the departure of the Southern Baptist Convention, last month's
Covenant Celebration, and the growth of
moderate Muslim movements such as the
Moderate Muslim Brotherhood. The movement is even finding expression
among the Religious Right in efforts to move beyond the shibboleths of
anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality and making a priority of global poverty
and environmentalism. Rick Warren has led the way in fighting poverty
and disease, while in 2006
86 evangelical leaders broke ranks with the larger movement and pledged to
fight global warming. Earlier this month
Southern Baptist leaders followed suit in announcing a biblical mandate to
stop global warming, only to be
by Religious Right 1.0 leader Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
So what is to be
made of the tug-of-war between Twenty-First Century Religion 1.0 and 2.0?
In the larger sense, it is an age-old struggle between fear and hope, war and
peace, love and hatred. These struggles will always be with us. On
the other hand, following a period of time in which the darker religious
themes have dominated the world's consciousness, we as Christians must hold
forth hope that Jesus' teachings of love and peace will once again shine
brightly enough to overpower the darkness within and without.
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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 David Gushee
is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer
Baptist Means Following Jesus"
By David Gushee
I became a Baptist Christian by conversion in the summer
of 1978, when I was sixteen years old. Little did I know that this glorious,
pristine experience of new spiritual life was occurring in a denomination that
was about to fall apart. I was insulated from the brewing conflict until
beginning the M.Div. program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1984. Since that time it has
shadowed my every move, however much I have wanted to shake free of it.
And yet I was
blessed with experiences outside of the Southern Baptist world that allowed me
to gain some much-needed perspective. Having been raised Catholic, I was
eventually able to rediscover the profound riches of that tradition. Attending
Union Seminary (NY) for my Ph.D. helped me see both the best of Protestant
theological liberalism/radicalism and also its deep problems. Becoming a
Christian ethicist under the tutelage of Glen Stassen and Larry Rasmussen
helped me solidify much of what I thought Christian faith really meant. And
working with evangelical theologian/activist Ron Sider in urban Philadelphia
helped me find an ethically rich evangelicalism that in many ways became my
primary religious self-identity.
Yet Baptists kept
calling me—first to conflict-riven Southern Seminary in 1993, then to Union
University in 1996, and now most recently to Mercer in 2007. I guess this
means that besides my days working for Ron Sider, my entire professional life
has been spent on a Baptist payroll. God must have quite a sense of humor.
I was asked to
comment here on my vision for Baptists. Having burrowed pretty deeply into
“both” sides of the (white) Southern/post-Southern Baptist world for my entire
adult life I have reached a few conclusions that might be of interest to
This part of the Baptist world is deeply obsessed by the question of what it
really means to be a Baptist. I always am a bit surprised by this because I
have not found a similar passion about peoplehood/identity questions in any
other particular denominational tradition I have encountered along the way.
Surely it has much to do with the fact that at least in some ways the Baptist
fight in the1980s-1990s was about what Baptist identity really means. We have
never quite gotten over it.
Those who ended up
being labeled “conservative” and “moderate” (“fundamentalist” and “liberal”
were often the adversary-preferred terms, as we all know) landed on markedly
different identity conclusions. Conservatives ended up saying/enacting “being
Baptist means being doctrinally pure.” Moderates ended up saying/enacting
“being Baptist means freedom.”
I never found
either answer satisfactory. Both caught partial truths. Both were made worse
by their reaction to each other and by their deterioration in a rightward or
I think being
Baptist means being Christian. In turn, I think being Christian means
following Jesus Christ. I think following Jesus Christ means investing our
lives in the Kingdom of God. I think investing our lives in the Kingdom of God
means incarnating a concrete obedience to the teachings of Jesus and a
concrete imitation of his moral practice. A key aspect of his Kingdom
teachings and practice is love of neighbor, including love of stranger,
“sinner,” and enemy. To the extent that Baptists forgot how to love each
other, and in other ways directly disobeyed the teachings of Christ in our
denominational wars, we fought the Baptist battles at the cost of forfeiting
our very identity as Christians. In this sense, no one won. We all lost.
