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
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley
The Baptist Soapbox: Michael Ruffin
on the Mercer Preaching Consultation"
Ministry in the Local Church: Julie Whidden Long
Religion and Politics
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Books That Matter:
State Matters: Fighting for Religious Liberty in Our Nation's Capital
by J. Brent Walker
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.
By Bruce T. Gourley
is a Christian to do when God runs for political office and Jesus goes chasing
after mammon? While neither represents new developments within Christendom, the
current economic crisis in America, arguably the worst since the Great
Depression, adds a new wrinkle to appropriating deities for personal gain.
While every four years the American
God tries (and fails) to take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the
American Jesus is busy with his own mission. Embarrassed by his earlier
earthly identification with the poor and oppressed, today's Jesus hawks prosperity
from pulpits and boardrooms, praising and blessing the wealthy. Capitalized and
securitized, Christ serves Wall Street and avoids blighted neighborhoods and
inner cities. He provides the faithful "massive wealth," according to former
Southern Baptist evangelist
Snell, even as God's chosen politicians pressure the White House to deny living wages and health
care for common folk.
Snell is not alone. Some
prosperity preachers are respected in the evangelical world, while the
activities of others led to a
U.S. Senate investigation even as the economy slid downhill. In addition,
some analysts portray prosperity preachers as accomplices to the current
financial crisis. A religion scholar at the University of Rochester, Anthea Butler
paraphrases the wealth gospel: "Even if you have a poor credit rating, God
can still bless you—if you put some faith out there [that is, make a big
donation to the church], you'll get that house or that car or that apartment."
How embedded is prosperity
theology in the American church? Today's most popular Christian financial
advisor, Dave Ramsey teaches how to "build
wealth." In local churches large and small, conservative and moderate,
testimonials to tithing almost inevitably declare that the practice results in
personal financial gain.
When it comes to the subject of
money, one wonders if the Jesus of the Gospels is welcome in the modern
American church. Contrary to a capitalistic paradigm which rewards greed, the Jesus of the Gospels advocated
shared wealth and social justice, while not once praising or encouraging the
accumulation of personal wealth. If this Jesus were alive today, would he tell the American
church to sell its possessions, give the money to the world's poor, and follow
him? If this Jesus were alive today, would he call prosperity preachers to
climb down from their pulpits and live among the poor? And if this Jesus were
alive today, would he discourage the poor from pursuing the "American dream"
of great wealth?
While no one relishes the
current economic meltdown, perhaps it will give the American God second
thoughts about using the White House to establish an earthly kingdom, and
cause the American Jesus to reconsider his day job as a cheerleader for
personal wealth. Distanced from power and wealth, the Gospel might be freed to
come out of the closet. Unleashed and given free reign, the Jesus of the
Gospels might lead some of us, individually and as local church fellowships,
to places we would never otherwise go, and into the lives of people we have
Table of Contents
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 Michael
Ruffin, pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia.
on the Mercer Preaching Consultation"
By Michael Ruffin
In 1979, when I was a brand new
Mercer University graduate and waiting for my wife Debra to become
one, too, I worked for a few months at First Baptist Church in
Macon, Georgia. I preached a few times and sometimes when I did
Dr. Howard Giddens, esteemed Professor of Christianity at Mercer,
was there. Once, a few days after I had preached, a student in his
preaching class told me that Dr. Giddens had, without telling me,
presented my sermon outline to them for evaluation. Clearly,
Mercer has played a long-standing role in the formation of my
preaching ministry—and the preaching ministry of others, too!
years now, a primary avenue through which Mercer has facilitated
the continuing development of preaching ministers has been the
annual Mercer Preaching Consultation, held at the King and Prince
Resort on St. Simons Island, Georgia. The 2008 Consultation, which
took place September 28-30 and which was co-sponsored by the
McAfee School of Theology and the Center for Baptist Studies, was
headlined by Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St.
