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. His
most recent book,
Leading the Way For 200 Years: The Story of The First Baptist Church of
Huntsville, Alabama, 1809-2009, was published this month. In addition, he is involved in a number of areas of moderate Baptist life
through the medium of the Internet.
By Bruce T. Gourley
"Battle for the Bible" is over, and the Bible lost.
Sometime within the past
thirty-three years since
Harold Lindsell fired the first public shot in the Bible battle,
fundamentalist Christians (including not a few Baptists) quietly placed their
holy book behind a protective firewall, pledging allegiance to modern inerrant
interpretations. Feigning conservatism, they sacrificed the historical Jesus
on the Western altar of religious creeds and small government.
Today, the agenda of the
Religious Right, including many prominent fundamentalist Baptists,
lies outside the Bible. That their politically conservative but
extra-biblical agenda is a construct of modernist thinking seems to be of no
concern: they proudly
pledge overarching loyalty to the human construct of inerrancy and
fidelity to unrestrained capitalism. Yet in Southern Baptist circles,
denominational leaders and many pastors now openly fret over the shrinking fruit
of their labors. Baptisms are at their
lowest level in decades, missionary appointments are
down some 40%, church membership and denominational finances are on the
skids, and annual June SBC meetings of recent years have tried in vain to
a formula to stop the hemorrhaging.
Baptist historian Bill
Leonard, examining the bigger picture, recently argued that "demographics
and sociology" are largely responsible for SBC woes, indicating that
unless Southern Baptists move beyond their white, rural, Southern, politically
conservative loyalties, the decline will continue. Some Southern Baptists
agree with Leonard's basic assessment, but hold out hope that
fundamentalism yet has a bright future. In corresponding fashion, political observers on
both sides of the aisle are offering the
same judgment of today's Republican Party. Rising hand-in-hand, Baptist
fundamentalism and small-government Republicanism are adrift together,
struggling to stay above water. Unable to reverse the demographics,
Republicans hope to "increase
their share of the minority vote" (including Southern Baptists), while one fundamentalist Baptist
response to denominational decline focuses on
making more Baptist babies and Liberty
recently banished Democrats from campus. For some Baptists, procreation
and political correctness offer hope where an inerrant theology has failed.
Yet for Baptists at
large, scripture itself
has historically played a central role in matters of faith and life experience.
Modern fundamentalist utilization of creeds as cover for extra-biblical
political agendas was simply smart politics―for a
while. To be fair to
fundamentalists, however, the question of what to do with the Bible poses a
challenge for all twenty-first century Christians throughout the world. For
those who do take scripture seriously, the quest to allow the Bible to be the
Bible on its own terms causes discomfort, individually and corporately. The
Old Testament paints a vivid historical portrait of flawed faith leaders and a
God whose redemptive presence in the world at times seems just the opposite.
The New Testament, centered on the person of Christ, fleshes out a radical and
counter-intuitive warning to resist the siren call of the world's power
structures by immersing oneself in loving others and redeeming the oppressed
and marginalized. Collectively, scripture denies any certainty of a "correct
understanding of God" (as one unnamed Baptist church openly claims) or any validity for
As in every previous era
of human history,
this century is replete with oppressive power structures, greed, poverty,
hate, and negligence of creation. Yet the convergence of unparalleled
population growth, the instant dissemination of hatred through modern
communication technologies, the ascendancy of greed-driven economies, and the
increasing marginalization of the poor and dis-possessed,
the backdrop of the accelerating destruction of our planet's environment, pose
quandaries on a scale heretofore unknown.
While scripture does not
provide all the answers posed in today's troubled world, the biblical Christ
places our lives and our world in a transcendent context. Now is not the time
to bury the Bible beneath our personal prejudices, politics or posturings. We
the Bible to speak freely to us, for much in this world has yet to be redeemed.
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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. You can view each month's feature (in pdf format) here.
