Baptist Ways Baptist history book

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by rlvaughn, Feb 1, 2008.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    Baptist Ways: a History. Bill J. Leonard, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2003. $30.00. Paper, 480 pages. ISBN 0-8170-1231-1

    Bill J. Leonard is dean and professor of church history at Wake Forest University Divinity School, Winston-Salem, NC. He is the editor or author of some fifteen books.

    In his introduction, Mr. Leonard discusses the problem of defining a people as diverse as the Baptists. His approach views Baptist history through "eight dialectics", seeing "classic distinctives as dynamics moving in tandem across a wide spectrum of belief and practice." (p. 16) He briefly recites various views of Baptist origins. Since Leonard believes the Baptist denomination is an outgrowth of English Puritanism, he begins in the 17th century and brings Baptists forward chronologically to the present. The book consists of 16 chapters, for the most part moving back and forth between British and American Baptists, introducing other areas at appropriate times.

    Leonard's book is an up-to-date single volume Baptist history, published in 2003. It provides recent information not available in older works. It widens the scope beyond British and American Baptists to take a closer look at other Baptists around the globe. While Leonard is an American Baptist most familiar with the American Baptist experience, he warms to the task of reviewing the international scene. The colossal task of a single volume Baptist history requires a well-written story that engages the reader. Despite the problems inherent in telling a story over several centuries and across several continents, I found the story of Baptist Ways to be skillfully interwoven. Nevertheless, the end of the book has a little feel that Leonard ran out of time and space, and just had to quit.

    Baptist Ways emphasizes Baptist women, their work, societies and other auxiliaries. This information is often not available to any large extent in such a work. In addition to providing historical information and recognizing the work of Baptist women, it also provides a background for current controversies over the ordination of women. Baptists didn't just wake up one day and decide to start ordaining women. Nevertheless, I would have enjoyed reading a little less of this subject and a little more of some people, events and sub-groups not even mentioned by Leonard. On the other hand, despite laying the groundwork for telling the modern women's ordination controversy, Leonard fails to follow up on that sufficiently.

    A book of this size runs the risk of some lack of clarity, which happens at times. For examples: After noting the formation of the Six-Principle Calvinistic Baptist Association in New England in the 1750s, Leonard reports that the Warren Association (founded in 1767) was the first Baptist association in New England (p. 123). Noting "Primitive Baptists also have a presence in Canada" (p. 244), Leonard does not clarify for the uninitiated whether these are the Arminian Primitive Baptists or the Predestinarian Primitive Baptists. The number of Baptist sub-denominations is overwhelming, and it is not surprising that Mr. Leonard would fail to clarify them all and/or make a few hard to explain statements.

    It is surprising that such an important work by major denominational publishing house has quite a few typographical/printing errors. My copy (ordered in 2007) has several. Most are of the non-invasive type. The really ugly ones are three paragraphs on page 244 and two on pages 251-2 that were damaged by a "computer glitch". These sections are not unreadable, but nearly so. My edition contained a small errata sheet stuck into the pages. Hopefully these errors, as well as issues of lack of clarity, will be addressed in future editions.

    One could question the wisdom of attempting a single volume history of Baptists. It seems to be one of those things we can't live with or without. With a few reservations, I recommend this book to the lover of Baptist history. It will be a helpful tool. In the end we may all learn with Edwin Gaustad that "It is true that Baptists embrace religious liberty -- in their best days for all of humankind. It is also true that Baptists embody religious liberty -- in their worst days in the unending multiplicity of denominational tags and labels and nicknames." (p. XII)

    This is an abbreviated version of comments posted on my blog:
    http://baptistsearch.blogspot.com/2008/01/baptist-ways-more-opinion.html
    http://baptistsearch.blogspot.com/2008/01/baptist-ways-opinion.html
     
  2. rsr

    rsr
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    Thanks for the review, Robert.

    I plan to order a copy very soon and will keep in mind your observations.
     
  3. Bethelassoc

    Bethelassoc
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    Bro Vaughn,

    I also have this book, which I received over a year ago for my birthday. I also have the clitches with which they stuck the little sheet in to help out, I think I lost it.

    I'm disappointed in the lack of information on the old time baptists, especially the United Baptists. Once again, the UBs are a blip on the screen of a baptist history book.

    He does have some interesting historical information, though, and I do use the book when it comes to certain aspects not covered in other books.

    David
     
  4. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    This is certainly a problem I see with the book. There are a number of Baptist bodies that are not even mentioned once in the book. But I suppose the majority of readers won't look at this the way we do.
     
  5. PatsFan

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    Incidentally, I noticed that you can get this book brand new at Amazon.com for $21.90.

    Tom
     

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