Monday, April 29, 2013

Baptist History Vindicated, a Book Review

Baptist History in America Vindicated: The First Baptist Church in America, a Resurfaced Issue of Controversy, the Facts and the Importance, Joshua S. Davenport. Canada: The Baptist Colportage Press, 2012. 46 pp. Paperback.

Baptist History in America Vindicated is a recent contribution to the field of Baptist history, specifically "which church is the first Baptist Church in America". It may be ordered for $6 postpaid from the author. Contact information can be found HERE.

Wondering whether you need one more book? The first question of the skeptical purchaser may be, "Why does it matter?" Before reading Baptist History in America Vindicated, I formulated 3 reasons why I believe that it matters. It matters to historical accuracy, intellectual honesty and denominational identity. I was satisfied that the author addressed all of these reasons in his booklet.

Josh Davenport is a Baptist pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Spencer, Iowa, a promoter of Baptist church planting in Iowa and an avid researcher of Baptist history. He writes clearly and logically leads the reader along to his conclusion. After an introduction about the genesis of this work, the author presents his matter in four chapters: The Issue, The Facts, The Importance, and his Conclusion.

For a number of years there has been a question over whether of the churches in Newport or Providence, Rhode Island are the oldest church in America. Davenport sides with the Newport Church and lays out his reasons. The author gives four categories of facts, three of which are historical and one theological (i.e., if the Providence Church cannot validly be considered a Baptist Church, it cannot be the first Baptist Church). Next he follows with four reasons why it is important. These touch my interests and add another which I had not considered -- "Historic Influences on American Principles is at Stake (pp. 36-38)." In this latter point, Davenport does not diminish the contributions of Roger Williams to American principles, but identifies the influence of John Clarke and the First Baptist Church of Newport as a lively source from whence these principles flowed again and again to other Baptists -- who in turn influenced a nation for the right of religious liberty, or as John Clarke's RI Charter puts it: "full liberty in religious concernments."

This book is valuable addition to a subject shrouded in confusion. It is short on "primary sources." That is because there are hardly any primary sources. In lieu of that, Davenport recommends greatest historical credence be given "those closest to the situation (p. 32)." I could wish that contents, bibliography and index had been added, but in a brief work such as this it is only a minor inconvenience. There is more I want to say, but will rather urge you to get the book and see for yourself. I might approach a few things differently, but I give a hearty "thumbs up" recommendation to this booklet.

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