Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

The State of State Baptist Histories: Within the Past Five Years, Scholars Have Published Several Histories of Baptists within a Particular State. Each of These Histories Has Been Written by a Baptist "Insider," and Most Have Been Published under the Auspices of the Statewide Convention or Association (1)

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

The State of State Baptist Histories: Within the Past Five Years, Scholars Have Published Several Histories of Baptists within a Particular State. Each of These Histories Has Been Written by a Baptist "Insider," and Most Have Been Published under the Auspices of the Statewide Convention or Association (1)

Article excerpt

This review examines four such histories, published within the last four years, and offers some observations and hopefully constructive criticisms about the "state" of state Baptist histories.

Texas

Leon McBeth's Texas Baptists: A Sesquicentennial History is a book for Southern Baptists about Southern Baptists. McBeth traces the dramatic story of Southern Baptists in Texas from a handful of pioneer families and preachers in the 1830s to well over 2.5 million members, more than any other state, by the late 1990s. McBeth chronicles the major institutional advances of Baptists in Texas, and also provides a few brief anecdotes, such as the conversion and baptism of Sam Houston in 1854, at age sixty-three. Woven throughout the history of Texas Baptists is the story of "our beloved Institution," Baylor University, founded in 1845, and the stories of many other Texas Baptist institutions. Here, readers can learn about such famous Texas Baptists as Zacharias N. Morrell, R. E. B. Baylor, R. C. Buckner, Samuel A. Hayden, B. H. Carroll, George W. Truett, J. Frank Norris, and J. Howard Williams. Furthermore, McBeth presents an impressive array of Texas Baptist "firsts," such as the Baptist Student Union in 1920, the Texas Baptist Foundation in 1933, and the Christian Life Commission in 1950.

This history of Texas Baptists is an example of the genre of denominational history familiar to Baptists and other denominations for many years. McBeth states that "I have sought to reconstruct the history of Texas Baptists from primary sources" (p. v), but his notes reflect heavy use of particular types of primary sources--printed denominational minutes and the denominational newspaper in Texas. In his extensive survey of secondary material, McBeth does not integrate some recent scholarship. By most contemporary accounts, for example, J. Frank Norris exerted a dominant influence on Texas Baptist life in the 1920s and 1930s, and McBeth admits that. Yet, his treatment of the "Norris Controversy" (pp. 165-68) does not take into account Barry Hankins's recent biography of Norris, God's Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism, though McBeth mentions the work in his bibliographic essay. By relating the story of Texas Baptists largely through brief biographies of denominational leaders in the nineteenth century and through the lens of denominational structures for most of the twentieth century, McBeth has produced an institutional history of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and its numerous ancestors. Against this backdrop, Norris becomes a brief (although influential) aberration in the overall march of progress Texas Baptists have enjoyed for a century and a half, instead of the far more interesting, influential, and complex figure that Hankins presents.

One of the weaknesses of standard denominational history often is its lack of attention to the historical context of the denomination. While this volume is not nor should it be a textbook in Texas or American history, Texas Baptists lived in those contexts. In McBeth's treatment of the 1840s, for example, there is little mention of the Mexican War (especially for a history of Texas Baptists) and to the national division between northern and southern Baptists. Even the Civil War, the nation's most jarring crisis, receives only passing attention.

McBeth also devotes little attention to other Baptist groups in the state. It is perhaps ironic then, that McBeth quotes Charles T. Alexander, whom the state convention appointed in 1936 to coordinate ministries with African-American Baptists in Texas: "The two races, and our two Baptist groups, do not know each other today as they should" (p. 204). The situation remains the same today in Texas and elsewhere, yet African-American Baptists are largely absent from McBeth's story of Texas Baptists.

McBeth devotes more than half of the hook to the post-World War II era in Texas Baptist history because previous histories of Texas Baptists have not included this important period of Texas Baptists. …

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