To these Baptists, theological conviction matters
Huey Long, infamous governor of Louisiana, had a kid brother named Earl. Once, when asked about his religion, Earl said, “I consider myself 40 percent Catholic and 60 percent Baptist, but I’m in favor of every religion, with the possible exception of snake-chunking.”
As humorous as Long’s quote may be, I am afraid it illustrates a problem among Baptists today. For far too long, a segment of Baptists have advocated theological minimalism, reducing the Christian faith down to a few doctrines so we can all “join hands and get along”. If you ask them why they are Baptist, the answers are more sociological and sentimental, shying away from any well-developed theological basis for union.
The twenty-six contributors to Why I am a Baptist, edited by Tom Nettles and Russell Moore, provide a much different picture. While not denying the place of shared sociological memories (i.e. using the same hymn book, giving to Lottie Moon, buying the exact same tacky red church carpet), the authors argue that being a Baptist means so much more than all that. They call us to “celebrate a rich heritage built upon biblical truth within the historic Baptist witness”.
Although this book was published five years ago, I want to bring it to the table for discussion at this point in time for three reasons.
First, we had no opportunity for this discussion in 2001, and many of you may have missed out on the book altogether. Allowing most books slide into the dustbin of history is fine, but this one is too important for Missouri Baptists to miss.
Second, this book helps in our discussion with those who don’t quite see things in the same way. When they begin equating themselves as “authentic Baptists”, do you know how to respond? This book can help.
Third, we have a lot of work to do in leading our own congregations to theological maturity. False teachers and false teaching abound. As Baptists we do not go around like vain peacocks, claiming to have all points of orthodoxy safely tucked under our feathers. However, theological humility should not lead us to theological skepticism or relativism. There is a “firm foundation” that has been “laid in His excellent Word”.
Why I am a Baptist opens with voices from the past – Isaac Backus, Ann Judson and F.H. Kerfoot – each who stood for Baptist conviction amidst trying times. Particularly helpful was Kerfoots,’ “A Baptist: Principle, Not Sentiment.” Turning to the modern era, Jimmy Draper and Paige Patterson explain why they are still Baptists even through much controversy.
Showing the international scope of Baptist work, four chapters are devoted to authors outside the states. However, even with a change in geography, the point is driven home that Baptist identity rests most securely on Baptist conviction.
What about pastoral ministry? It seems as though theology is a secondary issue in the shepherding of a Baptist church these days. Five pastors counter this thought by giving us solid meat to chew on, and they do so in a most personal way.
Before the book closes, we are privileged to hear from Baptist women, Baptist professors, and evangelical Baptist leaders. Each author in turn calls us to consider the importance of theological conviction for Baptist identity. Doctrine may divide, but doctrine may also unite. Pick a copy of this outstanding book off the shelf, and join in the conversation. (Scott Lamb is one of the founding pastors of Providence Baptist Church, St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To respond to this review or to read about other books, visit www.wisdomofthepages.com.)