Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Baptist Historiography in the New Century: What Themes Should We Be Addressing?

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Baptist Historiography in the New Century: What Themes Should We Be Addressing?

Article excerpt

Baptist history is a field full of opportunities for new investigations. (1) To be sure, over the years, a number of areas have attracted our attention.

The most obvious is institutional history, that is, denominational, associational, and local church matters. The American Baptist Historical Society together with American Baptist Archives Center and the American Baptist-Samuel Colgate Historical Library have provided resources for people looking at Baptists in the North and West, while the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives and the Baptist History and Heritage Society have done likewise in the South as well as in other parts of the country. In Europe are the rich holdings of the Angus Library at Regents Park College and the affiliated Centre for Baptist History and Heritage in Oxford, England, and the library and Oncken Archive at the German Baptist theological seminary in Elstal bei Berlin.

As I documented in the September 2003 issue of the American Baptist Quarterly and the efforts of the BWA's Heritage and Identity Commission so clearly reveal, the exploration of Baptist history is taking place around the globe. (2) We are becoming increasingly aware of this explosion of scholarship, and we want to do everything in our power to encourage and foster this development. A good starting place for our inquiries is the compendium Baptists Around the World that Albert W. Wardin, Jr., organized and to which many of us working in the field contributed. (3)

Another approach to enhancing our historical understanding is to look at the specific controversies that have occupied so much attention. Walter B. Shurden reminded us of several of these in Not a Silent People (1972), a concise work aimed at sensitizing the layperson, and which in 1995 was revised to reflect more recent concerns. (4)

Among the questions and concerns that have occupied so much Baptist attention are the following:

1. What were our origins--is there a lineal succession of people who practiced Baptist principles from the New Testament days to the present, or did the Baptist movement emerge out of sixteenth-century Mennonite roots or English Puritan Separatism?

2. Were Baptists a missionary people, or did they oppose sending out missionaries throughout the world?

3. What was the role of Baptists in perpetuating slavery and then white supremacy? How did racial separatism negatively impact the churches and denominationally-supported institutions? Significant scholarship continues to appear on this topic, such as Mark Newman's work on segregation in the last half of the twentieth century, (5) and Paul Harvey's study of racial identities in the post-Civil War era and into the twentieth century. (6)

4. What were the conflicts resulting from high Calvinism which fed into Landmarkism and the debate over the total autonomy of the local congregation and the rejection of any meaningful form of connectionalism or vision of the larger church? (7)

5. What was the nature of the debates over theology and how to interpret the Bible--the Downgrade controversy in Britain, the fundamentalist-modernist struggle in America, and the associated issue of creedalism? These debates resulted in such things in the South as the J. Frank Norris movement and the Bible Baptist schism, and the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) in 1925 as a confessional statement, while in the North, an ongoing conflict raged inside the Northern Baptist Convention over whether the New Hampshire Confession of 1833 should be made normative. This conflict culminated in the schisms of the General Association of Regular Baptists (GARB) in 1932 and the Conservative Baptist Association in 1947.

6. How did issues surrounding biblical literalism or inerrancy affect Baptist life? The controversy that erupted over Ralph H. Elliott's commentary on Genesis in 1961-62 (8) led to a revision of the BFM in 1963, and was carried to its extremity by W. …

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