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 Helms
Bumper Sticker Ignorance"
Ministry in the Local Church: Julie Whidden Long
From a Pastor's Desk: Gary
Pastor as Local Historian"
Books That Matter:
and Health: Religion, Science, and Public Policy
by Paul D. Simmons
Should Churches Mix God and
Dates to Note
We welcome your feedback.
Click here to tell us what you think of this
issue of the Bulletin!
Note: To print the BSB, set your printer's left
and right margins to .4 inches or less.
change / add / delete your email for the Baptist Studies Bulletin, please
you need to increase the font size on your screen, click "view"
then "increase font."
Note: You are free
to duplicate and circulate the articles in BSB or to use quotations
from our articles. We would, however, appreciate a good word about where
you found your material. It makes us look good! Thanks.
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
recent years, much has been made of biblical illiteracy in America. While
Jay Leno finds the subject amusing, others are
appalled. Yet much less public discussion has focused upon the lack of scriptural
foundations of popular Christianity. For example:
Does the Bible claim to be
What does the Bible say concerning the point at which human life
What does the Bible say about abortion?
Where does the Bible discuss the Rapture?
Where does the Bible portray America as a special nation chosen of God?
Does the Bible teach that certain persons should have more civil rights than
Biblically literate individuals will readily recognize that the Bible is
silent on the above questions. Yet popular Christianity in America today rests
squarely on these non-biblical issues. Fundamentalists (including
99% of Southern Baptist pastors recently surveyed) believe the Bible is
inerrant, although scripture makes no such claim. The Religious Right is
adamant that life begins at conception, although the Bible offers no such
assurance. While abortion is the leading moral issue for many Christians, the Bible is silent on the subject. Likewise, belief in the
Rapture is considered orthodox by many Christians, despite its absence in the
Bible. And while many Christians are certain America is a Christian nation set
apart by God and that some citizens should have more civil rights than others, such
views have no biblical merit.
Why is popular Christianity
divorced from the Bible on so many pivotal issues? Rick
Warren provides a clue regarding the reason popular Christianity is trapped in
a post-biblical mindset. Addressing the question of when life begins, prior to
August's Saddleback presidential forum Warren declared, "to
just say 'I don't know' on the most divisive issue in America is not a clear
enough answer for me."
Since when did the current popularity of any given
issue become more important than the biblical witness? Why is Warren afraid to
acknowledge the Bible does not speak to the issue?
Saddleback's pastor is
not alone in wanting "clear," authoritative answers that the Bible does not
supply. One is hard pressed to find an evangelical Christian who does not
believe in a future Rapture of believers. A politically partisan
religious leader claims that
a presidential candidate's faith is irrelevant as long as he verbalizes
opposition to abortion. Religious Right figureheads label as religious "core
values" issues not discussed in scripture. In short, it does not matter what the Bible says. In the
post-biblical world of popular Christianity, something other than holy writ is
in the driver's seat and is steering Christians away from the Bible in order to
shape political positions, reinforce personal opinions, and frame the future.
If there is a
silver-lining in today's post-biblical Christian world, perhaps it lies in the
fact that Christianity in the past overcame efforts to steer the faith
away from the scriptural witness. The Protestant Reformation, for instance,
was a reaction to a scripture-deprived faith. And Baptists were birthed in
opposition to government-mandated religion.
One must hope that
contemporary, popular Christianity will eventually return to biblical
foundations. Yet the post-biblical era may not end until more Christians are
willing to utter the words, "I don't know." When confronted with biblical
silence, Christians can constructively address extra-scriptural issues by
respecting the Bible while offering informed personal opinions. A statement as
simple as, "While the Bible does not discuss the issue of [fill in the
personally believe...," could help nudge popular Christianity away from its
post-biblical trajectory. An acknowledgement of biblical silence coupled with
an appreciation of the larger ethos of Jesus' teachings could help believers
positively impact public discussions on complex ethical and moral issues. And what
better time to honor scripture and engage in truth-telling than during an
election year in which honesty is too often neglected in favor of political
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
Helms, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church of Moultrie, Georgia.
Bumper Sticker Ignorance"
By Michael Helms
out of our local hospital recently, I saw this bumper sticker:
“Anyone who supports taking prayer and the Bible out of public
schools is an enemy of America.”
