Historia ecclesiastica
The Weblog of Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin & friends

Was John Bunyan a Baptist? A Test Case in Historical Method

July 29th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians, Theology

By Nathan A. Finn

In recent weeks, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the life and legacy of John Bunyan (1628–1688). Some readers will know that Bunyan was the famous tinker-turned-pastor who spent most of 1660 to 1672 (and a few months in 1675) imprisoned for preaching illegally during the reign of King Charles II. This was a season when many Dissenting pastors, including Baptists, were fined and often imprisoned for violating the Clarendon Code, a series of laws meant to promote Episcopal uniformity in Britain. Over 2000 Puritan ministers lost their pulpits during the “Great Ejection” of 1662 alone.

No doubt even more readers will know that Bunyan authored the famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), a work that has remained continuously in print, been translated into over 200 languages, and likely outsold every book in the English language besides the King James Bible. Of course, Bunyan also wrote numerous other books and tracts, including his famous spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666) and the allegory The Holy War, which focuses on cosmic spiritual warfare (1682).

What many readers may not know is that scholars have debated whether or not Bunyan was a Baptist or a Congregationalist since at least the late-1800s. There are several reasons for this debate. First, Bunyan’s church in Bedford, which began as a Congregationalist (Independent) meeting, seems to have embraced a dual baptismal practice prior to his pastorate. Second, though there is no evidence the church baptized infants during Bunyan’s pastorate, the church continued an open membership policy that included both credobaptists and pedobaptists. (Bunyan even engaged in a literary debate with William Kiffin, among others, over the relationship between the ordinances and church membership.) Finally, after Bunyan’s death in 1688, the church gravitated toward mainstream Congregationalism and rejected credobaptism as a normative practice.

For these reasons, scholars have tended to fall into three camps when debating Bunyan’s baptism bona fides. First, some scholars argue he was not a Baptist, but rather was a Congregationalist who privately preferred credobaptism to pedobaptism. Second, some scholars argue that Bunyan was an “Independent Baptist,” i.e., a Baptist who practiced open membership. Finally, some scholars punt (ahem) and suggest that Bunyan was “baptistic,” but falls short of being a consistent Baptist.

This makes for a good test case in historical method.  A growing number of scholars argue there was considerable interchange and even intercommunion between various Dissenters prior to 1660. It was not unusual for one to move between Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and even Quaker meetings during his lifetime (besides other lesser-known sects and the Church of England). Among Baptists, even the very terms “General Baptist” and “Particular Baptist” are arguably anachronistic when used prior to the 1640s, because the two groups were different trajectories rather than fully formed denominational traditions.

Furthermore, many scholars of the Independents in particular suggest that there was a great diversity of baptismal views in the tradition prior to the adoption of the Savoy Declaration in 1658. In other words, it was perfectly possible, even acceptable to be an anti-pedobaptist Independent, yet not self-identify as a Baptist (the latter carried considerable cultural baggage due to frequent association with Anabaptism). Other historians have suggested that there was a “dotted line” between many Independents and their Particular Baptist friends.

Finally, there is no doubt that a number of self-identified Baptist congregations, all of which had their roots in Independency, did practice an open membership policy, at least for a season. Examples include Henry Jessey’s congregation in London, the Broadmead Church in Bristol, the Baptist meeting in Oxford, and some Welsh Baptist congregations.

As in so many historical debates that touch upon the nature of Baptist identity, the answer to the question of whether or not Bunyan was a Baptist depends upon whether one is speaking descriptively or prescriptively. From a descriptive standpoint, I find it hard to argue that Bunyan was anything other than a Baptist, at least during his years of formal pastoral ministry. He was an Independent Baptist who practiced open membership and open communion. While this was a minority position, it was not unknown among British Baptists. For the past century, this exact position has been quite common among Baptists in the British Isles and Australasia (and, increasingly, in North America).

This does not mean I agree with Bunyan from a descriptive standpoint—far from it. I reject Bunyan’s contention that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are private ordinances that are not directly related to the church. Scripturally, I see a close connection between the ordinances and the church, leading me to affirm a closed membership that restricts communion to biblically baptized believers. However, for me to hold Bunyan to my prescriptive convictions would be to confuse the work of the historian with the work of the theologian. The same point could be made about nearly all General Baptists and, eventually, Particular Baptists prior to 1641/1642; their baptism by affusion does not measure up to my theological standards, but for historical reasons I consider them to be Baptists.

