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Roger Williams.

Roger Williams. By Edwin S. Gaustad. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 150 pp.

Over one hundred years before the American Constitution, the First Amendment, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, and long before Jefferson coined the phrase, "wall of separation between church and state," Roger Williams pioneered in democracy, religious liberty, and separation of church and state. More than one hundred years before David Brainerd initiated his work among the Native Americans and Baptists exploded with growth in the Great Awakening, Roger Williams served as a missionary to and advocate for the Native Americans and planted the first Baptist church in America.

In this delightful biography, Edwin S. Gaustad, preeminent Williams expert and outstanding scholar of American religion and church-state issues, introduces the reader to this American pioneer. Part of the Oxford University Press Lives and Legacies series that includes biographies of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, this biography does not provide an exhaustive account of Williams's life and legacy. Rather, Gaustad's purpose is to write for a broad audience with a popular tone, which does not mean that he sacrifices any scholarly acumen. Instead, with razor-sharp precision, Gaustad cuts quickly to the major details and central themes of Williams's life.

Gaustad organizes his work in six chapters. The first chapter provides an overview of Williams's early life and his exile from Massachusetts. He includes a helpful map that traces Williams's migrations until he established Providence. The next four chapters take a thematic approach focusing upon certain aspects of Williams's ideas and contributions. Chapter two addresses Williams's relations with Native Americans, one place where he earned considerable plaudits in his lifetime, even from his critics, and where he was far ahead of his time. His missionary efforts have often been overlooked. Chapter three introduces Williams's prescient efforts to establish Rhode Island as a haven of religious freedom and a colony working toward democracy. Chapter four summarizes the Rhode Islander's hermeneutics and careful reliance upon the New Testament. Chapter five builds upon the common theme of Williams's life, the promotion of religious liberty. As expected, Gaustad focuses briefly upon Williams's ongoing debate with Puritan leader John Cotton, with special attention to Williams's The Bloudy Tenent, and discusses his similarities to John Locke. Chapter six provides an overview of the colonial giant's legacy with a summary of developments in religious liberty in the succeeding generations. Each chapter concludes with an excerpt from a primary source or, in the case of chapter six, a lengthy quotation from Perry Miller.

Gaustad does not delve deeply into any major questions. His book is meant to be an introduction to this "founding father." Those who wish to dig more deeply into Williams will want to read Gaustad's Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America or other recent works. Those who want to debate Williams's biblical hermeneutics will need to read James Byrd's The Challenges of Roger Williams. But even those who have read extensively of Williams or who have read Williams's own writings will benefit from Gaustad's incisive summary. Gaustad reminds us again of what is truly owed to Williams and, that despite his intellectual and spiritual restlessness, Roger Williams was, first and foremost, a man of faith.--Reviewed by Michael E. Williams, St, dean of humanities and social sciences, Dallas Baptist University, Dallas, Texas.

Michael E. Williams, Sr. Book Review Editor

Michael E. (Mike) Williams, Sr., is dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and professor of history at Dallas Baptist University, 3000 Mountain Creek Parkway, Dallas, Texas 75211-9213. 214-333-5276 | Fax: 214-333-6819 E-mail:
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Author:Williams, Michael E., Sr.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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