‘Theology’ Category

“What is Christian Love?”

June 25th, 2015 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes, Theology

By Evan D. Burns

Throughout the works of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), there is a predominant theme of love—love to God and love to man.  In a sermon entitled, Nature and Importance of Christian Love, Fuller preached on his meditations from John 13:34-35.  Before he delineated the nature of Christian love, he first discussed what it is not.  He said:

  1. It is not mere good neighbourhood, or civility between man and man.
  2. It is not mere friendship.
  3. It is not mere respect on account of religion.
  4. It is not mere party attachment.
  5. It is not that excessive and mistaken attachment which shall lead us to idolize and flatter a minister, or to exempt each other from the exercise of faithful discipline.
  6. It is not mere benevolence itself.[1]

So then, he asked, “What is Christian love?”  And Fuller answered his own inquiry thus:

It is complacency in the Divine image.—It is a union of heart, like that of Ruth to her mother-in-law. Christian love is love for Christ’s sake.  This last remark, I suppose, furnishes a clue for its being called “a new commandment.” The old commandment required benevolence, or love to our neighbour; but this is complacency in Christ’s image, or the love of Christians as such. And being introductory to the New Testament or gospel dispensation, under which the church should be composed of believers only, it is suited to it. Personal religion is now to be the bond of union. This was never so expressly required before. This is more than love to our neighbour, or benevolence; this is brotherly love, or complacency in each other as brethren in Christ, Rom. 12:10; Heb. 13:1. This is genuine charity, 1 Cor. 13.[2]


[1]Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. Joseph Belcher, vol. 1 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 523.

[2]Fuller, Complete Works, 1:523.

Andrew Fuller on the Doctrine of Election and Gospel Preaching

April 10th, 2015 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes, Theology

By David E. Prince

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) wholeheartedly affirmed the sovereignty of God and the biblical doctrine of election. He also wholeheartedly affirmed the obligation to preach the gospel to all men and persuade all men to turn to Christ by faith. According to Fuller, the sovereign creator God is best glorified by the urgent and promiscuous proclamation of the gospel to all men. Fuller was a theologian, and an apologist, but he was foremost a pastor and his treatment of the relationship between election and gospel preaching is as helpful as I have ever read.

Below, under the first heading I have excerpted a Fuller article, “Connections of the Doctrine of Election in the Scriptures,” in which he offers a positive affirmation of the biblical doctrine of election. The subsequent headings are excerpts from Fuller’s, Gospel its Own Witness, where he explains what he sees as the abuse of the doctrine of election in preaching and his recommendations for a biblical, Christ-centered approach to the relationship between election and gospel preaching. I have added the headings and updated a few spellings.

Election Declares the Source of Salvation is Mere Grace

[Election] is introduced to declare the source of salvation to be mere grace, or undeserved favor, and to cut off all hopes of acceptance with God by works of any kind.—In this connection we find it in Rom. 11:5, 6, “Even so then, at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace; and if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace: but if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.” All compromise is here forever excluded, and the cause of salvation decidedly and fully ascribed to electing grace.

With this end the doctrine requires to be preached to saints and sinners. To the former, that they may be at no loss to what they shall ascribe their conversion and salvation, but may know and own with the apostle that it is by the grace of God they are what they are; to the latter, that they may be warned against relying upon their own righteousness, and taught that the only hope of life which remains for them is in repairing as lost and perishing sinners to the Savior, casting themselves at the feet of sovereign mercy.1

Love as Exemplified in Scripture

Love as exemplified in the Scriptures, though it can never be willing to be lost, (for that were contrary to its nature, which ever tends to a union with its object,) yet bears an invariable regard to the holy name or character of God. “How excellent is thy name in all the earth!”—“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.”—“Let them that love thy name say continually, The Lord be magnified.”—“Blessed be his glorious name for ever and ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen.”

God’s Love is Not Mere Favoritism

But love, as exemplified in the patrons of this system, is mere favoritism. God having as they conceive made them his favorites, he becomes on that account, and that only, a favorite with them. Nor does it appear to have any thing to do with goodwill to men as men. The religion of the apostles was full of benevolence. Knowing the terrors of the Lord, they persuaded men, and even besought them to be reconciled to God.

Preach Christ to Sinners as Freely as if No Doctrine of Election Existed

They had no hope of sinners complying with these persuasions of their own accord, any more than the prophet had in his address to the dry bones of the house of Israel; nor of one more being saved than they who were called according to the Divine purpose; but they considered election as the rule of God’s conduct—not theirs. They wrote and preached Christ to sinners as freely as if no such doctrine existed. “These things are written,” said they, “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing ye might have life through his name.”

Pray for the Lost as Fellow Sinners and Not as Reprobates

Jesus wept over the most wicked city in the world; and Paul, after all that he had said of the doctrine of election in the ninth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, protested that “his heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel was that they might be saved.” He did not pray for them as reprobates, but as fellow sinners, and whose salvation while they were in the land of the living was to him an object of hope.2


1 Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 808). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.

