Baptist historian Bill Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University, is a prolific writer who has the ability of writing in both an entertaining and thought-provoking fashion.

During a Baptist History Celebration in Charleston Aug. 1-3, Leonard presented a paper on the global witness of Baptists. In doing so, he focused on ways in which modernity impacted the Baptists understanding of and involvement in missions.

Technological innovations, the increased ease of travel, the success of trading companies in developing relationships with people of other lands, increasing globalism, and the involvement of women all helped to shape both missions and Baptists, Leonard said.

The world’s growing globalism and unavoidable pluralism provide ongoing challenges to people who have a particular understanding of salvation. I’d like to share two paragraphs from the conclusion of Leonard’s paper:

A global witness no doubt requires all Protestants to ask how they will deal with the challenge of pluralism in the world. Is there a via media for the Christian message between rabid particularism and paternalistic universalism? Can religious people affirm the uniqueness of a specific faith perspective while respecting the rights and voices of multiple faiths in the pluralistic marketplace? Shall we, like Carey and others of his day, re-form the boundaries of the faith we have inherited?

Finally in attempting to do that, Baptists might struggle with the unceasing paradox of conversionist particularism and pluralistic libertarianism, knowing that many persons in other religions will struggle to do the same. This effort will require a certain theological and cultural messiness that involves continued reflection on the nature of faith and interfaith relationships.

Pluralism may well be the door, not the death knell, to spiritual vitality for all religious groups.

Now those are thoughts were thinking for Baptists and for others who recognize that the whole world is now just an airplane ride — or a walk next door — away.

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