An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today
[Vol. 13, No. 2]
Editor: Bruce T. Gourley, executive director, Baptist History and Heritage Society
The Baptist Studies Bulletin (BSB) is a free online journal produced by the Baptist History and 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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“The Baptist Calling”
Part Five: Redeeming the World
by Bruce T. Gourley
In Search of the Christian Atom (The Second of a Series)
by Richard F. Wilson
“Pope Francis: A Humble Man with a Theology of Exclusion”
by Aaron Weaver
THE BAPTIST CALLING
Part Five: Redeeming the World
by Bruce T. Gourley
This is a series focused on how Baptists are called to live out their faith. Click here for the introduction to this series, entitled “Beyond Belief”.
As I’ve outlined in previous months, the Baptist calling in the 21st century reaches into the past to inform the present and future. The Baptist calling involves fighting for freedom for all persons (not just those of like faith or mind), living in freedom-centric community, and striving for human equality. In addition to these three dimensions of calling, Baptists join other Christians in the calling of redeeming the world, albeit with a Baptist twist.
The Christian tradition of redemption is rooted in Christ, whom the Gospels portray as primarily concerned with delivering God’s creatures and creation from evil, oppression and brokenness. Jesus tirelessly spoke of the “Kingdom of Heaven” (or “Kingdom of God”) as the redeeming presence of God on earth, a presence brought about by the coming of the Christ (Matthew 3:2) and continued by the loving and righteous actions of humans, whether individually or corporately. Personal redemption, as offered to individuals by Christ, was in the form of voluntary belief evidenced in redemptive action.
The “Kingdom of Heaven,” however, was opposed by the religious and political authorities in the Palestinian region where Jesus lived. Branded as a heretic, Jesus was put to death by those very authorities, rising again to commission his followers to carry on the mission of redeeming the world.
Nonetheless, the Christian narrative soon went awry. From a tiny and persecuted sect, Christianity grew to become a powerful and privileged institution in the centuries following Christ, gradually coalescing around a construct of other-worldly human redemption focused on earthly adherence to proper doctrine and ritual, reinforced by political and military might, and absent love and righteousness. Evil and oppressive measures for many centuries were too frequently employed to enforce religious dogma, resulting in horrific human brokenness. Even many of the leading Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century forsook love and righteousness and turned to might to mandate and maintain doctrinal purity at all costs.
Yet the use of evil and oppressive methods to enforce doctrinal-based redemption had long been abhorrent to many Christians. Baptists, a tiny sect birthed on a swell of resistance to misguided, self-serving concepts of Christian redemption, sought to reclaim Christ’s vision of redemption, that of living the “Kingdom of Heaven” as expressed in the Gospels.
Numbered among the outcasts and persecuted and many living under theocratic governments, Baptists sought redemption for the poor and despised, both personally and corporately. They used means spiritual and secular in efforts to protect persons whose bodies, families, possessions and livelihoods were endangered under Christian tyranny. They spoke Gospel to the tyrants and willingly endured the often harsh repercussions.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the redemptive witness of Baptists gradually won over many among the lower classes in the Western world. Yet a period of rapid growth and increasing prominence in the late 18th century and following gradually garbled the Baptist witness. Many English Baptists became distracted by doctrinal purity, tarnishing their prophetic message of redemption. Many white Baptists of the American South, once against or at best not supportive of African slavery, in the early 19th century became ardent advocates of that oppressive, evil institution. Anti-Catholic sentiment among some Baptists became more visible than their commitment to religious liberty for all. So culturally mainstream were Baptists of America by the early 20th century that some Baptists sought to impose their religious views and morality upon the entire nation, most notably in the Prohibition movement. In the nearly century since, the din of certain Baptists who conflate nationalism with Christianity only grew louder in corresponding fashion to the growing majoritarian status of Baptists married to evangelical fundamentalism. In these dark chapters of the Baptist story, selfishness and anger cast aside love and righteousness, leaving a long trail of human brokenness.
Now, the world is boiling over yet again with religious crusades too often spear-headed by Baptists who know not their faith heritage, nor perhaps care. Today’s all-too-common narrative of majoritarian religious groups using weapons of power and privilege to force their beliefs upon fellow citizens is no less contrary to the nature and person of Christ than were such efforts centuries earlier.
