Vol. 7 No. 9

  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

         "Post-Biblical Christianity"

The Baptist Soapbox: Michael Helms

         "Confronting Bumper Sticker Ignorance"

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

         "Children and Conversion"
From a Pastor's Desk: Gary Burton
"The Pastor as Local Historian"
Books That Matter: Wil Platt

         Faith and Health: Religion, Science, and Public Policy
         by Paul D. Simmons

Should Churches Mix God and Politics?

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.

"Post-Biblical Christianity"
By Bruce T. Gourley

        In 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 inerrant? 

        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 others?

        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 blank], I 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 pandering.

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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 Helms, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church of Moultrie, Georgia. 

"Confronting Bumper Sticker Ignorance"
By Michael Helms

       Coming 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.”
           Even though 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.

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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
St. Simons Island, GA

Featuring Greg Boyd and Joel Gregory

Other program speakers include:  David Gushee, John Finley,
Tim Willis, 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.

"Children and Conversion"
By Julie Whidden Long

            Since our 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? 
            The primary 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.
            When children 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.
             The 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. 

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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 Historian"
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 Church.
            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.
            Finding the 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.
            Since finding 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 Creek.
            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 message;
  • the destiny of the church I serve must be understood and envisioned in its historical context;
  • 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.

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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.
Faith and Health: Religion, Science, and Public Policy
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 must struggle.
            Dr. Simmons is Clinical Professor in the Department of Geriatric Medicine and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Philosophy of the
University 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).”
            The positions 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 personal decisions.

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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Should Churches Mix God and Politics?

As the presidential election heads down the homestretch, James Dobson's Alliance Defense Fund is asking pastors to violate IRS laws by endorsing political candidates from the pulpit on September 28.  The campaign is dubbed "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."  A pastor in Texas who plans on endorsing a candidate declared, "I think that separation of church and state has been warped. We're not supposed to have these limits on us." 


Charles Hayne of the First Amendment Center disagrees.  "Beyond the benign rituals of civil religion, the mixture of God and politics in America can be a volatile brew, often poisoning the body politic with charges and counter-charges about which party is religion-friendly – and which candidate is a true Christian," Haynes notes.


Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Creativity in Theological Education
a report from Baptist theologians
(September 2008)
Geoff Pound from Theologians Without Borders has assembled a host of creative 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 younger generations.

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 details.

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. Click here 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. 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.

If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to this list, please let us know.

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