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
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
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.
can only be
within a church.
to reprint any
text or images,
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
Baptist Union initiative with people with learning disabilities―and
has written several books on church and disability. Ms. Bowers is also
Sub-editor of the Baptist Quarterly, a publication of Britain's
Society. The following piece is an abbreviated version of an article
featured on the
Baptist web site.
Are We Baptists?"
By Faith Bowers
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
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
of their understanding of the priesthood of all believers,
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
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
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
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 concept of the church as the fellowship of believers, a
gathered and gathering community bound to Christ and to one
• 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
• 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
By LeAnn Gunter Johns
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.bwim.info/blog.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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
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.
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.
for that day? “Visitors will see the word terme in many spas’ names; it means
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.
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
Amazon.com 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,
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
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
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,
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,
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
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.
June 26-28, 2009, American Baptist Churches USA
biennial meeting, Pasadena, California.
July 2-3, 2009, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
General Assembly, Houston, Texas.
July 15-18, 2009,
International Conference on Baptist Studies V, Whitley College (Baptist
College of Victoria), Melbourne, Australia. The conference takes Baptists as
its subject matter, but participation is not restricted to Baptists, either as
speakers or attendees. The theme is "Interfaces--Baptists and Others," which
includes relations with other Christians, other faiths, and other movements
such as the Enlightenment. It may be explored by means of case studies, some
of which may be very specific in time and place while others may cover long
periods and more than one country. Offers of papers to last no more than 25
minutes in delivery (although the full text may be longer) are welcome.
Please submit the title to the conference coordinator, Professor David W.
Bebbington, Department of History, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4TB,
Scotland. A volume of conference papers will appear in the Studies in
Baptist History and Thought series, published by Paternoster Press. The
college will provide participants with full board over the three days of
the meeting and all charges will be kept as low as possible. Programs and
application forms will be available in a few months.
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
If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to
this list, please
let us know.
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