Yet if the witness of the earliest Christians and of some Baptists and other dissenters are any guide, the “Kingdom of Heaven” is most alive and active on the margins of society. Among faith groups neither powerful nor privileged, faith in Christ has often made a Gospel difference in the world. Minority Baptists, Quakers and other dissenters in the 17th and 18th centuries redeemed the Western world from the evils of theocracy. Abolitionist Christians, including Baptists, of the early and mid 19th century played significant roles in redeeming the Western world from the evils of African slavery. Women and black Baptists of the 20th century to the present are yet helping redeem their own faith, and the wider world, from gender oppression and racial hatred.
Rick Wilson is a teaching theologian who takes risks, who believes that theological reflection and confession always risks saying too little or too much about the mysteries of God in Christ. Since 1988 he has been on the faculty in The Roberts Department of Christianity at Mercer University; since 2001 he has been chair of the department. In addition to taking theological risks, Rick is at home in the company of Lucy (wife of 38 years and counting), in the kitchen, in the stands of baseball stadiums at all levels, in the beeyard, and in diverse cultures. In 2014 Rick is on loan to the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, serving as President of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary.
Is there a Christian atom? That is the question we posed in the January of the Baptist Studies Bulletin, borrowing from geometry and physical chemistry as a way better to understand the dynamics of the development of heresy. For the next many months we will extend the model in a series of case studies—doctrinal case studies.
Our complex metaphor builds upon the biblical image of the struggle between Esau and Jacob, and the historical facts that demonstrate that orthodoxy is developed in the face of perceived heresy.
Mutatis mutandi, while there may be an operative orthodoxy in a given generation, it is only the appearance of a perceived heterodoxy, i.e., heresy, which brings clarity to any confession later to be held as orthodox. Orthodoxy, it seems, depends upon heresy for its demand for clarity. Nonetheless, the two grow up together, as did Esau and Jacob, always in tension.
Passing over the rafts of unnamed “false teachers” and “false teachings” in the New Testament epistles, Marcion emerges as the first heretic of note, against whom Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian (all three pictured above) wrote. What Marcion did that raised the ire of the latently orthodox was to collect the first canon of scripture as a way to focus the roles of the church in teaching and worship.
Marcion regarded only the Gospel of Luke (edited) and an Apostolicon (ten Pauline letters, which Marcion also edited) as authentic. The selection of those pieces of literature—all of which managed to survive the conflagration of canon formation that came to an end with the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367 C.E.—was not the issue. What roused the latently orthodox from their dogmatic slumbers was the method Marcion employed to defend his selection. The method was rooted in the theological claim that the god of the Hebrew Bible/Septuagint was not the God of Jesus and the apostles.
Marcion contended that the god of the patriarchs, Moses, and David was a wrathful, vengeful deity that has no connection with the God of love as proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth. He further denied that the good God of Jesus could have been “the creator of heaven and earth,” as the earliest creed of the church proclaims. Along the way, Marcion also denied any shred of humanity for Jesus. He was God, not God incarnate.
While Tertullian was the most precise, and harsh, in denouncing Marcion, Ireneaus, bishop of Lyon (in Gaul), is more interesting for our purposes. Why? The challenge of Marcion and the Marcionites drove to the heart of Irenaeus’ latent orthodoxy regarding scripture and its use. Contending against Marcion’s selection of Luke as the only authentic Gospel pushed Irenaeus to craft an argument for “four and only four Gospels” following the creative (but flawed) argument of the four faces of the four beasts attending the throne of God (Rev 4, but first appearing Ezek 1). Without substantive defense, Irenaeus declared Matthew (human), Mark (eagle), Luke (ox), and John (lion) as the literary heirs to the four faces. While the church shifted the imagery of the eagle and the lion to John and Mark, the four-fold Gospel canon of Ireneaus has stood for 1800 years. Read about it in Against Heresies (click and scroll down to 3.11.8).