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 Stephen
P. Barber, Assistant Professor of History at the Columbus campus of Georgia
Military College, and Chair of the Social and Behavioral Science Department.
old-fashioned tent revival was recently held in the town of
Shiloh, Georgia. I did not attend, although I was tempted to pause
my busy life long enough to do so. The significance of this event,
absent my absence, was that it brought back a flood of memories of
the beginning of my journey as a Christian. In fact, it was at
9:15 on the evening of June 15, 1965, at a tent revival in Leeds,
Alabama, that I signed my name to the following statement: “I
realized that I was a sinner, believed on Christ as my personal
savior and Lord, and called upon Him to save me from my sin. I
know that He has saved me in keeping with His promise in Romans
10:13” It appears I took the Romans Road to salvation; perhaps my
Calvinist friends will forgive me.
revival was actually part of a larger spiritual awakening that was
sweeping through my family. We had become more involved in our
local church as my father had recently accepted a call into the
ministry as a Baptist preacher―a move that would eventually lead
to a long and rewarding ministry in Alabama and Georgia. We were
at church every time the doors were opened and just could not pass
up an opportunity to go through a set of canvas tent doors in the
I spent a
typical Baptist preacher’s kid's childhood. I rarely missed church,
attended week-long revivals, Vacation Bible School, Wednesday
night prayer meetings, Sunday School, Training Union, and M night.
I recall with fondness the Wednesday night “testimony” time when
folks recounted how bad they had been and then proceeded to
receive pity and forgiveness, sometimes without specifically
asking for the latter.
contemplate my life as a Baptist, I can offer some observations
that may be helpful to others. I know I have been in God’s hands
since that June night at the tent revival. When I accepted Christ,
I was responding to the simple gospel of salvation. I had no
knowledge of politics, world events, denominational conflict,
Calvinism, Arminianism, or the difference between
dispensationalism and preterism. All that I could comprehend was
that something was different about me from that point forward.
Another aspect of my Baptist journey was that I observed the
ministry of my father to his congregation with practically no
thought of a larger world. He ministered to the families of the
church and took the gospel to those in the community. His mission
field was the local church and all of our neighbors.
I also never
recall being associated with a political party. In recent years I
found myself among a group of folks called the Religious Right and
this association became uncomfortable. I looked for and found a
Religious Left; not nearly as organized, self conscious, or
cooperative as the Right, but present nonetheless. To be honest,
neither appeals to me. I favor whichever political agenda best
defends the principle of religious liberty.
As I saw the
tent in Shiloh, I made a mental trip back to 1965. No politics, no
agendas, no fear of end-time theology, no litmus test based on
political positions. It was simply forgiveness, acceptance,
security, and assurance. This examination of my personal history
reminded me of the importance of presenting the gospel in word and
deed without the trappings of political agendas and ideological
encumbrances. I encourage each reader to recall the day of their
salvation and to consider the personal aspect of God’s love. Take
part in opening God’s tent for all to come in.
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Ministering Together in Community:
A Baptist Women in Ministry Series: Katrina
Brooks is the co-pastor of North Broad Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia. She
serves as the recorder for Baptist Women in Ministry.
"Outside Pressures: Dealing
With Denominational and Societal Challenges
to Women in Ministry"
By Katrina Brooks
discovering Baptist principles as a college student I severed ties
with the denomination that raised me and became Baptist. I am
2004, I had the opportunity to have a front row seat in a
discussion of Baptist principles as North Broad Baptist Church in
Rome, Georgia, became involved in its local Baptist association’s
change in direction. Until 2004, that association upheld local
church autonomy without interference as directed by its
constitution and by-laws. But in 2004, when North Broad called my
husband, Tony, and me as co-pastors, association leadership began
to change the constitution and by-laws and insist on strict
adherence to its tenets by member churches. Local church autonomy
became defined as a church’s right to do some things differently
and maintain fellowship, but pastor selection and the role of
women in the church were determined by the new doctrinal statement
of the association, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
Although I am still unpacking things I learned during those days,
here are a few:
Changes to the
establishment bring out the worst in some people.
People who feel threatened become reactive and emotionally
charged. One of the charges brought up during our adventure in a
pastors’ meeting was “that’s what is wrong with America: abortion,
women in ministry and homosexuals.” Huh?
affirmation of the Baptist principle of local church autonomy,
some Baptists insist on conformity as a litmus test for fellowship.
