David S. Dockery and Roger D. Duke’s (eds.) John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy

JohnBroadusJohn A. Broadus: A Living Legacy, a biography of the great Baptist homiletician and educator, John Broadus, is a more than worthy addition to the already strong Studies in Baptist Life and Thought series.  The book consists of a series of essays, edited by Dockery and Duke, on the life of Broadus.  They consider the various aspects of his biography, of his magnum opus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, of his preaching style, his emphases, and his character and work.

The overall effect of the work is to engender, at least within this reader, a profound respect for the strong piety, work ethic, sense of intellectual rigor and integrity, vision, and skills of John Broadus.  I was particularly touched by his willingness to be creative and fresh in preaching without lapsing into faddish silliness or cheap tactics of entertainment.  His strong emphasis on the need for ministers to read deeply, widely, and well struck me as admirable and encouraging.  I was struck by the accounts of his humility, his prowess as a pulpiteer, and his keen mind.  Furthermore, the stories of the beginnings of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the efforts of James P. Boyce, Broadus, and others to keep the institution alive and funded were fascinating.

I suppose above all else, I was particularly struck by the high esteem in which Broadus was held by his contemporaries.  When he left his church to join the original faculty of Southern Seminary, for instance, the church where he was serving as pastor launched a letter of protest to the move, pleading with him to stay.  I had never heard of such a thing.  He also won the high esteem of his son-in-law (one of many interesting tidbits of which I was unaware!), the great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson.

As a pastor, this book strongly challenged me to consider afresh and anew my calling and my task.  There are many examples of ministers worthy of emulation.  Among them, near the top, I would now put John A. Broadus.


Daniel Turner’s A Modest Plea for Free Communion at the Lord’s Table; Particularly Between the Baptists and the Paedobaptists. In a Letter to a Friend

Daniel Turner of Abignon, England, wrote A Modest Plea for Free Communion at the Lord’s Table; Particularly Between the Baptists and the Paedobaptists. In a Letter to a Friend. under the pseudonym “Candidus” in 1772.  He did so in conjunction with John Collett Ryland of Northampton who released essentially the same document (with some minor changes) under the pseudonym “Pacificus.”  (A nice summary of this particular skirmish in the controversy surrounding the question of open and close(d) communion can be read here.)  Turner’s little book has been reproduced in this print edition of the “Eighteenth Century Collections Online” “Religion and Philosophy” series.  It is a nice little facsimile addition to anybody’s library who is interested in such things.  It can also be read online, for free, here.

I am drawing attention to this work because it is a helpful summary of the “open communion” position (i.e., defined as allowing all who are believers in Christ to come to the Lord’s Table, regardless of their mode of baptism) Turner’s writing has a surprisingly modern feel to it, and I suspect that any who would read it would do so with profit.  (The only adjustment you would likely have to make, by the way, is making sure that you do not mistake the older English “s” for an “f” ((minus the crossbar)) since the latter is how they communicated the former ((except, apparently, when they used “ss” which appears, roughly, as “fs”)), but it’s an easy enough adjustment to make.)

Turner writes, he says, because he has heard “that I, and the Church under my care, have been severely censured by several of our stricter brethren of the Baptist denomination, for admitting Poedobaptists to commune with us at the Lord’s Table” (3).  He then gives his reasons for allowing infant-baptized believers to come to the table.  These reasons include:  because all who are saved “must have an equalright to ALL the privileges of the Gospel,” because he doesn’t feel that they have a “sufficient warrant” to exclude these believers, that excluding such believers from “the means of his grace” makes them “guilty of invading the prerogative of Christ,” because Jesus accepts infant-baptized Christians “at his table,” because if Jesus overlooks their mistake on baptism, so can we, because “we are expressly commanded to receive the weak in faith,” and because showing charity to those with whom we differ may go a long way towards building unity and opening doors of conversation.

