Baptist Studies Bulletin August 2011

A Monthly Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today

[Vol. 10, No. 7]

Editor: Bruce T. Gourley, executive director, Baptist History & Heritage Society

The Baptist Studies Bulletin (BSB) is a free online journal produced by the Baptist History & Heritage Society (BH&HS) and offering scholarly analysis, informed editorials, book reviews, and special features for subscribers. You may access previous issues to or subscribe or unsubscribe from the BSB. Republishing of articles is allowed, but please provide credit and a link back to the Baptist Studies Bulletin.

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“A Theology of Fear”
by Bruce T. Gourley

“October is Baptist History & Heritage Month”
A Local Church Emphasis

Book Reviews:
Robert M. Knight, Balanced Living: Don’t Let Your Strength Become Your Weakness, Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon: 2009 (Paperback, 188 pages)

William E. DeWitt, The Essence of Christian Meditation, Crossbooks, Bloomington, Indiana: 2010 (Paperback, 62 pages)

Notes and Quotes

Dates and Events


by Bruce T. Gourley

What does fear have to do with theology in our 21st century world?

Rob Bell recently reminded Christians of the inadequacy of a faith constructed upon the fear of a Greek mythological-derived and medieval-infused concept of the afterlife. For pointing out the scriptural shortcomings of popular conceptions of hell, Bell was roundly condemned by many Christians (and praised by others, Christian and otherwise).

Yet setting aside debates over the afterlife, what role does fear play in the daily lives of Christians in today’s western world? Does fear sometimes displace truth? Does fear even re-image God?

As late as the 19th century, many if not most Christians in the West remained superstitious of the world in which they lived. Attentive to “signs and wonders,” many were fearful of comets streaking across the sky, physical abnormalities in new-born babies, little-understood illnesses, black cats, and unexplained phenomena. Merging faith and superstition, many Christians subscribed to a theology in which an ever-vengeful God routinely visited his wrath upon humanity in evil manifestations, both in the home and in the heavens.

By the 20th century, many of the “signs and wonders” of old had been explained, thanks to the advances of human knowledge at large and modern science in particular. Belief in omens largely evaporated. The heavens became a wondrous marvel. Deformed babies no longer signified God’s wrath. The secrets of dreaded illnesses gave way to modern medicine, and in the process accompanying misconceptions retreated.

And yet, in the lives of many Christians fear remained the driving force of religious faith. Whereas modern science drove away the oppression of superstition, the rapid growth in human knowledge and understanding challenged and threatened, on an unprecedented scale, Christianity’s centuries-old exclusive claim to truth. With the banishing of one parcel of fears, an even greater fear emerged: the concept of an irrelevant, or even non-existent, God.

Into religious foxholes dove many Christians, afraid that their traditional views of God and the Bible were being wrested from them. Yet “traditional” was quite relative. Fundamentalism arose to defend a brand of Christianity cobbled together from 19th century innovations (biblical inerrancy and pre-millennial dispensationalism) and 17th century constructs (James Ussher’s young earth theory and John Milton’s hell). Devoted to denying scientific claims of truth lest God be mortally wounded, fundamentalism formalized a theology of fear.

Evolution had to be denied, for if true, humans were not God’s special creation. Evidence that the earth and the universe is billions of years old had to be dismissed, for Genesis (at least in English bibles) refers to the “days” of creation, not years. Defending the Bible as literally true and inerrant was paramount, for if the text were to be proven incorrect in the smallest detail, then the existence of God would forever be cast in doubt.

By the mid-twentieth century, a theology of fear dominated much of Christendom in America. Since then, for some there has been no turning back. Entirely dismissing geological and DNA evidence, the president of a prominent Baptist seminary recently insisted that Christians must believe the earth is only thousands of years old and that two individuals named Adam and Eve were the literal mother and father of the human race. Ironically, such theology depends on relatively modern interpretations of the Bible. Only in recent centuries has belief in a young earth emerged as theological necessity, while in the original Hebrew language of Genesis 1-3, Adam and Eve are not literal persons. For proponents of  fear-filled faith, accepting scientific truth inevitably leads to the destruction of faith.

Yet a theology of fear in Baptist life emanates far from seminaries. So fearful of a 28-year old young lady called of God to preach (as have been numerous women throughout the history of Baptists), were the male pastors of a local Baptist association in North Carolina, that within days of Bailey Edwards Nelson assuming the pulpit, the association kicked her church out. In a theology of fear, not only is science the enemy, but so are God-called women.

