Exploring Baptist Origins

Anthony R. Cross and Nicholas J. Wood (eds.), Exploring Baptist Origins (Centre for Baptist History and Heritage Studies, Vol 1; Regent’s Park College, 2010), 163pp (£20 – order a copy here)

This is the first volume of the new series emerging out of the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage based at Regent’s Park College. The collection of papers were first delivered in the autumn of 2009 in celebration of 400 years since the birth of Baptist beginnings. Including some of the UK’s leading Baptist theologians – Paul Fiddes, Stephen Holmes, Brian Haymes – the book seeks to examine historically and theologically the beginnings of Baptist life.

Haymes, not for the first time, engages with Thomas Helwys’ The Mystery of Iniquity, asking whether it has relevance for today and concluding with a challenge for more ‘unashamedly political theologies’.  Fiddes explores the question of whether Baptists are a church or a sect, interacting with the famous studies of Weber and Troeltsch, and highlighting the distinctive covenant theology of early Baptists.  Holmes extends earlier published arguments of the dangers of just reading the Bible through the Salters’ Hall incident of 1719. Keith Jones assesses Baptists and Anabaptists through the life of the Lithuanian Baptist Jonas Inkenas, exploring five themes: ecclesial interdependency; leadership; communities in hostile surroundings; spirituality; and women at the heart of Baptist life. Anthony Cross and Larry Kreitzer provide historical studies of why baptists adopted believers’ baptism and the anabaptist petitions of 1660 and 1661 respectively. The other contributer is Crawford Gribben who looks at the beliefs about millennialism in early Baptist life in relation to their ecclesiology.

This is an interesting and revealing set of essays, engaging with how Baptists began. The best or most interesting are those that ask questions of Baptists today in light of their forebears, showing how they can offer challenge and help as we seek to be Baptist Christians.

Beyond this book, it is exciting to see Regent’s begin a new series of Baptist studies, especially as its other series, Regent’s Study Guides, is coming to an end. If your a British Baptist and engaged in postgraduate study on baptistic themes, here is a potential place for your research to reach a wider audience. Coming soon are volumes on a theology of ministry and ordination from Paul Goodliff and membership and belonging from Darrell Jackson.

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