Baptist Studies Bulletin August 2015

An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today

[Vol. 14, 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.

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“Hope in a ‘Dark Age’ of Theology”
by Bruce T. Gourley

“Why I am a CBF Baptist”: Voices of Young Baptists
by Tara Brooks
Religious and Spiritual Life Intern and Oxford Fellowship Campus Minister at Oxford College, Emory University;
Student, McAfee School of Theology

“The Voting Rights Act at 50”
August 1965 – August 2015

Upcoming BH&HS Events
Baptist Voices on Religious Liberty: Left, Right and Center
> September 29, 2015 — New Orleans Baptist Theo. Seminary
The American Civil War @ 150
> October 22-23, 2015 — Chattanooga, TN

Calendar of Events


by Bruce T. Gourley

“Atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular.” Approximately one in our Americans — and one in three millennials — thus describe their religious beliefs, a percentage that is rapidly growing.

At the same time, the results of a theological survey conducted by an organization headed by conservative evangelist R. C. Sproul, and touted by LifeWay of the Southern Baptist Convention, are thus summarized: “Our culture is anti-theological — we are in a new dark age.”

Perhaps Sproul and his colleagues are unaware that during the period colloquially known as the “Dark Ages” the Church was heralded as the “Queen of the sciences.” During that era in the Western world the various areas of knowledge (“science,” but not scientific in nature, philosophy being a prime example) were considered to exist for the furtherance of theology and the exaltation of God.

Although once considered the pinnacle of knowledge, theology in the 21st century Western world is disintegrating as escalating scientific knowledge based on massive empirical data peels back the intricate layers of the fundamental nature of reality.

While yet firmly ensconced within many religious communities, theology has no currency in the larger world of empirical truth. The Western world, in short, is rapidly moving beyond theology.

Astrophysicist Charles Liu summarizes the displacement and irrelevance of theology in an empirical world: “People ask, ‘Well, what do you think? [as to whether God exists]’ And what I say is, ‘I don’t know.’ I think that the universe is beautiful, complex and fascinating. And I have not seen any evidence to show that an omniscient or divine being has to exist in order for the universe to be the way it is. But there’s nothing to say that it can’t exist, either.”

Also contributing to the so-called “dark age” of theology is an acute awareness of the historical dark side of theology: the fettering of human conscience and human rights in order to preserve dogma and doctrine, the divisive nature of religious creeds, the horrors of unions of religion and state, tens of millions enslaved in the name of the divine, untold hundreds of millions of lives snuffed out in religious wars or simply because they dissented from orthodox theologies.

From within Christendom the never-ending litany of evils committed in the name of the Christian God are often apologized for, explained away, or otherwise neutralized. Yet on the outside, divine-attributed evils (whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise) garner little understanding, much less forgiveness.

Setting aside the dark side of the divine, in the modern scientific, empirical, historically-informed narrative of the nature of reality — the world of the one-fourth or so of Americans who are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” — theology is at best idle speculation. Unlike at least some religiously-active Christians, Muslims, Jews or persons of other faiths, “thinking about God” (to use Baptist theologian Fisher Humphreys’ definition of theology) or the divine is, for the non-religious, ultimately a pointless exercise. Then again, widespread are the laments in Christendom that little theology is done within church communities.

Without and within faith communities, the widespread disintegration of theological thought, identified by Sproul and others, poses an existential challenge to 21st century Western Christianity.

Amid the erosion of the credibility of theology, how can institutional Christianity remain viable?

An emerging answer to this dilemma lies within the realm of human experience, a middle road between unverifiable religious belief (theology) and empirical knowledge (the world of science).

Early Baptists pointed to this middle road some four centuries ago. Prior to the Enlightenment, Baptists were birthed as liberators of the human conscious. In the early days of the scientific revolution, Baptists elevated human experience above theology in the pursuit of God. A personal experience with the divine was the sole universal requirement for membership in Baptist communities. Doctrine was optional: Calvinists, Arminians, Trinitarians, non-Trinitarians, and any manner of doctrinal constructs otherwise — all were welcome in the diverse Baptist family.