Christianity in the United States has not grown on the backs of
prayer and Bible reading in the public schools, you would think
that that's how the gospel has spread in America by listening to
those who are against the separation of church and state. With
today's increasing pluralism and declining church attendance, fear
grips many Christians, fear that we are losing our voice in
American culture. Instead of living out Jesus’ two greatest
commandments of loving God first and with all that we are and
loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, these people have opted
to try to force Christian values on a captive audience.
In seeking to
educate people on one of Baptists’ longstanding principles, I use
examples from Baptist history to remind them that Baptists were
once in the minority in this country. Separation of church and
state works especially well for those in the minority. Baptists of
old gained popularity among the populace because they championed
freedom of religion for all faiths, not just their own. Baptists
worked to see that all people had the right to worship without
government interference despite being persecuted for their
efforts. The fact that Baptists are now the dominant denomination
among Protestants shouldn’t change our position. Teaching about
our heritage is vital to helping people understand why separation
of church and state exists.
Secondly, I ask
questions like this one: “If you lived in Franklin County, Idaho
and sent your child to school where the Mormon population is 91.5
per cent, how would you feel if the teachers all began school by
reading from the Book of Mormon?” The fact that Christians are the
majority religious group in many parts of the country doesn’t make
it true everywhere.
Thirdly, I remind
people of what Robert Fulghum said is one of the important things
he learned about life in kindergarten—“play fair.” The separation
of church and state really comes down to playing fair. This is a
concept people can get their minds around. I say something like,
“It wouldn’t be very fair if my children had to listen to the
prayers of a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu at
school; so I can understand if people of other religions find it
unfair for their children to listen to the prayers of a Baptist.
Since Jesus taught us to use the Golden Rule in how we treat
others, I think it’s fair to use it as it relates to things like
prayer and Bible reading in schools.”
It doesn’t win
everyone over, and I’m not going to put this opinion it the form
of a bumper sticker, but I’m not going to be guilty of
contributing to people’s ignorance of the reasons the separation
of church and state is important.
Table of Contents
THE MERCER PREACHING
Co-sponsored by McAfee
School of Theology and
The Center for Baptist Studies
28-30 September 2008
The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort
Featuring Greg Boyd and Joel Gregory
Other program speakers include: David Gushee, John Finley,
Jayne Davis, Brett Younger and Michael Dixon
Registration is only $100 per person
Click here for more
information and to register.
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
beginnings, Baptists have ascribed to the doctrines of the
priesthood of believers, believer’s baptism, and a regenerate
church membership. Each of these ideals assumes that Christians
must make a decision for themselves to follow Christ. What does
this mean for children? Unlike our Catholic, Episcopal, and
Presbyterian neighbors, we Baptists do not have a predetermined
time or age when children are baptized or go through a
confirmation process. Thus many Baptists and Baptist churches have
struggled with the issue of how to know when children are able and
ready to become Christ followers and church members for
themselves. How can we encourage the conversion of our children in
a healthy and timely way?
role of the church for its children is to provide nurture. From
the time children are in the crib, they begin developing a sense
of trust. In the church nursery, their caretakers become early
symbols for the church and for God, and the trust that they
develop in the humans who love them will allow them to trust God
as they grow and develop. Early on, we can nurture this trust in
God with our little ones. We can tell them stories of God’s love.
We can celebrate their rites of passage, such as an infant
dedication, a first visit to “big church,” and when they can begin
to read the Bible for themselves. Our lives and our teaching can
model for them what it means to be a Christ follower. Our first
and most crucial role in passing along the faith to our children
is to create the encouraging space that they will need to take the
next steps for themselves.
reach an appropriate age to take the steps of a profession of
faith and baptism, we must let them take the initiative. Allow
them to ask questions without assuming that they are ready to
“walk the aisle.” Avoid the temptation of rushing the process.
