Hearing Baptist Spirituality in Some Conversion Narratives from the American South: Baptist Spirituality Is Conversionist Spirituality. Baptist Tradition Insisted from the Beginning That Authentic Churches Are Communities of Gathered Believers Who Convened to Christianity by Voluntarily Accepting Christ

By Allen, William Loyd | Baptist History and Heritage, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Hearing Baptist Spirituality in Some Conversion Narratives from the American South: Baptist Spirituality Is Conversionist Spirituality. Baptist Tradition Insisted from the Beginning That Authentic Churches Are Communities of Gathered Believers Who Convened to Christianity by Voluntarily Accepting Christ


Allen, William Loyd, Baptist History and Heritage


Believer's baptism, a signature trait in Baptist life, is a public manifestation of this principle. Revivalism increased conversion's impact on Baptist spiritual formation, particularly in the United States and especially in the American South.

The experiential pietism of the Great Awakening's revival preachers (1) influenced prorevival Puritans to require testimony to an inner experience of personal encounter with God as a normative sign of conversion. For those Puritans, true converts were saved, knew it, and talked (or wrote) about it. C. C. Goen called insistence on this form of personal conversion "the fundamental principal of the Great Awakening." (2) Heirs to both Puritan and pietist influences, Separate Baptists parlayed revival conversions into rapid church growth throughout the American South. (3)

Through time, Baptists in that region have molded this under standing of conversion as a publicly narrated, conscious turning from non-Christian to Christian life to a variety of theologies and practices, (4) but conversion language has remained vital to understanding Baptist spirituality in the American South. Baptist spirituality formed and was formed by a particular conversion language modeled in public witness. This aspect of Baptist spiritual formation can be traced partly by conversion testimonies in Baptist autobiographies.

Representative autobiographies of white Baptist clergy in the South before 1845 constitute the primary sources for this article. The authors, recording certain life events that they believed best revealed the divine-human encounter in their individual lives, consistently chose conversion as one of the two most important influences on their spiritual formation. (5) Incomplete in regard to gender and laity viewpoints, these writings nonetheless represent how the dominant religious culture's leadership perceived conversion in the spiritual formation of Baptists during its formative period.

Listening for Spirituality in Baptist Conversion Narratives

What these narratives of Baptist conversion tell us about Baptist spirituality depends largely on what the reader is listening for. Current readers and critics of this type of narrative often are frustrated or bored by the conventional language used in them. Daniel B. Shea called the content of early American autobiography "foreknown and predictable"; Virginia Lieson Brereton assumed such narratives are "impossibly burdened with stock religious language." (6)

Other modern readers listen, with scant success, for correlations between these witnesses 'and their own religious reality. For them, the importance of nonrational, affective, and intuitive evidence in conversion narratives is at best superfluous and at worst embarrassing. Such interpreters seek in this literature factual propositions embodying the objective reality of conversion as a universally true event (where "factual propositions" means words that correspond to the objective reality of the empirically verifiable world, and "true" means existing independently of the convert's subjective experience).

Historians face similar difficulties in trying to write "factual" histories. What does not fit easily into universally demonstrable principles of religious experience such as institutional growth, economic influences, doctrinal development, or other dynamics suitable to logical, linear assessment is usually discarded as unhelpful to understanding a religious tradition. (7)

Barton Stone, one of the founders of the camp meeting movement that revolutionized Baptist life in the American South, encountered conversion testimonies first among Virginia Baptists. Later recording "how and when they [the converts] obtained deliverance," he wrote:

Some were delivered by a dream, a vision, or some uncommon appearance of light--some by a voice spoken to them, "Thy sins are forgiven thee"--and others by seeing the Saviour with their natural eyes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Hearing Baptist Spirituality in Some Conversion Narratives from the American South: Baptist Spirituality Is Conversionist Spirituality. Baptist Tradition Insisted from the Beginning That Authentic Churches Are Communities of Gathered Believers Who Convened to Christianity by Voluntarily Accepting Christ
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.