More than a century and one-half before the canon of the New Testament congealed in Athanasius’ letter of 367, Irenaeus was making an appeal to scripture. He may have had a working idea of the limits of scripture, which was offended by the audacity of Marcion and the Marcionites, but apart from his pronouncement of a four-fold Gospel, those limits would have to wait for the tradition to affirm and confirm.
Elsewhere in Against Heresies the bishop of Gaul had laid out a better-formed argument in defense of tradition (click and scroll down to 1.9.4), claiming that the faith received from the apostles, and through baptism secures “the rule of truth” (κανών τής άληθείας).
We may conclude that Irenaeus’ argument from scripture is anachronistic at best, and that his argument from tradition is aborning. Later generations of orthodox Christians will affirm and strengthen Irenaeus’ arguments, enshrining him as an early champion of orthodoxy.
As a relevant aside, in Against Heresies Irenaeus also took to task the Ebionites and their exclusive use of the Gospel of Matthew (click and scroll down to 3.11.7) as a guide for understanding Jesus of Nazareth. The Ebionites–a mirror image of the Marcionites—denied any shred of divinity for Jesus, seeing him merely as a faithful Jew who lived deeply into and out of the traditions of the covenants.
The common theme Irenaeus saw in the Marcionites and the Ebionites was a willful (let us note: the root meaning of “heresy” is “choice”) truncation of scripture-in-the-process-of-becoming canon, and the resulting insufficient confession of the paradox of aborning tradition of the two natures of Jesus, confessed to be the Christ.
Against Marcionites and the Ebionites, Irenaeus exposed on two counts the how those heretical groups took away from the necessary core of Christian faith. Following our metaphor from geometry and physical chemistry, Marcion and the Ebionites altered the center (geometrically speaking) of Christian faith by removing the “proton” (atomically speaking) that gives substance to what will become the “two natures” doctrine of orthodoxy.
By examining the elemental doctrine of Irenaeus, we can affirm that neither the Marcionites nor the Ebionites stand up to early orthodoxy. But, at the same time, we should acknowledge a debt to the heretics who spurred the more nearly-clear thinking of Irenaeus and his ilk in the early centuries of the church.
Dr. Aaron Weaver is Communications Manager for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Weaver blogs at The Big Daddy Weave and is the author of James M. Dunn and Soul Freedom (Smyth & Helwys, 2011).
For much of the past year, there has been a tremendous amount of online buzz about Jorge Mario Bergoglio — the man the world now knows as Pope Francis. Week in and week out, Pope Francis is a subject of conversation in virtually every outlet imaginable from cable news to local news, conservative talk radio to NPR, Facebook to Twitter, and the list goes on.
The new pope clearly has captured the attention of millions and millions.
And, Pope Francis has impressed more than a few Baptists. The title of a recent Associated Baptist Press article sums up this sentiment: “For growing numbers of Baptists, Pope Francis is drawing admiration.”
The article quotes Barrett Owen, a Georgia pastor, who penned a blog post titled “#PopeCrush” that listed 10 reasons why the pope is so popular.
“What amazes me about his intrepid faith is that he manages to make Christianity look attractive, hopeful, loving, empathetic and meaningful. His serve-first mentality resonates with Boomers, Xers and Millennials,” Owen wrote.
The ABP article also quoted Jonathan Merritt, a Southern Baptist and columnist for Religion News Service, who has written about Protestants falling in love with Pope Francis.
Like Owen and Merritt and millions more, I too have been impressed.
“Who am I to judge?”
Those five short words from the new Bishop of Rome in response to a reporter’s question about gay priests prompted many to take notice. With his response, one thing was made clear — Francis was definitely no Benedict.
I cannot confess to having had many positive thoughts about Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. His past profession as heresy-hunter while Cardinal Ratzinger was a sure turn off and his connection to pedophile priests scandal did not win him any points with the masses.
Pope Francis’ booting of the “Bishop of Bling,” washing the feet of juvenile offenders, embracing an extremely disfigured man, and his critique of unfettered capitalism as a “new tyranny,” as well as his modest lifestyle are just a few reasons why I’ve been impressed. (Side Note: What does it say about the state of Christianity that we experience authentic admiration for a faith leader who makes the conscious choice not to live like Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar?)
