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)

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