Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Challenge of Being Baptist

Bill J. Leonard, The Challenge of Being Baptist: Owning a Scandalous Past and an Uncertain Future. Baylor University, 2010. ISBN 978-1-60258-306-1

Bill J. Leonard has been a noted Baptist Historian and scholar for many years. He was head of the Religion Department at Samford University in Birmingham for several years. Before that he was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He is now Dean and Professor of Church History at the Wake Forest University Divinity School. He is the author of Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers. I read this book and it makes a good companion to this book. Leonard in The Challenge of Being Baptist asks the question is there a future for Baptists in the Twenty-first century. Leonard thinks Baptists must answer some crucial questions if they will have a future. Leonard is optimistic about the future of Baptists pointing them to their early history and key confessions. He also points out the key Baptist doctrines of Believer's baptism, the covenant community, separation of church and state, and religious freedom.

The Challenge of Being Baptist contains seven chapters. Topics explored in these chapters are Baptist's past, polity, beliefs about the Bible, eternal security, covenant community, and the future of Baptists. Leonard shows the great diversity of Baptists. This has been true from its very beginning. For example, Baptists have been both Calvinists and Arminians. I saw a Methodists in debate with Calvinist Baptists say that Baptists need to make up their mind whether they are Calvinists or Arminians. Both these traditions have been important in the history of Baptists. Leonard draws from the early confessions and history of Baptists in addressing these different topics. He also points out key questions that must be wrestled with for modern Baptists.

Bill Leonard treat his subject in an objective way. There are no example of flagrant biases in his book. He seems to be fair to many different positions. He does a good job of showing how there is a future for Baptists, but not without Baptists dealing with certain questions. Some of these questions are how will Baptists deal with multiple rebaptisms and children Baptism. How will Baptists handle hermeneutical issues in the future? What about "Once saved, always saved?" Leonard actually calls it once saved, almost saved. That chapter was one of my favorite because it pointed out the problem with transactional conversionism. I have my salvation, so I can go home. This idea goes against the covenant community and sanctification.

The Challenge of Being Baptist is a good read. It will help Baptists understand their past and give them wisdom for the future. It will help non-Baptists understand this strange group of people called Baptists. This book is highly recommended.

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