Dan Taylor (1738-1816)

Baptist Leader and Pioneering Evangelical

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Richard T. Pollard
Monographs in Baptist History
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , July
     2018.
     348 pages.
     $40.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532636196.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

It is fair to say that serious issues plagued England’s 18th century Baptists. The Particular Baptists quarreled over the extent of God’s sovereignty and antinomianism, while the General Baptists struggled with issues such as Christ’s deity and nuances of the atonement. So, when students of Baptist history think of Dan Taylor, they tend to see him as little more than the “Father of New Connexionalism,” without grasping his real significance. This is because Taylor has been virtually ignored by Baptist historians—until now. Richard T. Pollard’s Dan Taylor (1738-1816), Baptist Leader and Pioneering Evangelical shines much welcome light on an understudied, albeit highly important, shaper of Baptist thought.

As Pollard’s title hints, Dan Taylor defies easy description. He was reared as an Anglican but was intrigued by revivalistic preaching and professed conversion in 1761. He became a Methodist for a brief period, and even though Pollard describes him as a “Baptist Wesley,” Taylor ultimately left Methodism to become a General Baptist in 1763. He grew frustrated at what he perceived as spiritual laxness among General Baptists and in 1770 formed the “New Connexion,” which emphasized evangelistic zeal. Throughout his life, Taylor proved to be a most effective minister.

Pollard divides his inquiry along seven distinct lines as indicated in his chapter headings. Those familiar with Andrew Fuller’s work might be tempted to skip ahead to chapter four, “Enlightened Critic,” where Pollard details the interaction between Taylor and Fuller. As one of England’s leading theologians, Fuller penned “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation” (1784). Taylor took exception to certain elements of Fuller’s thought, especially the universal offer of redemption in Christ and divine election. Is it possible to offer universal salvation without a universal provision of some sort? Without saying too much, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book!

Pollard relies on a rich store of primary material, including Taylor’s numerous works and his nephew Adam Taylor’s Memoirs of the Rev. Dan Taylor (1820). The author admits this work is a “lightly revised” version of his doctoral dissertation, and it shows in his thorough interaction with the secondary literature. While Taylor may be understudied, there are dozens of works on 18th century British religion. Casual readers should not feel intimidated, however, due to the skillful way Pollard weaves more specialized discussions into his overall narrative. In fact, those discussions are crucial for mapping the contours of evangelicalism, and placing Taylor in a proper context. In so doing, he affirms David W. Bebbington’s famous quadrilateral: biblicism, crucicentricism, conversionism, and activism. He also claims that Bebbington is correct to argue that 18th century evangelicalism was something new. Moreover, Pollard claims that Taylor used its newness to full advantage.

By any measure, Dan Taylor was a unique man. He demonstrated a willingness to engage those with whom he disagreed, but always in a spirit of humility and fraternity. He was not a Calvinist, but he did not agree with every tenet of Arminianism. He had a limited education, yet he grasped the most sophisticated works of his day and he wanted others to comprehend them in common, every-day language. Revered among General Baptist of the New Connexion, Taylor could have used his personal gravitas as a means to power, but he chose to lead by example, and not as an authoritarian. He believed that the bible was a plainly-written book for ordinary people and he wanted to preach it with both clarity and charity. In Pollard’s assessment, “Taylor emphasized the experimental over the cerebral, pragmatism over the metaphysical, reason and observation over abstraction, succinctness over verbosity, innovation over inertia, tolerance over dogmatism, and liberty over rigid doctrine” (309). 

There is much to commend in this book. Dan Taylor (1738-1816), Baptist Leader and Pioneering Evangelical is the ninth volume in Pickwick Publications’s series, “Monographs in Baptist History.” Pollard writes well and his research is thorough. Even more, this book fills a gap in Baptist historiography that had has been neglected far too long. If this book has a weakness, it is Pollard’s failure to provide readers with an index; a book of this caliber really should have an index. This is a minor criticism, however, and does not detract from an otherwise fine job of historical detective work and analysis on Pollard’s behalf. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Keith Harper is Senior Professor of Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

Date of Review: 
April 25, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Richard T. Pollard is Minister and Team Leader of Fishponds Baptist Church, Bristol, England.

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