An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today
[Vol. 13, No. 8]
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
“Christianity in a Posthuman World”
Part One: The New You
by Bruce T. Gourley
“Sacrificing Identity for Creedal Unity: A Road Best Not Traveled by CBF Baptists”
by Gary Michael Greer
“Birmingham’s Bombed Baptist Churches”
Stories of Faith and Perseverance During and After World War II
by Ian McDonald
BH&HS Annual Conference 2015
Theme: “Seeking Justice: Baptists, Nashville and Civil Rights”
Call for Paper Submissions and Panels
Baptist History and Heritage Month
Fall Specials on Congregational Resources
CHRISTIANITY IN A POSTHUMAN WORLD
Part One: The New You
by Bruce T. Gourley
Welcome to a three-part series on a vast, mind-boggling and already-unfolding seismic shift in the story of humanity and life, a chapter that many scholars and observers have dubbed “posthumanity.” In the first part of this series, we begin with the new you.
Imagine, for a moment, a world teeming with life, yet a world in which there are few, if any, humans in the traditional sense of the word. What role would religion play in this posthuman world? And more precisely, how would Christianity intersect with posthuman society?
Fantasy? Hardly. Thanks to an unprecedented, rapid acceleration of life-altering technological advances, the early contours of a decidedly posthuman world are quietly taking shape all around us. This emerging new world is evident in the zombie-like movements, any given moment of any given day, of hundreds of millions of earthlings staring, as if in a trance, at tiny glowing screens that collectively convey addictive and mesmerizing streams of mostly-useless but endlessly-stimulating data under the broad rubric of “social media.”
Look closely at the people around you on the streets, in stores and restaurants, in your office, at the airport, and even in your church’s pews. As many as 75% of all Americans (in some nations the percentage is higher) now own at least one smartphone, and on average are checking their mobile devices at a rate approaching 200 times a day. Studies indicate that one-half or more of smartphone users check their devices during meals, while sitting on the toilet, and while in bed. Some 10-20% text while driving, a combination that is more deadly than driving under the influence of alcohol. And 10% of smartphone users admit to using their devices while having sex.
The minds and eyes of so many humans have been melded to technology to such a degree that in 2010 a new word was coined to describe the fear of being without your smartphone: Nomophobia (short for no-mobile-phone-phobia), now recognized by some as a psychological disorder. Some studies indicate that about 85% of humans worldwide are addicted to their mobile devices.
Dr. David Greenfield, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, describes smartphone addiction as similar to other addictions in that it creates dysregulation of dopamine in the brain.
According to Greenfield, however, nomophobia is no ordinary addiction. Smartphone addiction is a worldwide phenomenon, twice as powerful as other addictions and “not reflective of what happens in real life.” Referring to the global nature of mobile phone addiction, Time Magazine’s Deputy Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs noted, “It’s hard to think of any tool, any instrument, any object in history with which so many developed so close a relationship so quickly as we have with our phones.”
The implications are dire. A growing mountain of research on this global phenomenon has shown that smartphones impare our cognition, block our ability to create memories, make millennials more forgetful than senior citizens, heighten fears of being alone for mere minutes at a time, and yet at the same time reduce social consciousness, create a decrease in empathy for others and damage friendships.
Global mobile phone addiction, in short, is transforming forever (for there will be no turning back from technology) the very experience of being human.
But, you may say, I have a smartphone and it (and by extension social media) has not changed my life that much.
Really? Try turning your mobile device(s) off for a week. Or 72 hours. Or even 24 hours. Odds are, you can’t do it.
And yet this is only the beginning of posthumanity.
In the September 10, 2014 edition of Time Magazine, Lev Grossman and Matt Vella make a compelling argument that the newly-introduced Apple Watch, if successful in the marketplace, will further accelerate our descent into a posthuman world by initiating the mass-market driven melding of body and technology.
Humans, in short, are in a transitional stage in which the technology in our hands, and in growing instances on and in our bodies (more on this in the next article in this series), is re-defining what it means to be human. Embedded with technology, our minds, our bodies and our relationships are already in the early stages of a journey to becoming posthuman.
