Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Review of Distinctly Baptist ed. by Brian C. Brewer

Distinctly Baptist: Proclaiming Identity in a New Generation

Distinctly Baptist
ed. by Brian C. Brewer
ISBN 9780817016982
Judson Press
Review by Clint Walker

In the Baptist circles that I run in, discussions of historic baptist principles are commonplace among pastors and denominational leaders. This is especially true from people with a more progressive, activist theology. These discussions take place for two reasons. One reason is that many people have ties with Southern Baptist life, and believe that conservative drift of the SBC in the last 20-30 years does not reflect Baptist principles. Specifically, the effort to force pastors and people in the academy to sign on to a rather narrow theological statement has been resented by many, and many of those people have drifted into American Baptist Life.

The other reason that many people argue for Baptist distinctive beliefs is that they believe that the Baptist history of soul freedom and religious freedom should absolve congregations from ethical accountability and theological orthodoxy as they associate with other Baptist churches. This particularly relates to, but is not limited to, sexual ethics in Baptist life, and the refusal of some congregations to embrace the historic Christian teaching that homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching.

Into this mix of defining Baptist identity steps the faculty of Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, and the book Distinctly Baptist: Proclaiming  Identity in a New Generation. This text is unique in that it is really a collection of sermon manuscripts. In 2010, on the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement, the faculty of Truett preached a sermon series in their chapel that reviewed 14 Baptist principles that have guided Baptist life and mission. Some of these principles are shared across the Christian movement, some are more uniquely Baptist.

I truly enjoyed this book. I found myself agreeing with some the Baylor faculty, and I found myself less comfortable with other messages. Some of the messages were engaging and easy to understand. Some of the sermons were more heady and esoteric than I really cared to read in regard to Baptist identity. As a whole though, these messages hang together. The Truett faculty accomplish the task of describing what Baptists are like without defining Baptist belief, and by doing so creating an alternative Baptist orthodoxy based on Baptist principles.

What is neat about the book as well is the introductions to each section of the book. In these introductions, there is a summary of what is going to be discussed. There are also suggested Scripture texts for preaching on each of these Baptist principles, as well as ideas for introducing these concepts for worship and ways of creating opportunities for service relating to these principles. In addition to this, there are suggestions for further reading. 

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