‘Reading Church History Lists’ Category

Eight Reasons to Study Baptist History

May 25th, 2016 Posted in Baptist Life & Thought, Reading Church History Lists, Theology

Baptist historyBy Jeff Robinson

(Editors’ note: This article was originally published on the Founders Ministries Blog.)

I always begin church history classes the same way as our dear brother Tom Nettles, with a lecture called “Why Study Church History?” I’m not merely seeking to copycat my mentor; we live in an age in which what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”—the prioritizing of all things new and the despising of all things old—is beyond palpable.

Thus, students often need convincing that history is important. After all, many of their high school history courses were mere after-thoughts, taught by football coaches. But as my good friend Harry Reeder puts it, we must learn from the past to live effectively in the present and impact the future. Therefore, it is crucial that we know our history as Baptists. And here are eight fundamental reasons:

1. Because we need to see church history as a discussion of the Bible.

Church history in general, and Baptist history in particular, is most fundamentally a discussion about the Bible. Debates such as Arius vs. Athansius, Pelagius vs. Augustine, Erasmus vs. Luther, General Baptists vs. Particular Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship vs. the Southern Baptist Convention are at their root battles for the Bible. That’s why church history—and Baptist history—is so vitally important.

2. Because we must become convictional Baptists.

“I was Baptist born and Baptist bred, and when I die, I’ll be Baptist dead.” I heard this pithy dictum many times growing up in a small Southern Baptist church in answer to the question “Why are you a Baptist?” But being Baptist because it is part of our family lineage is not a valid reason to be a Baptist. Studying Baptist history enables us to become Baptists by theological conviction. It teaches us that there are many good biblical and theological reasons to hold a firm grip upon Baptist ecclesiology as a necessary biblical complement to a robust confessional, evangelical orthodoxy.

3. Because we need to see that Baptists have a rich theological and ecclesiological heritage.

Some think that the Presbyterians or Anglicans or Methodists or other denominations have all the good history. But Baptists own a tradition filled with great men and great moments—Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, Benjamin Keach, John Bunyan (assuming we accept he was a Baptist), the founding of the modern missions movement, the reformation at Southern Seminary in the late 20th century, the founding of dozens of seminaries and colleges, the First and Second London Confessions, the Baptist Faith & Message, and on and on I could go. Our Baptist heritage is deep and wide.

4. Because we must assess claims as to where Baptist came from and what they have believed.

Are Baptists first cousins to the Anabaptists, the so-called “radical reformers” in Europe, during the Protestant Reformation? Or, did Baptists arise out of Puritan separatism in Europe? Were they mainly Arminian in their doctrinal commitments or were the majority of Baptists Calvinistic, and which theological stream was healthier? These are much-debated questions and only a close, careful study of Baptist history uncovers the correct answers.

5. Because both theology and ecclesiology matter.

I hold a growing concern that ecclesiology is becoming less and less of a conviction among my fellow citizens in the young, restless, Reformed village. But even a 32,000-foot flyover of the Baptist heritage shows that the doctrine of the church and theology proper are inextricably linked. If God has an elect people, if Christ has shed his blood as the substitute for this people, if Christ has promised to build his church, then there must be a theology of the church. Historically, confessional Baptists, at their best (and I include both General and Particular Baptists here), have seen this connection and have sought to build local churches accordingly. Ecclesiology has deep implications for our practice of the ordinances, for church membership, for church discipline, for pastoral ministry, and for many other matters pertaining to the day in, day out life of the church. A strong ecclesiology tied to a robust theology tends toward a healthy church. Baptist history bears this out through both positive and negative examples.