Turner then moves on to answer some objections to their practice.  He upholds “the right of private judgment” and the need not to disobey conscience in interpreting scripture.  Problematically, in my opinion, he write thus:

“If my Poedobaptist brother is satisfied in his own mind, that he is rightly baptised, he is so tohimself, and, while the answer of a good conscience attends it, God will, and does own him in it, to all the ends designed by it, so that while he considers it as laying him under the same obligations to holiness in heart and life as I consider my baptism to do me, why should he not commune with me at the table of our common Lord?”

Obviously, this opens Turner up to the charge of subjectivizing truth itself, which he anticipates in the next objection, which he expresses in these terms:  “that the allowing of this free and open Communion, is the way to beget a cold indifference to the cause of truth, and by degrees entirely ruin it.”  To this, Turner argues that such an assertion is merely theoretical, that this destroying of truth itself has not been witnessed in churches that practice open communion and that, on the contrary, showing charity to differing interpretations tends to earn the truth itself a greater hearing, not a lesser respect.

I remain concerned, however, about this particular train of thought.  I think Turner is at his best arguing for charity and pointing out the lack of a command excluding infant-baptized believers.  To suggest, however, that if a person is baptized in their own mind, they are indeed baptized, opens a Pandora’s box for the kind of grotesque relativizing of truth we see in our own age.  Let me quickly add, however, that I think this is simply a weak argument, or one that he did not flesh out enough, not that Turner himself was a relativist.  It is clear enough that he believed in truth and that he was, in fact, a Baptist by conviction.  Again, this is simply not his best argument.

Finally, Turner draws an interesting parallel between the Baptists and paedobpatists and the Jewish-Gentile conflicts of the first century.  He argues that Jews and Gentiles who came to know Christ had to learn to love one another and honor one another within the same church, even with their differences.  So too, he says, those who differ on baptism must do the same.

This is a helpful and interesting work on a topic that remains relevant to this day.  I would encourage you to read it.

Paul Brewster’s Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian

My Thanksgiving-break book this year was Paul Brewster’s fascinating Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian, a selection in B&H’s “Studies In Baptist Life and Thought” series.  Fuller’s is a name you encounter increasingly these days (as evidenced, for instance, by “The Works of Andrew Fuller Project”and “The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies”), and those familiar with the theological, ecclesial, and denominational frictions within the Southern Baptist Convention will understand why.

Andrew Fuller was a British Baptist pastor and theologian (largely self-taught) who exerted a marked influence over the Baptist church which he pastored and the association of which he was an important part.  (As an aside, Brewster’s description of the heightened collegiality of British associationalism was quite insightful).  So great was his influence, that one historian claimed he achieved a kind of de facto bishopric in the area.  His was a ministry characterized by great fruit and great controversy, the latter likely being the reason for the renewed interest in Fuller today.

Essentially, Andrew Fuller pushed back against the “High Calvinism” (read, “hyper-Calvinism”) of John Brine and John Gill.  I do understand that the contention that Gill was “hyper” in his Calvinism is hotly disputed.  It is possible that Brine’s presentation of Gill’s thought gave rise to the assumption.  It is also possible that Gill was, in fact, a hyper-Calvinist.  I’ll leave that to others to decide.

The hyper-Calvinism of Fuller’s day had essentially suffocated evangelistic efforts among 18th century British Baptists.  Gospel appeals to the lost were expressly avoided unless a lost person gave some evidence of a “warrant,” or indication that they might be among the elect.  As such, evangelism suffered and evangelistic means were avoided.

It must be understood that Andrew Fuller did not break with Calvinism per se, he broke with hyper-Calvinism.  Fuller nuanced his Calvinism into a kind of evangelistic, missionary Calvinism.  He did not reject election.  He simply rejected the notion that a warrant must be present to justify evangelistic outreach.  Fuller argued that, on this side of Heaven, we do not know who the elect are.  As such, we should hear the missionary impulse within scripture and indiscriminately offer the gospel to all people in all nations.  It is hard for us to imagine this being controversial, but it was in his day and context.

