Vol. 8 No. 1

  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

         "Communication Challenges"

Celebrating 400 Years of Being Baptist: A Free Church Bulletin Insert Series

         "Baptist Beginnings in America, 1639"

The Baptist Soapbox: Faith Bowers

         "Why Are We Baptists?"

Ministering Together in Community: A Baptist Women in Ministry Series

          LeAnn Gunter Johns
          "Shaping Community"

Book Review Special
Helen Ruchti's La Bella Vita

          Reviewed by Stanley Crabb

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.

"Communication Challenges"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           While recent decades have witnessed an era of unparalleled technological advances, Baptists of the seventeenth century enjoyed the benefits of early modern technology. The American Computer Museum in Bozeman, Montana, houses one of the few exact replicas of the Gutenberg printing press, an 1816 reproduction of the original fifteenth century machine that earlier belonged to the American Bible Society in New York. To stand in front of this machine is to marvel at how this wooden contraption changed the world, altering the dynamics of communications in the Reformation era and the century following. In a similar fashion, the Internet of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has served to alter the course of communications.
           While Baptists had nothing to do with the invention of moveable print, the Gutenberg press provided a means of cheap, mass communication for disseminating the views of the persecuted, small sect. The Protestant Reformation enabled the birth of Baptists; the Gutenberg press facilitated the spread of Baptist ideals throughout the western world. 
           Today, Baptists are participants in the unfolding saga of an online digital revolution, a development that has thoroughly transformed the dissemination of Baptist ideals in our contemporary setting. Whereas the early days of the Internet focused on email and personal web pages, today's Baptist churches increasingly depend on email, web sites, and online audio and video to communicate with members and the wider world. Baptist academic institutions are harnessing the popularity of the virtual world to broadcast the best of historic Baptist ideals to the worldwide public. In a similar fashion, some Baptist historical organizations, local churches, and advocacy groups are utilizing the Internet to resurrect long-shelved Baptist classics and reconnect with the legacies of Baptist leaders of an earlier era.
           In short, modern technology offers opportunity and peril for Baptists celebrating 400 years of existence, cast primarily in the context of the daily shaping and re-shaping of Baptist images and vision. Thus far, moderate (traditional) Baptist voices lag behind fundamentalist and Calvinistic efforts in terms of effectively utilizing the Internet. In addition, the recent selections of the top ten religion stories by moderate Baptist journalists and observers on the one hand, and fundamentalist Southern Baptist spokesperson Al Mohler on the other hand, echo the ideological chasm in contemporary Baptist life.
           To obtain a perspective on the diversity of Baptist voices clamoring for attention in today's world of digital communication, try "googling" the following terms and note the sources that appear on the first page of search results: "baptist history," "baptist theology," "baptist beliefs," "baptist doctrine," "baptist studies," and "baptist news." You will find formal denominational voices and credentialed scholars competing with the opinions of grassroots individual Baptists, independent advocacy groups, and local churches. In many instances, denomination and academy have difficulty obtaining a hearing in this public digital forum, reflective of the leveling influence of the Internet.
           Finally, data from Google searches reveal insights into the types of Baptists online users are seeking on the Internet: last year, internet users sought information about "southern baptists" and "missionary baptists" 135,000 times each, while "independent baptists" garnered 33,100 monthly queries and "reformed baptists" 9,900 monthly searches. By way of comparison, "cooperative baptist fellowship" netted 3,600 monthly searches, while about 1,000 monthly searches were conducted for "baptist world alliance," approximately 480 monthly searches for "traditional baptists," and about 200 monthly searches for "moderate baptists."
           In 2109, what conclusions will historians be drawing concerning the successes and failures of Baptists in terms of utilizing early twenty-first century communication tools? The answers are now being shaped in cyberspace.

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Celebrating 400 Years of Being Baptist:  The Center for Baptist Studies and the Baptist History and Heritage Society present a twelve-month series of free church bulletin inserts for use in teaching Baptist heritage in the local church during the 400 year anniversary of Baptists. The image below is a copy of one side of this month's pdf document that you can obtain for free by contacting Pam Durso of the Baptist History and Heritage Society.  

Bulletins are
material and
can only be
used for
within a church.
For permission
to reprint any
text or images,
please contact:

Pamela R. Durso 
by email at
or by phone at (678) 547-6095.