Christ’s cause lost.
is part of following Jesus. Freedom is part of following Jesus. But following
Jesus is the main thing. The only conceivable healthy future for Baptists will
be found in following Jesus.
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From the Pulpit: The Center for Baptist Studies recognizes the
critical role of the pastor in the life of the local congregation. Each
September, the Center co-sponsors the annual Mercer Preaching Consultation.
For the first half of this year, we present a special series of articles
highlighting the pulpit. Each month a different pastor will provide
insight From the Pulpit. This month's contributor is Bob Patterson,
long-time pastor of First Baptist Church, Warm Springs, Georgia, and
highly-visible community leader.
in Congregation and Community"
By Bob Patterson
"The church cannot be the center of a follower of Jesus’ life."
Did that get your attention? It got mine. When I first heard this,
I thought the speaker was one of those anti-church Lone Ranger
Christians. However the more I thought about it the more I
realized the truth. Jesus has to be the center of a follower's
life. The most effective church helps the believer experience and
How can a pastors
help the churches they serve be that type of fellowship? It seems
to me [a fine Baptist phrase not in much use today] these three
things I have learned might be helpful to my fellow ministers.
Lead the church to accomplish her mission.
No pastor can afford to take a vacation from the leadership task. In
part leadership is about keeping the institution alive and
functioning. One cannot neglect maintaining the institution
without creating a vocational peril. But if that is all one does,
the organization may thrive but the Spirit will wither. Too many
churches are spiritual organizations not spiritual organisms.
Organizations will not reach a lost and dying world.
about the church's mission is the main reason most churches fall
into the rut of being just another organization. The job of the
pastor is to lead his or her church to discover her mission and
live it out. The mission must be as specific as your community and
as big as Jesus.
For 15 years our
mission has been to “Model the life of Jesus Christ to our
community.” The pastor must constantly instill the mission into
the church’s DNA. The pastor must help leadership evaluate each
decision by asking: “is it helping us to live out our mission?”
When you have been the pastor long enough for people to trust you,
they will feel safe venturing into the unknown world of being a
Invest in people.
God commands Jeremiah in Chapter 29:5-7 to invest in the place where
he will live out his exile and die. Effective pastor-church
relationships, like durable marriages, are committed for the
long haul. Jeremiah’s investment strategy works for the minister
willing to forsake the vocational infidelity of constantly
looking for the next church or the next rung on the success
ladder. Durable relationships are not built on uncertain
come to a community and stay. Physicians, dentists, lawyers and
CPAs usually set up their practice and stay until
retirement. The best practices are marked by professional
competence and good relationships. The same should be true of
ministers. People need a consistent spiritual guide through the
challenges of living in a fallen and mysterious world.
People outside the
church family are struggling with spiritual issues. The pastor
must reach out to the community finding the lost sheep and
leading them home to Jesus and then to the church family. Being
known in your community is the only antidote to the constant
dose of clergy misconduct and TV preachers that undermine the
work of the local pastor. Your parish is the community, not just
the church family.
Most pastors are
accustomed to being called preacher. It is almost your other
first name. When you move from being the preacher to being the
pastor you can then impact a church and community. Churches and
communities need a pastor not just a preacher.
Become a significant interpreter of Christianity for your
congregation and community.
When you are the pastor not the preacher you can fill this
role. Gone forever are the days when you were the primary
interpreter of Christianity. Your goal is to be a significant
interpreter of Christianity to your congregation and community.
needs guidance to become well informed, responsible followers of
Christ. You fail and they will look somewhere else. Someone
with a TV show or web site might become their preacher, yet a
television screen or computer monitor cannot meet personal
pastoral needs. Spiritual guidance requires an excellent
exegesis of the scripture, church history, theology and life. Effective
communication is central to relating to persons; don't lose your
sheep because you are too esoteric or intellectual in your
delivery to be understood. The temptation to display one's
pastoral education from the pulpit, rather than share from our
own experiences and insights, is a common rookie mistake that
can become a perpetual stumbling block.