Fuller also nuanced his approach to limited atonement, arguing that while the atonement was efficient only for the elect, it was sufficient for the sins of the whole world.  As such, we may yet again feel not only the freedom, but the imperative of preaching Christ to all people, everywhere, under the biblical assumption that the blood of Christ is a sufficient payment for the sins of the world.

Fuller is also notable for his efforts (alongside William Carey) in beginning the Baptist Missionary Society, which constitutes, essentially, the beginning of the modern missionary movement.  Fuller was the society’s head at home, working tirelessly to handle the various organizational, financial, and logistical issues that arose in the execution of this important ministry.  He was, in Carey’s famous terminology, the one who “held the rope” for the missionaries while they went to the field.

Brewster reveals that some believe Fuller to have been under-appreciated in his role in the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society.  Others seem to overstate Fuller’s importance.  To be sure, William Carey’s name is rightly synonymous with the founding of the modern missionary movement, but it is only right to recognize as well the enormous role that Fuller played.  To use Carey’s terminology, what would become of those descending below if those holding the rope were not faithful?  And, by all accounts, Fuller was a faithful “rope holder,” almost obsessively so.

The current revival of interest in Fuller may be attributed in part (as Brewster recognizes) to the controversies surrounding Calvinism in the Convention today.  It is a controversy I’m disinterested in commenting on here.  Regardless, Fuller represents a possible via media in the modern controversy, showing the one side that (a) not all Calvinism is hyper-Calvinism and (b) that Calvinism in and of itself is not inherently inimical to fervent evangelism, and showing the other side that an imbalanced preoccupation with the Calvinist system, untempered by those significant portions of scripture that speak of and illustrate the worldwide missionary impulse of the early church and need to take the gospel to the nations can lead to a stifling of missions and evangelism.

A man like Andrew Fuller, and his example of passionate evangelism and missions, may serve to help temper the unfortunate rancor of the modern situation in the SBC.  To put it mildly, were the Convention populated by people as passionate about preaching the gospel of Christ to the nations as Andrew Fuller was, we may would just see revival break out in earnest in our day.

I was also challenged by this book’s depiction of Fuller’s approach to pastoral ministry.  Fuller was quite scrupulous about the need for him to be an undershepherd to the people of God.  He worked tirelessly in knowing and reaching his people, and those outside of his own church.  Fuller never seemed to coast in his pastoral duties, even though, at times, his work in the missionary society caused him to do less than he likely should have for his own people.

In all, this is a truly wonderful and insightful biography.  It’s well-written (if a tad repetitious at times) and engaging.  I suspect that anybody could read it to great profit.

William Carey’s An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens

William Carey’s Enquiry is rightly considered the manifesto of the modern missions movement, of which Carey is considered the father.  It is a relatively brief and utterly fascinating work in which Carey sought to convince the Particular Baptists of England that the Great Commission applied as much to the modern church as it did to the original disciples who first received it from our Lord.  It is readily available online and will likely serve the modern reader as much, if not more, than it served the original readers of the 19th century.  I do regret not having read this entire work until now.  In addition to being a seminal missiological text, it is compelling, articular, insightful, and convicting.

Carey argued in the Enquiry that the missionary imperative of the Great Commission is as binding today as its calls for baptism and the making of disciples is.  Furthermore, he found in Christ’s words “lo, I am with you always” an implicit akcnowledgment that the Commission is transgenerational in its calling (i.e., it applies until “the end of the age”).

Parts of the Enquiry will seem almost quaint to the modern evangelical, accustomed to large missions boards as we are.  For instance, Carey argued that missionaries would simply have to commit to learning languages, something, he said, that could be fairly easily done in the space of a year or two.  Furthermore, missionaries on the field would need only a small plot of land on which to grow a garden sufficient to sustain them.  Most of all, Carey argued, these missionaries would need to be men of courage and resolve, unafraid of hardship or death.

