CHAPTER TWO - SOUL FREEDOM
"Soul Freedom is the historic affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government."
Here in Chapter Two, after an introduction that looks at other terms synonymous with “Soul Freedom”, Shurden addresses the idea in four divisions: The Centrality of the Individual, The Primacy of the Personal, Conversion by Conviction, and Baptism for Believers. Once again the bibliography is all 20th century. This may be the finest chapter in the book, and also one in which Baptists in general will find little with which to disagree.
Here are some interesting quotes from Chapter Two:
“Baptists assert that each individual is created in the image of God. Each individual, therefore, is competent under God to make moral, spiritual, and religious decisions. Not only is the individual privileged to make those decisions, the individual alone is responsible for making those decisions.” p. 24
“Baptists insist that saving faith is personal, not impersonal. It is relational, not ritualistic. It is direct, not indirect. It is a lonely, frightened, sinful individual before an almighty, loving, and gracious God.” p. 25
“Soul freedom or 'individual competency' has never meant human self-sufficiency. Baptists have never come close to saying that individuals are capable or competent to save themselves...No proxy can fetch grace for you.” p.26
“Sooner or later, however, that question from Jesus is mine and yours to answer: 'But who do you say that I am?' The Baptist word for the world is that each individual is free to answer and is responsible for answering.” p. 28
“Baptists' ultimate goal was a church composed of believers only, but they could not get to that goal apart from the personal faith of individuals who made up that church.” p. 29
“The idea of Soul Freedom with its emphasis on the personal and voluntary nature of faith drove Baptists to adopt believers' baptism in order to have a believers' church.” p. 30
Those last two statements, in context of the chapter, concur with Shurden’s idea that Baptists arose with John Smyth and Thomas Helwys.
One paragraph on page 28 may be a passing shot at fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. “...some Baptists, especially fundamentalists, unintentionally advocate an impersonal faith by placing rigid emphasis on correct belief.” I would not want in any way imply incorrect belief is good. I certainly would be in greater agreement with the conservative/fundamentalists of the SBC than with the liberal/moderates. And I expect my application of some of these statements on soul freedom would vary from that of Shurden. But here I must say he is right on! I have seen this in real life situations, where agreement with cold hard facts is exalted above personal piety; and where mental assent to certain questions of orthodoxy are seen as spiritual religion. Let Shurden sum it up: “Five right responses to five right questions never made a Christian out of anyone. This is rationalistic, not experiential faith. 'Even the demons,' said James (Jas 2:19), have this kind of faith.”
No doubt the practice of Shurden and his Baptist Alliance varies from mine, but don't I find a lot in Chapter Two with which to disagree (without going to nitpicking!).