Paul, Minnesota, and author of the best-selling books Letters
from a Skeptic and The Myth of a Christian Nation. In
his presentations Boyd dealt primarily with the controversial but
important issues with which he has been associated, namely, open
theism and the relation between church and state. He offered a
compelling example of how an honest, searching, and open-minded
approach to the Bible, even when undertaken by a self-identified
evangelical with a high view of Scripture, can lead the preacher
into deep and troubled waters, especially if she or he goes public
in the pulpit with what is found. His presentation, coming as it
did from one who lives and works outside the Baptist South, was
refreshing. Boyd expressed his sense of surprise at finding
Baptists in the South with whom he felt a sense of kinship.
Professor of Preaching at Truett Seminary, offered a scholarly
call to greater creativity in preaching. A variety of other
speakers presented thought-provoking talks on various topics, not
all of which dealt directly with preaching, but all of which did
deal with issues and areas that bear directly on the work of
pulpit ministers. All of us preachers are after all engaged in
areas of life and ministry besides preaching but all of the areas
of life and ministry that we encounter feed into our preaching
ministry. The organizers of the Consultation thankfully recognize
that and thus expand the scope of the conference beyond
“preaching” per se.
of Louisville, Kentucky provided the music for the event. This
Christian folk singer’s music demonstrated well how song can
entertain us, lead us into worship, and prick our
consciences—sometimes all at the same time.
Mercer Preaching Consultation will be held September 27-29 and
will feature Dr. Walter Brueggemann. I recommend that you reserve
your spot as soon as the official announcement appears!
Table of Contents
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.
By Julie Whidden Long
“What is the
preacher saying?” “What are the crackers and little cups for?”
“Why can’t I have it?” Most parents and churches have had to
answer these sincere and serious questions from a child regarding
communion. How can Baptist churches include children in the
family of faith’s observance of the Lord’s Supper while
maintaining their theological convictions and traditions?
Teach children about the sacredness of
the symbols. We need to help
our children handle the elements with reverent care. Remind
children that there’s nothing magic about this bread and juice.
But when these symbols become a part of communion―when we take
them as a church altogether―they
become special symbols because they remind us of Jesus. Encourage
children to be curious and ask questions. Tell them about
your personal experiences of communion. Talk with them about
your church’s practice―what
you do and why you do it that way.
Find ways to
include children that fit with your church’s theology.
In most Baptist churches, children are encouraged to “watch and
wait” until they make a profession of faith in Jesus and are
baptized. Some take a different approach and believe that because
Jesus welcomed the little children, all are welcome to participate
at the Lord’s Table. Others feel it is important to instill in
children a sense of belonging within the family of faith, even
when the child is not ready to fully participate in the rite of
communion. They offer children a grape, a cracker or another
symbol to express the child’s acceptance into God’s family. There
are valid theological arguments for each case. Discuss the issue
within your church family, and no matter where you land
theologically, make children feel welcome in the language,
actions, and spirit surrounding the service of communion.
Teach them the
joy of anticipation. In her
book Parenting in the Pew, Robbie Castleman writes,
“Anticipation is the best preparation for appreciation. It is
good for children to wait for what is truly important….If children
feel left out, neglected, or deprived because they can’t
participate in communion, it may be because explanations have been
given in terms of denial, not anticipation. “No, you can’t,” is
very different from “Not yet; it’s important to wait.” Explain to
the children that they are saving up for something special.
Waiting for the proper time does not have to be passive. Active
anticipation prepares children to participate at the right time
with reverence and respect.
discover the right time to participate.
Taking the Lord’s Supper is a serious celebration of God’s
goodness and grace. The scriptures encourage Christians to
approach the table of the Lord with earnest self-examination,
confession, and a humble and grateful heart. Remember that the
decision about the appropriate time for children to fully
participate in communion is a personal decision. As a guideline,
children should at least be able to articulate their faith in
their own words in order to share in the meal with the community
Table of Contents
Religion and Politics:
On the eve of this year's presidential
election, we highlight a moral and
ethical issue upon which many religious and political leaders (including both
presidential candidates) across partisan lines are agreed: opposition to the
use of torture by United States personnel and agencies.
The National Religious
Campaign Against Torture
Each presidential election season
highlights divisions within religious ranks, and this year is no
exception. The newest moral and ethical issue confronting
religious persons and institutions is that of torture.