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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 Faith Bowers of London, England, who is a member of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. An historian, writer and editor, she has served on regional, national and international Baptist councils, and as secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s Doctrine and Worship Committee. She was a founding member of BUildthe Baptist Union initiative with people with learning disabilitiesand has written several books on church and disability. Ms. Bowers is also Sub-editor of the Baptist Quarterly, a publication of Britain's Baptist Historical Society.  The following piece is an abbreviated version of an article featured on the Central Baptist web site.

"Why Are We Baptists?"
By Faith Bowers


            ‘Bloomsbury’ is a Baptist church, belonging to the Baptist Union of Great Britain, although it has always been open to Christians coming from other traditions. To the question ‘Why are you Christians?’ most Baptists would give similar answers to those from other branches of the Church. Today the choice of denomination is often made for social reasons: perhaps we grew up in Baptist families, or had Baptist friends, or found a church where we felt comfortable, or just one that made strangers welcome. For some, the answer goes deeper and is a matter of theological understanding and principle. In the past―and in some countries still today―it has been harder to make a minority choice than it is in modern England. In testing circumstances, strong beliefs are needed for people to take an unpopular or even dangerous position.
             Baptists acknowledge the lordship of Christ as the ‘sole and absolute authority’ in all matters of faith and practice, and believe that the principal way in which God makes himself known is through the Bible. A striking feature of the Baptist story has been the way that separate groups, studying the Bible for themselves, have come to a Baptist understanding of the church and of believers’ baptism. These groups, arising in different places at different times, have not always held all other beliefs in common.
             Today's Baptists are heirs to several, varied traditions. The stress on the authority of Christ, revealed in the Bible and by the Holy Spirit, means that Baptists have resisted setting individuals up in positions of authority over the church. They have maintained that each church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to study the Bible, to interpret the mind of Christ for its situation and to act upon this. The church meeting―the gathering of believers to seek guidance together―is the place where decisions are taken. The local church is the important unit for Baptists.
             Because of their understanding of the priesthood of all believers, Baptists ordain
ministers rather than priests. They value those trained and set apart as full-time leaders but do
not see them as fundamentally different from other members of the church who all have their part to play in the ministry of the whole people of God. Such local churches cherish their
independence, yet most Baptists have also fostered interdependence between churches.
Membership of wider groupings is voluntary, but many churches have joined to form regional associations and national unions. Thus Bloomsbury belongs to the London Baptist Association and to the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Similarly, many Baptist churches, Bloomsbury among them, gladly work with Christians of other denominations, although even the most ecumenically minded Baptists tend to be rather an awkward squad on the inter-church scene because of their particular understandings.
              Baptists practice Believers’ Baptism. They do not baptize babies but wait for ‘years of discretion’ when candidates can take the decision for themselves―so only believers are baptized. Baptism is normally by total immersion, which is dramatic and memorable, but the mode is secondary to the believing state of those baptized.
              It is easy to be a Baptist in England now, free to worship as we choose without penalty. Sadly, many people do not choose to be Baptists―or, indeed, any type of Christian. There are other countries where Baptists still suffer for what they believe, and for their repeated emphasis on the human right to liberty of conscience.
              Because Baptist statistics depend on baptized church members, comparison with paedobaptist membership figures can be misleading. Most Baptist congregations are much larger than the actual church membership.
              The Baptist Union of Great Britain joined in founding the Free Church Federal Council, and the British and World Councils of Churches, and is now active in Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and Churches Together in England (CTE). Wales and Scotland have separate Baptist Unions, but some churches across the border belong to the ‘English’ Union, hence the broader, if somewhat misleading, title. These Unions all belong to the European Baptist Federation and to the Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, which now comprises 35 million baptized believers in a worshipping community of 100 million in 214 Baptist unions and conventions worldwide.
              Whatever our reasons for joining a Baptist church, as Baptists we are heirs to a tradition that embraces:
                    • the evangelical Christian faith, stressing personal commitment, dependence on the Bible, and the right to be free to respond to the gospel
                    • the concept of the church as the fellowship of believers, a gathered and gathering community bound to Christ and to one another
                    • the missionary spirit which seeks to share the Good News of Christ in deed and word
                    • the practice of fellowship giving as the chief means of financing church work
                    • the stress on freedom: the human right to freedom from slavery and oppression, from ignorance and poverty, and especially freedom of conscience, the right to religious liberty for all, including the right to be a ‘Free Church’
                    • the sense of interdependence which draws Baptists with differing emphases and in different places to work together for the common cause
                    • the need for godly lives, demanding high standards in all we think or speak or do.