I was struck by the earnestness of Carey’s tone and the simple logic of his argument.  He pointed out that when a trading company is granted a charter, it wastes no time in pressing to the outer regions of its territory in order to establish relationships and open profitable avenues of trade.  The church’s charter, he argues, includes the whole world and eternity itself is at stake.  Thus, should we not be equally zealous in reaching the world?

Carey’s time was, in some ways, different from our own.  Even so, the same subtle (and not so subtle) arguments he heard against the missionary enterprise are prevalent today as well.  As such, William Carey’s Enquiry remains, and will remain, timely and needed.

Baptist Theology with Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr.

The following interview with Dr. Garrett took place on March 2, 2009.  The occasion for the interview was the publication of his Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study in January of 2009.


Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr. has been a Baptist theological educator for over fifty years.  He has taught primarily in three Baptist institutions: Southwestern Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Baylor University.  He was at Southwestern Seminary from 1949 to 1959 and from 1979 to 1997 with post-retirement teaching until 2003. 

We really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today, Dr. Garrett.

Thank you, sir.

Dr. Garrett, I hope you will indulge me for just a moment.  I wanted to share just a brief word of appreciation for you as a former student, if that is ok.  I thought I might do so by sharing just a small paragraph from Paul Basden’s chapter on you in the 2001 edition of Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (Broadman & Holman).  Paul Basden wrote this:

“For five decades now James Leo Garrett, Jr. has taught and written about Baptist theology.  Given the size of the schools which he has served, one can only begin to estimate the number of students whom he has influenced to think biblically, historically, and theologically about the Christian faith.  Who knows how many young seminarians had their minds broadened in his introductory theology courses or received flashes of inspiration in his famous ‘after-lecture’ discussions, or first encountered the mystery of the Trinity in his beloved patristics elective, or learned to grapple with Luther or Augustine in one of his doctoral seminars?  Who knows how many times he invited classes into his home for a meal or recommended former students for church positions or faculty appointments or counseled confused young ministers about their calling or career?  He has had an enormous influence on Southern Baptists during the past half century.  Beloved by students and fellow professors alike, Garrett is recognized by many of his peers as the most knowledgeable Baptist theologian living today.” (p.298)

Dr. Garrett, I just wanted to say here at the beginning that I share in those words of Paul Basden and just want to thank you here at the outset for your life, your ministry, and your work.  As a former student, I owe you a great debt of gratitude as do so many others.  So, thank you very much.

Well, Pastor Wyman, those words, I am sure, are vastly exaggerated, but I am grateful to have had you as one of my students.  Thank you very much.

The occasion of this interview is the publication in January of this year, two months ago, of Dr. Garrett’s new book, Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study, which was published by Mercer University Press.  I have only recently finished reading the book and it is a kind of education in and of itself.  So let me begin, Dr. Garrett, by asking this question:  “Why this book?”

Well, Pastor Wyman, I will answer it in two ways.

First of all, I will give a more personal answer.  In 1950, when I was a very young instructor at Southwestern Seminary, the faculty allowed me to introduce a new elective course in the curriculum called “The History of Baptist Theology.”  I taught that course at Southwestern during the 50’s and again, later, in the 80’s and 90’s and at Southern Seminary during the 60’s and early 1970’s.  That course involved having students write papers on many subjects.  Then, after my 2nd retirement from teaching in 2003, I began an intensive reading of all of these sources and a research project which eventuated in this book.

Now, why this book?  No book of this kind, of this nature and scope, on this subject, had ever been written in the history of the Baptists so far as I knew.  I did not know when I started that William Brackney would write A Genetic History of Baptist Thought and that it would be published in 2004.  I did not know that when I began my book and I’m sure he did not know, when he was writing his, that I would be writing mine.

So these are the only two books that have attempted to cover comprehensively Baptist confessions of faith, Baptist theologians, and theological movements and controversies.  There have been books on each of those three areas, many books, but only these two on the whole field.

It is a massive book, well over 720 pages of text, not including the index of names, and I imagine when you sit down to begin to write a Baptist theology covering four hundred years that you have really got to think through your methodology and your approach.  What was your methodology in writing this book?