Historians of Christianity will always be tempted to be theologians. And, of course, one cannot be a very good historian of Christianity if he or she doesn’t understand theology. Nevertheless, the task of the historian is primarily descriptive, whereas the task of the theologian is primarily prescriptive. We would do well to avoid confusing the two, even when we hold very strong theological convictions. As a historian, I have little doubt Bunyan was a Baptist. As a theologian, I have strong disagreements with aspects of Bunyan’s ecclesiology. It’s a matter of description versus prescription, and for the historian, the former ought to win every time.

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Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

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“One Golden Lamp”: The Judson Bible

July 24th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Missions

By Evan D. Burns

I just returned from Myanmar a few days ago where I was teaching an intensive class to MA students (who are mostly pastors).  Because I am researching the spirituality of Adoniram Judson, I took time to travel with a guide to most of the identified Judson sites.  Some are still there and others are covered with buildings.  But the most impressive aspect of the Judson legacy was not the historical/archaeological places to be seen, but it was the superlative place that the Judson Bible still held in the minds and hearts of the Burmese people.  In my quest to discover the heart of Judson’s piety, I have found that the Burmese Bible stands unrivaled as the gold standard for contextualized theological translation theory, and for evangelicals in Myanmar the Bible is their daily food.  They speak of it as though it were just handed to them hot off the printing press for the very first time in their language.  It’s amazing how the Judson Bible translation is still revered today, and even among the Buddhists and secular scholars.  In some ways and to some extent, the Judson Bible has become for Burmese what Tyndale’s Bible was to the English language and what Luther’s Bible was to the German language.

I preached on July 13 in a Baptist church not too far from the jetty where the Judsons first landed 201 years earlier on July 13.  I spoke of the doctrine of justification by faith and the rediscovery of the Word of God during the Reformation.  Luther’s rediscovery of the centrality of the Scriptures became the ground in which the modern missionary movement grew and the ground upon which Judson and evangelical Bible translators have stood.  Judson himself said it well:

Modern missions have been distinguished from the Roman Catholic, and, indeed, from all former missions since apostolic times, by honoring and sounding out the Word of God; and I do believe that those missions which give the highest place to the Divine Word will be most owned of God, and blessed with the influence of the Holy Spirit.  There is only one book in the world which has descended from heaven; or, as I tell the Burmans, there is only one golden lamp which God has suspended from heaven to guide us thither.[1]


[1]Middleditch, Burmah’s Great, 318-319;  Wayland, Memoir, 2:126-127.  For a very similar statement, consider Judson’s address at the ninth annual meeting of the American and Foreign Bible Society, held May 15, 1846; see:  Middleditch, Burmah’s Great, 388-391; Wayland, Memoir, 2:235-238.  

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

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Caleb Evans refutes Antinomianism

July 21st, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Pastoral Ministry, Theology

By Michael A.G. Haykin

A month or so before the seizure of the Bastille in 1789, an association of English Particular Baptist churches in the West Country met, as was their annual wont, for two days of worship and fellowship. This annual meeting on this occasion—June 3–4, 1789—took place at Horsley, Gloucs., where the redoubtable Benjamin Francis was the pastor. On such occasions as these, a circular letter would be drawn up by one of the pastors; then, when approved by the association messengers, it would be sent out to the churches. On this particular occasion Caleb Evans, the Principal of Bristol Baptist Academy, was asked to write the letter.

Among other comments in the letter, which was aimed at refuting especially Antinomianism, although Socinianism was also targeted, was Evans’ critique of what he called a “poisonous doctrine”: “That as God’s love to his people is from everlasting, it must have existed when they were sunk in sin and sensuality, in as high a degree, and in the same manner, as it will be when they are brought to glory” (The Elders, Ministers, and Messengers of the Several Baptist Churches [Circular Letter, Western Association, 1789], 8). Evans called this perspective—usually associated in that era with hyper-Calvinism—an “ignorant, shocking doctrine” and proceeded to refute it. Little did he know the firestorm his remarks would create.

Within the year, one of his fellow pastors in the Western Association, the minister of Chard, Samuel Rowles, attacked Evans in his Thoughts on the Love of God, which led to a reply from Evans and then a surrejoinder by Rowles. And to make things even more difficult the London minister William Huntington also entered the lists against Evans.

Reading over Evans’ circular letter just recently, it struck me that although Andrew Fuller is remembered as the great theologian of this era—David Bebbington once referred to him as a theologian of the caliber of Athanasius—he was surrounded by many capable men: such a man was Caleb Evans.

