Book Review: The Baptist Story

Baptist Story

The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement by Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn and Michael A. G. Haykin is a newly published textbook on Baptist history that should prove to be useful for college and seminary students as well as those interested in church history. All three authors are accomplished writers and historians, but especially Michael Haykin who is very prolific in drawing out little known treasures from church history (especially 17th and 18th century Baptist figures) through the publication of multiple volumes. Haykin is not only one of the best Evangelical historians doing work today, but he is also quite conversant in theology. He has been able to show how theology and church history intersect in important ways.

The authors walk through the Baptist story from its beginnings. Baptists had their origins not in the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century Reformation, but a century later as one of the separatist movements who broke away from the Church of England in the early 17th century. Although there are parallels, Anabaptists and Baptists have distinct origins and beliefs beyond the common acceptance of believer’s (credo) baptism. The English Separatists became known as Puritans and one of these Puritans was John Smyth. He fled England to the Netherlands as did many Separatists seeking to escape persecution. Initially he was joined to the group of believers who eventually made their way to America in the Mayflower. The two groups separated over views on church polity. Smyth was initially a Calvinist but then became convinced of Arminianism during the Remonstrance controversy in the Netherlands at the time.

A split among Smyth’s followers resulted in many joining Thomas Helwys in a North London church. They became known as the General Baptists. The name stems from the fact that they believed in the Arminian doctrine that Christ’s death provided a general atonement for all people. Shortly thereafter, a new movement known as the Particular Baptists arose from 3 pastors of another London church. These became more prevalent in the early days of the Baptist movement. Their name derives from the fact that they held to the Calvinist doctrine that Christ’s death provided a particular atonement only for those elected to salvation by God. While early Baptists baptized by affusion (pouring water over the head), these were the first to baptize by immersion. The Particular Baptists produced the The First London Confession of Faith in 1644 and then the influential Second London Confession in 1658.

From these modest beginnings, Baptists began to emerge as a major force in Protestant Christianity. We learn of Roger Williams, the first influential Baptist in America who fought early battles for religious freedom in the colonies for struggling Baptists even as fellow Baptists in England began to thrive. But soon, new persecution arose in England with those known as Dissenters or Nonconformists, again with regard to resisting the strong arm of the Church of England. Among this Puritan stock were famous Baptists like John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. Finally, the Act of Toleration in 1689 brought religious freedom for English Baptists.

The 18th and 19th centuries brought Baptists to the very forefront of Evangelical revivals and reforms which has made them perhaps the most formidable group of Protestant denominations ever since. The authors tell us the stories of men like the pastor-theologian John Gill, Isaac Backus, Shubal Stearns, Abraham Booth, Andrew Fuller, the father of modern missions William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Francis Wayland and the greater London preacher Charles Spurgeon. We see how Baptists were instrumental in the spread of the First and Second Great Awakenings, the establishment of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the abolishment of slavery in the US South, the temperance movement and other social reforms. We learn of the Northern and Southern Baptists, the Free Will, Primitive, Landmark and Independent Baptists and the rise of educational institutions like Brown University and Southern Seminary. Along the way, the authors weave these individual stories with those of other Baptists institutions and movements, doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes as well as how Baptists interfaced the culture at large and other Christian denominations.

Important Baptists and institutions of the 20th century are well covered. We learn of George Truett, B. H. Carroll, E. Y. Mullins, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Carl F. H. Henry along with Baptist involvement in the Fundamentalist controversy of the 20’s and 30’s, the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, and the Conservative Resurgence of the 80’s and 90’s in the Southern Baptist Convention led by men like W. A. Criswell, Paige Patterson, and Adrian Rogers. The last chapters bring us to the contemporary scene. It focuses on Baptist figures like Chuck Colson, Rick Warren, and John Piper. We see the global impact of Baptists, the Calvinist renewal and the response to renewed threats to religious liberty.  The last chapter seeks to identify what has historically distinguished Baptists from other Christian denominations in their beliefs. It is very helpful in that regard.

This textbook is brief at only 356 pages, but it does an excellent job of painting Baptist history with broad strokes while also focusing on a number of lesser known stories and figures of interest. It balances the two very well. The prose is very readable and enjoyable. This is not dry history. One may argue that some figures, movements, issues and institutions are given short-shrift, but that is to be expected in a volume of this size and purpose. It is a survey. The book contains numerous helpful photos and side-bars relating Baptists in their own words. One disappointment is that I found the indexes to be incomplete. A number of names and subjects that occur in the text are not mentioned in the indexes. This will make it harder to search and that is unfortunate. But all-in-all this is an excellent textbook for examining Baptist history. I highly recommend it.


Book Review: The Blessing of God

Blessing of God

Michael D. McMullen is an associate professor of church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He completed doctoral work on Jonathan Edwards at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland as well as Yale University. He has done us a great service by publishing in this volume, some 22 previously unpublished sermons of the great pastor and theologian of the colonial era. McMullen provides a short introduction to Edwards and the painstaking process he undertook to transcribe these sermons for publication from the original manuscripts held in the well-known Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. Even with the massive project by Yale University Press to publish the works of Edwards, many of his sermons have not made it into these volumes which now stand at 26 (73 for the online edition). Thankfully, the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online is available on the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University website making the purchase of printed editions unnecessary for those who wish to read Edwards.