As I just said, it sought to cover in an integrated, not a segregated, interpretation, the major confessions of faith adopted by Baptists, the major theologians among the Baptists, and the major theological movements and controversies that have affected Baptist life.

Now, I tried to do this by using both what we call “primary sources” and “secondary sources,” that is, the original writings of the people we are discussing and then what’s been written about them.  Take two examples:  one is John Gill, back in the 17th century, the other, E.Y. Mullins, at the beginning of the 20th century.  Both of those were very influential Baptist theologians and it’s important to read, study, and interpret their own writings.  But because of their importance, there have been many things written about them, both favorable and unfavorable, both positive and negative.  So it is important to look at those assessments as well as what I would say in interpreting these.

Then we tried to let the authors speak for themselves before I attempted to make any assessment of their work.  Then, too, I operated on the basis of a five-continent or a six-continent view of Baptist history.  It depends on whether you include Australia and New Zealand in Asia as to whether you have five or six continents.  When I was a very young seminary student, I bought Latourette’s seven-volume History of the Expansion of Christianity, which was the first comprehensive missionary history of the world from a Christian viewpoint.  It greatly influenced my life.  Then, working with the Baptist World Alliance, as I have since 1965, I was intent on having a book that would include more than Britain and North America.  Dr. Brackney confines his work to Britain and North America, and Dr. McBeth, in his history of the Baptist movement, included North America, Britain, and continental Europe, but not the other continents of the world.

So that’s what I would say about methodology.

It is an interesting look at Baptist theology over the last four hundred years, and I am just curious to know why the world would need such a book on Baptists appearing in January of 2009?  Why Baptists in 2009?

We need the book, first of all, because we haven’t had this kind of thing before.  Dr. Brackney and I have, in that sense, been breaking new ground.  We needed an overview.  We need to rise above the particulars.  Some people would understand the 17th century and some might understand the 19th century, but we need a view of Baptist theology that is comprehensive.  That is why the effort was made.

Now, Baptists need that for their own self-understanding.  This is a great need today in our churches:  that people understand what the Baptist identity is.  What are the distinctives and what are the beliefs that Baptists share with other Christians?  So there was a need for the book for Baptists and, then, for others to know what theology Baptists have had.

At one time there were people saying we did not have any Baptist theology.  Theology was only written by Roman Catholics or Lutherans or Anglicans or Presbyterians or somebody else.  But this book is, I think, quite clear evidence that that is not true.  So, the Baptist movement with its distinctives- -its religious freedom, separation of church and state, the supremacy of Scripture over tradition without rejecting all tradition,  the tendency to want to go back to the New Testament to recover apostolic or primitive Christianity,  the baptism of believers only by immersion and, with that, the goal of a regenerate church membership, the priesthood of all believers, congregational polity, and a strong emphasis on evangelism and missions; these are some of the things that are important for Baptists.  Sometimes these distinctives have been taken by other groups.  They are not altogether distinctive of Baptists today, but the mix of these distinctives is what has made the Baptist movement distinctive.

You mentioned regenerate church membership, and you have written on regenerate church membership.  I know of at least one article you have written specifically devoted to the issue of regenerate church membership and, of course, you have published on the issue of church discipline as well.  Let me just ask you about your thoughts concerning the recent discussions that have taken place in the Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings concerning an effort to see a resolution passed, that was ultimately passed last year, to call churches back to a regenerate church membership.  Do you think this is a favorable development?

Yes, I do.  I think that the Convention cannot mandate that, of course, because that is a decision that the local churches have to make, but to advise and counsel and encourage is certainly in order.  I am very grateful for the good work that you have done in the field of church discipline.  I think what you have written is the most practical set of helps that we have out there, available today, to help existing churches recover some sense of church discipline and positive discipleship.

So, yes, I think the regenerate church membership goal is a worthy one and it means, of course, that in the last century or so, many Baptist churches have been very loose in terms of their membership rolls and this is what they are trying to address today.  It is at the front end, in terms of members being received, and then it is a continual problem of authentic membership in the years that follow.

