Different and Distinctive, but Nevertheless Baptist
A History of Northminster Baptist Church, 1967-2017
- ISBN: 9780881466805
- Published By: Mercer University Press
- Published: October 2018
Many studies of the Baptist denomination explore the theologians, prominent pastors, and other denominational leaders to discern their influence on the direction of the tradition. Too frequently, these studies neglect the local congregation. Thankfully, in recent years, several Baptist historians have considered local congregational history and have published some of these histories of prominent Baptist congregations. With Different and Distinctive, but Nevertheless Baptist, father and son, C. Douglas Weaver and Aaron Weaver, have provided a very fine contribution to that growing body of historical analysis that examines a part of the Baptist story from the bottom up rather than from the top down.
For fifty years, Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, has been a leading voice among the moderate/progressive wing of Baptist life in the South. The church is a predominantly white, upper middle-class group of Baptist believers that has been at the forefront seeking social justice and working to alleviate poverty in its community since its origin in 1967. Of particular note is the church’s Wider Net ministry that began in 2001 as an intentional promise to expend resources on community needs at a time when the church also needed to make renovations to its campus facilities. In its vision of the Wider Net ministry, the congregation determined that if it was going to fund renovations, it should also commit the same level of resources to serving the needs of its community outside of its own walls. Weaver and Weaver show throughout the book that Northminster’s obligation to missions, locally and internationally is the lifeblood of the church’s story for its half-century of existence.
Beginning with an introductory chapter describing the church’s amicable break with the First Baptist Church of Jackson to become a mission congregation, Weaver and Weaver unfold the story of Northminster largely through the tenures of its six pastors: Dudley Wilson, John Claypool, John Thomason, Roger Paynter, and Chuck Poole. Each of the church’s pastors have been important and influential leaders in Baptist life. The reader may find particular interest in chapter 3 recounting the years from 1976–1981 and the tenure of John Claypool. Leaving Broadway Baptist Church, one of the most prominent congregations in the city of Fort Worth, Texas, to come to Northminster in its nascent years was a notable commitment on Claypool’s part. By that time, Claypool was one of the most popular preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention with a reputation that was beginning to grow nationally.
Just two years after becoming the pastor at Northminster, Yale Divinity School invited Claypool to deliver the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching. Claypool left a significant legacy at Northminster even though he only remained the church’s pastor for five years. He eventually left Baptist life to spend the rest of his ministry as an ordained priest in the Episcopal tradition.
Much of the book recounts the kinds of things that local Baptist congregations routinely encounter, such as constructing a new building, developing congregational policies, and searching for new pastors and staff. Weaver and Weaver are competent professional historians, however, and as such, they do not neglect the historical context of the church’s story. They skillfully weave into their story how local, national, and denominational events affected the congregation.
For example, in the first chapter of the book, the authors consider the congregation’s founding in 1967 within the context of the Civil Rights Movement. By the time Northminster was established, the pastor of its mother church, First Baptist Church Jackson, was Dr. Douglas Hudgins. Hudgins had been the senior pastor of the mother congregation since 1946 and became a famous opponent of integration, refusing even to preach about the immorality of violence against civil rights leaders and Jewish citizens in the city. Historians have criticized Hudgins for his willful neglect the era’s most significant issue. Weaver and Weaver explain that the new congregation “was certainly not formed because of civil rights—some church members opposed the massive changes of the 1960s—but openness in Northminster’s original DNA pointed in the direction of open dialogue rather than exclusion” (7). It is also significant, as the authors point out, that Northminster chose to partner with Beth Israel, a Jewish synagogue in the city, which provided the young congregation its first worship location. Fifty years later, the church and synagogue remain close partners in ministry.
This book represents local congregational historiography at its best. The authors and Mercer University Press are commended for their excellent work on this book. The book contains ten chapters with an epilogue. Additionally, there are helpful appendices such as a list of charter members, deacons, standing committees, the church covenant, pastoral benedictions from each of the church’s pastors, and other matters related to the church’s Golden Anniversary. While its target audience is clearly the members of Northminster Baptist Church, historians of Baptist and American religious history will also find the book helpful and insightful.
Glenn Jonas is the Charles Howard Professor of Religion at Campbell University.W. Glenn JonasDate Of Review:June 30, 2020