Economically, a theology of fear has led many Christians away from biblical models of stewardship deemed too “liberal,” to embracing an extreme form of modern capitalism that redistributes wealth from the poor to the rich. Distancing themselves from biblical injunctions for nations and people of faith to care for and champion the poor and oppressed, some Baptist leaders today downplay poverty and seek an end to government programs for the poor. At a time in America when so much wealth has been redistributed to the richest of the rich that the 400 wealthiest individuals now own a majority of the wealth of the entire nation’s citizenry and the national wealth-gap is now equivalent to that of third world nations, these Baptist leaders advocate for yet more wealth redistribution to the richest of the rich. In a theology of fear, anything “liberal” – including biblical teachings – is the enemy.

So pervasive has a theology of fear become in America that many U.S. presidential candidates, attempting to woo evangelical Christians, default to a party-line platform of opposition to science and advocacy of more wealth redistribution from the poor to the rich.

In short, today’s theology of fear does a great disservice to God, the Bible, and humanity. Rejecting the revelations of modern science in favor of a Biblical text cleansed of “liberal” teachings reduces Christianity to the realm of mythology and superstition. In trying to defend the God  in whom they claim to believe, purveyors of a theology of fear trample upon truth and re-cast God in their own image. And it comes as no surprise that the choreographed, human-imaged God thus projected carries little weight in a 21st century world searching for authentic truth.


A Local Church Emphasis

The month of October has long been celebrated in some Protestant circles as Reformation Month, in honor of Martin Luther’s nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door on October 31, 1517.

Baptists emerged in 1609 as an extension of the religious revolution that Luther inspired. The Baptist History & Heritage Society is encouraging local congregations in the month of October to share our Baptist stories that have shaped us as a family of faith. From the timeless narratives of the well-known heroes of our faith to the stories of members past and present within your own congregation, Baptist History & Heritage Month is an opportunity for you and your church to be challenged and strengthened in the faith (Acts 16:5).

Whether in a Sunday School class, Bible study setting, discussion group, or from the pulpit, the BH&HS encourages you to incorporate the Baptist story into the life of your church in the month of October.

The BH&HS provides a number of resources that can help your congregation share the stories that have shaped our faith:

* A Special Offer From the BH&HS – Purchase five booklets of your choice for only $10, shipping included.

Books, booklets and pamphlets – From simple pamphlets to short booklets and insightful books, you will find printed materials suitable for use in your church. Authors include: Bill J. Leonard, E. Glenn Hinson, Walter B. Shurden, Bruce Gourley, Wayne Flynt, William E. Hull, Julie Whidden Long, Pam Durso, Keith E. Durso, Charles W. Deweese, William M. Tillman Jr., Fisher Humphreys, Rob Nash, J. Brent Walker, Carolyn D. Blevins, and many others.

Common Baptist Themes – “An Affirmation of Common Baptist Themes” is a statement by Baptist historians throughout America, and a good starting point for a group discussion on “What it means to be Baptist.”

History Speaks to Hard Questions Baptists Ask – The Baptist heritage of freedom of conscience allows us to ask hard questions about our faith. These free online resources address the hard questions being asked by Baptists in the 21st century. Use them in your Sunday School class, Bible study or small group discussion.

Baptists and the American Civil War – The years 2011-2015 are the 150th anniversary years of the American Civil War, a terrible conflict that forever shaped the American conscience. Religion played a pivotal role in the conflict. The Society offers a digital daily journal of the Baptist experience, South and North, white and black, during the 150th anniversary years. This digital journal is an excellent resource for understanding Baptists during the Civil War years.

Online Videos – A two-part video on the future of Baptists is designed to generate inter-generational debate about Baptist identity in the 21st century.

Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation – In the 21st century, many Baptists have forgotten, and are often hostile to, their faith heritage of religious liberty for all and church state separation. This collection of resources provides helpful material for the teaching of these important foundations of the Baptist faith heritage.