Let me ask you to generalize just a little bit.  You are a historical theologian, and you cover, obviously, a very long period of time, four hundred years, in your study of Baptist theology and much longer, of course, in your two-volume Systematic Theology.  But I am curious to know, as you look at four hundred years of Baptist history, who you would see as the top three or four Baptist figures, from any time period, whose work, in your opinion, ought to be carefully studied by Baptist pastors and laypeople today?

Well, Pastor Wyman, I have a hard time limiting my answer to your requested three or four.  I tend to want to identify more.  Initially, in responding to you, I might be prone to say, “Oh, we have so many of the older works of Baptist theologians that are not in print.”  But then I have to reckon what the electronic revolution has done.  I have been told, on good authority, that almost all the works of Baptist theologians that are more than seventy-five years old are now available electronically.  And through Google search, most of them are free, and there are other places where you have to pay for the text to be produced.  So the availability will not be a big issue in my answer.

I would say, if we’re going back to the 17th century, that John Bunyan is the one who, above all, should be read.  Not because he is necessarily right on all points, but here was a man who, with limited formal education, but with a passion for God and for the Bible, was able in rather remarkable literary form to write on many theological themes, not only in his famous Pilgrim’s Progress.  We have today a wonderful thirteen-volume edition from Oxford if you want to buy the whole thing, but I believe you can get it free electronically.  So I would say, from that early century, John Bunyan.

From the next century, I would take John Gill and Andrew Fuller, especially Andrew Fuller.  His works have been republished in recent years.  He was a very practical theologian, a pastor.

From the 19th century, I might want to mention John L. Dagg, whose work is in print.  He was a Southern theologian.  Then the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon are still filled with theological content and can be read widely because they were preached from a pulpit in Spurgeon’s day.

In the 20th century, I would speak of people like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm and Millard Erickson.  Most of these works are still in print.

And then, of course, in my book I have a group of baby boom theologians that certainly have works in print.  So I’ve given you a broader answer, but these are some of the ones that I think would be worthy of attention.  Now, that is not to say there are not others.

This may overlap a little bit, but let me ask you more personally, for yourself, who the Baptist figures are who have had the greatest impact on your own thinking and work?  Let me put it another way:  do you have favorite Baptist authors that you return to time and time again?

Pastor Wyman, as you may know, I was a student of W.T. Conner, the theologian at Southwestern for thirty-nine years, and my own teacher during the last days of his teaching career.  When I began as a young teacher, of course, he had shaped my own thinking.  I had read his works.  I wrote my dissertation on his theology.  So it would be important for me to list him as the number one influence in the early formation of my own theology.

In the 1950’s we did not have many evangelical theologians writing at that time.  Non-Baptists like Emil Brunner, for example, were greatly helpful to me as I struggled with the teaching of theology.

But then we had to deal with Landmarkism, which was alive and well at that time in Baptist life, still exerting quite an influence.  So I had to read J.R. Graves even though I didn’t always agree with Graves.  I had to interact with him.

And later on, as I began to be more mature in my theology, I had to rely on people like A.H. Strong as well.  Then I was colleague to Dale Moody at Southern Seminary, and nobody who lives with Dale Moody could be unaffected by Dale Moody.  And then, of course, Carl Henry was very active.  When I came to write my own theology, beginning at the age of 63, I had to deal with Millard Erickson, who had already written his Christian Theology.

So these were some of the people who were very formative.  Now, I read others.  I read P.T. Forsyth.  I read E. Y. Mullins.   I read Luther.  I read Augustine. I read Calvin. I read Schleiermacher.  I taught Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, in seminars. But for Baptist theologians, these would be the first.  And then I would say, as far as biblical theologians, I think I was more greatly influenced by H.H. Rowley, as an Old Testament theologian.  In the New Testament field, Ray Summers, my teacher, was very influential on my views of last things, or the doctrine of eschatology.

