Sources of Light
Resources for Baptist Churches Practicing Theology
- ISBN: 9780881467710
- Published By: Mercer University Press
- Published: May 2020
Sources of Light: Resources for Baptist Churches Practicing Theology is an accessible collection of essays edited by Amy L. Chilton and Steve R. Harmon in the Perspectives on Baptist Identities Series of Mercer University Press. The editors assemble twenty-three Baptist theologians and scholars of religion from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise to demonstrate how local Baptist communities may draw from the ecumenical Christian church’s resources in their congregational practice “of discerning what it means to bring their life together under the rule of Christ in their own contexts” (3). The editors contend that the Baptist principle of congregational freedom enables local Baptist congregations to adopt exactly this kind of wide-ranging and inclusive approach. The editors selected “sources of light” as a central metaphor to point out that the whole church’s resources are indicative of the Holy Spirit’s illuminating work to assist the church it its mission to offer a fractured world the gift of communion with the triune God (5). In so doing, the edited volume aims to be a helpful resource for Baptist ministers, seminarians, and theological educators.
The editors separate the volume into two parts. The first part, titled “Life from Our Life-in-Context,” includes thirteen essays that seek to demonstrate that local Baptist churches may be formed by the faithful witnesses of others across the worldwide Christian community. In another way, these essays argue that local Baptist churches can learn from theological voices that have been shaped by their contexts and are often marginalized from mainstream theological discourse. Chapters highlight contributions from Latin American liberation, Black, womanist, (white) feminist, Hispanic/Latin@, LGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, disability, and Asian theologians. It also includes a remarkable chapter written by Mikael N. Broadway that introduces some readers to the critical awakening of many to the construct of whiteness and its regulatory power—not only in the formation of the modern world, but also within Christian faith and practice. In chapter 6, Broadway criticizes the universalizing, normative pretensions of whiteness, and thus its inclusion among these essays dispels the notion that contextual theologies are only done by those who are other than cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied white men. Moreover, this section features two chapters written by Raimundo C. Barreto Jr. (chapter 13) and Rebecca Horner Shenton (chapter 14) that encourage local Baptist congregations’ theological engagement with the wider interreligious and ecological movements of the Christian church respectively.
Part 2, titled “Life from Our Life-in-Community,” features eleven essays that argue for the exploration of illuminating sources, past and present, found in the various expressions of the worldwide church. For instance, in chapter 15, Curtis W. Freeman argues for the retrieval of the church’s ancient creeds and confessions as sources for local Baptist congregational reflection. Baptists have historically expressed a deep reservation towards the creeds and confessions of Christian communions which historically precede them, in large part because some of these churches have used these creeds as instruments of coercion (173). Nevertheless, this essay argues that when freely appropriated, Baptists exercise their freedom of conscience to use other creeds and confessions in their efforts to shape their lives together under the rule of Christ,, which connects Baptist Christians with the faith of the ecumenical church.
Other chapters in Part 2 explore additional sources, including the contributions of women who lived prior to the Reformation, Reformational confessional statements (e.g., the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism), past and present-day Baptist confessions of faith, and, remarkably, Catholic magisterial documents such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the documents produced from the Second Vatican Council. The remaining chapters seek to encourage local Baptist congregations to draw from sources that assist them with several other tasks, including navigating moral disagreement (chapter 20), cultivating what many Christians consider to be the “saintly” life (chapter 21), and drawing inspiration from both traditional and contemporary liturgical sources that shape the life of the worshipping community (chapters 22 and 23 respectively). Harmon rounds out Part 2 with his call for local Baptist congregations to draw upon voices that foster unity within the worldwide Christian community. The editors conclude the volume with an essay which arguably sums up the aim of the book, namely, to argue that local Baptist communities must practice “converted listening,” the exercise of listening to voices across diverse contexts under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Thereby, no one group of voices will be excluded as a source for the local church’s theological deliberations.
Sources of Light advances an ambitious project. The volume aims to prompt Baptist pastors, seminary students, theological educators, and, ultimately, congregations to recognize that one of the most distinctive and cherished features of Baptist thought—congregational freedom—enables them to engage a wide array of sources for the task of theology. In so doing, the edited volume seeks to demonstrate that Baptist theological reflection is a communal conversation rather than the individualistic endeavor of the pious or the exclusive practice of trained academics. Moreover, the edited volume is ambitious in the sense that it encourages engagement with those who have been historically marginalized from shaping the theologies of many Baptist churches, namely, racial, gender, ethnic, and sexual minorities. Additionally, it seeks to de-center whiteness as the normative lens for theological reflection. However, Baptist confessions of faith, along with documents from the European Reformation era and the Catholic Church, remain viable sources. The inclusion of all these sources may prove challenging for some Baptists who find themselves on the conservative wing of the movement. For others, the number and diversity of theological resources may prove overwhelming. Nevertheless, instructors who teach upper-level undergraduate and/or seminary courses in Baptist theology, history, and practice will find Sources of Light to be a valuable collection of diverse contemporary perspectives in Baptist thought.
Jason Oliver Evans is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia.Jason Oliver EvansDate Of Review:April 17, 2022