The posthuman world now in process may have sneaked up on most of us, but it is a reality which will rather quickly force us all to wrestle with the myriad ethical, philosophical and spiritual dimensions and dilemmas pertaining to intelligent, autonomous and sentient life beyond humanity.
In conclusion, I offer a few questions which congregations might engage in an intentional attempt to examine the potential responses and roles of Christianity in the emerging posthuman world:
- How does today’s technology often make us oblivious to the world around us in our daily lives?
- How has technology changed spirituality in the past 10-15 years? How has it changed Christianity?
- In today’s context, how much technology is too much technology?
- How has Facebook changed our perception of “friends”?
- Are smartphones, and by extension social media, enhancing or damaging Christian community?
- As users of immersive social media that tracks and commoditizes our identity, are we victims of global corporatization or participants in a new era of human rights?
- Could a week’s sabbatical from smartphones and social media enhance the well-being of individuals, families and congregations?
Next month, Part 2 of this series: “Christianity in a Posthuman World: Cyborgs, Now and in the Future”
Mike Greer is a retired Baptist minister who received his M.Div. (1976) and Ph.D. (1989) from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mike pastored churches South Carolina and Kentucky. A Dayton, Ohio native, Mike lived and ministered in the Middle East from 1979-1985. Mike and his wife Elaine now reside in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Cooperative Baptists are at a significant crossroads. The new post-schism generation has correctly insisted that it is now time for the CBF to move beyond the adversarial model that crystalized during its formative years. As the new CBF moderator says, “We are working on our identity, to say this is clearly who we are and we want you to join us.”
The CBF’s theologian in residence, David Gushee, proposes that Cooperative Baptists who wish to clarify and reshape their identity should reclaim their roots in Baptists’ longstanding socio-ethical tradition that was severely weakened and displaced by the SBC/CBF controversies. Gushee says that the CBF “has an opportunity, but it’s going to take some work, to help our people get back into contact with the best voices of our heritage.”
Another proposal for solidifying a Cooperative Baptist identity in the 21st century is what is sometimes referred to as Bapto-Catholicism. This proposal now has some currency in at least one CBF-affiliated seminary and one affiliated divinity school.
In their inaugural 1997 Manifesto Bapto-Catholics outlined the parameters of a “Baptist Catholicity” that assumes that the disastrous Age of Reason (or Enlightenment) has run its course and therefore no longer has any religious, moral, intellectual, or social significance for Baptists in a post-modern world.
Bapto-Catholics assert that Baptists’ greatest obstacle in their search for a clear identity is that their rather impoverished traditions and practices of soul freedom, soul competency, non-creedal ecclesiology, and non-salvific sacraments are malformed and need to be reinvented, reformed, or discarded in deference to superior and substantially richer Roman Catholic traditions and practices. As Texas Bapto-Catholic Ralph Wood suggests, Baptists should eschew their “rather pathetic do-it-yourself religion” characterized by “each believer determining truth for himself.” Bapto-Catholics are prepared to rescue Baptists from their supposed ignorance about the critical importance of purportedly superior normative traditions.
Bapto-Catholics claim to be ready and able to transport us back to a utopian patristic period where we can begin to reconstruct our Baptist identity. In this journey we will rather fortunately be able to bypass not only the Age of Reason but also the many dark scandals of Catholic history such as the Reformation, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the catastrophic East-West Schism.
We Baptists who insist on a reasonable and integrated faith have a number of reasons why we are not impressed by this proposal.
First, we submit that the Bapto-Catholic movement discounts the valuable achievements and discoveries associated with the Age of Reason. Many of us who are Baptists long ago embraced the literary, anthropological, psychological, sociological, archaeological, political, and evolutionary discoveries that flowed from that age of empirical discovery and we happily revised our faith accordingly. We who have come to value the practice of a reasonable, inclusive, and inquisitive faith see no wisdom in the devaluation or abandonment of our treasured and hard-earned Baptist inheritance in the interests of a regressive attempt to resurrect creedalism, magisterium ecclesiology, and sacramental theology. We are Baptists who are happy to live in a critical post-modern world that deconstructs all assumptions of authority and we do not believe that the way forward requires an imaginary retreat to a fictionalized, simplified, and overly glorified ancient past.
