Vol. 8 No. 6

  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

         "Losing the Bible"

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

         "The Spread of the Gospel Among Native Americans"

The Baptist Soapbox: Stephen Barber

         "God's Tent"

Ministering Together in Community: A Baptist Women in Ministry Series

          Katrina Brooks
          "Outside Pressures: Dealing With Denominational and Societal Challenges
             to Women in Ministry"

The Baptist Heritage: 400th Anniversary Notes

          A Report From the Baptist History and Heritage Society Annual Meeting
Bruce T. Gourley

Dates to Note: Baptist Events Calendar

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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. 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.

"Losing the Bible"
By Bruce T. Gourley

          The "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 construct 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 University 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 self-serving agendas. 
          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, all against 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 must allow 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.

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 Stephen P. Barber, Assistant Professor of History at the Columbus campus of Georgia Military College, and Chair of the Social and Behavioral Science Department.

"God's Tent"
Stephen Barber

            An old-fashioned tent revival was recently held in the town of Shiloh, Georgia. I did not attend, although I was tempted to pause in 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.
            The tent 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 preachera 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 nearby town.
            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.
            As I 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

             After discovering Baptist principles as a college student I severed ties with the denomination that raised me and became Baptist. I am unapologetically Baptist.
             In 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?

·        Regardless of 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 stories.

·        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 grace.

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The Baptist Heritage: A 400th Anniversary Celebration:  The 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

            This year's 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.
            Doug Weaver (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:
            "Our risk is that we cease to affirm religious liberty for all because we are now the majority. 
            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 churches.
            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."

            Finally, this 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
Louisville Courier-Journal

"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 me."

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. More information.

July 2-3, 2009, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Houston, Texas.  More information.

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.  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.

July 20-25, 2009, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America annual conference, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.  More information.

August 6-7, 2009, New Baptist Covenant Midwest Meeting in Norman, Oklahoma. Guest speakers include former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. More information.

September 24-25, 2009, Baylor Conference on History, Philosophy, or Practice of Baptist Church Music.  Email Dr. David W. Music at for more information.

September 25-27, 2009, Amherst, Nova 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 Baptist Church, 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 at 478.301.2943.

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 information.

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

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