These essays dig into the lives and ministries of both well-known and virtually unknown Baptist leaders from the early 1800s to the late twentieth century and are arranged in this issue chronologically based on the main character that each examines.
The early nineteenth century was an era of rapid growth for Baptists in America, and a multitude of Baptist ministers dispersed westward along the frontier, establishing new Baptist churches and then nourishing their growth. In our first article, Lloyd Harsch uncovers the story of a little-known English Baptist named Isaac Taylor Hinton, who became a minister and served several pastorates in his career, from Richmond to Chicago to St. Louis to New Orleans. Harsch's portrait draws our attention away from the more well-known roles of Baptist ministers in the era such as revivalists and church planters, and instead allows us to consider a lesser-known but vital role played by many early Baptist ministers. Hinton took on the role of church nurturer, caring for a struggling or recently-established congregation, and in the process contributed to maintaining and expanding the Baptist foothold in the West.
Our second article, written by John Finley, highlights some other interesting roles that frontier pastors sometimes played by examining a portion of the career of E.C. Dargan in the 1880s. After taking a pastorate in California, Dargan became, for one thing, a reporter of sorts for eastern and southern Baptists. He related eyewitness accounts of Baptist matters and happenings in the West, and as such he and others like him shaped the way that eastern Baptists visualized their denomination's westward expansion. Dargan also served as a sort of analyst of the Baptist trajectory in the West--how the denomination might best grow and function in this unique environment. This role included speculating in the media about matters such as the need to form a new denominational structure for the western states that incorporated Baptists both black and white, northern and southern. Dargan would eventually return east and assume important roles in Baptist life and at Southern Seminary, but in this brief California period of his career he helped shape Baptists' understanding of their sister churches in the West.
In the next article, Andrew Ronnevik provides a comparative study of three Baptist pastors serving congregations between 1890 and 1905. B.H. Carroll, E.C. Morris, and W.B. Johnson were contemporaries of one another who came from very different backgrounds--the latter two being African American. Ronnevik is interested in comparing how these three pastors read the Bible and utilized it in their sermons, and examines how each pastor, despite clear hermeneutical differences, utilized Scripture to promote and justify distinctive Baptist beliefs and practices. This study helps us better appreciate the impact of African-American Baptist preachers in the South after the Civil War, who continued the traditional Baptist emphasis upon the relevance and centrality of the Bible but brought fresh perspectives and applications of it to the pulpit.
Moving us deeper into the twentieth century, James Trent's article explores what the firing of three campus ministers in North Carolina in 1954 reveals about growing rifts in the Southern Baptist Convention. The firings were the result of the Baptist Student Union ministers' invitation to Nels Ferre to speak at a BSU convention. Trent examines underlying issues that colored the investigation of the ministers and led to their eventual firing, including issues of biblical translation and interpretation, civil rights, and racial desegregation. While these three campus ministers were supportive of efforts at desegregation and racial reconciliation (and the SBC itself would voice support for Brown v. Board of Education just two month later), there were more conservative forces at work within North Carolina Baptist life that felt such views represented growing liberalism within the state convention. Decades before the "fundamentalist resurgence" in the SBC, fault lines were beginning to emerge that reflected both theological and political divisions within the denomination.
Christopher Price examines not a Baptist minister but rather a very prominent and controversial Baptist layman and politician, Robert C. Byrd, in our fifth article. When the milestone Civil Rights Act of 1964 was before the Senate, Byrd became notorious for his fourteen-hour filibuster of the legislation. Price pays particular attention to that infamous filibuster, examining the biblical arguments employed by Byrd and analyzing how the senator's personal and religious background shaped his approach to civil rights. Price also situates this moment in Byrd's career as the longest-serving member ever of the U.S. Senate, a journey that took him from affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan in his early life to vocal support of President Barack Obama.
This issue's final article focuses on perhaps one of the most well-known preachers to emerge from Southern Baptist life in the 1970s and 80s: John Claypool. Doug Weaver analyzes the career and theology of this renowned preacher from his pastorate at a Dallas megachurch to his surprising move to a small congregation in Mississippi. Weaver finds Claypool's theology during the 1970s to have been evolving in an increasingly ecumenical and liturgical trajectory. This progression in Claypool's thought helps us understand the popular pulpiteer's eventual exit from Baptist life and his transition to being an Episcopalian priest, and also enriches our view of this influential Baptist figure.
Joe Coker is senior lecturer in the Department of Religion at Baylor University.
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|Publication:||Baptist History and Heritage|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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