Second, the suggestion that it is possible to fully and sufficiently comprehend and then recreate an ancient cultural reality in the present one is as romantic as it is impossible. The complex and multifaceted patristic period is not as accessible or monolithic as some would claim. Departmental studies and observations about the ancient church and her early fathers may be interesting, useful, and instructive. They are not sufficient to shape the future of Baptists in the 21st century.
Third, many of us who are Baptists are unwilling to divorce our faith from Baptists’ historical commitments to human rights and democratic freedoms. We are not convinced that this ecclesial motif is not a devaluation of those thoughtful and reasonable Baptists like Smyth, Helwys, Williams, and Clarke who preceded and contributed to the Enlightenment project with their emphases on freedom of individual conscience and the inalienable rights of individuals. We suspect that the Bapto-Catholic lack of passion for the socio-ethical issues that matter most to us is a reflection of a weak commitment to the larger issues of social justice and human equality.
Fourth, we do not believe that Christian unity is best achieved through doctrinal, ecclesial, or liturgical uniformity. For many of us an intellectually-informed theology that focuses on the ethics of Jesus is the unifier. We suggest that the dogmatic church-centric model of Bapto-Catholics is incompatible with the quintessential Baptist commitment to the ethical freedom-centric teachings of Jesus. It may be that the Bapto-Catholic proposal’s greatest weakness is that it does not go far enough back in time.
Finally, we suspect that Bapto-Catholicism has too much in common with the Timothy George Reformed wing of Southern Baptists intent on resurrecting a “better age” that is willfully insulated from the realities of the present age while at the same time abandoning much of its rich Baptist heritage. Such a backward-looking appropriation of an antiquated theology and ecclesiology depreciates the enduring legacy of early freedom-centric Baptists and results in an unreasonable and unaccommodating faith in our 21st century world. We also note with concern that Bapto-Catholics and Reformed Baptists share a rigid creedal commitment to a Nicene Trinitarianism that denies the legitimacy of all other Trinitarian constructs.
In the final analysis, Bapto-Catholicism is an anti-21st century, perilous dead-end path for Baptists that is dismissive and disdainful of that which is the timeless heartbeat of our treasured Baptist heritage. We progressive Baptists have our suspicions about the motives of Bapto-Catholics in their consistent silence about the corruptions and failures of ancient and contemporary Catholicism. Ironically, even as Bapto-Catholics employ a certainty of reasoning inherited from the Enlightenment, they at the same time swim against the tide of post-modern skepticism regarding authority. For these and many other reasons, Bapto-Catholicism is a road best not traveled for Cooperative Baptists who wish to clarify their identity and mission in a post-modern world.
About the Author: Ian McDonald is the Research Officer in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering & the Built Environment at Birmingham City University in the UK. He is a member of the UK Baptist Historical Society, Strict Baptist Historical Society and Chapels Society. Follow him on Twitter @IanCMcD
Birmingham and its Baptists
Birmingham, located in the West Midlands county in central England, is England’s second most populous city (after London), and has a long Baptist tradition dating back to 1652 when records show the existence of a General Baptist congregation in the city. However, little is known about this church and its members.
The start of a Particular Baptist presence in Birmingham dates back to at least 1736 when a small number of faithful believers formed what came to be known as Cannon Street Baptist Church, in the heart of the city centre. This church was central to the development of the Baptist cause across Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region, with many churches being planted by, and/or sponsored by, it’s members. Cannon Street Baptist Church’s most famous minister was the ‘Seraphic’ Samuel Pearce, who was a close associate of William Carey, and was heavily involved with the establishment of the original Baptist overseas missionary society and its work in Serampore.
