Crossing Baptist Boundaries

A Festschrift in Honor of William Henry Brackney

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Editor(s): 
Erich Geldbach
  • Macon, GA: 
    Mercer University Press
    , October
     2019.
     304 pages.
     $45.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780881466942.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In the introduction to Crossing Baptist Boundaries: A Festschrift in Honor of William Henry Brackney, noted Baptist historian Walter Shurden asserts that William Brackney “knows more about the history of the Baptists . . . than any person in the world” (3). While this claim could stimulate a lively debate amongst a group of Baptist historians, there is no doubt that Brackney has been (and continues to be) a prolific scholar of Baptist history and theology. In his honor, sixteen scholars from across the western world have contributed to this collection.

While there is no introductory chapter explaining the organization of or relationship among the book’s chapters, they are divided into sections on human rights, dogmatics, Baptist studies, and historical studies, demonstrating the breadth of Brackney’s own scholarship as well as that of his colleagues. Contributors include Baptists across the theological spectrum, from conservatives Stan Fowler and Chris Chun to the more liberal Erich Geldbach, who also served as editor of the volume. Topics are also wide-ranging, from Baptist poverty initiatives to a baptismal sermon, for example. Scholars and students of multiple fields will find parts of the book helpful. Especially noteworthy are contributions by Paul Fiddes and Geldbach.

Fiddes argues that the combination of divine rule, natural rights, and respect for conscience work together to form a Baptist foundation for religious liberty. This in itself provides a significant contribution to scholarship, including an analysis of when Baptists have and have not appropriately balanced these principles and thus have or have not advocated for religious liberty for all. But Fiddes goes farther in his constructive task, arguing that this Baptist formulation of religious liberty provides common ground with dialogue partners such as Muslims. Here, he provides an important foundation for scholars and practitioners on a topic about which Brackney cares deeply.

Geldbach provides what might be the most controversial chapter in the volume, arguing that today’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is not a truly Baptist body but a “Southern fundamentalist culture religion” (211). He critiques the denomination, which grew increasingly conservative as a result of controversies beginning in the late 1970s. Geldbach contends that the present-day SBC is creedal and thus not truly Baptist. (Traditionally, Baptists have affirmed confessions but not creeds.) He compares the SBC’s 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement with what he deems “historic Baptist distinctives” and “with the Bible itself” (181). Disparaging Southern Baptist practices such as baptizing preschoolers, banning women from pastoral roles, and urging Republican political involvement, Geldbach asserts that the SBC does not adequately follow either scripture or Baptist tradition. However, some readers will find this dismissal of the SBC unconvincing. Is it in keeping with Baptist polity to tell the world’s largest Baptist denomination that it is no longer Baptist?

Many other fascinating and sometimes controversial articles fill this volume, although with no single unifying theme. This is more a testament to the wide-ranging scope of Brackney’s interests and scholarly relationships than a fault on the part of the editor. In fact, the volume is well edited, with only a rare typographic error (see the header in Geldbach’s chapter). Largely missing from the book are the voices of or scholarship about Baptist women and Baptists of color, but these groups have also not been the primary focus of Brackney’s research. Author Roger Prentice speaks for others when he refers to “the unwitting inspiration given to us by Dr. William H. Brackney” (179, footnote 109). Readers of this volume will doubtless also be inspired by those whom Brackney helped motivate to the scholarship within it.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Melody Maxwell is associate professor of church history at Acadia Divinity College.

Date of Review: 
May 4, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Erich Geldbach is retired professor of Ecumenical Studies, Protestant Faculty of Theology at Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany.

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