Friday, February 21, 2014

Baptist Identity in a Time of Diffusion: Reflections and Resources

Part of the challenge of religious education today is talking with a variety of learners who have varying levels of acquaintance with core sources of Christianity.  Biblical literacy is the most talked about challenge, however, religious identity within a particular tradition of Christianity can be just as "new" an experience for some learners to explore.

This weekend, I will be speaking at an Adult Forum for a congregation that reflects the diversity of today's religious education participants.  Some are "life long" Baptists.  Others are newer to this tradition, with some Christian background or formation in other religious traditions.  More pressing is the challenge of forming disciples among those who come to church without any religious background. The approaches to engage such audiences are many.  What fits will be an experiment in churches exploring bold new methods and how well a church has adapted to the sensitivities needed to speak of faith these days.

The topic at hand for this Sunday is "Baptist identity".  I'll tell a story from my ministry work about being Baptist in the midst of an interfaith conversation about a perplexing issue often in the headlines.  Then I'll ask our gathered learners to reflect on how Baptist identity, steeped in the freedom of conscience, makes us different than other religions appealing to a body of church teachings, magisterial authority or other sources of "top-down" religious authority.  Baptists do not think exactly alike, and our tradition bears witness to four centuries' worth of faithful witnesses, church tussles, differences over Scriptural interpretation, creative global mission and more than a few potlucks.    

For the readers among the group, I will offer a brief handout with some helpful texts written by Baptist scholars about our history, traditions and practices.  It is by no means an exhaustive list, just a foretaste of the good reading out there for persons interested in the Free Church adventures of a global people.

Historical Overviews:
Goodwin, Everett C.  Down by the Riverside:  A Brief History of Baptist Faith.  (Judson, 2002).
Johnson, Robert E.  A Global Introduction to Baptist Churches.  (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010).
Leonard, Bill.  Baptist Ways: A History. (Judson Press, 2003).
Leonard, Bill.  Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers:  Exploring the Christian Faith.  (Westminster/John Knox, 2009).
McBeth, H. Leon.  The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness.  (Broadman & Holman, 1987).
Randall, Ian.  Communities of Conviction:  Baptist Beginnings in Europe.  (Neufeld Verlag, 2009).

Readers in Baptist historical documents:
Brackney, William H.  Baptist Life and Thought:  A Sourcebook.  (Judson Press, 1998).
Da Silva, Rosalee Velloso, James Wm McClendon and Curtis W. Freeman.  Baptist Roots: A Reader in the Theology of a Christian People.  (Judson Press, 1999).
Lumpkin, William L., revised by Bill J. Leonard.  Baptist Confessions of Faith, 2nd ed. (Judson Press, 2011).

Other Baptist interest titles:
Ellis, Christopher.  Gathering: A Spirituality and Theology of Worship in the Free Church Tradition.  (SCM Press, 2004).
Music, David W. and Paul Akers Richardson.  I Will Sing the Wondrous Story: A History of Baptist Hymnody in North America.  (Mercer University Press, 2011).
Shurden, Walter B.  The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms.  (Smyth & Helwys, 1993).

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