When they say that they want to “be baptized” or “join the
church,” talk to them about what that means. Ask them open-ended
questions that are age-appropriate, like: “What is it that you
want to do? What does baptism mean to you? Why do you want to do
it now?” Encourage them to describe their understanding of being a
Christian without the use of “churchy” language. Often, our
children know the language that they are expected to speak but are
less clear on what those “churchy” words mean for them personally.
church needs to resist overt evangelism with children. I heard of
one Baptist church that provided all of its 3-year-olds with a
“Plan of Salvation” coloring book. That is completely
inappropriate! Children want to please adults and will respond to
what they feel is an adult’s desire. Child-evangelism is
manipulative and does not take into account the natural faith
development process. The best thing that we can do to encourage
our children to make faith decisions is to trust the Holy Spirit
to work within them at the right time.
Finally, we must teach our children that faith is a journey. Their
conversion is not a one-time event. Help them realize that one
spoken prayer or moment in the baptistery does not make them a
Christian. Being a Christian is a day-to-day commitment that
requires a choice to live a life of faith, compassion, grace, and
love as a follower of Christ Jesus. As Christians, we are
continually being converted to the ways of Jesus, no matter our
age or place in life.
Table of Contents
From a Pastor's Desk:
Local church pastors fill many roles in the
course of their ministerial callings and the life of their congregations.
Gary Burton, pastor of Pintlala Baptist Church in Alabama, offers some
suggestions and personal insight into the manner in which historical awareness
can positively impact and enhance one's calling and ministry.
"The Pastor as Local
By Gary Burton
Call me a
lay-historian for I stumbled into a love of history. Curiosity
and persistence have taken me on a journey that has opened doors
for new friendships and a profound appreciation for the place
that I call home. Pintlala, Alabama is in the southwestern part
of Montgomery County. Located in a rural setting, Pintlala is,
however, only a twenty-five minute drive from the steps of the
state capitol. For the past thirty-six years, I have had the
opportunity to live in Pintlala and to pastor Pintlala Baptist
My love for
local history caught fire a few years ago when I made an unusual
discovery in an overgrown cemetery about a mile from our church.
Hacking my way through underbrush in the Bethel Cemetery, now
owned and restored by the Pintlala Baptist Church, I came upon a
flat, rectangular marker that had been totally obscured by
mean-spirited vegetation. To my surprise, the marker provided
information about a church split: the 1837 regional division
between Primitive and Missionary branches of the Baptist family.
marker nudged me into researching the origins and the conflicts
of those early Baptist churches. I discovered that the Bethel
Baptist Church, no longer in existence, was one of four founding
churches in the Alabama Baptist Association (1818-19), and I
soon learned that the Bethel marker and three others had been
installed in 1923 by the Montgomery Baptist Woman’s Missionary
Union. The other church sites included Antioch, Old Elam, and
Rehobeth. The installations commemorated the centennial
anniversary of the Alabama Baptist Convention.
I was now
galvanized by a mission to locate the other three markers. Two
were found quickly, but the Rehobeth marker required four years
of searching in the kudzu of Elmore County. One afternoon I
received an unexpected phone call from a friend who knew of my
quest. He took his time in leading up to his announcement, and
then said, “Gary, I have found the Rehobeth Stone!” His words
catapulted me out of my chair with the same euphoria Indiana
Jones had when recovering the lost ark. My friend had found the Rehobeth Stone, turned upside down, on an old plantation twelve
miles from the original church site.
that first marker, my odyssey, sometimes my obsession, with
local history has led me to research and write about Pintlala-related
matters, including topics such as the location and importance of
Old Federal Road; the 1837 split between Primitive and
Missionary Baptists; the Creek Indian occupation and eventual
removal, the fighting of the Red Stick War; the life and death
of Sam Moniac, a local tavern owner and Creek Indian chief; the
presence of Union troops in the area at the end the Civil War;
the life and ministry Caesar Blackwell, a slave-evangelist; the
contributions of Wade Hampton Allen, a founder of the city of
Montgomery; and the 1915 visit of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T.
Washington to the nearby Big Zion School. My current research
project is an attempt to crack a cold murder case. The murder
victim, Thomas Meredith, traveled the Old Federal Road with his
family in 1812 and was killed by Creek Indians near the Pinchona
A few months
ago one of my faithful church members handed me a large, old
dusty book. Wanting to know if it had historical significance,
he asked me to look at it. In reading entries in the book, I
discovered that he possessed the missing Minute Book of the
Montgomery County Board of Revenue (1875-1881). Returning the
missing volume to the county was a proud moment for my church
member and for me and was done to the applause of the Montgomery
County Commission and considerable local television coverage.