Fast-forwarding to the present, the centrality of experiential faith and lack of theological exclusivism are recurring themes in a series of reflections this year composed by young Baptist ministers to explain “Why I Am a CBF Baptist.”

Kristopher Aaron of Deer Park Baptist Church (Louisville, Kentucky) cites the “theological diversity” and “theological freedom” of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship life. Heather Burke of FBC Conway, South Carolina, points to the sharing of “experiences and vision” as more important than doctrine. Kyle Caudle of FBC Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says that “relationships-friendships-are the lifeblood” of CBF, not theological “beliefs.” Kyle Tubbs of Grace Baptist Church (Round Rock, Texas) is appreciative of the freedoms, diversity, relationships and friendships that collectively define the community that is CBF. Emily Holladay of Broadway Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, Julie Whidden Long of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, and Aaron Weaver, communications manager for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, all highlight the influence of family, personal experience, and CBF’s commitment to historic Baptist freedoms. And this month Tara Brooks, a student at McAfee School of Theology and campus minister, shares her experiential journey in CBF life.

The witness of the earliest Baptists, as well as the voices of many of today’s young Baptists, collectively offer insight into a broader Western world in which fewer and fewer people are focused on matters of theology, while more and more find existential value and meaning in personal experience, diversity, freedom, advocacy, friendships and relationships.

In the present “dark age” of theology, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an experientially-oriented community of faith in action, offers a transcendent witness of hope in an empirical world.


by Tara Brooks
Religious and Spiritual Life Intern and Oxford Fellowship Campus Minister at Oxford College, Emory University; Student, McAfee School of Theology; 2015 CBF Summer Intern in West Yellowstone, Montana

tarabrooks200xI grew up as an overweight, under the poverty line, disabled, daughter of two ministers who walked on her toes. Being different in a small, southern town left little room for a normal childhood or a sense of belonging. I worked my way into “cool kid” corners of the classroom by being funny, loud, and over the top. I spent the money I did have (and many times I did not have) trying to look like someone else, I spent the passion I had trying desperately to love country music and MTV, and I spent the time I had joining groups, clubs, and sports that would help me overcome what I saw as the many problems I inherited.

CBF General Assembly was my escape. Once a year, I could join the other pastor’s kids and missionary kids in just being myself. I was never asked to be anyone other than me. I could enjoy water parks without getting stares. I could ask questions without feeling ashamed for wanting to know more. I could hangout with people regardless of their skin color or gender or appearance. I could make friendships without fear of changing myself to fit their image. Once a year, I could let go. Once a year, I could breathe. All that was asked of me was to simply be. Be present. Be in community. Be myself. Be a part of the Kingdom of God.

At age 18, I spent a summer serving on Passport Kids! Staff as a Senior Summer Intern. That summer was the first time I realized who I am is good enough. That summer, I stopped hiding. I enjoyed life. I met some of the most amazing ministers I’ve ever had the privilege of working alongside. I saw my first glimpse of what it means to surround myself in a loving community. Over the course of ten weeks, I let the walls that the world built up crumble, replacing them with the endless possibility a community of progressive Christian young adults opened to me.

CBF, and their ministry and community partnerships, help women like me realizing you never have to apologize for being yourself. By investing in children, youth, and young adults, CBF shines a light on those who the world makes feel less than. CBF helps communities highlight the places God is already working, affirming gifts, talents, and assets. CBF spends time dreaming and re-envisioning what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God, what it means to be called, and what it means to take action.

I’m a CBF Baptist because we all need to be a part of a community of faith who gets us, challenges us, believes in us, and breathes life into us. CBF engrained in me a need to explore what the freedom of the love of God means for the world, for those caught in cycles of oppression and bondage, for those society casts aside and disinherits. I am CBF because I believe in the important call to not just go and share with words, but go and share by being a part of the work of healing, restoring, helping, and reconciling.

