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A Genetic History of Baptist Thought.

A Genetic History of Baptist Thought. By William H. Brackney. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2004. 592 pp.

A Genetic History of Baptist Thought is a fine book that surveys basic theological viewpoints related to Baptist history and groups from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century. William H. Brackney, professor of religion at Baylor University and director of the Program in Baptist Studies, is one of the best-known Baptist historians and is well suited for this extensive overview of historical theology in Baptist life.

The book begins with an introduction to the theology of Baptist confessions of faith, addressing similarities and differences in the Calvinist and Arminian theologies that characterized early Baptist life and moved through later confessions, including the multiple revisions of the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention. Additional chapters provide summaries of the varied theological positions of British and American pastors and academics, with attention to American, Southern, Canadian, and African American Baptists. The last of these chapters is particularly helpful in its discussion of Baptist thought and the "Baptisness" in the thought of mystic and writer Howard Thurman. The book provides insights into the theological positions that often characterized certain academic institutions in Britain and the United States, including Midland Baptist College, Regent's Park College (Stepney College), Spurgeon's College, Brown University, Colgate University, McMaster University, and Acadia University; and seminaries such as Newton, Rochester, Southern Baptist, and Southwestern Baptist. Another chapter discusses the theology of various Baptists--evangelicals primarily--who worked outside traditional schools, including Clark Pinnock, James McClendon, Bernard Ramm, Harvey Cox, and Carl Henry. A concluding section offers a summary of themes and approaches to Baptist theology.

One of the book's most fascinating chapters, "Singing the Faith," explores the theology of Baptist hymnody. Unfortunately, it ends without attention to the recent changes in Baptist hymnody related to so-called "praise choruses" and contemporary music, a phenomenon clearly evident at the 2005 meeting of the Baptist World Congress in Birmingham, England.

Brackney's approach is organized and insightful. He highlights a broad spectrum of individuals and analyses that have shaped segments of Baptist life from the seventeenth to the end of the twentieth century. The book discusses the work of well-known individuals such as Thomas Helwys, Andrew Fuller, John Gill, Charles H. Spurgeon, A. H. Strong, Francis Wayland, and William Newton Clark, but also includes lesser-known Baptists, including the Haldane brothers of Scotland, Nathan Wood at Newton, and African American Miles Mark Fisher--all important individuals well worth studying. The book tends to survey the wide variety of Baptist theologians rather than give extensive attention to the intricacies of their theological approaches and the fine points of their specific arguments or ideas. Brackney documents the fact that Baptists can claim theologians who run the gamut from Calvinist to Arminian, Liberal to Fundamentalist, and Neo-Orthodox to Neo-Evangelical. In fact, the theological diversity of the movement is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book.

Students of Baptist history and historical theology will find this a valuable tool for understanding who Baptists were, are, and might be in the future. It offers a point of departure for further studies in the impact of Baptist thought on teachers, students, pastors, and laity. Brackney has provided us with a helpful volume.--Bill J. Leonard, dean and professor of church history, Wake Forest University Divinity School, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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Author:Leonard, Bill J.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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