Friday, June 12, 2015

Readings in Baptist History - Joseph Early Jr.

Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents by Joseph Early Jr.  is a very different (at least for me)way of learning about Baptist history, or any history.  Instead of reading about events, one reads documents from those events in generally the order they were written.  This book is, as it says on the back cover, "An Entire Library in One Book", though it should be noted that several of the documents given in this book are abridged.  It is more of an overview of Baptist history rather than a deep dive into it, but it is an interesting overview.  It contains evidence of good and bad theology(including the bizarre) down through the centuries, and interesting perspectives on various theological controversies amongst the Baptists  themselves and between them and other denominations.   

The concern of many Baptists in regards to making sure they keep holding to the Bible and not man's opinions, the fight against accepting whatever spirit of the age in which they lived, was encouraging to see, and a good encouragement for us to remember to be on the lookout for attacks on the truth in our day.  The statement keeps coming up in the documents is that that the Bible is "the only rule of faith and practice", as one document states: "If it be allowed that reason or sanctified common sense shall determine in matters of faith and practice, it shall still be an open question as to whose reason and sanctified common sense shall make the decision.  If reason or common sense shall be the rule of any part of faith and practice then it is certain that we shall see division, contention, strife.  Le the Bible be the rule of faith and practice and our only difficulty shall be understanding our rule."

It was intriguing too to see various controversies connected with various historical events.  For instance, there is a document from the time of the American Revolution where Baptists are critiquing the paedobaptists because they were imposing a tax on Baptists and yet were complaining about the British Government taxing Americans without representation: "And now dear countrymen, we beseech you seriously to consider these things.  The great  importance of a general union through this country in order to the preservation of our liberties, has often been pleaded for with propriety.  But how can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed? ….You have lately been accused with being disorderly and rebellious, by men in power, who profess a great regard for order and public good.  Why don't you believe them, and rest easy under their administration?  You tell us that you cannot, because you are taxed where you are not represented.  Is it not so with us?......And as the present contest between America and great Britain is not so much about the greatness of taxes already laid, as about a submission to their taxing power.  So (though what we have already suffered is far from being a trifle yet) our greatest difficulty at present concerns the submitting to a taxing power in ecclesiastical affairs…"  

Overall, I think that it is a pretty interesting overview, oh, and I liked that the language of the documents was updated in some places for easier reading.  My only big complaint is that some of the documents seemed too short and I wanted to know more about that time period, or what was going on…(like in Russian Baptist history) which is probably the curiosity that the book is meant to produce, inducing an active desire for more information on Baptist history, so people will go out and research on their own. 

I'll end with a quote which I liked from a 1611 declaration of faith and which I found particularly interesting (though I didn't agree with the whole confession as I didn't think it held completely to the Rule of faith and practice): "That the members of every Church or Congregation should know one another so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another both to soul and body.  Matthew 18:15.  1 Thessalonians 5:14. 1 Corinthians 12:25.  And especially the elders should know the whole flock, of which the Holy Ghost has made them overseers.  Acts 20:28. 1 Peter 5:2, 3.  and therefore a Church should not consist of such a multitude that they cannot have particular knowledge of one another."

Many thanks to the folks at B&H Academic who sent me a free review copy in exchange for my review (which did not have to be favorable).

This book may be purchased at and directly from the publisher (and also from other bookstores)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Printer and the Preacher - by Randy Petersen

The Printer and the Preacher: Ben Franklin, George Whitefield, and the Surprising Friendship that Invented America by Randy Peterson is a book that attempts to explore the friendship of George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin and how that relationship affected the coming united American states.  I have read some biographies on Whitefield (Dallimore's) and knew of Franklin's correspondence with Whitefield, and thought that the topic of this book looked interesting. 

Sadly, this book did not satisfy my hopes.  First, though the author's writing style is not boring it is too unorganized for my taste.  I have read books before where the narrative goes back and forth through time and I know that this can be done in an interesting, yet still unconfusing way, but this book does not do it well.  On any given page, especially towards the first half of the book, one can be in Franklin's early life, then his later, or in Whitefield's early life, or his later life, then again in Whitefield's later life and then in Franklin's early life… and so on.  It felt as though one was in a defective time machine so that when you put one foot out in 1776 the machine goes crazy and you actually step out for a momentary glimpse of 1730 but ultimately  find yourself experiencing vertigo in 1765.  At least in my opinion that was how it seemed, perhaps others won't mind it, but I would have preferred a more steady chronological approach. 

And then, I thought that Petersen wrote a bit too flippantly, especially in regards to Franklin's wrong beliefs.  For a good deal of the book he seemed to be rather lighthearted about Franklin's rejection of the Gospel especially when writing about Franklin's perspective of morals and his piecing together his own form of religion.  Peterson does show his own Christian views at one point, harshly critiquing Franklin's thought that being saved by faith alone (without works) is not a Christian doctrine, "But he [Franklin] was still dead wrong.  It is certainly a 'Christian doctrine' that we are saved by faith alone and not by our deeds…"  But then he continues his account of their lives in care-free style that seems to push aside the importance of eternity, and the seriousness of Franklin's rejection of the Gospel.  I'm sure Peterson did not mean to do this, but that was how it came across to me.   

Other things bothered me as well, such as the author's harping on the emotional responses of the people towards Whitefield's messages and his emotional delivery of the truth.  The author makes  statements like this:  "Throughout his career, George was accused of over-emotionalizing the Gospel.  His dramatic antics got people so excited, they might agree to anything, or so the critics said.  But that was the whole point.  Whitefield knew that the Gospel broke into most peoples' lives through their emotions, not their minds…What they lacked, George felt, was a transformation of the heart - and that would best happen not through logical argumentation, but through an emotional appeal."  I may be wrong, but I don't ever remember that Whitfield put emotion above words and logical thinking, especially in regards to the Word of God.  And even if he did believe as the above statements say I would still have to flatly disagree.  The Bible doesn't say that faith comes from emotion, rather it states that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).  It doesn't say that emotion is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, rather the Word of God has those attributes (Heb 4:12). Emotion is an effect but not the cause of the New Birth.   

And then the author uses other statements, like, "…about the same time the great reformers were crafting a new faith."  New? "Crafting"? Weren't they returning to the one and only Word of God?  And again he says, "Whitfield bought heavily into the Calvinist theology…"  I wouldn't use the term "bought into"…

So, to put my opinion simply: Petersen had too flippant a perspective of the history of these two men who both have eternal souls and whose beliefs about Who, and what life is really about, really did matter when it comes to where they would spend eternity.

I received a free review copy of this book from the Booklook blogger program in exchange for my review which did not have to be favorable.