Vol. 7 No. 10

  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

         "Jesus's Economy"

The Baptist Soapbox: Michael Ruffin

         "Reflections on the Mercer Preaching Consultation"

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

         "Children and Communion"
Religion and Politics
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Books That Matter: Wil Platt

         Church 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.

"Jesus's Economy"
By Bruce T. Gourley

        What 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 Jay 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 long ignored.

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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 Michael Ruffin, pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia. 

"Reflections 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!
            For many 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.
            Joel Gregory, 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.
            Daryl Adams 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.
            The 2009 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!

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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.

"Children and Communion"
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 communionwhen we take them as a church altogetherthey 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 practicewhat 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. 

Help them 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 of believers. 

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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, the 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 more information):

Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive
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 degrading treatment.

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.

Clarity and 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.

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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.
Church State Matters: Fighting for Religious Liberty in our Nation's Capital
by J. Brent Walker

Reviewed by Wil Platt

In a 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 1991), the organization continues the work begun in the 1930s and 1940s.
            J. Brent 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.”
             The 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.”
             The 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.”
             The 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.
             Brent 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 purchased online or by calling 1-800-637-2378, ext. 2880.

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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 eradicate prostitution.


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. More information.

November 9-10, 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. More information.

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.

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.

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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