‘Historians’ Category

On “Presentism” in Historical Research

December 9th, 2014 Posted in Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Historians

By Nathan A. Finn

In 2014, I have been blessed to finish a couple of major writing projects. I wrote a book titled History: A Student’s Guide, which will be part of Crossway’s Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series (Crossway, forthcoming January 2016). In that book, I address the topic of “presentism,” which I define as any attempt to read present assumptions back into the past. Presentism is a perennial struggle for the historian; after all, our own context invariably affects how we study past contexts. The most famous work on presentism is Herbert Butterfield’s oft-cited classic The Whig Interpretation of History (1931). In fact, among historians, “whiggish” is a common adjectival synonym for presentism.

I also co-authored a Baptist history textbook with Michael Haykin and Tony Chute titled The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (B&H Academic, forthcoming July 2015). As a historian whose primary expertise is modern history, I wrote four chapters that cover Baptist life since the turn of the twentieth century (as well as a fifth, more prescriptive chapter on Baptist identity). It was at times difficult to write about recent history—especially topics such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Inerrancy Controversy in the SBC—without resorting to presentism. Nevertheless, I tried as hard as I could; the past must be understood as more than mere prologue to the preferred present of the historian.

Recently, I read Philip Sheldrake’s Spirituality & History: Questions of Interpretation and Method (Orbis, 1995), which is an important work that discusses how historians should think about the history of Christian spirituality. Sheldrake offers a great treatment on the threat of presentism that is relevant to the study of Christian history in general and not just spirituality in particular.

The misgivings by some historians concerning the unbalanced effect of present-day issues on our historical perspective (or what is called ‘presentism’) really means that our interpretations must first of all seek to do full justice to the personalities or spiritual cultures of other ages. We must not be excessively influenced by what we find unattractive or peculiar from a contemporary perspective – and there is plenty of such material in the history of spirituality. ‘Presentism’ essentially collapses the past into the present. This has two aspects. Negatively, it will blame the past for not being the present. Augustine’s attitudes in all respects are culturally conditioned and cannot be adopted uncritically in the present. However, that is different from accusing him of the moral fault of being, for example, a male chauvinist (implicitly, he should have known better). Secondly, positively, it will turn some past traditions, uncritically and anachronistically, into images of the present (for example, the Beguines become a ‘feminist’ movement or popular religious poverty movements in the twelfth century become examples of ‘class struggle’) or it will adopt certain people as heroes and honorary members of another century and its concerns (for example, Thomas More was a martyr for an ultramontane understanding of the Church or Meister Eckhart wrote ‘creation-centred spirituality’). No historian can present the absolute truth and so we must settle for offering, as honestly as possible, what we believe to be near to the truth as we can reach, after detailed and rigorous research and reflection (p. 109).

Any good historian strives to avoid presentism; in fact, this is a key difference between professional historians and activists who use the past as an apologetic for their present preferences (think David Barton on the Right or Howard Zinn on the Left). Rejecting presentism is a matter of historical integrity. But as a Christian historian, I want to go a step further and argue that the primary reason I need to avoid presentism in my historical interpretations is because I need to show neighbor-love to those who lived in other times and contexts. They deserve to be understood with the same degree of empathy and nuance than I would want to be understood by others. The most loving thing I can do is interpret the past on its own terms—even when I wish those terms were different.

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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.

Audio for “George Whitefield and the Great Awakening” Conference at West Toronto Baptist Church

November 21st, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Church History, Conferences, Eminent Christians, Historians, Revivals

By Ian Hugh Clary
Galotti Haykin Clary

Photo: Pastor Justin Galotti, Michael Haykin, and Ian Clary (Photo credit: Elisha Galotti)

On November 15, 2014, West Toronto Baptist Church was happy to join in on international Whitefield celebrations. This year marks the tercentenary of Whitefield’s birth, and it was the church’s privilege to co-host a conference with the Andrew Fuller Center over the course of a Saturday morning. Michael Haykin was the special speaker, while I preached a sermon by the Grand Itinerant on Sunday morning.

Below you can find Dr. Haykin’s two lectures and the sermon I preached.

Lecture 1 – Background to the Great Awakening (Michael Haykin)

Lecture 2 – George Whitefield’s Life (Michael Haykin)

Sermon – “The Marks of True Conversion: Matthew 18:3” (Ian Clary)

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Ian Hugh Clary is finishing doctoral studies under Adriaan Neele at Universiteit van die Vrystaat (Blomfontein), where he is writing a dissertation on the evangelical historiography of Arnold Dallimore. He has co-authored two local church histories with Michael Haykin and contributed articles to numerous scholarly journals. Ian lives in Toronto with his wife and two children.

