Fisher Humphreys’ Baptist Theology: A Really Short Version

I picked up this little booklet and read it while waiting to see my brother, David, receive his DMin. from the Beeson Divinity School.  They were honoring Dr. Humphreys and had just unveiled a nice collection of essays in his honor, so “Humphreys was in the air”, you might say.

I like Fisher Humphreys.  I never had the opportunity of having him as a professor during my time at Beeson, but I appreciate his work and I really appreciate his spirit and his obvious commitment to Christ.

Baptist Theology: A Really Short Version is part of The Baptist Heritage Library which is put out by the Baptist History & Heritage Society.  I was a tad bit on guard when I started this.  Dr. Humphreys is more “moderate” than I am, to use the language that surfaced during “The Controversy.”  The Baptist History & Heritage Society is likewise a fairly moderate group.  (I do not consider myself a fundamentalist and would frankly reject outright the suggestion that I am.  I’m an Evangelical and a conservative.  These categories overlap, at times, but there are also significant divergences.)

My suspicions were largely unnecessary.  This is a very helpful little booklet that I believe would be a good resource for helping laypeople understand who we are as Baptists.  It is, like all of Dr. Humphreys writings, accessible, practical, and helpful.  I’m very glad I read it and would recommend it, with some reservations.

I’m never terribly comfortable when somebody uses the phrase “most Baptists,” which Humphrey’s uses here a few times.  I probably don’t have any major qualms with the specific ways he uses it.  I did cringe a bit at this sentence:  “This is folk theology, the theology of most Baptists.”  But there again, I would not disagree.

Humphreys has a catholic heart, and he does want to stress that impulse: “The first Baptists treasured the great Christian traditions that they inherited even as they called for changes in beliefs, such as infant baptism.”

On page 12, Humphreys interestingly notes that Calvinism “entered Baptist life early.  It seems to have been a majority tradition for much of Baptist history; for more than two hundred years it was held by a majority of Baptists who wrote systematic theologies.  But today, most Baptists do not accept Calvinist theology.”  This last sentence is likely true, but, then, as Tom Ascol frequently points out, around 60% of Southern Baptists don’t even show up for worship at their own churches.  So there is a bit of a problem appealing to “most Baptists” today, which, let me qualify, Humphreys does only by way of observation and not for any overarching point. (Here, anyway.  He’s ground that axe elsewhere.)

I was intrigued by the suggestion on page 13 that fundamentalists believe in the “near” future return of Christ.  Is this so?  I’m not so sure.

I was prepared to grow irate on page 18 where Humphreys wrote that “Baptists who had been influenced by the Calvinistic theologian John Gill resisted the proposals of William Carey and his supporter Andrew Fuller to send Carey to India as a missionary.”  This is true, of course (i.e., “Sit down young man…”), but then there is the little matter of Carey himself being a Calvinist.  The temperature subsided a bit when I saw endnote 37 at the back of the book which points out that “Carey and Fuller were themselves Calvinists, but of a more evangelical kind than their opponents.”  I’m glad he included this rather important fact, but I do wish it would have been in the body of the text.

I was also intrigued by Humphreys’ definition of Founders Ministries as “an organization that promotes Calvinism among Baptists.”  I suspect that Tom Ascol would find that definition to be a bit too narrow for what Founders does and somewhat misleading as well.

Again, this little booklet is not without its flaws, and one may see the author’s leanings here and there, but, in all, this is an informative and helpful little introduction to Baptist theology.

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