To my shock, (in the midst of much grading and intensive doctoral teaching), I realize I face an approaching deadline for an article on "Preaching in the Baptist tradition," for the British journal called: The Preacher. Sorry, but this means taking a brief detour from other blog themes. Please excuse me all non-Baptist readers.
Initially, I wonder whether there is such a thing as a Baptist tradition - can't almost anything and everything can be found in Baptist pulpits? Actually this year celebrates 400 years since the first Baptists in Holland and England. It's interesting to pause and look at their beginnings. The first Baptists were people of conviction. They needed to be, for they were challenging the state church and majority assumption about the nature of the church! Convinced that the Bible reveals God’s supreme authority, they believed it teaches that the church comprises communities of believers gathered together in each locality. Founded on believers’ faith and formed by covenant fellowship, the first Baptists claimed believers’ baptism as the way into the church. Though nicknamed “baptists” it was ecclesiology (church doctrine) that primarily distinguished them.
In this context, the first Baptist theologians were preachers, (and vice versa), who led by their preaching – “theologically radical, politically dangerous, ecclesiastically Nonconformist, they preached sermons that spoke so clearly to their age that they often found themselves in prison.”[i] Thomas McKibbens’ history of Baptist preaching emphasizes the intellectual rigour of these first preachers, many of them Cambridge University graduates (like John Smythe, Thomas Helwys, and Henry Jessey), whose passion in declaring personal salvation was matched by commitment to serious biblical and theological study. He identifies two distinctive marks: “learning and piety.” Serious biblical study and theological reflection, especially concerning the church as gathered believers, was combined with evident personal spirituality and evangelistic zeal.
To learning and piety I would add evangelism and courage. That's not a bad place to start, is it?
[i] Thomas R. McKibbens, The Forgotten Heritage, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1986, 4