Spring 2017: The Baptist Tradition and Ecumenism

By Everett Berry, Editor

Spring 2017Since the Reformation, one of the most significant challenges that Baptists and all other Christian traditions have faced is determining the validity of ecumenical cooperation, and then if it is considered desirable, how exactly should it be done. How can believers link arms with fellow brethren from differing denominations in ways that do not compromise their own distinct theological convictions? Balancing these priorities can be quite taxing because Baptists (and other Protestants) are mindful of Jesus’ prayer for his followers to be one as he and his Father are one (Jn 17:22). Yet they also hear other New Testament writers emphasize the importance of doctrinal purity. Consequently, such concerns have led Baptists to propose a variety of answers with discussions still passionately continuing even today. This is why the Spring 2017 edition of CTR is dedicated to this subject. Herein, readers can engage articles from several Baptist scholars and leaders who address various facets of this important question.

Our lead article is written by James A. Patterson who serves as Professor of Christian Thought and Tradition at Union University in Jackson, TN. Patterson traces some of the strands of influence that the ideology known as Landmarkism has had on Southern Baptists in the past. He then observes that there are some possible links between previous notions of Landmark sectarianism and the current reluctance that certain Southern Baptist circles exhibit toward any possibilities of ecumenical engagement.

Our second article is by Malcolm B. Yarnell, III who serves as Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Yarnell engages the work of Christian Smith, a former evangelical scholar who is now a devout Catholic. He provides a careful response to Smith’s case that Catholicism is the optimal tradition for understanding the nature of Christian identity.

The third article is written by Steven Harmon who is Visiting Professor of Historical Theology for the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC. Harmon discusses how the ministry and legacy of the 19th century Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson bequeaths some helpful theological insights that Baptists can use to form a distinct vision for ecumenical dialogue with other Christian traditions.

The fourth article is provided by Christopher A. Graham who is Associate Professor of Theology at Criswell College in Dallas, TX. Graham provides a fascinating survey that traces how key early 20th century Southern Baptist thinkers wrestled with the question of ecumenical interaction and how their contributions ultimately influenced the ways in which the Baptist Faith and Message addressed the matter at the confessional level.

The fifth entry is co-written by R. Lucas Stamps, who currently serves as Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA and Matthew Y. Emerson, who is Assistant Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, OK. Stamps and Emerson address a surging discussion within many Baptist guilds regarding a potential free church understanding of the relationship between liturgy and corporate worship. They engage several theological concerns that arise when treating this subject and even offer some practical advice on how to construct a liturgical outline that local congregations can actually implement.

Finally, our last entry is an interview that CTR was able to have with Timothy George, the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. We were able to list an assortment of questions regarding several sensitive issues and concerns that Baptists typically raise when addressing the matter of ecumenical cooperation. Thankfully, readers can be informed and blessed to hear Dr. George’s thoughts as he balances pastoral sensitivity with theological precision in the answers that he provides.

Following these articles are fourteen book reviews which can inform readers about works that can improve their theological libraries. And also remember that past issues of CTR can be accessed online at atla.com. Your local university or seminary can provide you with a password.

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