George Whitefield Tercentenary Celebration in Toronto this Weekend

November 13th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Church History, Conferences, Eminent Christians, Historians, Revivals, Theology

By Steve Weaver

Whitefield and the Great Awakening copy

West Toronto Baptist Church celebrates the life and work of the eighteenth century evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770). Join us on November 15, 2014, as we learn from Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who will deliver two lectures on Whitefield and the Great Awakening. The conference is free of charge and will include a book table hosted by Crux Books.

Itinerary

Registration will begin on Saturday at 9:00am and Dr. Haykin will give his first lecture at 9:30. There will be a coffee break at 10:30am, and the second lecture will commence at 11:00am. At 12:00pm there will be a half an hour Q & A.

Also, please join us Sunday at 10:45am for Lord’s Day worship where Ian Clary will deliver a sermon based on Whitefield’s sermon on the “new birth.”

Location

West Toronto Baptist Church – 3049 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON.

Originally posted at http://wtbaptist.com/whitefield/

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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. You can read more from Steve at his personal website: Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian.

Video and Audio of ‘Whitefield and the Great Awakening’ Conference

November 7th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Church History, Conferences, Eminent Christians, Historians, Hymnody, Revivals, Theology

By Steve Weaver

The complete audio and video from our recent conference on George Whitefield and the Great Awakening are now online.  The conference was held on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on October 21-22, 2014. Video and audio of all eight plenary sessions are below. Audio only of the thirteen parallel sessions. Audio links are to downloadable MP3 files.

Plenary Sessions

Session 1 – “The Calvinism of George Whitefield” by Thomas Kidd (Audio)

Session 2 - “George Whitefield: The Anglican Evangelist” by Lee Gattis (Audio)

Session 3 – “George Whitefield and the Wesleys” by Stephen Nichols (Audio)

Session 4 – “Preaching George Whitefield” by Steve Lawson (Audio)

Session 5 – “The Spirituality of George Whitefield” by Bruce Hindmarsh (Audio)

Session 6 – “George Whitefield: The Accidental Revolutionary” by Jerome Mahaffey (Audio)

Session 7 – “The Legacy of George Whitefield” by David Bebbington (Audio)

Session 8 – “The Hymnody of the Great Awakening” by Esther Crookshank (Audio)

Parallel Sessions

“American Friends of Whitefield: Samuel Davies” by Joe Harrod (Audio)

“American Friends of Whitefield: Jonathan Edwards” by Owen Strachan (Audio)

“American Friends of Whitefield: Oliver Hart” by Eric Smith (Audio)

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“Biographers of Whitefield: Arnold Dallimore” by Ian Clary (Audio)

“Biographers of Whitefield: J. C. Ryle” by Ben Rogers (Audio)

“Biographers of Whitefield: Cornelius Winter” by Blair Waddell (Audio)

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“English Friends of Whitefield: John Cennick” by Tom Schwanda (Audio)

“English Friends of Whitefield: Matthew Henry” by Roger Duke (Audio)

“English Friends of Whitefield: John Newton” by Grant Gordon (Audio)

“English Friends of Whitefield: Robert Robinson” by Michael Haykin and Jared Skinner (Audio)

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“Women in Whitefield’s Life: Selina Hastings” by Priscilla Chan (Audio)

“Women in Whitefield’s Life: Phillis Wheatley” by Dustin Benge (Audio)

“Women in Whitefield’s Life: Elizabeth Whitefield” by Digby James (Audio)

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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. You can read more from Steve at his personal website: Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian.

 

Whitefield’s “Joy Unspeakable”

October 9th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Church History, Conferences, Eminent Christians, Historians, Revivals

By Evan D. Burns

While studying at Oxford, George Whitefield (1714-1770) participated in the Holy Club alongside John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother, Charles (1707-1788). He employed strict rules of discipline for the sake of attaining holiness. After leaving Oxford for a time, he read a book by Henry Scougal (1650-1678), called The Life of God in the Soul of Man. Whitefield was consequently born again. In a sermon in 1769, he testified of his new birth:

