A review of "Baptists and the Christian Tradition"




I was finally able to finish the recent book from B&H Academic "Baptists and the Christian Tradition: Towards an Evangelical Baptist Catholicity." The book is a collection of essays edited by Matthew Emerson, Christopher Morgan, and  R. Lucas Stamps.  

The goal of the book is to promote "retrieval for the sake of renewal" by exploring the connection between Baptists and the greater Christian traditions.  Through a series of 16 essays different authors explore various parts of the church and how Baptists are connected to them.  The topics include unity, Trinitarianism, Christology, Ecclesiology, and many others.  The essays guide the reader to see the connection that Baptist's have to christian tradition, why some Baptists try to deny that, and the benefit of understanding our shared history. 

It stands to reason that since the book is from the academic arm of the B&H Publishers it is aimed towards higher education.  I read the book as a non-professional student of history and local church pastor. I found the book immensely helpful and useful for understanding the traditions in my own church and background as well. Far from being just an academic tome the essays help the reader see clearly how Baptists are connected to the past through it's exploration of the doctrines of the early church, among others. But the book is not just history either.  The stated goal of the book is "retrieval for the sake of renewal" and I believe it accomplishes that goal. As a local church pastor the book not only informed me about the past but explored ways that the local church might connect with that past. By helping the local church explore her foundations helps the church see that the lessons from the past can help guide us in the present.  

A particular chapter I found helpful was Walter Stricklands essay "Racial Tension, the Baptist Tradition, and Christian Unity."  Strickland explores the history of racial tension in the baptist church and the rise of a denomination specifically for black churches. He was not afraid to point out the terrible roots of racism in the founding of the SBC, but he also discussed the disadvantages of the two separate conventions.  By pointing out the potential problems in having conventions largely based on race Strickland helps us see how we can gather together to overcome those issues.  

Another helpful chapter was by Jason Duesing called "Baptist Contributions to the Christian Tradition."  He explores not just the ways that Baptists have been shaped by church history, but the ways that they have shaped the church at large themselves. The emphasis by Baptist's on religious liberty and cooperation has been beneficial for both baptists and churches outside their own walls.  It's incredibly easy to beat up on Baptists but Duesing does a good job of celebrating the good work that they have done.  

I would recommend this book to any pastor who wants to better understand the origins of baptists beliefs and practice. They might be surprised to find out that we have more in common with other churches than we think.  Pastors are constantly being pulled in two directions. Some people desire for the church to return to the "good old days" when things were better. Still others are not satisfied with the way the church is now and want to change the church to better reflect culture and embrace new methods and beliefs.   The idea that if we can go back to the ways of the past to be more pure is nothing more than nostalgia.  Still others only want to renew the church, throwing out the past to embrace new and exiting methods and theology.  This book helps to walk the balance between nostalgia and regeneration.  By walking this balance this book can help the church be what it needs to be to take the gospel to a lost world. "Retrieval for the sake of renewal" will help the church be biblical, faithful, and relevant in order to the wisdom of God made manifest in the world.  

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