My colleague Barry Jones recently pointed me to an article by Mark Noll that reviews two recent books on Baptist history. In “So You’re a Baptist: What Might That Mean?” Noll reviews the wide variety of Baptist bodies worldwide, and wonders what, if anything, they all have in common. He then points to two fairly recent books (both published in 2010):
Both Robert Johnson in his encyclopedic A Global Introduction to Baptist Churches and David Bebbington in his textbook primer Baptists Through the Centuries: A History of a Global People recognize the difficulty in isolating a common Baptist theology or social stance or programmatic consensus. But both also make a convincing case for a meaningful degree of continuity in foundational principles or persistent instincts characterizing virtually all Baptist movements.
I like the way Jones summarized one of the problems with defining Baptists: “Baptist identity is defined by two competing forces: the supremacy of the individual’s interpretation of Scripture above any ecclesial authority or tradition, and the difficulty Baptists have in convincing other Baptists of the rightness of their interpretations.”
This is the reason some Baptists among us feel the need to develop a defined confession of faith, and why such an effort will always lead to conflict. Others feel equally strongly that neither confessions or creeds are necessary.
I’ve scanned Johnson’s book, but have yet to see Bebbington’s, though I hope to get it soon.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll take a look at Noll’s article — it’s more worthy of your time than anything else I have to say today!