I’m a CBF Baptist because each time I see a child “get it,” a teenager share her cooped up talents she spent the last fifteen years hiding from the world, a town working alongside field personnel to bring out the best in their community, individuals with little in common on the surface passionately banding together for the greater good of those caught in systematic oppression, or a church deeply living into what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus, I become that little girl again, walking into her first General Assembly, unashamedly embracing every person I meet, and finally feeling at home.


August 1965 –  August 2015

President Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965

President Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965

Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. Front and center at the signing ceremony was Baptist minister and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fifty years later, several news stories and commentary offer historical perspective on the legislation that transformed race and politics in America:

The Voting Rights Act at 50: How the Law Came to Be (Maya Rhodan, TIME)

The Voting Rights Act and the Second Redemption (Kermit Roosevelt, Constitution Daily)

Why the Voting Rights Act Matters So Much Today (Stephen Henderson, Detroit Free Press)

This is Why the Voting Rights Act is on Trial in North Carolina (Richard L. Hasen, Washington Post)

Why the Voting Rights Act is Once Again Under Threat (Ari Berman, New York Times)

A Dream Undone (Jim Rutenberg, New York Times Magazine)



New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
September 29, 2015

baptistvoices_2015This one day conference features:

  • William Brackney (Acadia Divinity College, Canada)
  • Mike Edens (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary)
  • Gregory Komendant (Kiev Theological Seminary, Ukraine)
  • Kenneth McDowell (Union Baptist College and Theological Seminary, New Orleans)
  • Russell Moore (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention)
  • Suzii Paynter (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship)
  • J. Brent Walker (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty).

The conference is free to the public but online registration is requested.

Chattanooga, TN
October 22-23, 2015

Dr. Bobby Lovett, Retired, Tennessee State UniversityThis summer’s terrorism in Charleston and the ongoing debate over the nature of the Confederate flag are vivid reminders that 21st century America yet struggles with the legacy of the American Civil War.

Yes, the Civil War was about slavery. But what about racism and inequality in the North during the war? And what was the larger context of the war?

Join historians Bruce Gourley and Bobby Lovett, as well as Baptists Today executive editor John Pierce, for dinner and a dialogue about Baptists during the American Civil War and the legacy of the war.

Sponsored by the Baptist History and Heritage Society, Baptists Today, First Baptist Church of Chattanooga and Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the event will be held at the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, 506 E. 8th Street.

A tour of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is included.

Click here for more information.


Upcoming events of interest to Baptists

August 23-26, 2015 — Baptist Ideals Tour. An educational tour of Colonial Williamsburg, VA focused on Baptist history and hosted by CBF North Carolina. More information.

September 7-11, 2015 — National Baptist Convention-USA annual session, Memphis. More information.

September 29, 2015 — “Baptist Voices on Religious Liberty: Left, Right and Center.” New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Featuring William Brackney, Mike Edens, Gregory Komendant, Kenneth McDowell, Russell Moore, Suzii Paynter, J. Brent Walker. More information and registration.

October 22-23, 2015 —  Nurturing Faith Experience: Civil War @ 150. First Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee. A conversation about the legacy of the American Civil War. Co-sponsored by the BH&HS, Baptists Today and the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the dialogue will be led by historians Bruce Gourley and Bobby Lovett and facilitated by Baptists Today executive editor John Pierce.

October 30-31, 2015 — East Texas Christian Writers Conference at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas, Bruce will lead seminars on “Writing History” and “Writing, Publishing and Marketing in the Digital Age.”

May 23-25, 2015 —  Annual conference of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, hosted by Baylor University and Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. The conference will be held in conjunction with the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion (NABPR) and the Association of Librarians and Archivists at Baptist Institutions (ALABI). The theme is  “Perspectives in Baptist History and Identity.” Click here for more information.