Spurgeon's mother’s concern for the spiritual welfare of her
oldest boy was deep and earnest. One day she said to him, "Ah,
Charley! I have often prayed that you might be saved, but never
that you should become a Baptist." Charles replied, "God has
answered your prayers, mother, with His usual bounty, and given
you more than you asked."
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Baptists and Presidential Elections:
This series focuses on historical
Baptist responses and interactions during previous United States presidential
election years. This month's contributor is Doug Weaver. Doug is Director of
Undergraduate Studies of Baylor University's Department of Religion.
Campaign: John F. Kennedy and 'the religious issue'"
By Doug Weaver
Baptists were reticent when it came to talking about presidential politics
during the era of Baptist Harry Truman, but no such inhibition was present
when it came to the specter of a Roman Catholic in the highest office in the
land. The vast majority of Baptist voices opposed the candidacy of John F.
Kennedy for the presidency of the United States in 1960. Baptist voices, of
course, were not the only ones adamantly opposed to the idea of a Catholic
rhetoric between Protestants and Catholics had been the norm for most of
American history. It was never simply a conservative reaction, however.
Liberal Paul Blanshard’s 1949 book, American Freedom and Catholic Power,
was a national best seller. Blanshard recognized the pulse of Protestants
at mid-century when he said that Catholic influence on American politics
wanted “to bring American foreign policy into line with Vatican temporal
interests.” Various mainline Protestants joined Baptists and conservatives
like the National Association of Evangelicals to cast a skeptical eye toward a
Kennedy presidency. The popular Norman Vincent Peale was especially against
Kennedy because of “the religious issue.”
As early as
1957, JKF was being touted in the media as a possible candidate for
president. Baptists were quick to respond. During the fall of 1958, the
Florida Baptist state convention passed a resolution against the idea of a
Catholic candidacy. The next year eight state conventions joined the
bandwagon. Alabama expressed the fear of many when it resolved that the vision
of the Roman Catholic Church was “to be the only completely recognized and
state-supported church in the United States.” At their annual June convention
in 1960, Southern Baptists passed a resolution (other major denominations did
not) that recognized the nation’s constitution said religious affiliation was
not a qualification for president. But, they added “when a public official is
inescapably bound by the dogma and demands of his church he cannot
consistently separate himself from these.”
and throughout his campaign, Kennedy sought to deflate the fears of anxious
Protestants. His most famous speech on “the religious issue” was given on
September 12, 1960, to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He
remarked, “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic,
Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts
instruction on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches
or any other ecclesiastical source…where religious liberty is so indivisible
that an act against one church is considered an act against all.” Baptists had
their doubts. C. R. Daley, editor of the Kentucky Western Recorder,
said that “Either Kennedy is not a true Catholic, he doesn’t understand the
teachings of his church, or he is saying one thing and believing another.”
Many Southern Baptist observers believed their concerns about the future were
justified because even the Catholic media was criticizing Kennedy for his
positions on religious liberty. Baptists also noted how “Catholic Spain” had
closed Protestant churches.
Throughout the campaign in 1960, Baptists were politically active. Well-known
evangelist, Billy Graham worked behind the scenes to get his friend Richard
Nixon elected. Leading Baptist pulpiteer of FBC Dallas, W. A. Criswell,
was in the attack mode. In one of his July sermons which was published
in pamphlet form and widely circulated, Criswell said that the Roman Catholic
Church was a “political tyranny” and he predicted a Kennedy victory would
spell the death of religious liberty in America. In September 1960,
Criswell wrote, “It is written in our country’s constitution that church and
state must be, in this nation, forever separate and free” (yes this is the
same Criswell who said in 1984 that “I believe this notion of the separation of church and
state was the figment of some infidel’s imagination”).
editors gave extensive coverage to the campaign; none supported Kennedy. E.