2 Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Controversial Publications. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 737-738). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.


David E. Prince is the Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. Check out his personal blog at Prince on Preaching.

Book Review: Historical Theology In-Depth by David Beale

March 2nd, 2015 Posted in Books, Church History, Theology

By Michael A.G. Haykin

David Beale, Historical Theology In-Depth: Themes and Contexts of Doctrinal Development since the First Century (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2013), 2 vols.

historical-theology-in-depthDavid Beale, who taught for thirty-five years at Bob Jones University and is probably best known for his study of Fundamentalism—In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (1986)—has put together in these two volumes fifty-seven distinct essays (and four appendices) that cover a good number of the major issues of historical theology from the last two thousand years of church history (chapter 1 in the first volume is an outline of some basic principles of historical theology). The first volume deals with topics from the early second-century Fathers to the late medieval era, with most of the essays focused on the Ancient Church (there are five dealing with Augustine alone) and a good number on the ecumenical councils (chaps. 20–25 and 32). The second volume begins with Luther and ends with “Pagan, Jewish, and Christian Attitudes towards Abortion” (the four appendices deal with the topic of creation).

The essays are mostly basic studies studded with helpful extracts of primary sources and each accompanied by a bibliography: the majority of the essays in the first volume are biographical while half of the chapters in volume two deal with doctrines and movements like the eternal generation of Christ (which Beale rejects in favor of the eternal sonship of Christ), early Baptist theology and the New Divinity. While most of the essays are cast at an introductory level, it is quite obvious that Beale is able to handle the intricacies of historical theology (witness his analysis of the doctrine of eternal generation).

Some subjects are noticeably absent. None of the essays deal with Wesleyan Arminianism (chapter 17 in volume 2 does touch on the holiness movement) and there is little about Fundamentalism, Beale’s forte. There is also nothing on missionary theology—I had hoped Beale might have said something about Fullerism, for example—my obsession! These are helpful volumes that could well serve as a textbook for an introductory survey of historical theology.

Michael A.G. Haykin
Professor of Church History
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

To download the review as PDF, click here. To see other book reviews, visit here.

Book Review: The Quest for the Trinity by Stephen Holmes

February 9th, 2015 Posted in Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Theology

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Stephen R. Holmes, The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012; xx+231 pages.

the quest for the trinityA part of an ever-growing body of recent literature on the most important doctrine of the Christian Faith, that is, that the true and living God is a triune Being, this comprehensive study by Stephen Holmes, senior lecturer in theology at the University of St. Andrews, is a solid critique of the direction of much of this literature. As Holmes notes, many theologians in the twentieth century, especially in the latter half, believed that the doctrine of the Trinity had been neglected, even lost, and they sought to recover it. As Holmes adeptly shows, though, this recovery by the likes of Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, and John Zizioulas has given rise to a perspective on the Trinity quite at odds with what had prevailed in Christian thinking and devotion from the patristic era to the end of the eighteenth century. The reason for this Holmes deftly shows to have been the fact that twentieth-century thinkers regarded the patristic understanding of the Trinity, which Christian tradition had assumed to be correct down to the rise of biblical criticism in the eighteenth century, as deeply problematic. The Fathers’ insistence on the simplicity and ineffability of the divine being, the fact that the three divine hypostases are distinguished by the eternal relations of generation and procession, and that the entirety of Scripture bears witness to the Triune God have basically been ignored by modern writers. And the result, in Holmes’ opinion, can hardly be described as a “Trinitarian revival.”

Holmes first looks at the biblical witness to the Trinity (p.33-55) and rightly stresses that the Patristic development of the doctrine of the Trinity is “largely a history of biblical exegesis” (p.33). Some of their exegesis seems odd to early twenty-first-century readers, but Holmes helps us make sense of their hermeneutics and also shows why it can be regarded as viable. He then turns to the actual development of the patristic understanding of the Trinity, which rightly occupies a significant amount of his book (p.56­–143). Critical to his argument here is his cogent demonstration that there is a unified patristic witness about the Trinity, contra the common, but very wrong, assumption that the Greek Fathers, personified in the Cappadocians, and the Latin Fathers, personified in Augustine, took two very different and conflicting pathways of thought about God.

Chapter 7 looks at the medieval doctrine of the Trinity and the debate over the filioque (p.147­–164), where Holmes argues that neither position in the latter should be regarded as doing “violence to the received orthodox and catholic tradition” (p.164). While this reviewer personally sees the filioque as a correct development, I think Holmes is right in his emphasis here. Chapter 8 (p.165–181) tracks the story from the Reformation to the close of the eighteenth century. The period after the Reformation is often ignored in the history of Trinitarianism, and Holmes’ careful, though succinct, attention to this era is very welcome. The final chapter (p.182–200) looks at Trinitarian thought in the last two hundred years—the speculative nature of much of it in the nineteenth century after G.W.F. Hegel and F.D.E. Schleiermacher and then the supposed recovery in the twentieth century.