While Pope Francis is certainly deserving of admiration, critique and caution are in order too.
Just eight months into his papacy, Pope Francis released his first apostolic exhortation — Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) — on November 26, 2013. There are parts of this document, dubbed “the manifesto of Francis,” worthy of praise, including the pope’s attack on capitalism that sent Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives into a tizzy.
But, there is at least one part that should cause egalitarians to take note.
“Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded,” Pope Francis wrote.
“The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.”
“Not a question open to discussion.”
Those six words should harsh the mellow of many — especially those who have embraced women as pastors.
A theology of exclusion that says women cannot serve as priests is likely not one that resonates much with equality-minded Boomers, Xers and Millennials. I find little intrepid about a faith that is closed even to a discussion about an equal role for women and men alike.
There is nothing courageous or fearless about excluding others.
In the midst of all the buzz, perhaps Baptists and other Protestants ought remember that, to quote a recent article by religion journalist David Gibson, “Yes, the pope is still Catholic” — the head of a massive global religious institution and sovereign city-state, who is more likely to cling to tradition rather than implement meaningful reforms. Pope Francis’ own words in Evangelii Gaudium speak for themselves:
“Not a question open to discussion.”
June 4-6, 2014
This year’s annual, combined conference of the Baptist History and Heritage Society and the Association of Librarians and Archivists of Baptist Institutions (ALABI) is themed “Exploring the ‘Other’ Baptists.”
Keynote speakers include Bill Leonard (Wake Forest University). Approximately 30 break out papers are on tap.
Online registration is now open; BH&HS members receive a discount.
Memphis Theological Seminary invites applications for an entry level tenure-track position in Church History to begin in the fall of 2014. Responsibilities include teaching all aspects of Church History from a global perspective in our MAR, MDiv, and DMin level programs. Qualifications include a Ph.D. in Church History and a commitment to diversity, collegiality, and the life of the church. Area of specialization is open. We welcome applications from all qualified candidates, especially those from traditionally under-represented populations. More information is available here. Send letter of application, vita, graduate transcripts, and three letters of reference to Dean Stan Wood, Memphis Theological Seminary, 168 East Parkway South, Memphis, TN 38104. Review of applications will begin on March 14, 2014.
March 3, 2014 — E. Glenn Hinson Lecture Series at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky with featured speaker Dr. Willie James Jennings, Associated Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies at Duke University Divinity School. More information.
March 28-29, 2014 — Annual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina General Assembly, First Baptist Church, Greensboro. The Baptist History and Heritage Society will be hosting a workshop and will have a display. More information.
April 1-2, 2014 — The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty’s Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Featured speaker: Michael I. Meyerson, professor of law at the University of Baltimore. More information.
June 4-6, 2014 — The annual Baptist History and Heritage Society conference, held in conjunction with the Association of Librarians and Archivists of Baptist Institutions (ALABI) and sponsored by the North American Baptist Heritage Commission will be Sioux Falls, South Dakota this year. Host: Sioux Falls Seminary. Theme: “Exploring the ‘Other’ Baptists.” Registration is now open. More information.
June 23-27, 2014 — Annual national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Atlanta, Georgia. More information.
June 28-July 7 — Biblical and historical tour of Turkey prior to the Baptist World Alliance meeting, led by Jerry Borchert, biblical scholar and author and seminary teacher. Tour the seven churches of Revelation and much more. For more information contact Church Weber at email@example.com.
July 6-12, 2014 — BWA Annual Gathering, Izmir, Turkey at the Swissotel Grand Efes Izmir. More information.
August 18-23, 2014 — Nurturing Faith Experience: Montana, sponsored by Baptists Today, Baptist History and Heritage Society, CBF of North Carolina and the Pittman Center of Gardner-Webb University. For more information contact John Pierce or Bruce Gourley.
November 6-17, 2014 — Nurturing Faith Experience: Israel, with Dr. Tony Cartledge, Old Testament scholar. A 10 day tour of the Holy Land. For more information see the March 2014 edition of Baptists Today, call 478-301-5655 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.