The following is an excerpt from the recently released volume The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement by Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, and Michael A. G. Haykin. In their introduction, the authors discuss the oft-debated question “What does it mean to be Baptist?” as a means of situating their volume within previous attempts at documenting Baptist history.
Our attempt to produce a history of Baptists has caused us to feel a mountain of weight. . . . Indeed, writing such a history some 200 years after American Baptists first organized an international mission agency (the Triennial Convention) has placed us in the context of writing about more, not fewer, Baptist groups. Consequently our audience includes, but is not limited to, independent Baptists and Cooperative Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists and Southern Baptists, Free Will Baptists and Reformed Baptists, regulative principle Baptists and seeker-sensitive Baptists. Among these groups are differing views of biblical inspiration, age of baptismal recipients, elder-led churches, women pastors, sovereign decrees, and the propriety of vacation Bible school—to name only a few!
This disparity leads to a dilemma: what does it mean to be Baptist? Is it enough to call oneself a Baptist, or must one meet specific criteria to qualify as such? One may consider two titles of previous works to note how authors differ in their views of Baptist relatedness: Bill Leonard’s Baptist Ways: A History (Judson Press, 2003) and R. Stanton Norman’s The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church (B&H Academic, 2005). The former depicted Baptists as a multifaceted movement using believer’s baptism and congregational polity as unifying factors, whereas the latter brought attention to biblical authority as a leading Baptist distinctive from which other matters—such as regenerate church membership and religious freedom—derive. Although Leonard wrote a historical narrative and Norman provided a theological analysis, their differing approaches to “Baptist Ways” versus “The Baptist Way” are not merely methodological. They reflect a genuine disagreement on what it means to be Baptist; and, by voicing their beliefs, they prove that Baptists are indeed not a silent people.
We realize that even the title of our book, The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement, raises questions regarding our understanding of Baptist history. Although our headline, The Baptist Story, begins with the definite article, we do not intend this to be the final history that replaces previous Baptist histories. To the contrary, works on Baptist history, large and small, have helped us immensely by collectively contributing to our knowledge of and appreciation for this movement.
Ours is both an individual and a collaborative effort. We divided this project according to our specialties: Michael Haykin wrote the chapters on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Baptists, Anthony Chute authored the section on nineteenth-century Baptists, and Nathan Finn concluded with the twentieth century and beyond. However, we have each provided substantive input and editorial oversight regarding the book as a whole. This textbook is a collaborative effort at every level.
Not only have we been helped by one another’s contributions, but we have also developed a greater appreciation for those who have tackled this topic on their own. Leon McBeth’s The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Broadman, 1987) remains a magisterial reference work for Baptist historians. Leonard’s Baptist Ways and Tom Nettles’s three-volume work on The Baptists (Mentor, 2005–2007) will each undoubtedly be used for decades to come. The broader perspective embodied in Robert Johnson’s A Global Introduction to Baptist Churches (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and David Bebbington’s Baptists through the Centuries (Baylor University Press, 2010) have informed our own narrative of Baptist history. Moreover, we are indebted to many scholars who have written more specialized monographs and essays, knowing that they have helped us nuance certain aspects of the Baptist story.
Our decision to write in true textbook form (incorporating a received body of knowledge using our particular perspectives) led us to conclude that widespread use of footnotes would restrict an already limited word count and could prove to be less user-friendly for students. However, we have included a bibliography at the end of each chapter in order to reflect our dependence on previous works and to direct the reader toward further research. Within our bibliographies students will encounter differing approaches to the Baptist story, such as William Brackney’s A Genetic History of Baptist Thought (Mercer University Press, 2004) and James Leo Garrett’s Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study (Mercer University Press, 2009), two fine historical-theological surveys that represent masterful scholarship. This book, therefore, is not meant to replace previous histories; instead, it is a collation and updating of many stories, one that itself will need to be updated in the future
About the Authors:
Anthony L. Chute is Professor of Church History and Associate Dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University in Riverside, California. He has written several books and essays on Baptist history and theology.
Nathan A. Finn is Dean of the School of Theology & Missions at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee. He has written widely on topics related to Baptist history, identity, and spirituality.
Michael A. G. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
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