I must bear testimony to my old friend Mr. Charles Wesley, he put a book into my hands, called, The Life of God and the Soul of Man, whereby God showed me, that I must be born again, or be damned. I know the place: it may be superstitious, perhaps, but whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help running to that place where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me, and gave me the new birth. [Henry Scougal] says, a man may go to church, say his prayers, receive the sacrament, and yet, my brethren, not be a Christian. How did my heart rise, how did my heart shutter, like a poor man that is afraid to look into his account-books, lest he should find himself a bankrupt: yet shall I burn that book, shall I throw it down, shall I put it by, or shall I search into it? I did, and, holding the book in my hand, thus addressed the God of heaven and earth: Lord, if I am not a Christian, if I am not a real one, for Jesus Christ’s sake, show me what Christianity is, that I may not be damned at last. I read a little further, and the cheat was discovered; oh, says the author, they that know anything of religion know it is a vital union with the son of God, Christ formed in the heart; oh what a way of divine life did break in upon my poor soul. . . .  Oh! With what joy—Joy unspeakable—even joy that was full of, and big with glory, was my soul filled.[1]


[1]Michael A G. Haykin, ed., The Revived Puritan: The Spirituality of George Whitefield, Classics of Reformed Spirituality (Dundas, Ontario: Joshua Press, 2000), 25–26.

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Please make plans to join us on the beautiful campus of Southern Seminary on October 21-22, 2014 for this one-of-a-kind celebration of the three hundredth year of George Whitefield’s birth with some of the best Whitefieldian scholars in the world .

For more information and to register, please visit events.sbts.edu/andrewfuller.

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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.

“Whitefield and the Great Awakening”: An Invitation from Michael Haykin

September 12th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Church History, Conferences, Eminent Christians, Historians, Revivals

By Michael A.G. Haykin

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George Whitefield was not only the most celebrated preacher of the eighteenth century, but he was also a central figure in the creation of modern Evangelicalism. His emphasis on the new birth, his passion for evangelism, his ability to cross denominational boundaries and build networks of Christians based on the gospel and Reformation convictions were central features in what we know today as Evangelicalism. In this conference celebrating the tercentennial (1714) birth of Whitefield, we will explore these key themes of this remarkable Christian’s life and what they meant for his day and mean for ours.

Please make plans to join us on the beautiful campus of Southern Seminary on October 21-22, 2014 for this one-of-a-kind celebration of the three hundredth year of George Whitefield’s birth with some of the best Whitefieldian scholars in the world .

For more information and to register, please visit events.sbts.edu/andrewfuller.

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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.

 

International Conference on Baptist Studies VII

August 26th, 2014 Posted in Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Conferences, Historians, Revivals

Luther King House

Manchester, England

15-18 July 2015

Following six successful International Conferences on Baptist Studies around the world beginning at Oxford in 1997, there is to be a seventh at Luther King House, Manchester, England, the home of the Northern Baptist Learning Community, from Wednesday 15 to Saturday 18 July 2015.  All of these conferences have taken the history of the Baptists throughout the world as their subject matter, and participation has been open to all, both as speakers and attenders.  The theme this time is ‘Baptists and Revival’, a topic which includes traditional revivals, modern crusades and the more general reinvigoration of Baptist life.  The theme will be explored by means of case studies, some of which will be very specific in time and place while others will cover long periods and more than one country. All will be based on original research.

A number of main papers will address key aspects of the subject, but offers of short papers to last no more than 25 minutes in delivery are very much welcome as well.  They should relate in some way to the theme of ‘Baptists and Revival’.  The proposed title should be submitted to Professor D. W. Bebbington, School of History and Politics, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, United Kingdom (e-mail: d.w.bebbington@stir.ac.uk).  Papers from the first conference have appeared as The Gospel in the World: International Baptist Studies, edited by David Bebbington, and volumes representing nearly all the subsequent conferences have also been published in the series of Studies in Baptist History and Thought published by Paternoster Press.  We intend that a volume containing some of the papers will again appear after the seventh conference.

Luther King House is generously providing meals, accommodation and facilities for the three days for the remarkably low figure of £200.   The capacity of the House is limited to 59 and so early booking is advisable. Nevertheless additional attenders will be welcome if they are willing to make their own bed and breakfast arrangements and pay £80 for lunch, dinner, refreshments and facilities at Luther King House. Registration forms are available from Beverley Bartram, Conference Office, Luther King House, Brighton Grove, Manchester M14 5JP, United Kingdom (e-mail: LKHConferenceOffice@lkh.co.uk; tel: +44 (0)161 249 2539).  Further information is available from Nathan Finn, Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina (e-mail: nfinn@sebts.edu).

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.

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.

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.