This is likewise a bit of a personal question, along the same lines, but I am just curious about your own reading habits.  Do you read daily, every day?

I usually read something, yes, every day.  There will be days I do not because of schedule.  Right now I am reading the festschrift honoring my colleague Leon McBeth, which was published late last year, called Turning Points in Baptist History.  I am reading that and will be finishing that shortly.  That is a book that has theological as well as historical significance.

I know you are retired, but do you have any other writing projects in the wings?

I cannot answer that with a clear affirmative.  For some years, Dr. Malcolm Yarnell and I have contemplated co-editing a history of the doctrine of the priesthood of all Christians.  I do not know if we will ever get that done.  He has done considerable writing on the Reformation period, and I have done some writing on the patristic period.  If we can ever get the medieval and modern sections done, we may be able to have a book.  There is no comprehensive, good, reliable history of that doctrine.  But Yarnell has other priorities, and I am not as well as I used to be; so we do not promise anything in that area.

There might be some things I wish I had done in the past.

Well, that raises another question:  are there any books that you have not been able to write that you wish you would have written?  I guess, perhaps, that would be one, to this point, that you would like to see done.

There are two others I will mention.  When I was at Southern Seminary, I gave an inaugural address on the methodology for the history of Christian doctrine, or historical theology, in which address I proposed that the best way to do this today would be to have an international, interdenominational team of scholars to do a comprehensive history of Christian doctrine.  No sooner had I given that address and it was published in the journal Review & Expositor that I received a letter from Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan at Yale University telling me that he was launching a big five-volume history of Christian doctrine and, by implication, he was saying that my project was not needed.  My later move to Baylor with different duties meant that I was not teaching the history of Christian doctrine for a while.  After coming back to Southwestern and resuming that teaching in 1980, although I gave some serious consideration to doing something myself, I gave up the project because there is so little market out there since most seminaries require systematic theology but not  historical theology.  So I did not attempt that big project which I originally had proposed as a massive cooperative effort.

As for the other, for many years I taught a course at Southwestern on the theology of the American cults.  We treated Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, the Unification Church, the Ba’hai World Faith, and various other movements that have been deviations from either Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.  I, at one time, contemplated a textbook in that area.  But, you know, each one of those religious movements is a field of specialization itself.  You can be very good on the Mormons and you may be much less competent on Jehovah’s Witnesses at the same time.  One needs to be competent on all of these in order to  write a first-rate text, I felt that I never got to the point where I could do that like I wanted to do it.  So I retired, after many years of teaching, without producing a book in that area.  We still do not have a very good textbook in that field after all of these years.

Let me go back for just a minute to this letter you received from Jaroslav Pelikan.  I know he passed away just a couple of years ago.  Is that customary scholarly habit to receive a letter saying that your proposed writings are not necessary because it is being done?

I do not think the letter was quite that specific.  I think it was more of an indirect statement.  I must say, of course, I have never received another letter like that.  I did not feel any resentment about it at the time.  My wife seems to remember the incident more than I do.  I do not know how common that is, because I never experienced it in any other setting.  But evidently he was wanting to be a little protective of his own interests.  He produced a very important five-volume set, which is very topical rather than chronological.  Therefore, it was not the method that I used in teaching.  Mine was more chronological than topical.  So I never did use his book in my classes, but certainly I have used the volumes.  They are a very important contribution to the literature.  There was never any ill-will between Dr. Pelikan and me.

Dr. Garrett, I really do appreciate, and I know that readers of this interview will appreciate, your taking the time to answer some questions and, God willing, if you will   allow it, when the next book comes out, we will talk again.

Well, let me say in closing, Pastor Wyman, that I appreciate talking with you and having these questions from you.   I would like to say to you as pastor of your congregation there in Dawson, GA, and other church people who should read or ponder these words, that I think one of our greatest challenges today is in the local Baptist church: to recover a sense of Baptist identity, to teach our heritage, to share with our people our stories, our heroes, our heroines, our triumphs and our tragedies, and to make being a Baptist Christian a much clearer and more responsible thing in today’s world.  I believe every local Baptist church has that challenge today, and I know if anybody can meet that challenge, you can do it there in Dawson, GA.

