Witnesses to the Baptist Heritage
Thirty Baptists Every Christian Should Know
- ISBN: 9780881465488
- Published By: Mercer University Press
- Published: February 2016
In a day where ahistorical mindsets prevail, this book seeks to help bridge the gap of the contemporary Christians’ deficient knowledge of religious history with the treasures of the past. Michael Williams has edited a book that surveys the great thinkers that forged the largest Protestant denomination in the world, the Baptist church. Williams states that the purpose of the book is “intended to be written so that students, pastors, and laypeople can read them, gain an introduction to an important Baptist, and whet their appetites to learn more” (ii). The book is also “designed to be a companion to Turning Points in Baptist History” (i).
Williams chose certain contributors because of their interests. This approach helps younger scholars demonstrate their knowledge while contributing to the greater field of Baptist historical knowledge. The format allows each contributor’s chapter to be longer than an encyclopedia article, but short enough for the reader to grasp the general information of each chapter’s subject matter. Another criterion for the inclusion of a historic figure was the prominence of the person’s contribution to specific Baptist works. For example, John Smyth was excluded because he was not a Baptist for most of his life. Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. were also excluded as their lives “are well known in both broader context of Christianity” and their “contributions transcend even Christian circles” (iii).
The men and women who are surveyed fall into two categories: (1) they are generally known but not well, or (2) not known at all by the typical Baptist Christian. The first category yields people such as Benjamin Keech, Andrew Fuller, John Leland, Isaac Backus, John Clarke, George W. Truett, Walter Rauschenbusch, E. Y. Mullins, Herschel Hobbs, Shubal Stearns, and Lottie Moon. Some of the gems that fall into the second category above are Thomas Helwys, Ann Dutton, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Thomas Buford Maston, Lott Carey, and Gardner Taylor. These people may be known to the Baptist historian, but unfortunately they have been overlooked in the development of Baptist history even though their contribution to Baptist life was substantial. Williams and the contributors to this volume are to be commended for their work.
Williams seems to be deliberate in another area that he did not comment upon, and that is the issue of race and gender. For too long racial minorities and women who contributed much to Baptist life have been relegated to footnotes. The authors survey four women who made significant contributions not only to Baptist life but contributions to the greater work of Christianity in an ecumenical context. Most Baptists have heard the name Lottie Moon, but most do not know of her extensive work in China. Ann Dutton’s writings were pietistic and nurturing to the reader. Helen Barrett Montgomery’s work among and with women and children, in a day which virtually ignored them, was more than noble: it was Christ-like. Nannie Burroughs gave Baptists the insight and example of raising her voice for gender equality as well as racial equality at a time when societal norms were hostile towards both.
The book also reminds the reader of the great preaching of a minority pastor that history overlooked. Gardner Taylor, a Louisiana native, pastored the famed Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn. During his tenure, nine thousand people joined the already existing six thousand congregants. Taylor’s church was a mega-church long before the word was invented. Another Baptist whose work has been ignored is Lott Carey. His zeal for Africa was unsurpassed, and his impact on missions is still thriving today. E. C. Morris was a trailblazer for racial justice and a Baptist. This book is instrumental in bringing these people to the forefront of Baptist history and work.
History books are often relegated to the interest of the reader, as thye should be. However, the contributions of this book in matters of ethics, social justice, and gender equality is so profound that the book demands tthat he student, pastor, and layperson read it.
Marvin D. Jones is Assistant Professor of Theology & Church History at Louisiana College.Marvin D. JonesDate Of Review:April 27, 2018