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Ministering Together in Community: A Baptist Women in Ministry Series:  Reverend LeAnn Gunter Johns lives in Mountain View, California. She serves as a chaplain resident with the Veteran Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in Palo Alto, California, and serves as the past coordinator of the Baptist Women in Ministry.

"Shaping Community"
By LeAnn Gunter Johns

             A few months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in one of my best friend’s ordination service at Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, California. Jen Van Camp, the youth minister at Nineteenth Avenue, was ordained to the gospel ministry by members of her congregation, family, and friends. A few years ago Jen and I were fellow students at the McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, and now we both live in California. Because I am now a resident in the Bay area, I had the privilege of attending and joining in the celebration of this important day.
             On the way to church that morning, I received numerous voice mails, text messages, and emails from friends and colleagues who wanted me to deliver messages to our sister on the morning of her special day. The messages represented a wide variety of friendships and relationships in Jen’s life and ministry. The spirit of the thoughts, prayers, and love being sent that morning were felt at the service, and the congregation she serves wonderfully affirmed her gifts for ministry and offered her blessings for her future as a servant of God.
             These acts of love, the support of a local congregation and the acknowledgment of friends, colleagues, and peers in ministry from afar, reminded me that we do not minister in isolation. This profession that we have been called to is one that takes place in the context of community and relies on the community to survive. As healthy ministers, we find ways to connect with our local congregation and with the greater community of peers and colleagues for network, support, and encouragement.
             What we do and how we respond to God’s direction affects those that we are charged to “shepherd.” What happens in the world shapes our community and, ultimately, shapes us. I am thankful for congregations who have trusted us and have chosen us to be their ministers and to walk alongside them and seek God’s direction in the midst of life experiences. I’m also thankful for peers and colleagues who cheer me on when life experiences seem overwhelming and my ministry position seems too tough to handle.
             Baptist Women in Ministry is one of the places I go to for networking, support, and encouragement. BWIM members remind me that I am not alone in this calling to the gospel ministry and that I do not have to live out my calling alone. Through this organization, I find women and men who understand differences in relationships between staff members, work with conflicts, learn how to improve communication with others, and recognize the differences that affect women in leadership positions. In the next five Baptist Studies Bulletins,
members of Baptist Women in Ministry’s Leadership Team will be writing on some of these issues that affect both women and men in ministry positions. We hope that you’ll read these articles and pass them along to clergy friends, pastors, and lay leaders in your churches. You are not alone. We can and are called to minister together in community. Come and be a part of the community on our BWIM blog at

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Book Review Special:  The Center for Baptist Studies offers the following capsule book review of retired missionary Helen Ruchti's La Bella Vita, a volume of "daily inspirations from Italy." Reviewer Stanley Crabb is retired pastor-missionary-professor, now living in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
La Bella Vita
by Helen Ruchti