Flying by the
seat of my pants, I have learned to navigate the challenges of
census records, land patents, military records, old newspapers,
and archival materials. Having invested years in the history of
my community, I now recognize that the ground on which I walk
and roads on which I drive all possess historical significance.
As a pastor I
have long loved the people of my church, but I have also come to
love the history of the place called Pintlala, with its
elementary school, volunteer fire station, public library
branch, Methodist church, Church of Christ congregation, and a
few small businesses. Am I a more effective pastor and preacher
because of my enthusiasm for local history? I hope so. From my
experience, I have learned that
- a growing knowledge
of local history both informs and illustrates my ministry and
- the destiny of the
church I serve must be understood and envisioned in its
- to see my ministry
on the continuum between heritage and hope is humbling;
- knowing local
history creates in me a sense of gratitude and moral debt;
- above all else,
ministers who have a grasp of local history have a powerful
sense of place and a riveting sense of home. Ministers who
learn about the place in which they serve and appreciate its
history and significant do not just pass through. They invest
in their church and its people and establish strong
connections to their community.
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.
Faith and Health: Religion, Science, and
by Paul D. Simmons
Reviewed by Wil Platt
The tragic case of Terri
Schiavo captivated public attention in early 2005. Debate about
whether she might be disconnected from life support systems involved
the courts, politicians at the state and national levels, and the
populace at large. At stake was the important question of whether an
individual has the right to choose to die. Upon careful reflection,
we realize that this is only one of a myriad of bioethical issues we
face in the twenty-first century. Paul Simmons has written a book
that deals with the wide array of perplexing questions with which we
is Clinical Professor in the Department of Geriatric Medicine and
Adjunct Professor in the Department of Philosophy of the
of Louisville where he has been since 1995. He is a graduate of
three Baptist institutions: Union University, Southeastern Baptist
Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has done
post-doctoral work at Princeton University and Cambridge
University. Dr. Simmons taught Christian Ethics at Southern Seminary
for thirteen years, and was Acting Dean of the School of Theology in
1983. At the University of Louisville, he teaches courses in medical
ethics, humanism and medicine, business ethics, philosophical ethics
and human rights. In addition to Faith and Health, he is the
author of Birth and Death: Bioethical Decision Making, Freedom of
Conscience: A Baptist/Humanist Dialogue and Growing Up with
Sex. He has contributed to twenty books and has written more
than fifty articles.
In his introduction,
Dr. Simmons states that he had three objectives in writing Health
and Faith: [to respond] “to contemporary debates about
bioethical issues… to take seriously the challenge of politicized
evangelicals regarding the relation of religious faith to public
policy . . . [and] to give guidance regarding issues of method in
decision-making(1).” He gives attention to his third objective in
the introduction; I shall deal with the first two only. In regard to
his first objective, the book has eleven essays that deal with a
variety of topics. All of the essays could be free-standing in the
sense that each is self-contained. However, the impact of modern
technology on medicine is one of the themes that binds the majority
of the essays together. Technology has dramatically changed the
options available for medical treatment and has multiplied the
ethical issues to be considered.
In a book of
this sort one would expect to find chapters on abortion, end-of-life
issues and the debate over stem cell research—they are included.
One would possibly not expect to find chapters on exorcism as a
medical intervention, Cyborgs (a robot that has features of
intelligence and personality modeled on people), and the ethics of
CTA (Composite Tissue Allotransplantation, the transplantation of a
face or limbs which contain a variety of tissues)—they are included
as well. In addition, there are essays on the future of health care
in America, aging as an assault on human dignity and false hope in
the ICU (an excellent primer for those who minister to
terminally-ill patients and their loved ones).
Dr. Simmons’ purpose was not
just to survey the issues but to provide resolution where possible
with the understanding that, in some cases, the contentious debate
will continue. He is not reluctant to state his position; it may be
helpful to give several examples. I do so with the caveat that my
brief synopsis of his views may misconstrue his meaning. Dr. Simmons
gives qualified support for proceeding with
CTA in the case of patients who
have lost a major limb or body part because its effect on quality of
life outweighs the dangers to the patient. In regard to the right to
die, he believes “the courts have managed a rather consistent
support for a limited right to die (131). . . .” He says further:
“The right to die is highly personal. I have a right to die and
stay dead, that is, not to be resuscitated against my will (132).”