6. Because we need to keep the Ninth Commandment.

It is a sin to caricature and misrepresent those with whom we disagree. We must study their doctrines, hear their arguments, and be able to articulate their case, even as we develop our own convictions. We must avoid populating our theological gardens with straw men or polluting our polemical streams with red herring. We must treat our theological opponents the way we desire to be treated. Polemical theology has a long and established place in the history of ideas, but it should be executed in a way that honors the dignity of our opponents. By this, I do not intend to say we should seek to be politically correct in our debates, but we must be Christ-like and that means taking the beliefs of the other side seriously and treating them fairly. If we’ve learned nothing else from the current political season, at bare minimum, this lesson should not be lost on us.

7. Because we need to understand our forefathers paid a steep price to hold Baptist convictions.

Bunyan famously spent 12 years in a filthy Bedford jail. Spurgeon was strafed by liberalism to a point of death. And time would fail me to tell of Thomas Hardcastle, Abraham Cheare, Obadiah Holmes, and dozens of others who paid a high price for their Baptist beliefs, some dying in prison, some being locked in stocks and subjected to public mockery, others being tied to a post and whipped, and many being persecuted to the point of death. In 2016, we sit in our Baptist churches without a threat of even being scratched for our theology, but we must know that we arrived in this state upon the scars and bloodshed of our Baptist fathers. For these men, believers baptism by immersion, a regenerate church, and liberty of conscience, were not merely peripheral doctrines on which “good men disagree.”

8. Because we need to see that Baptists have been, on the whole, a people committed to the formal principle of the Reformation, sola Scriptura.

Baptists are a people of the book. Baptists have sought to build their churches upon the Bible, connecting theology and ecclesiology together as a seamless robe. The fundamental question Baptists, at their best, have asked is this: “Is it biblical?” Though there have disagreements as to the specific answers, the Bible is our sole authority and a walk through the pages of Baptist history reveals, from solid General Baptists such as Thomas Grantham to Particular Baptist Giants like Spurgeon, demonstrates this as an axiomatic truth.

No doubt, there are many more reasons why we ought to engage our heritage, but let us never be guilty of failing to know precisely why we call ourselves Baptists and at least fundamentally what that meant in the past and continues to mean today.

I recommend the following works of Baptist history for the beginner:

Baptists and the Bible by L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles

By His Grace and for His Glory by Tom Nettles

The Baptist Way by R. Stanton Norman

No Armor for the Back: Baptist Prison Writings 1600s-1700s by Keith E. Durso

Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age edited by Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman

Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life edited by Mark E. Dever

The Baptists: Key People in Forming a Baptist Identity volume 1, volume 2 and volume 3by Tom Nettles

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Jeff Robinson (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as senior research and teaching assistant for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as senior editor for The Gospel Coalition and is pastor of New City Church (SBC) in Louisville, Ky.

The Role of History in Recovering the Evangelical Mind: An Interview with Nathan Finn

March 7th, 2016 Posted in Historians, Reading Church History Lists

I recently interviewed Nathan Finn for The Gospel Coalition. The article is partially reprinted and linked below.

By Jeff Robinson

For many, the very mention of studying or reading history conjures sleep-inducing lists of names, dates, places, and events. Why do relatively few people love to study or even think about the past? Could it be chronological snobbery, as C. S. Lewis suggested? No doubt that’s part of it. Perhaps it’s also because many teachers have approached history with the fervor of an iceberg. 

Nathan Finn believes engaging those who have gone before us is vital, and he teaches and writes about history withimages care and passion. After serving several years as professor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, Finn was recently elected dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University in Tennessee.

I corresponded with Finn to discuss the art of teaching history, the place of providence in the work of the historian, the role of the past in recovering the evangelical mind, and more.

Your new book, History: A Student’s Guide (Crossway, 2016), is part of a series on reclaiming the Christian intellectual tradition. What role does learning history play in recovering the evangelical mind? 

One of the besetting sins of evangelicalism is a mostly ahistorical approach to theology and praxis, often at the popular level, but also among many pastors, scholars, and other ministry leaders. As evangelicals, we appeal to the supreme authority of Scripture, and rightly so. But we don’t read our Bibles in a vacuum. Too often our reading of Scripture is informed more by pragmatic considerations, cultural sensibilities, and personal preferences than by the best of the Christian intellectual tradition. We will be a healthier evangelical movement to the degree we root our faith and practice in the best thinking of those who have gone before us.