BOOK REVIEWS: by Bruce Gourley

Robert M. Knight, Balanced Living: Don’t Let Your Strength Become Your Weakness, Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon: 2009 (Paperback, 188 pages)

In Balanced Living, pastoral theologian Robert M. Knight has penned a timely, thought-provoking, practical, and helpful volume. A Baptist who currently pastors the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Charleston, South Carolina, Knight, a student of the late Wayne Oates, draws upon thirty years of professional experience in probing the depths of human wellness.
Knight’s thesis is that while most persons do not live balanced lives, overcoming the extremes of one’s life – whether expressed in failures, successes, or otherwise – is doable. Reaching the center of healthy living “requires us to adapt, to change, and to grow … The more we are gracefully at peace with ourselves, the less guarded and defensive we will tend to be in the face of circumstances in our lives that require – even demand – change on our part.” (55-56)
Couched within this volume is a wealth of information, including snippets of the history of pastoral care, explanations of the inner workings of the profession, and case studies. The fact that the formal study of family systems is only about half-a-century old, for example, provides perspective as Knight discusses the subject of “balanced families.”
The quest for human wellness takes place at a number of levels. Knight surveys his subject matter at the level of individuals and families, delving into personality types, values, stages of development, and religion. His chapter on “Balanced Religion” is a short but powerful exposition of what it means to be a healthy follower of Christ. Woven into the narrative is a brief analysis of ancient Hebrew and early Christian worldviews and the manner in which they clash with contemporary religious beliefs, often resulting in confused, unhealthy religious expressions.
In short, Balanced Living is a challenging volume, exhorting Christians in particular to examine the living of their lives – their “being” – and to strive for the wellness that is within reach.

William E. DeWitt, The Essence of Christian Meditation, Crossbooks, Bloomington, Indiana: 2010 (Paperback, 62 pages)

“Christian Meditation.” The phrase is not without controversy. Dismissed as heresy by many evangelicals and ignored by Baptists at large, the practice of meditation may be primarily associated with Buddhism, yet its inner traits of “loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity” are scriptural in nature.
William E. DeWitt, a Baptist layman, university professor and engineer, surveys the under-appreciated discipline of Christian meditation in this small but helpful and compelling volume. For a book of its size, The Essence of Christian Meditation delivers a powerful message: “the only way I have found to set my mind on God’s Kingdom is through Christian meditation,” DeWitt exerts.
In the contemporary Western world, the concept of God’s Kingdom is often voiced against the backdrop of church growth, evangelistic campaigns or apocalyptic eschatology. Christian meditation points to a much different Kingdom of God: one expressed in the spiritual disciplines of silence, stillness, simplicity and peace.
Much of humanity lives in a world of noise, busyness and distractions that effectively shut the door to spirituality. The pervasiveness of modern technology serves to magnify distractions and further separate individuals from silence and stillness. DeWitt brings us back to our senses, literally. The Kingdom of God is within us, patiently waiting. This volume offers words of wisdom to help open the door to God’s intimate presence in our lives.



“Those who are for smaller government rarely express  concern for people in need.” Alexander E. Sharp, founding executive director of Protestants for the Common Good

“The sexual gift that God gave women is wrapped in love and fidelity for its ultimate purpose: fertilization.” Costa Rica Catholic bishop José Francisco Ulloa

Upcoming events of interest to Baptists

September 14, 2011 – “Baptists and the American Civil War, Part I” (First Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia) – Speaker: Bruce Gourley

September 25-27, 2011 – Mercer Preaching Consultation (St. Simon’s Island, Georgia)

October 2011Baptist History and Heritage Month

October 19, 2011 – “Baptists and the American Civil War, Part II” (First Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia) – Speaker: Bruce Gourley

October 25, 2011 – California Baptist Historical Society annual meeting (Fremont, California)

November 6-7 – Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia Fall Assembly (Johns Creek Baptist Church, Alpharetta, Georgia) – The BH&HS is hosting a workshop on “Baptists and the American Civil War” (Speaker: Bruce Gourley)

April 17-18, 2012 – The Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State. Speaker: Professor Frank Lambert, professor of history at Purdue University (Mercer University, Macon, Georgia)

June 7-9, 2012 – BH&HS Annual Conference, “Baptists and Theology” (First Baptist Church, Raleigh)

July 4, 2012 – 200th Birthday Celebration of the Rev. John Jasper, legendary 19th-century preacher and founding pastor of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church (Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, 14 West Duval Street, Richmond, VA; call 804-648-7511 for lunch reservations)

July 11-14, 2012 – International Conference on Baptist Studies VI (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina)

May 20-22, 2013 – BH&HS Annual Conference, “Civil War, Emancipation and Reconciliation” (University of Richmond)

We welcome submissions to this list of Baptist events.