Baptist Theology since 1950

By Humphreys, Fisher | Baptist History and Heritage, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Baptist Theology since 1950


Humphreys, Fisher, Baptist History and Heritage


If theology is thinking about God, then every Baptist has a theology.

Our subject in this paper is academic Baptist theology found in books and articles written since 1950 by pastor-theologians, lay theologians, and professors.

Bridge Theologies

Across the centuries the principal conversation partner for Christian theology has been philosophy, but sometimes theologians engage in dialogue with other disciplines. Since 1950 three of those disciplines have been literature, other religions, and science.

Baptists such as Paul Fiddes, John Killinger, and Ralph Wood have made contributions to the study of relationships between theology and literature.

Harvey Cox wrote about the relationship between Christianity and other religions in his 1988 book Many Mansions. Charles Kimball is an expert on Islam who once had the extraordinary experience of being asked by the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran to talk to him about Jesus. Mark Heim has written three books about other religions. In the third, The Depth of the Riches: A Trinitarian Theology of Religious Ends, he makes the fascinating suggestion that the claims of the world religions about salvation may all be true because, even though they seem to be mutually exclusive, the religions understand salvation very differently. Buddhists may be right that the Eightfold Noble Path leads to Nirvana, and Christians may also be right that redemption leads to everlasting communion with the Holy Trinity.

In building bridges between theology and science, practicing scientists naturally possess special authority. At least three scientists who are or have been Baptists have made important contributions to this field. Charles Townes received the Nobel prize for work that led to lasers. Sir John Houghton is co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that received a Nobel Prize for its work. He is the author of The Search for God: Can Science Help? Francis Collins is a convert from agnosticism who during his years as a Baptist directed the largest scientific research project in history, the Human Genome Project. Now the director of the National Institutes of Health, he has written a book about science and theology titled The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

Eric Rust, an English Baptist, taught at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the mid-twentieth century when Karl Barth's influence was discouraging theologians from exploring relationships between theology and science. Eric Rust rowed against that current and wrote repeatedly about science and theology.

Advocacy Theology

Theologians sometimes advocate for particular causes. For example, J. Deotis Roberts advocated for black theology in his 1971 book Liberation and Reconciliation, and Will D. Campbell did the same in his 1972 book Race and the Renewal of the Church. Jann Aldredge-Clanton advocated for feminist theology in her 1991 book In Whose Image? God and Gender. Miguel A. de la Torre advocated for Hispanic moral theology in his 2010 book Latino/a Social Ethics: Moving Beyond Eurocentric Moral Thinking.

Kinds of Theology

Academic theology embraces several distinct disciplines including biblical, historical, philosophical, moral, and pastoral theologies, along with systematic theology.

Biblical Theology

In some circles biblical theology is purely descriptive, simply displaying what is in the Bible. For Baptists the situation is more complicated. Because Baptists are so serious about having the Bible as their Holy Book, a description of the Bible's theological content is ipso facto a prescription that they believe it.

A good example of this is the work of Frank Stagg. His book New Testament Theology is the product of careful biblical scholarship wedded to the author's passionate concern about social and personal morality. It is not just an account of New Testament teachings; it is a call to live in the way of Jesus. …

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