Read the entire interview.

An initial reading plan of Andrew Fuller

February 5th, 2016 Posted in Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Reading Church History Lists

By Michael A.G. Haykin

I was recently asked by a brother who had purchased Andrew Fuller’s Works where and what to begin reading. I suggested first off, his circular letters, especially these:

  1. Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival (1785)
  2. Why Christians in the present Day possess less Joy than the Primitive Disciples (1795)
  3. The Practical Uses of Christian Baptism (1802)
  4. The Promise of the Spirit the grand Encouragement in promoting the Gospel (1810)

Then his Edwardsean work in which you see Fuller the theologian of love:

  1. Memoirs of Rev. Samuel Pearce (1800)

His ordination sermons are also gems, especially:

  1. The Qualifications and Encouragements of a Faithful Minister, illustrated by the Character and success of Barnabas
  2. Spiritual Knowledge and Holy Love necessary for the Gospel Ministry
  3. On an Intimate and Practical Acquaintance with the Word of God

Finally, the best of his apologetic works, his rebuttal of Sandemanianism:

  1. Strictures on Sandemanianism (1810).

Tolle lege!

Reading Plan for the Latin Fathers (April-June 2014)

April 19th, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Reading Church History Lists

By Michael A.G. Haykin

April 19–26     Read Tertullian’s Against Praxeas
Question: What are Tertullian’s main arguments against modalism and how does he anticipate the later Trinitarian formula “three persons in one being”?

April 27–30     Read Cyprian, To Donatus
Question: Outline Cyprian’s understanding of conversion.

May 1–7          Read Cyprian, On the Unity of the Catholic Church
Question: What are the marks of the true church according to Cyprian and how does he substantiate his view?

May 8­–15        Read Novatian, On the Trinity
Question: How does Novatian show from Scripture that Jesus is God?

May 16–23      Read Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 1
Question: Outline Hilary’s conversion.

May 24–31      Read Augustine, Confessions (the whole book)
Question: Outline the way that Augustine depicts God as The Beautiful.

June 1–7          Read Augustine, City of God 1.1–36; 4.1–4; 11.1–4; 12.4–9; 13.1–24; 14.1–28; 15.1–2; 20.1–30; 21.1–2; 22.8–9; 22.29–30
Question: What is Augustine’s understanding of history?

June 8–15        Read Patrick, Confession
Question: What is Patrick’s understanding of the missionary call?

Download the Reading Plan for the Latin Fathers (PDF)

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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.

Christian classics: a list

July 23rd, 2012 Posted in Books, Church History, Reading Church History Lists

This past week I had the privilege of teaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary a course on Christian Classics. I was asked at one point for a list of key works that I consider every Christian should read. Such lists are always eclectic to some degree. The following is no exception: I doubt many others would list Samuel Pearce’s memoirs by Fuller or Ann Griffiths. But here is my current list of Christian classics arranged chronologically. 

  1. The Odes of Solomon
  2. Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit
  3. Augustine, Confessions
  4. Augustine, On the Trinity
  5. Macarius, Spiritual Homilies
  6. Ailred of Rievaulx, On Spiritual Friendship
  7. Thomas Cranmer, The Book of Common Prayer
  8. John Calvin, The Institutes
  9. John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin in Believers
  10. Jonathan Edwards, On Religious Affections
  11. The Hymns of Charles Wesley
  12. John Newton and William Cowper, The Olney Hymns
  13. The Hymns and Letters of Ann Griffiths
  14. Andrew Fuller, The Memoirs of Samuel Pearce
  15. Adolphe Monod, Les Adieux
  16. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
  17. C. S Lewis, The Weight of Glory
  18. John Piper, Desiring God