I appreciate that so much.  Thank you so much.  Let me just encourage, in closing, readers of this interview to consider purchasing Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study.  It is a great resource and would be a great help in the teaching of our distinctives and our identity and heritage in the local church, wherever you are.  I encourage all of you to get this book.

B.H. Carroll’s Ecclesia

I intentionally read B.H. Carroll’s Ecclesia immediately after finishing Pope Benedict’s Called to Communion in order to maintain some balance and perspective.  I must say, if you ever wanted to read two books on ecclesiology that are at polar extremes on the spectrum, these would be the two books!

B.H. Carroll is the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.  He was a fascinating figure who was wounded in the Civil War, founded a seminary, pastored a number of churches (most notably First Baptist Waco), and played an important role in the Southern Baptist Convention of his day.

This work has been reprinted by the fine folks at The Baptist Standard Bearer.  It’s vol.38 of their “The Baptist Distinctives Series.”  I’ve spoken well of these guys before, and I’d like to do so again.  They’re doing yeoman’s work, to be sure.  It would be virtually impossible to study Baptist history in the U.S. without looking to their publications.

That being said, it grieves me to start this review with a word of criticism.  I initially thought it would just be an “observation,” and not a full-fledged “criticism,” but no such luck.  I must say, after having finished this book last Friday (while sitting, oddly enough, in “The Holy Land Experience” in Orlando, FL) that I have never read such a poorly edited work in my life.  I do so very much appreciate this ministry, and I realize it is not a large and wealthy organization, but I would suspect that some first year seminary student would love to give just a single read-through of these manuscripts for $20 before they go to print.  I do not mean to be too harsh, but these works are too important to have the numerous spelling, grammatical, and typesetting issues that this book has.

The work itself is worthy of consideration and is as clear a presentation of the traditional Baptist concept of “church” as Called to Communion is for the Roman Catholic concept.  Carroll’s work is essentially a collection of class lectures and sermons.

Carroll provides an interesting and helpful word study of “ecclesia,” arguing that in the vast majority of New Testament usages it retains the meaning of “local assembly.”  He argues against the idea of an already existing catholic church, noting that such a church could not truly exist until the end of all things when all of God’s people are gathered into His presence.  He does not, however, deny the validity of speaking about the “general assembly” of all the believers on earth at any given time.

BHCarrollThe catholic-minded Baptist may feel that Carroll overplays this point (I found myself saying, “Yes, but…” to Carroll’s argument at points), but it is an undeniable fact that the New Testament speaks of local gatherings of the church in the vast majority of its usages.  Regardless, Baptist ecclesiology may serve as a necessary corrective against those who would perhaps undermine this New Testament emphasis.

Carroll moves on to discuss the Baptist approach to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  I will not belabor either point.  I will only point out that I remain unconvinced of the traditional Baptist notion of “closed communion.”  I have never adhered to this.  I believe it is a mistake.  That being said, it does flow logically from the Baptist (over?)emphasis on the local assembly.

Finally, Carroll ends with a helpful discourse on distinctive Baptist principles.  I appreciated this presentation and am in general agreement with these emphases.  I do note, as a matter of interest, the lack of biblical references for Carroll’s point that “the church is a pure democracy” (159).  Furthermore, I will admit to cringing at this sentence:  “It [the church] is of the people, for the people, by the people” (159).  The coopting of American political language for the church by Baptists certainly will not help to quell the accusation that congregational polity as practiced by Baptists derives more from Enlightenment individualism than from New Testament exegesis.  (I do not concede the point, by the way, just the fact that such language does not help.)

I appreciate the life and ministry of B.H. Carroll and am glad I read this interesting and insightful work.  Anybody wanting to understand that strange tribe called “Baptists” could do much worse than this book for an introduction.

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.