Using the claim “they will taint our witness,” lines are often
drawn in the sand and boundaries fortified.
People gravitate to
notoriety. For months,
conversation in the area revolved around our congregation. We were
known as the church “with a female pastor.” Our website was
examined, individuals joined us for worship, and stories were
circulated. Locker room conversation was kinder than many of those
During anxious times
everyone has an opinion.
Baptists and non-Baptists alike had opinions about our serving as
co-pastors. Even a seminary president in another state felt
compelled to comment. Another local church had a different
solution “let’s just run them out of town with baseball bats.”
People who draw lines in
the sand do not think it is personal.
They say they are protecting orthodoxy and doctrinal truth. To
them relationships are secondary and a means to an end.
An individual always has
a choice. Choices may become
limited, but choice is possible. How an individual manages outside
pressures is greatly influenced by how they manage themselves. The
more I thought things were “all about me” the more things seemed
to escalate. Once I was able to consider the events as part of an
adventure, anxiety decreased.
Physical health greatly
influences reactivity. As long
as I slept properly, ate properly, exercised, and drank plenty of
water, I felt equipped for the adventure. When I indulged or did
not take time to re-create, the pressures took on a life of their
own and informed my actions.
Sacrificing time alone
with God to attend to outside pressures is never the correct
choice. Time with God, alone
and corporately, fortifies, prepares and strengthens one for the
adventure. It also provides perspective.
Truth is, during this current season of church history there will
be denominational and societal challenges to women in ministry. As
Baptist women ministers, acknowledging that women ministers will
not be liked by everyone and yet determinedly pursuing our calling
should be response to challenges. We must be the ones we are
called to be . . . beacons of hope, conduits of love, and icons of
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Baptist Heritage: A 400th Anniversary Celebration:
Baptist History and Heritage Society earlier this month joined a chorus of
Baptist organizations throughout the world that are celebrating the 400th
anniversary of Baptists. This particular meeting of the Society was especially
significant on several fronts. Following is a summary of what transpired.
A Report From the Baptist History and Heritage Society Annual Meeting
By Bruce T. Gourley
meeting of the Baptist History and Heritage Society coincided with two
significant anniversaries for Baptists, one global in scale and one local in
nature. The year 2009, as we all know, is the 400th anniversary of Baptists.
But 2009 is also the 200th anniversary of the oldest missionary Baptist church
in the state of Alabama, the First Baptist Church of Huntsville. Featured
speakers and seminar presentations celebrated these global and local
milestones on a number of fronts. Carol Crawford Holcomb (Associate Professor
of Religion, University of Mary-Hardin Baylor) and Wayne Flynt (Professor
Emeritus, Auburn University) addressed the big picture of four centuries of
Baptist life and witness, while David Hull (pastor, First Baptist Church,
Huntsville, Alabama) and Bruce Gourley (Interim Director, The Center for
Baptist Studies, Mercer University) addressed the story of FBC Huntsville.
Seminar presentations, in turn, focused primarily upon a third dimension of
the Baptist story: nine of the sixteen seminars centered upon the lives of
individual Baptists' contributions to Baptist life.
(Associate Professor Religion, Baylor University) wove all three dimensions of
the Baptist story―global, local, and individual―into an award-winning sermon
entitled, "The Risk of Majority Faith." Against the backdrop of the biblical
stories of the Exodus, Daniel, and the arrests of Peter and John in Acts 4 and
5, Weaver spoke of the Baptist "trophy" of religious liberty and surveyed the
contributions of individual Baptists in the quest for religious liberty and
separation of church and state during Baptists' minority years. Of the current
status of Baptists as a majority, Weaver noted:
is that we cease to affirm religious liberty for all because we are now the
Our risk is
that we fear losing our status as a majority faith in an ever increasing
pluralistic world so our response is to assert oppressive control only
majorities can pull off.
Our risk is
that we now become like the colonial Puritans and think that freedom is only
for us and should be defined by us.