In his chapter on physician-assisted suicide, he discusses seven
morally significant claims in support of the practice and concludes
“Assisted dying may also be the requirements of love and mercy when
the patient is overwhelmed by disease. The covenant between
physician and patient might well include aiding a quicker and less
painful death (154).” In his discussion of stem-cell research, he
says stem cells and pre-embryos are clearly “human” but not
“persons.” While he recognizes that some disagree, he does not
believe they should have legal protection. He concludes: “Stem cell
research rests upon the moral mandate that drives all medical
science, namely, the search for better and more effective medical
therapies (212).” In regard to the issue of abortion, Dr. Simmons
says “My own position is that it is unthinkable that abortion should
be made illegal in the United States. . .I do not advocate abortion;
only enemies of choice portray those who support choice as
pro-abortion. I advocate a legal climate in which women and families
may consider their options and make tough decisions in light of
their own religious commitments (214-215).”
taken by Dr. Simmons would likely be opposed by orthodox Roman
Catholics and most Protestant evangelicals. He contends that, for
these groups, “abortion is the single-most important social and
moral issue in
America (221). . . . ” Their solution would be to have a legal ban
or constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion under any
circumstances. This raises the issue of the influence of religion
on public policy which Dr. Simmons discusses in several of his
essays. It is his belief that anti-choice groups favor a type of
government that is dominated by religious authorities, and that they
exploit the right to be religious and openly political. He opposes
these groups on the basis of religious liberty or freedom of
conscience, separation of church and state and the fact that we live
in a pluralistic society. He sees the implementation of religious
opinions and metaphysical abstractions in law as an abridgement of
the First Amendment. In America, people are free to believe what
they will, but they ought not to be able to impose their religious
views on the entire population which includes people of various
faiths as well as no faith.
Dr. Simmons has produced a
scholarly work that is well-documented. In addition to the eleven
chapters, it contains seven appendixes and an extensive
bibliography. Thoughtful laypersons and others not schooled in
science, medicine or ethics should not be deterred from reading the
book, however. It is clearly written and free of technical terms
known only by specialists. The reader will come away with a greater
appreciation for the issues we face and better equipped to make
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
Creativity in Theological Education
a report from Baptist theologians (September 2008)
from Theologians Without Borders has assembled a host of
teaching ideas that Baptist theologians around the globe are implementing in
their own settings.
Black Baptists Confront 'Age Gap'
Cincinnati Enquirer (September 2008)
From Southern Baptists to National Baptists, fewer and fewer younger
persons are attending church. At the National Baptist Convention in
Cincinnati last week, some pastors talked about the challenges of reaching the
Evangelical Christians in the South are Conflicted Over Torture
Macon Telegraph (September 2008)
Last week Mercer University hosted a
National Summit on Torture. A poll commissioned by Faith in Public
Life and Mercer reveals that white evangelicals in the South are more likely
to condone torture than the American public in general.
Dates to Note
September 16-17, 2008,
Truett Seminary, Baylor
University. "Red-Letter Christians, An Emerging Evangelical Center, and
Public Policy Issues" sponsored by Christian Ethics Today Foundation.
Featured speakers include Tony Campolo, Jimmy Allen, James Dunn, David
Gushee, and performing artist Al Staggs. See Summer 2008 CET cover for more
September 27, 2008,
Grand Re-Opening, American
Baptist Historical Society, Mercer University Atlanta campus. Begins at 11:45
am. Baptist leaders from throughout North America will be on hand to celebrate
the relocation of the Society. For more information, go to
September 28-30, 2008, Mercer Preaching
Consultation 2008, King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, St. Simons Island,
Georgia. Co-sponsored by McAfee School of Theology and the Center for
Baptist Studies. Featured speakers include Dr. Greg Boyd and Dr. Joel
Gregory. See advertisement above for more information.
October 3-8, 2008, Baptist Heritage Tour of New
England with featured tour guide Walter Shurden, former Executive Director of
The Center for Baptist Studies.
for registration and more information.
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.
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,
If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to
this list, please
let us know.
Table Of Contents
you do not wish to receive BSB any longer, please
Click Here to unsubscribe.