I recently read a Baptist theologian bemoan the fact that every systematic theology he read by a Baptist featured no serious engagement with the great tradition. This theologian further stated that every lecture he attended whilst a student at a Baptist seminary was similarly deficient. I cannot speak for his experience, but I suspect he is not the first
person to make such claims. Baptists are not exactly known for their catholicity.
One can find in the history of our movement examples to the contrary. The Orthodox Creed used by the General Baptists commended the Apostles’ Creed as well as the Athanasian Creed, and numerous Baptist doctrinal statements have employed the Trinitarian grammar provided by the Patristic Era. John Gill, the theologian I am presently researching, opened his systematic theology by condemning a crude form of biblicism that would reject the importance of the tradition and also by praising the value of the regula fidei in biblical interpretation. The church covenant still in use at the New Road Baptist Church in Oxford, England, reads, “We denominate ourselves a Protestant Catholic Church of Christ.”
Some contemporary Baptists seek to follow in these footsteps. To offer but a few examples, the publication Re-Envisioning Baptist Identity has created some interest amongst Baptists in the resources of the broader church tradition. Curtis Freeman’s Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists seeks to present the Baptist movement as “a community of contested convictions within the church catholic,” a presentation that entails the retrieval of sources both from the Baptist tradition and the church catholic. The works of Steven Harmon, most notably Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision, display a similar aim. Some Southern Baptist theologians have also expressed a desire for greater engagement with the tradition. The Journal of Baptist Studies recently featured several articles that examined the possibility of a Baptist reengagement with the tradition and critiqued Landmarkism.
In my next blog post, I will offer a more extensive bibliography of works on this topic. What suggestions might you have for this list?
*A portion of this blog originates from a paper presentation I offered at the 2016 Baptist Historical Society meeting in Manchester, UK.