Specifically, is torture justified if important information may
be obtained? While religious sentiment against torture has
slowly increased in recent years,
National Torture Summit held at Mercer University's Atlanta
campus last month gave greater prominence to the torture issue,
while a recent poll commissioned by Mercer and Faith in Public
Life revealed that
southern evangelicals are more likely to condone torture
than the general American public.
On the other hand,
religious leaders and politicians across partisan lines have
taken a stance against the use of torture. Reflecting the
resonance of this issue among Americans at large, both
presidential candidates have
condemned the use of torture by the United States.
If you are
concerned about the use of torture by American personnel and
agencies, the Center for Baptist Studies encourages you to
consider supporting the following Declaration (visit the
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
web site for
Declaration of Principles for a
Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty
Though we come from a
variety of backgrounds and walks of life, we agree that the use
of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against
prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American.
In our effort to secure
ourselves, we have resorted to tactics which do not work, which
endanger US personnel abroad, which discourage political,
military, and intelligence cooperation from our allies, and
which ultimately do not enhance our security.
Our President must lead us
by our core principles. We must be better than our enemies, and
our treatment of prisoners captured in the battle against
terrorism must reflect our character and values as Americans.
Therefore, we believe the
President of the United States should issue an Executive Order
that provides as follows:
The "Golden Rule."
We will not authorize or use any methods of interrogation
that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be
they civilians or soldiers.
One national standard.
We will have one national standard for all US personnel and
agencies for the interrogation and treatment of prisoners.
Currently, the best expression of that standard is the US Army
Field Manual, which will be used until any other interrogation
technique has been approved based on the Golden Rule principle.
The rule of law.
We will acknowledge all prisoners to our courts or the
International Red Cross. We will in no circumstance hold persons
in secret prisons or engage in disappearances. In all cases,
prisoners will have the opportunity to prove their innocence in
ways that fully conform to American principles of fairness.
Duty to protect.
We acknowledge our historical commitment to end the use of
torture and cruelty in the world. The US will not transfer any
person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or
Checks and balances.
Congress and the courts play an invaluable role in protecting
the values and institutions of our nation and must have and will
have access to the information they need to be fully informed
about our detention and interrogation policies.
accountability. All US personnel-whether soldiers or
intelligence staff-deserve the certainty that they are
implementing policy that complies fully with the law. Henceforth
all US officials who authorize, implement, or fail in their duty
to prevent the use of torture and ill treatment of prisoners
will be held accountable, regardless of rank or position.
Table of Contents
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.
Church State Matters: Fighting for Religious
Liberty in our Nation's Capital
by J. Brent Walker
Reviewed by Wil Platt
time when many Baptists have deserted the barricades in defense of
the time-honored principles of church-state separation and religious
liberty, it is encouraging to know that there are people who stand
in the breach in Washington, D. C. to uphold this sacred cause. Such
is the case with J. Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist
Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), and his staff of
dedicated workers. Supported by fourteen Baptist bodies (excluding
the Southern Baptist Convention that fully de-funded the BJC in
the organization continues the work begun in the 1930s and
Walker is a native of West Virginia, a graduate of the University of
Florida (B. A. and M. A.), and a law graduate of Stetson University.
After practicing law briefly in Tampa, Florida, Brent entered
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky where
he earned the Master of Divinity degree in 1989 and was recognized
as the most outstanding graduate. He was ordained to ministry by the Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa in 1988 and served as pastor of
Richland Baptist Church in Falmouth, Kentucky prior to joining the
BJC staff in 1989. He is a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of
the U. S. and the Florida Bar. He has served as an adjunct professor
at the Baptist Seminary in Richmond and the Georgetown University
Law Center. He has spoken widely on church-state issues at churches,
conferences, seminaries and on college and university campuses.
Brent has contributed to a variety of publications and has appeared
on public and network television. He has written several hundred
columns for Report from the Capital, the flagship publication
of the BJC. He states that he has preached nearly every other Sunday
(and sometimes on Saturdays when speaking to Seventh Day Baptist
congregations) during his career with the BJC.