Our risk is
that we hide behind bad history and the rhetoric of being a Christian nation
to justify religious favoritism toward our majority viewpoint. Problem is,
our forefathers and foremothers were persecuted by so called national
Our risk is
that we abandon, even denigrate the separation of church and state that we
desperately cried for when we were a minority faith in our infant years.
Our risk is
that we deny voice to dissenters, tragically forgetting that we were birthed
as dissenters who pled for freedom of conscience.
Our risk is
that we forget that freedom is a gift from God, and not ours to withhold."
year's annual BHHS meeting marked milestones in the life and work of the
Society. Charles Deweese, following ten years of leadership of the Society as
the organization's Executive Director, is retiring as of October. Charles'
vision and tenure with the Society led to tremendous growth and expansion of
the organization's scope and activities. In addition, Pamela Durso, Associate
Executive Director of the Society, has resigned effective July 1 to become
the Executive Director of
Baptist Women in Ministry. Pam's imprint upon the Society during the past
six years has been immense, as she has coordinated much of the work of the
organization. President-elect Michael Williams (Professor of History, Dallas
Baptist University), will lead the Board of Directors in evaluating and
revisioning the future of the Society, while Buddy Shurden (retired Executive
Director, The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University, and former
Society president) will serve as
part-time Interim Executive Director of the Society.
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Recommended Online Reading
Compiled by Bruce Gourley
Give Me Those Old-Time Baptists
"Baptists come in all flavors and sizes. With the Southern Baptist
Convention's annual gathering taking place in Louisville later this month, and
with a recent SBC vice-president saying in an interview that he prays for the
death of President Obama, it is timely to recite the old adage, "No Baptist
speaks for another." I don't speak for them, and they surely don't speak for
Seminary President Says Smaller Families Hurting Baptism Totals
Associated Baptist Press
"A seminary president calling for a "Great Commission Resurgence" in the
Southern Baptist Convention says reversing the denomination's declining
baptism totals is a matter not merely of evangelism, but also birthrates."
Dates to Note: Baptist Events Calendar
June 26-28, 2009, American Baptist Churches USA
biennial meeting, Pasadena, California.
July 2-3, 2009, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
General Assembly, Houston, Texas.
July 2, 2009, William H. Whitsitt Baptist
Heritage Society Annual Meeting and Penrose St. Amant Lecture, Houston, Texas;
9 a.m. -10 a.m. Dr. Walter Shurden will receive the 2009 Courage Award and
deliver the annual Penrose St. Amant lecture. The event is free.
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.
July 20-25, 2009, Baptist Peace Fellowship of
North America annual conference, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.
August 6-7, 2009, New Baptist Covenant Midwest
Meeting in Norman, Oklahoma. Guest speakers include former U.S. president
September 24-25, 2009, Baylor Conference on
History, Philosophy, or Practice of Baptist Church Music. Email Dr.
David W. Music at
David_Music@baylor.edu for more information.
September 25-27, 2009,
Scotia, Canada, a weekend celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the Baptist
Movement and the 200th Anniversary of First Baptist Church, Amherst,
sponsored by the Atlantic
Baptist Fellowship and First
Amherst, NS. Featured speakers include Drs. Peter Paris, William Brackney
and Roger H. Prentice.
Click here for more information.
September 27-29, 2009, Mercer Preaching
Consultation, King & Prince Beach & Golf Resort, St. Simons Island, Georgia. Featured
speaker: Dr. Walter Brueggemann. To register or for more information, contact
Terri Massey by email or phone her
October 1-3, Pruit Memorial Symposium, Baylor
University. Topic: "Religion, Politics and Society: The Baptist Contribution."
Featured speakers: Nancy Ammerman, Randall Balmer, Fisher Humphreys.
October 22-24, 2009, New England Women in
Ministry Conference, Massachusetts. Keynote speaker is
Rev. Yamina Apolinaris. To register or for more information, contact
Rev. Dr. E. Darlene Williams.
July 28-August 1, 2010, 20th Baptist World
Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, Honolulu, Hawaii. Registration
is now open. More
If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to
this list, please
let us know.
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