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

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“Silently Blessed”

July 17th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Church History, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes

By Evan D. Burns

While Judson was in prison for 21 months, Ann Judson cared for Adoniram Judson, and concurrently their daughter, little Maria, was ill.  The gravity of this tribulation nearly pushed the Judson family to the breaking point.  Recording the Judsons’ submission to the sovereignty of God, Ann wrote:

Our dear little Maria was the greatest sufferer at this time, my illness depriving her of her usual nourishment, and neither a nurse nor a drop of milk could be procured in the village.  By making presents to the jailers, I obtained leave for Mr. Judson to come out of prison, and take the emaciated creature around the village, to beg a little nourishment from those mothers who had young children. Her cries in the night were heart-rending, when it was impossible to supply her wants.  I now began to think the very afflictions of Job had come upon me.  When in health, I could bear the various trials and vicissitudes through which I was called to pass. But to be confined with sickness, and unable to assist those who were so dear to me, when in distress, was almost too much for me to bear; and had it not been for the consolations of religion, and an assured conviction that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I must have sunk under my accumulated sufferings.[1]

After being imprisoned under torture and horrid conditions for 21 months, Judson wrote to Dr. Bolles about his sufferings with the perspective that God works all things together for the good of his people.

[My sufferings], it would seem, have been unavailing to answer any valuable missionary purpose, unless so far as they may have been silently blessed to our spiritual improvement and capacity for future usefulness.[2]


[1]Wayland, Memoir, 1:361.

[2]Middleditch, Burmah’s Great, 209.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

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Dr. Haykin’s Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach Available in Romanian

July 11th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Church History

By Steve Weaver

Cover

While in London recently to speak on Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Dr. Tom Nettles discovered copies of Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin’s Kiffin, Knollys, Keach: Rediscovering English Baptist Heritage (available here from the Tabernacle Bookshop). However, these books were in Romanian! This book has been long out of print in English and is scarcely available in North America. It is good, however, to see that this book continues to have usefulness in other contexts.

ToCNota bene: Much of the material from this book will be incorporated into a forthcoming Baptist history textbook co-authored with Anthony Chute and Nathan Finn.

Bibliographic details: Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn and Michael Haykin. The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Faith (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, Forthcoming, August 2015).

 

Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 3 and 15.

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“All is Alike Inspired”

July 10th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Books, Church History, Eminent Christians, Theology

By Evan D. Burns

Seeking to counter those who say the Bible is not inspired because of the varieties of its style and authorship, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) employed metaphors and analogies that are very helpful for understanding the continuity of Scripture and its overall sufficient inspiration:

It proves nothing against inspiration, as some have asserted, that the writers of the Bible have each a different style. Isaiah does not write like Jeremiah, and Paul does not write like John. This is perfectly true— and yet the works of these men are not a whit less equally inspired. The waters of the sea have many different shades. In one place they look blue, and in another green. And yet the difference is owing to the depth or shallowness of the part we see, or to the nature of the bottom.  The water in every case is the same salt sea. The breath of a man may produce different sounds, according to the character of the instrument on which he plays. The flute, the pipe, and the trumpet, have each their peculiar note. And yet the breath that calls forth the notes, is in each case one and the same. The light of the planets we see in the skies is very various. Mars, and Saturn, and Jupiter, have each a peculiar color. And yet we know that the light of the sun, which each planet reflects, is in each case one and the same. Just in the same way the books of the Old and New Testaments are all inspired truth— and yet the aspect of that truth varies according to the mind through which the Holy Spirit makes it flow. The handwriting and style of the writers differ enough to prove that each had a distinct individual being; but the Divine Guide who dictates and directs the whole, is always one. All is alike inspired. Every chapter, and verse, and word— is from God.[1]


[1]J.C. Ryle, Bible Reading.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

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A Digest of Scripture

July 3rd, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians, Missions

By Evan D. Burns

Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) wrote a handful of tracts for his evangelism/discipleship ministry, one of which was a tract called A Digest of Scripture.[1]  It is written like a primer on basic theology for young believers.  Judson outlines some unique aspects of evangelical doctrine and for living the Christian life.  His chapter titles below demonstrate what he saw as the dominant doctrines taught by Scripture and those doctrines in which faithful believers should abide:

  1.  Introduction: Scripture and Wisdom
  2. The Being and Attributes of God
  3. The Trinity
  4. The State of Man
  5. The Lord Jesus Christ
  6. Salvation Bestowed
  7. Salvation Accepted
  8. The Evidences of Faith
  9. The Benefits of Faith
  10. Duty to God
  11. Duty to Men
  12. Duty to One’s Self
  13. Prayer
  14. The Church
  15. The Extension of the Gospel
  16. The Afflictions of Believers
  17. Death
  18. A Future State
  19. The Resurrection
  20. The Last Judgment
  21. The Retribution of Eternity: Hell, Heaven

[1]Adoniram Judson, A Digest of Scripture: Consisting of Extracts from the Old and New Testaments (Maulmain: American Baptist Mission Press, 1840).

