June 11, 2010 by Bruce Gourley
While few congregations of the twenty-first century hold revival meetings characteristic of earlier centuries, the research of historians attending this month’s Baptist History and Heritage Society annual conference indicates that threads of revivalism remain interwoven in the life of contemporary Baptists.
Baptist scholars, clergy and laity from throughout America gathered at Georgetown Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky, from June 3-5, to hear presentations and participate in a dialogue of “Baptists and Revivalism.” Within church dialect, conversion experiences, congregational singing, and baptism practices, the impact and legacy of revivalism shaped and re-shaped Baptists, according to speakers.
A paper by renowned church historian and Wake Forest Divinity School Dean Bill Leonard traced the influence of revivalism within the changing trajectory of Baptist conversion liturgies. The historical revival eras in America, in short, impacted the manner in which Baptists understood and verbalized salvation and conversion. The immediacy of salvation brought about by revivals remains a lasting legacy.
David Music, professor of church music at Baylor University, discussed the historical impact of revivalism upon Baptist hymnology. While Baptist hymnology clung to revival themes longer than music of many other denominations, late twentieth-century and early-twenty first century hymnals, according to Music, offer limited reflection of the revivalism of an earlier era.
Loyd Allen, professor of church history at McAfee School of Theology, analyzed the relationship between baptism and revivalism. Sheila Klopfer, professor of church history at conference co-host Georgetown College, explored the changing meaning of baptism in Baptist life and thought. Breakout session presentations focused on individuals, themes, movements, and events that comprise the story of revivalism among Baptists.
The BH&HS presented awards to Pamela Durso, former associate executive director of the Society and current executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry; Bill Pitts, religion professor, Baylor University; Doug Weaver, religion professor and director of undergraduate studies in religion, Baylor; and the Tennessee Baptist Historical Society.
Bruce Gourley, new executive director of the BH&HS, challenged Society members to make use of digital media and church curriculum in the task of communicating Baptist history. He also encouraged Society members to remain faithful “guardians of the past” against the backdrop of popular, mythological Christian nationalism.
BH&HS president Mike Williams, historian and dean of humanities and social sciences at Dallas Baptist University, presided over the conference. Vice-president Delane Tew, director of Samford University’s Christian Women’s Leadership Program, and secretary Jimmy Byrd, professor of religious history and associate dean for graduate education and research at Vanderbilt University, assisted in the coordination of the conference.
Conference program details are available online, accompanied by photographs.
Next year’s Society conference will be at Dallas Baptist University, May 19-21, 2011. The theme will be “Baptists and Education.” The Baptist History & Heritage web site is www.baptisthistory.org.