Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Baptist Identity - conclusion

To summarize my comments and come to a conclusion, I offer the following thoughts.

I will not argue that Shurden’s “four freedoms” are not a fair representation of the commonalities in the sermons and addresses given by speakers at the Baptist World Alliance. I have no doubt that they are. I do question how well these speakers represent the constituency of the BWA, and especially question how well they represent Baptists as a whole. It is Mr. Shurden who chose this format in which to frame his argument, and therefore it is his task to convince us that it is a broad enough pool of Baptist thought and representative of the broader body of Baptists. In my opinion, He fails to do so. According to Denton Lotz (BWA General Secretary, 1995) the fourfold purpose of the BWA is to unite Baptists worldwide, lead in evangelism, respond to people in need, and defend human rights [Baptist Atlas, 1995, p. xxx]. There is nothing wrong with the BWA having and existing for a specific purpose. But I think that this fourfold purpose of the BWA limits the type of speakers that would address the assemblies. Albert W. Wardin, Jr. [BWA member and author of the Baptist Atlas] identifies three broad divisions of Baptists worldwide -- mainline ecumenical, conservative evangelical, and separatist fundamental (p. 3), and says that the BWA “includes all Baptists of the first party and a good cross section of bodies in the second party but none of the third group.” I would assert, therefore, that limiting the research to the speakers within the BWA leans the conclusions heavily toward the mainline ecumenical version of what Baptists are. Finally -- that time frame again (1905-1980). This ignores Baptist thought before 1905, and, though this represents a period of 75 years, it only represents 15 or 16 meetings of the Baptist World Alliance (the Congress gathers approx. every five years; see Dictionary of Baptists, e.g.).

I want to be careful about judging Mr. Shurden's purpose. But there seems to be a possibility he is concerned with creating a scenario in which Baptists that have relinquished certain distinctive Baptist principles may still be considered Baptist.

Though I am in disagreement with some of Shurden’s conclusions, I do recommend that this book be purchased and read. Though I do not agree with Shurden’s presentation of these “four fragile freedoms” as being what makes one a Baptist, or all that is common to Baptists, the work is scholarly and the research is thorough (though I do not accept Shurden’s approach from the BWA angle as correct, as usaul, he is thorough in his research for this work).

Another book in this genre by a Southern Baptist is More Than Just a Name: Preserving Our Baptist Identity by R. Stanton Norman (Broadman & Holman, 2001). It comes from a different perspective than the book of Mr. Shurden, and might even be considered a rebuttal to it. Those interested in Mr. Shurden's book should also consider reading Norman's book. I will post a review of it in about a week or two.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the author is working on the basis that where we have 3 baptists meeting we have four opinions presented.

Baptists are ubiquitous, but they are also multifarious.

Good study, Robert, thank you.