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

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Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism: A Brief Review

July 2nd, 2014 Posted in 16th Century, 17th Century, 18th Century, Books, Church History, Historians, Reformation

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

Many historians and theologians have described Scholasticism as dry, stodgy, and mechanical. Although Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism has not necessarily convinced me that the Scholastic literature is more exciting than reading Augustine or Jonathan Edwards, it has shown me that understanding Scholasticism is worth my time. Written by Dutch scholar Willem J. van Asselt with three other contributors, the work was translated into English from its original publication, Inleidung in de Gereformeerde Scholastiek.

The authors challenge the historiographical scheme that pits Calvin versus his Scholastic heirs. Following Richard Muller, they counter that Calvin was not the sole shaper of the Reformed tradition and thus should not represent the standard by which the rest are judged. Secondly, they argue that Scholasticism refers to a method rather than a doctrinal system. Theologians from a variety of traditions—including Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Arminian—all employed the Scholastic method but adhered to different doctrinal content. Thus, the authors define their study by narrowing it to Reformed theologians who employed the Scholastic method.

In the first half of the book, the authors provide a brief history of nineteenth and twentieth-century scholarship on Scholasticism, arguing that many have erred by either reducing the tradition to a Centraldogma or dismissing it as rationalism. They then examine the impact of the Aristotelian tradition on their method and the Augustinian tradition on their content. In chapters five through seven, they explain how Scholasticism operated in Medieval and Renaissance universities, outline the scholastic method and style of argumentation, and they define much of the difficult jargon like quaestio, disputatio, and fontes solutionum.

The second part of the book describes the eras of Reformed Scholasticism. Van Asselt follows Richard Muller’s classification of early (1560–1620), high (1620–1700), and late (1700–1790) orthodoxy, showing how Reformed Scholasticism developed from confessionalization and codification in the early stage to a sophisticated academic system with active debates and diverse schools of thought by the high and late stages. He highlights characteristics of each era, the positions represented in the leading universities and regions, and a theologian who is representative the period. The appendix offers a helpful study guide on how to access and navigate the primary source material of the Scholastics.

The work is accessible and comprehensive. I found the chapter on late orthodoxy especially useful in guiding one through the Reformed reaction to the Enlightenment. The work even addresses the role of Baptist theologians—like John Gill (1697–1771) and Andrew Fuller (1754–1815)—and their use of Reformed Scholastic categories in the debates during the period of late orthodoxy. Becoming familiar with Scholasticism is vital for understanding medieval theology, the Reformation, and the Puritans, and I highly recommend Van Asselt’s work as an introduction to the subject.

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Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are the parents of one child.

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“Have Mercy Upon Me”

June 26th, 2014 Posted in 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Biblical Spirituality, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes

By Evan D. Burns

In the Burmese catechism she wrote, Ann H. Judson (1789-1826) included her version of “The Sinner’s Prayer.”  It seems a bit different than the typical sinner’s prayer practiced today.  A few simple observations can be made about it:  it is rich with humility and God-centeredness, and it is Trinitarian.

O God our Father, I confess that I have committed many sins against you.
Because of these things, O Father, I deserve to be disowned and sent to suffer in hell, but instead Jesus died for me.
I want to depend on him.  So please have mercy upon me and give me a pure mind and clean heart.  Please forgive me for whatever sins I have done.
Please return me to the right way to be your disciple and help me keep your Word.
Please send down your Holy Spirit upon me, have mercy upon me, care for me and save me from hell after I die.  Take me to the peaceful City of Heaven, O God our Father.
Amen.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

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Remembering Matthew Henry

June 22nd, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Church History, Eminent Christians, Puritans

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Matthew Henry (1662-1714), who died June 22 exactly three hundred years ago, is rightly remembered as a leading figure among early eighteenth-century Dissent. His devotional commentary on the entire Bible, the Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, was the first such work in English and is a prism of late Puritan piety. If one wishes to get a good feel for the thinking of late seventeenth-century Puritanism read Henry on the Bible. By the early Victorian period this work had gone through some 25 editions and is still in use today. It is well known that George Whitefield, the  tercentennial of whose birth will be celebrated later this year, used this exposition widely in his ministry and prayer life. Henry ‘s twenty-five year ministry in Chester bore other fruit as well: a sterling witness in a degenerate age, the edification of God’s people under his charge  and about 30 other publications that ministered to the church at large both in his day and subsequent ages. A conference on his ministry and thought will be held July 14-16 this year at the University of Chester, England. Dr Ligon Duncan is to be one of the speakers.

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

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