Vol. 7 No. 3

  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




In Response To . . . : Bruce T. Gourley

         "Twenty-First Century Religion 2.0"

The Baptist Soapbox: David Gushee

         "Being Baptist Means Following Jesus"

From the Pulpit : Bob Patterson

         "Investing in Congregation and Community"
Baptists and Presidential Elections: Doug Weaver

         "1960 Presidential Campaign: John F. Kennedy and 'the religious issue'"

Observations From the Intersection of Individualism and Ecclesiology:
Charles E. Poole

         "At a Busy Baptist Corner: Congregational Democracy"

Baptist Heritage Series: The First Baptist Church in America: Dan Ivins

         "The Spire"

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.

"Twenty-First Century Religion 2.0"
By Bruce T. Gourley

          Less 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 ChristianityBut at the same event patriarch James Dobson fretted that his movement lacks a new generation of leadership.  Frank Schaeffer, son of movement leader 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 Quranic studies. 
         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 300 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 continue 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. 
          Twenty-First Century 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 New Baptist 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 46 Southern Baptist leaders followed suit in announcing a biblical mandate to stop global warming, only to be promptly rebuked 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.

Visit Bruce's personal website.

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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 University.

"Being 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 others.

           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 leftward direction.
           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.
           Doctrinal clarity 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.

"Investing 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 follow Jesus.
           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.
           Being clueless 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 missional church.

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 commitments.
           Most professionals 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. 
            Your flock 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.
            Charles 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.

"1960 Presidential 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 president. 
            Harsh 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.”
             Early 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”).
             Baptist 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.” 
              A 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. 

Note: See 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: Congregational Democracy"
By Charles E. Poole

           Perhaps 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 notwithstanding.

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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.
"The Spire"
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.
            Ironically, 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 Anglican churches.
            Still, our 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. 
            I’ve climbed 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. 
            The history 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.
            The church 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 window?" 
It 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 place. 
 You’ve 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
(March 2008)
Workplace chaplains are a "new wrinkle" in corporate wellness trends.

Postmodern Missionaries
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 information is available 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."  More information.

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 information.

June 19-20, 2008, Annual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Memphis, Tennessee, Cook Convention Center.  Information and registration.

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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