Reviewed by Stanley Crabb

              "La Bella Vita" (The beautiful life) is a fresh and fascinating look at Italy. Since my wife and I lived in the country for twenty-seven years (followed by eleven years elsewhere in Europe), I thought I knew nearly everything there was to say about this incredible land. “La Bella Vita” proved me wrong.
              The author, Helen Ruchti, lived with her husband William C. in Rome from 1960 to 1985.  Together they organized the "Rome Baptist Church," (RBC)  Rome’s only English language Baptist Church. RBC is still located in the heart of downtown Rome.
              A collection of 180 “Daily inspirations from Italy,” the volume is for anyone who has ever thought about visiting Italy, or who enjoys reading stories about Italian people, or those who love to learn about Italy’s art, history and culture. "La Bella Vita" is an informed and readable alternative to typical guidebooks arranged to inspire.
              Ruchti’s purpose was  to present real people, living in real places, eating real Italian food, and enjoying this incredibly alive  peninsula. The result is a creative look “from the inside.” The many stories she tells, often with humor, and the examples she presents about her family’s experiences living there  involve the reader in quite human and personal ways.
              For others, “La Bella Vita” is a collection of inspirational thoughts, stories, and experiences about the world's  most-visited and  most fascinating place. Each page describes an historic or cultural site the Ruchtis visited, or it may present an interesting experience the author had meeting and getting to know the Italians. Her descriptions of foods and wines of Italy are comparable to good cook books!
              The 180 inspirational pages are subdivided into five headings: Beautiful Italy; Historical Italy; Artistic Italy; Faithful Italy; and Buon Viaggio for hopeful travelers. A complete “Table of Contents” lists the topics, and the book even includes a complete “Geographical Index,” listing the many places treated in the book.
              Each page has a one or two-line, carefully selected scripture reading that relates to the day's subject matter. The discussion of the day’s theme follows. A one-line prayer-thought concludes the inspiration. An informative “factoid” about the subject of the day adds surprising knowledge about the subject.
              For example, in the meditation on “Spas,” one of Italy’s little-known secrets, the scripture reading is from Isaiah 12:3, “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The author chose Tuscany’s Montecattini Terme (spa) to represent the many waters flowing beneath Italy’s volcanic soil, and  Fiuggi’s famous waters for drinking, said to prevent kidney stones, to represent numerous healing waters found in the various regions of Italy.  “Creator of wonderful water, thank you for its healing, life-giving properties” is the prayer concluding that day.
              The “factoid for that day? “Visitors will see the word terme in many spas’ names; it means “thermal bath.”
              As a lover of all things Italian and one who actually lived in the country for longer than the Ruchtis, I am amazed at how often “La Bella Vita” surprises me with new and  inspiring  facts.
              The creative printing and lay-out of "La Bella Vita" by Xyyzzy Press (Brentwood, Tennessee) adds to the excellence of the entire work and may encourage some to choose the book as a gift for friends or family. "La Bella Vita" is available at and other bookstores.

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Recommended Online Baptist Heritage Sources
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Happy 405th Birthday, Roger Williams!
New West Network

On December 21st some 405 years ago, Roger Williams was born in London to a prosperous merchant household. He was a brilliant student at Cambridge, excelling in languages, the classics, and theology.  

Religion and the State Governments
Library of Congress

A compilation of helpful resources.

Robert Handy, Baptist Historian, Seminary Professor, Dies
Associated Baptist Press
(January 2009)
Robert Handy, who studied under legendary Christian scholars like Paul Tillich before becoming a prominent Baptist historian in his own right, died at a retirement community in West Caldwell, N.J., Jan. 8. He was 90.


Dates to Note

January  31, 2009, Birmingham, Alabama, regional gathering of the New Baptist Covenant. The event will be held at 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Former President Jimmy Carter will be present for a leadership breakfast and to provide a keynote address in the sanctuary of 16th Street Baptist Church. For more information or to register, click here.

February  6-7, 2009, Now Serving Atlanta, hosted by McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia.  A great opportunity for college students to connect with each other and the needs of the world around them.  For more information or to register, click here.

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.

February 23-24, 2009, T. B. Maston Lectures, Carson-Newman College Jefferson City, Tennessee. Monday, February 23 7:30 P.M. Thomas Recital Hall. Tuesday, February 24, 9:30 A.M. First Baptist Church. Featured speaker: Reverend Paul Rauschenbush, Associate Dean of the Chapel, Princeton University.

March 5-6, 2009, Social Research Conference Series, The Religious-Secular Divide: The US Case, New York City. Join distinguished scholars and intellectuals in exploring the nature and future of religion, spirituality, and secularism in the United States, looking at their changing relations both historically and through contemporary debates. The keynote address will be delivered by Charles Taylor, Professor, Northwestern University. More information.

April 14-15, 2009, "The Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State," Macon, Georgia campus of Mercer University. Professor Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, will deliver the lectures.

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.

June 26-28, 2009, American Baptist Churches USA biennial meeting, Pasadena, California. 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.

September 27-29, 2009, Mercer Preaching Consultation, King & Prince, St. Simons Island, Georgia.  Featured speaker: Dr. Walter Brueggemann. To register or for more information, contact Terri Massey by email or phone her at 478.301.2943.

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

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