Thursday, August 02, 2007

Diverse Baptist Historians Gather in Charleston

I am sitting in the box pews of the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, surrounded by Southern Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, American Baptists, African-American Baptists, Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, Landmark Baptists, Canadian Baptists, and probably others that I've not yet identified. The Baptist History Celebration, as it is called, is one of the more ideologically diverse gatherings of North American Baptists I've witnessed, although the annual gatherings of the Baptist History and Heritage Society witnesses similar diversity.

The occasion of this meeting is the 300th anniversary of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, America's first Baptist association. And the meeting is not free of ideological slant. Gary Long, srict Calvinist and the publisher of Particular Baptist Press, led the way in putting together this event. The Calvinist/Reformed slant shows: last night the three-day conference opened with a profile paper on John Gill, renowned hypercalvinist British Baptist (although last night Gill, rather than hypercalvinist, was somewhat touchy-feely, full of humility and piety). The remainder of early Baptists highlighted last night were also Reformed, although well-known Baptist historian Bill Brackney, the featured speaker, clearly noted that tremendous diversity existed among 17th and 18th century Baptists (read: not all, by any stretch, were Calvinists).

The Calvinist slant notwithstanding, the roster of speakers (in addition to Brackney) includes such noted Baptist historians as Bill Leonard, Edwin Gaustad and Tom Nettles. Independent and Landmark Baptists are also represented.

Last year, when describing what this meeting would be like, Gary Long, visibly excited, told me that "Baptists may not be able to agree on anything else, but we can agree on our history." I found that a rather odd statement, as our differences in Baptist life have much to do with competing interpretations (and emphases) of our history. But perhaps he meant that Baptist historians can at least agree that our denominational history is important.

Finally, this Charleston gathering marks the beginning of Baptists Today's foray into blogging. Tony Cartledge, recently retired as editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder and now writing for Baptists Today, headlines the new Baptists Today Blogs, offering his initial take on the Baptist History Celebration.

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