There are currently thirty-six Baptist churches in Birmingham which are affiliated to the main Baptist body in the country – the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB). In addition there is one Baptist church in the city which is affiliated to the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) and one which is not obviously part of any group, although it was once associated with the Gospel Standard network of Strict Baptist churches. This compares to a total of thirty-five BUGB churches plus thirteen ‘mission’ churches in 1938, one year before the start of the war, with, as today, the Salem Strict and Particular Chapel standing outside the mainstream union.
Readers may remember reading about, or may have even attended, the Baptist World Centenary Congress (2005) which was held in Birmingham.
Birmingham and the Second World War
Birmingham suffered heavy bombing during the war. Bird (1979) records seventy-seven air raids on the city, which resulted in a death toll of 2,241 people with 3,010 seriously injured and 3,682 less seriously injured. Damage was done to 140,336 houses and 6,368 factories, workshops and business premises of various kinds. Particularly heavily hit were what would now be described as ‘inner-city’ areas near large factories being used to support the war effort. One example is the Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) factory. It is, therefore, unsurprising that a number of Baptist churches in inner-city locations were damaged by German bombing.
Theme: “Seeking Justice: Baptists, Nashville and Civil Rights”
The Baptist History and Heritage Society is pleased to partner with American Baptist College and First Baptist Church Capitol Hill for our 2015 annual conference.
Conference peakers, presenters and panelists will focus on the theme of “Seeking Justice,” with significant attention focused on Nashville Baptists’ contributions to the Civil Rights movement.
Program personalities will include Dr. Forrest E. Harris, President of American Baptist College, Nashville; Rev. Dr. Kelly Miller Smith, Pastor of First Baptist Church Capitol Hill, Nashville; Dr. Pamela Smoot, Professor of African American History, Southern Illinois University, and BH&HS Vice President; Rev. Bonnie Oliver Brandon, ordained minister, National Baptist curriculum writer, Memphis, Tennessee and Secretary and Conference Coordinator, Baptist History and Heritage Society.
Additional program personalities will be announced soon.
Call for Paper Proposals
The Society welcomes individual paper proposals for the conference. Proposals should focus on the theme of “Seeking Justice” (whether focused on Nashville or beyond), be 500 words or less in length, and saved in Microsoft Word format (or in the body of an email).
Members and friends of the Society are also invited to suggest a session of papers, focused on a specific topic and consisting of two to three presenters and a moderator.
Participants in paper sessions will each be allowed no more than 20 minutes for their presentations.
Individual proposals, paper session proposals and any additional queries about the Nashville conference may be emailed to BH&HS executive director Bruce Gourley.
Registration for the conference will begin in January 2015, via the BH&HS website.
We hope to see you in Nashville in April.
October is Baptist History and Heritage Month. The BH&HS provides numerous resources that are helpful for commemorating and celebrating your church’s faith heritage, including:
- Books, booklets and pamphlets for small group use. New for this year we have a selection of free print booklets and pamphlets–all you pay is the shipping.
- History Speaks to Hard Questions Baptists Ask — a free series
- Bulletin Inserts — celebrating four centuries of Baptist life
- Baptists and the American Civil War — daily essays about Baptist life 150 years ago
Whether from the pulpit, in a Sunday School class, during a mid-week service, or in a small group study, this month is an excellent time to reflect on the Baptist faith heritage and why it remains important today.
October 10, 2014 — Atlanta Music Festival Concert, African American Concert Music with Dwight Andrews. First Congregational Church, 105 Courtland Street NE. Admission is free. More information.
October 26-27, 2014 — Fall Gathering, Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Shades Crest Baptist Church, Birmingham. More information.
November 2-3, 2014 — Fall General Assembly, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, Athens. Hosted by First Baptist Church, Athens. Featured speaker is Susan Sparks. More information.
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.
April 20-22, 2015 — Annual conference of the Baptist History and Heritage Society. Location: Nashville, Tennessee. Hosts: National Baptists – American Baptist College and First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill Theme: “Seeking Justice: Baptists, Nashville, and Civil Rights.” More information.