Has Holmes proven his case? This reviewer thinks so: twentieth-century theologians have clearly regarded the patristic synthesis as deeply problematic and taken thinking about the Trinity in very different directions from the received tradition. If so, what is needed then is a true ressourcement, in which the Fathers’ thinking on the Trinity is carefully delineated and its significance for the present day cogently argued.

Michael A.G. Haykin
Professor of Church History
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

To download the review as PDF, click here. To see other book reviews, visit here.

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.


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.”


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

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


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)


“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)


“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)


“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)


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.


“Baptists, Confessionalism and the Providence of God”: A Conference in Indianapolis, IN on Nov. 13-15

October 15th, 2014 Posted in 17th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Conferences, Theology

By Steve Weaver


On November 13-15, 2014, in Indianapolis, In., a conference will be held titled “Baptists, Confessionalism and the Providence of God.” The conference is being held in the year of the 325th anniversary of the adoption of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith by the General Assembly of Particular Baptists.

The purpose of the conference is stated on the conference website as follows:

Simply stated, this conference is a three day event to gather Christians with one deliberate purpose:

To encourage, equip and exhort them to value Jesus Christ above all things through a deeper, richer understanding of God’s Word as preserved and presented in the historic 1689 Baptist Confession.

The conference will be held on the campus of:

601 N. Shortridge Road
Indianapolis, IN 46219

To register for the conference or for more information (including conference schedule, speakers, etc.), please see the conference website at http://www.1689conference.org/.


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.

Once more baptism and communion

September 29th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Baptist Life & Thought, Church History, Theology

By Michael A.G. Haykin

I read my friend Mark Jones’ post “A Plea for Realism”: Are Presbyterians Christians? and was surprised by a number of things in this piece. To imply that Presbyterians, due to their ecclesiology, are less prone to sectarianism than Baptists is a surprising opener. Both Scottish and North American Presbyterian history (the latter especially since the 1920s) seems to tell a very different tale.

Then, I am not sure exactly what my dear friend Ian Clary said in his paper on Andrew Fuller at last year’s SBTS conference (you may listen to the audio here). But to imply, as Mark does, that Fuller’s baptismal theology meant that he was sectarian and lacked catholicity implies a complete misunderstanding of Fuller’s heart. I have written a study of the friendship of this closed communion, closed membership Baptist with John Ryland, an open communionist and open membership Baptist of the ilk of John Bunyan: it is absolutely remarkable that Fuller could hold deep convictions about this issue, but have as his best friend one who disagreed totally with him on these matters (they did agree on the subjects of baptism). Here we see true catholicity in action.

Fuller never believed that he and his fellow Calvinistic Baptists were the only Christians in Britain–witness his love for men like John Newton, William Wilberforce and John Berridge. In such a context, his strong convictions regarding the proper recipients of the Lord’s Supper bespeak a rich catholicity.

Much more could be said, but in fine: I am constrained to affirm with Fuller that the New Testament knows of only believer’s baptism (as did the Ancient Church largely up until the fifth century), and that I am prepared to stand with Fuller regarding his Eucharistic convictions, yet (as anyone who knows me will affirm), I am not interested in the slightest in a sectarian Christianity. I believe in the one holy catholic apostolic church—as did Fuller—filled with more than Baptists!


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.

Degrees in Glory

August 21st, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes, Theology

By Evan D. Burns

Andrew Fuller was a man who loved to think of heaven and future glory awaiting all who love the Lord.  His sermon entitled, “Degrees in Glory Proportioned to Works of Piety, Consistent with Salvation by Grace Alone,”[1] is medicine for the soul.  In relation to the degrees of glory enjoyed in heaven based upon piety and obedience in this life, the fragrance of Jonathan Edwards emanates from Fuller’s pen.  Here is a brief outline of Fuller’s sermon:

  1. First, Heavenly bliss will greatly consist in our being approved of God.
  2. Secondly, Heavenly bliss will consist in the exercise of love, supreme love to God.
  3. Thirdly, Heavenly bliss will consist in ascribing glory to God and the Lamb.
  4. Fourthly, Heavenly bliss will consist in exploring the wonders of the love of God.

And then Fuller goes on to elaborate how heavenly rewards should motivate our piety in this life:

  1.  In the first place, Rewards contain nothing inconsistent with the doctrine of grace, because those very works which it pleased God to honour are the effects of his own operation.
  2. Secondly, All rewards to a guilty creature have respect to the mediation of Christ.
  3. Thirdly, God’s graciously connecting blessings with the obedience of his people serves to show, not only his love to Christ, and to them, but his regard to righteousness.

[1]Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 3: Expositions—Miscellaneous, ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 741-43.


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.

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.


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.