S. James of the Texas Baptist Standard gave more coverage than anyone.
In March 1960, he said, “I am not opposed to Catholicism as such, but to the
clerical control of most of the Catholic people….” James softened some toward
the end of the campaign. He found Nixon’s plan to give states control over
the issue of aid to church schools “disgustingly vague.” His final editorial
said that Kennedy “has not voiced the Roman Catholic concept…and Mr. Nixon
has not voiced the Protestant concept.”
minority of Baptists avoided the anti-Kennedy politics. For example, Charles
Wellborn of Seventh and James Baptist Church, Waco, asked for “fair play and
sanity” and people to accept Kennedy’s statements on religious liberty as
sincere. J. H. Jackson, president of the National Baptist Convention, was
disturbed with Billy Graham’s criticism of Kennedy. Jackson noted that
America was not planning to elect a Catholic as president but an American
citizen. After Kennedy was elected, most Baptists pledged to pray for the
president. C. R. Daley revealed a more defiant disbelief when he queried how
so many Baptists, with their knowledge of the Catholic track record on
religious freedom, could have voted for a Catholic.
Baptists (or other Protestants) never again tried to derail a Catholic who ran
for high public office. The era of Vatican II and ecumenical relations
changed the religious temperature of the country. In fact, in future decades
the more conservative Baptists were quick to join with Catholics to vote for a
particular social agenda.
Randall Balmer’s God in the White House: A History – 1960-2004 (HarperOne,
2008) and Ira Birdwhistell’s “Southern Baptist Perceptions of and Responses to
Roman Catholicism, 1917-1972,” (Ph.D. diss, SBTS, 1975).
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Observations From the Intersections of Individualism and Ecclesiology:
Charles E. Poole recently returned to
the pulpit of Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, following four
years of street ministry with LifeShare Community Ministries in Jackson.
"Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, has ministered to
both the poor and the privileged for over a quarter century. In addition to
Northminster, he has served First Baptist Church, Macon, GA, and First Baptist
Church, Washington, DC.
"At a Busy Baptist Corner:
By Charles E. Poole
the greatest corporate expression of individualism is democracy. In a
democracy, each individual gets a vote, every individual’s vote is of equal
weight and once the votes are counted the opinion embraced by the largest
number of individuals carries the day.
For those of us who
are Baptists, that is the typical way for a church to function. The
corporate expression of our individual priesthood is congregational church
government, and congregational church government eventually winds its way back
to one of democracy’s central tenets: every individual gets a vote, every vote
is of equal weight and the majority of those individual votes carries the day.
I don’t have a
better idea for how to guide the life of a Baptist church, but there are
problems with “ecclesiology by democracy.” One problem is that voting on
things creates “winners” and “losers.” Another is that, in the Bible,
majorities don’t always rightly discern the will of God. Another is that
assigning equal weight to everyone’s opinion suggests that there is no skill
necessary for discovering the will of God and the way of Christ. Is a person
who hasn’t looked at the Sermon on the Mount in years as skilled at knowing
what our Lord’s church should decide as someone who reads the Sermon on the
Mount once a week every week?
We all know those
problems, but we continue to believe that our Baptist way of being church is
worth the risks, because we are committed to an ecclesiology that honors
individual freedom. That’s why we always build our churches at the busy
corner where individualism and ecclesiology intersect, dangers
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Baptist Heritage Series: The
First Baptist Church in America:
As Baptists prepare to celebrate 400
years in 2009, this
series highlights America's First Baptist Church. Dan Ivins,
the 36th pastor of America's First Baptist Church, is the author of
this month's article.
Ivins loves living in downtown Providence and his favorite
activities are sports, traveling, and riding his motorbike.
By Dan Ivins
I love the names of the streets of Providence: Benevolent, Meeting,
Church, Hope, Angell, Williams, to name a few. The Meeting House
(The First Baptist Church in America) has been at the corner of
Benefit and Steeple Streets since the year before the Declaration of
Independence was signed.
