Thursday, June 14, 2012

Baptists, history, and theology

W. Glenn Jonas, Jr.,
Nurturing the Vision
Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the annual conference of the Baptist History and Heritage Society held at First Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina in conjunction with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of that congregation's founding. This year's theme (and primary reason for my participation) was "Baptists and Theology."

Three plenary speakers addressed the conference theme and location. W. Glenn Jonas, Jr., Charles B. Howard Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Religion at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, drew on research for his book Nurturing the Vision: First Baptist Church, Raleigh , 1812-2012 (Mercer University Press, 2012) in his opening presentation "Nurturing the Vision: Highlights from the History of a 200-Year-Old Baptist Church in Raleigh." Bill Leonard, Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, delivered the address "Conviction and Contradiction: Reassessing Theological Formation in Baptist Identity," and Fisher Humphreys, retired Professor of Divinity at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, presented the concluding address "To Go Forward We Must Go Back: Baptist Theology Since 1950."

The interest of veteran and emerging Baptist historians and theologians in the conference theme was evident in the response to an open call for papers, which yielded a breakout session program of twenty-four papers presented in concurrent sessions. I was able to hear the following papers: "East, West, and Baptist: Finding the Body of Christ at the Lord's Supper" by Welford Orrock of Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia; "Baptists and Sacramentalism: Engaging Recent Work in Baptist Sacramental Theology" By Tracey Stout of Bluefield College in Bluefield, Virginia; "Discovering and Debating the True Church: The Ecclesiology of Hanserd Knollys in 1645" by Bill Pitts of Baylor University in Waco, Texas; "A Cure for the Cankering Error" by Curtis Freeman of Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina; "Baptist Theology: Is There Another Way?" by Jay Smith of Yellowstone Theological Institute in Bozeman, Montana; and "Locating Baptist Dogmatics: Defining and Defending Identity in the Absence of a Normative Theology" by Philip Thompson of Sioux Falls Seminary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

I presented a paper on "Baptist Theology in Dialogue: Reports of International Bilateral Conversations with Baptist World Alliance Participation as Expressions of Baptist Constructive Theology," which reflected a portion of a chapter in my forthcoming book tentatively titled The Baptist Vision and the Ecumenical Future: Radicially Biblical, Radically Catholic, Relentlessly Orthodox under contract with Baylor University Press.

I'm grateful to the Baptist History and Heritage Society for providing this opportunity for Baptist historians and Baptist theologians to have a mutually enriching dialogue regarding our common object of academic inquiry--the Baptist tradition.


  1. I thought it was a good meeting, the first face-to-face gathering of Baptist theologians and historians. We have differences. Some of those differences are methodological. There are also personality differences. And, there are some basic disagreements about what the sources and research from the 400 year old tradition of Baptists shows. But we all share a common interest and love for this unique tradition.

    Good to see you Steve! And, thanks for plugging the book on your blog!


  2. You're welcome, Glenn. I enjoyed the meeting and hope there will be other occasions for substantive dialogue that build on this beginning. I do note, though, that there have been other face-to-face national-level meetings prior to this one in which several of the major historians and theologians, as well as many in both categories of lesser stature, have been together and have publicly addressed some of the controverted issues--in particular the national gatherings of the NABPR when we had them in association with the joint AAR/SBL meetings. I think in particular of the 1997 meeting in San Francisco, in which James Wm. McClendon, Jr. and Beth Newman were on the program and Bill Leonard among others spoke at length in response. In some ways we've had more sustained debate in NABPR-related settings (and in the pages of Perspectives in Religious Studies) than at our recent meeting, but it's a good beginning for renewed dialogue and debate. I do wish the paper sessions had been structured to allow more time for both the presentation of the papers and, especially, dialogue in response to them--but I was glad to see the interest in the theme reflected in the enthusiastic response to the call for papers.