Church State Matters is a collection of some of the columns,
articles, testimonies, lectures, and sermons that Brent Walker has
written over the last several decades. The collection is diverse,
but he states that all of them “shed light on the question of how,
in the words of the Baptist Joint Committee’s mission statement, we
seek to ‘defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all,
furthering the Baptist heritage that champions the principle that
religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by
government.’” The collection is “loosely arranged by chapters
generally addressing Baptist history, the life and ministry of the
Baptist Joint Committee, the issues the Baptist Joint Committee
deals with daily, the United States Supreme Court and Supreme Court
justices, religion’s proper place in the public square, and topics
of pluralism and religious liberty abroad.”
guiding theme of Church State Matters is found in the first
sixteen words of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These “religion clauses”
constitute the “twin pillars” of the First Amendment. They are
printed on the reverse sides of the pages that divide the sections
of the book so that the reader will be constantly reminded of their
importance, and they are at the heart of the contents of the book.
In a lecture given at Cornell University School of Law on the topic
of school vouchers, Brent Walker stated: “The establishment clause
prohibits government from aiding one religion in particular or all
religions in general. Government must be neutral toward religion,
neither advancing nor inhibiting it, but turning it loose to allow
people of faith to practice their religion as they see fit.”
third section of the book, “Directing Traffic at the Intersection of
Church and State,” is twice as long as any other section with the
exception of the one dealing with the Supreme Court. It is in this
section that one can observe the day-to-day work of the BJC and its
Director. It includes texts of Brent Walker’s testimonies to several
Congressional committees or subcommittees on important topics such
as “Charitable Choice” and a proposal to modify the First Amendment
by adding a school prayer or “religious equality” amendment. In the
first document, Brent presented an array of arguments against
charitable choice and in favor of religious freedom. He argued
effectively for “doing right the right way.” Similarly, in the
second testimony, he argued strongly against changes in the
Constitution: “We should never try to amend the Constitution,
particularly the First Amendment, unless there is a compelling need
for it. There is none.”
book contains sixty entries of varying lengths; most of the columns
from Report from the Capital are two to three pages, the
sermons, testimonies, and lectures are longer. The reader will find
references to the “greats” of Baptist life and American political
history such as Roger Williams, John Leland, James Madison, and
Thomas Jefferson. There are brief sketches of Supreme Court justices
David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Ruth Bader
Ginsburg, Thurgood Marshall, and Sandra Day O’Connor. Important
Supreme Court decisions related to church-state matters are
discussed and “practical matters” such as the display of the
American flag in sanctuaries and the posting of the Ten Commandments
are discussed. While the book was not intended to be used as “daily
readings,” it is arranged in such a way as to provide a course of
reading that would last for several months. Approached in this way,
the reader will come away steeped in church-state separation and
religious liberty for all and with a keen sense of the necessity
to remain vigilant to protect these sacred principles.
Walker has performed an important work in collecting and publishing
the materials found in Church State Matters; it will help
preserve the legacy of the BJC. Readers not familiar with the work
of the BJC should be. Go to their
Web site and read about the work
of this important Baptist organization that is currently involved in
a campaign to raise $5 million to build a Center for Religious
Liberty on Capitol Hill.
This title is published by Mercer University Press and may be
or by calling 1-800-637-2378, ext. 2880.
Table of Contents
Recommended Online Reading
for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley
Interfaith Youth Core
Web Resource for Young People (October 2008)
Building mutual respect and pluralism among young people from different
religious traditions by empowering them to work together to serve others.
European Baptists Seek End to Demand for Prostitution
Christian Today, UK (October 2008)
The European Baptist Federation’s anti-trafficking group is working on
a handbook that will give congregations across Europe ideas on how best to
Dates to Note
October 25, 2008, Christian Education Workshop,
Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, Lexington. Sponsors: Baptist Seminary of
Kentucky and Kentucky Baptist Fellowship. Cost: $25 Individual/$20 each for
five or more ($15 students). Speakers: Jeff Woods, Associate General Secretary
for the American Baptist Churches, USA and Daniel Vestal, Executive
Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
2008, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia Fall Convocation, First
Baptist Church, Augusta, Georgia. Featured speaker is Bill Leonard, Dean of
Wake Forest Divinity School. Theme: Overtaken by Grace.
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,
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.
July 2-3, 2009, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
General Assembly, Houston, Texas.
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.
Table Of Contents
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