Steeple Street isn’t named for the majestic First Baptist Spire.
Rather it was named by the British, because they cut down oaks off
the property and sailed them to England to make steeples for
noble spire stands since the late 1700s, constructed by Boston
shipwrights, out of work because England blockaded the harbor over
taxation on tea. Word was a steeple was being raised down in the
swamps of Rhode Island. In just three days, the spire stood where
it now still resides, the only one remaining in downtown Providence,
not felled by strong winds.
up the spiral stairs of this 185 foot spire and seen the 233 year
old black-pitched oaks taken from the surrounding landscape. Yeah,
it’ll take more than nature’s fierce storms to blow this symbol of
religious freedom to the ground!
I live in
downtown Providence. Each day I walk to the church, I feel a sense
of pride as I marvel at the stately building. I’ve seen a full
autumn moon rising over College Hill, just over the lit-up steeple.
And the pink and orange hues of a sunrise, framing this structure
continues to inspire.
behind it is staggering: the symbol of religious liberty in this
country; sharing information with visitors from all across the land
and around the world. All of that and more drives home how
important the separation of church and state continues to be, now
more than ever, as evangelicals claim the separation of church and
state and the Bill of Rights achieved at the cost of Baptist blood
are something sinister. Taking our religious freedoms for granted
is much more hazardous than a hurricane.
recently raised the funds to light the steeple. Mark Patinkin
cited First Baptist in his Providence Journal column "What's
the prettiest sight in town?” He listed several best sights,
including our own: "Can there be a prettier image than the First
Baptist Church in Providence lit up at night with candles in every
declares how others too admire the unique nature of this "mother of
all Baptists in America." Roger Williams' radical stand, which gave
birth to the religious liberties we enjoy as historic Baptists has a
proud heritage. It is a privilege to become the thirty-sixth pastor
to be invited to carry the pastoral baton for a season in such a
special place, so alive with his very footsteps! So I don't take
this historical opportunity lightly. I am acutely aware of "the
great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us even now." And I
hope to add whatever gifts the Lord provided me with to the long
line of predecessors who left their individual stamp on this
got to appreciate old things to be here. But First Baptist’s goal
today is to continue to keep the Light of Christ shining brightly in
the present and into the future, presiding over a congregation which
values diversity, is spiritually uplifting, and refreshingly
different. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a
hill cannot be hid…Let your light shine before others, that they may
see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven"
(Matt. 5:14‑16). So be it!
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Recommended Online Reading
for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley
The Greening of the Baptists
TIME Magazine (March 2008)
Some Southern Baptist leaders have (finally) accepted the consensus
regarding Climate Change.
Chaplains Come Calling in the Workplace
MLive (March 2008)
Workplace chaplains are a "new wrinkle" in corporate wellness trends.
Savannah Morning News (March 2008)
The rebirthing of a church in a changing culture.
Dates to Note
April 1-2, 2008, Urban Mission Workshop, McAfee
School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia. Speakers include Rev. Joanna
Adams, Rev. Timothy McDonald, Rev. Tony Lankford and others. More
online or by emailing Larry McSwain at
April 3, 2008, 25th Anniversary Celebration and
Judson-Rice Dinner honoring Walker Knight, Loudermilk Center, Downtown
Atlanta, 6:30 PM. Visit Baptists
Today online or call 1-877-752-5658 for more information.
April 4-5, 2008, General Assembly, Cooperative
Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia.
Theme: "Loving God, Loving Neighbor."
April 14-15, 2008, Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden
Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State, Wake Forest
Divinity School. Featured Speaker: Dr. Charles G. Adams.
May 22-24, 2008, Baptist History & Heritage
Society Annual Meeting, Mercer Atlanta campus. The theme is "Baptists
and First Amendment Issues." Visit
the BH&HS website for more
June 19-20, 2008, Annual Cooperative Baptist
Fellowship General Assembly, Memphis, Tennessee, Cook Convention Center.
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 Randall@ibts.cz
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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