Each of the 22 sermons in the present volume is given a brief introduction by McMullen where he discusses the original date of the sermon, its occasion, contents and basic themes. This is very helpful in orienting the reader. McMullen did not select the sermons based on any specific criteria. He simply wanted to provide a broad range of sermons which are from both the Old and New Testaments, long and brief sermons as well as those which are more doctrinal versus evangelistic in flavor. The sermons themselves are simply divided, following standard Puritan traditions. Edwards opens with a brief introduction then moves to the ‘Doctrine’ portion of the sermon with several points. He then concludes with an ‘Application’ section with its several points to press the truths upon the hearts and minds of the listener. The Biblical text for each sermon is as follows: Chapter 1: Genesis 32:26-29; Chapter 2: Deuteronomy 32:29; Chapter 3: Job 19:25; Chapter 4: Psalm 115:1; Chapter 5: Psalm 119:60; Chapter 6: Psalm 139:7-10; Chapter 7: Proverbs 28:13; Chapter 8: Ecclesiastes 7:1; Chapter 9: Song of Solomon 1:3; Chapter 10: Ezekiel 7:16 (Sermon 1); Chapter 11: Ezekiel 7:16 (Sermon 2); Chapter 12: Hosea 13:9; Chapter 13: Matthew 7:13-14; Chapter 14: Matthew 13:47-50; Chapter 15: Mark 16:15-16; Chapter 16: Acts 19:19; Chapter 17: Romans 5:7-8; Chapter 18: 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Chapter 19: 1 Timothy 2:5; Chapter 20: James 1:13; Chapter 21: James 1:17; Chapter 22: Revelation 3:20.

In order to give you the flavor of some of the sermons, here are a few examples. Chapter 4 contains a sermon on Psalm 115:1: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.” Edwards writes that “it is the temper and disposition of a truly godly man to delight in exalting God.” Such “see God reigning on the throne of his glory, exalted on high. They love to have him do whatever is his will and pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth. They care that he should do just what he pleases. They rejoice in it that God is the governor of the world. It is a happy and joyful consideration to them that God reigneth” (74). If Edwards was anything, he was most certainly theocentric his theology and preaching. The glory of God was ever foremost in his mind.

Chapter 6 contains a sermon on Psalm 139:7-10 entitled, “That God is Everywhere Present.”  In speaking to the unconverted, Edwards says, “It is an awakening and even an amazing consideration to think that they live and move in that God who is angry with them every moment. He is not an enemy at a distance from them, nor is he only near to them, but he is in them and they in him. He is in them and through them wherever they go, and yet they provoke him to anger… He possesses every part of their body which they use as instruments of sin against him” (115). Edwards’ strong view of the doctrine of concurrence is very evident here.

Chapter 7 contains a sermon from Proverbs 28:13 about God’s forgiveness of those who confess and forsake their sins. Here he writes, “In confessing sin to God, there is an appearance of a sense of God’s displeasure for sin, and therefore if confession be sincere, there is really such a sense. We confess to God because we are sensible he has been displeased and provoked, and therefore we come to humble ourselves before him to seek reconciliation. He who truly confesses to God is therefore sensible of God’s holy and pure nature whereby he abhors sin and is much displeased with it. They are sensible of his greatness and majesty which they have affronted and are therefore sensible that God is angry with them.” Note how many times in these few sentences that Edwards uses the word “sensible.” This speaks to Edwards’ contention that genuine Christianity consists in the proper “affections” of the heart. To experience the work of God inwardly through regeneration is to experience a transformation of the basic desires and orientation of one’s thinking and feeling which has as its object a newly acquired sense of the majesty, glory and attractiveness of God.

Chapter 15 contains a sermon entitled, “What is Meant by Believing in Christ?” based on Mark 16:15-16 which was preached to Mohawk Indians in New Jersey in 1752. This is an example of Edwards’ evangelistic preaching, and note the greater simplicity it contains. “Now therefore, let everyone look into and search his own heart and see whether he does truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t think it enough that you come to meeting, that you are honest, that you keep the Sabbath days, that you don’t get drunk. You must do these things, must keep the Sabbath, but these things alone won’t do. You must give your whole heart to Christ. Have your eyes ever been opened to see the glorious excellency of Jesus Christ? Has the light of the word of God ever shined into your hearts so that the excellency of that Word that teaches Christ and the way of salvation by him? Has that word of Christ been sweeter to you than the honey on the honeycomb?” Edwards was a firm Calvinist, but his evangelism was informed by the fact that God uses definite means in order to convert souls to Christ. No one shall be shown to be predestined to salvation who also does not hear the gospel faithfully preached and voluntarily exercises his or her will to repent and believe. Edwards was a compatibilist, holding that God’s sovereignty co-exists with human freedom and responsibility.

Edwards’ theology is on full display in these sermons as is his pastoral heart. These messages are a more accessible way to gain entrance into the otherwise heady thinking that marked many of Edwards’ more formidable treatises on theological topics. He was a model of sound doctrinal preaching that never missed a beat when it came to addressing the truth of Scripture to his hearers’ hearts. There is both meat here for Christian growth and reflection as a well as a model for teachers and preachers. We owe a debt of gratitude to Michael McMullen for pulling these sermons together.