The Baptist Heritage: McBeth Reviewed

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by Mark Osgatharp, Jan 9, 2006.

  1. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    The following is a review of "The Baptist Heritage" by H. Leon McBeth which I wrote for the Spring 1988 issue of "The Pillar" magazine.

    In the review I predicted this book would become a popular work for pastors, schools, and churches; which prediction materialized and this book has become quite popular. In spite of it's bias toward modernism, it has even been embraced by many conservative Baptists.

    Maybe this little review will give some unsuspecting soul a "heads-up" as to the biased and parital character of this "history".

    Mark Osgatharp

    ********

    THE BAPTIST HERITAGE

    by H. Leon McBeth, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1987

    The Baptist Heritage is the latest Baptist history from Broadman Press. The 850 page volume was written by H. Leon McBeth, Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth. No doubt this book will become a widely used Baptist history text for seminaries, pastors, and churches. Therefore it is necessary that Baptist people be made aware of its deficiencies, many of which cut to the very soul of Christianity.

    On page 22 we find an understatement that obscures a tragic incident in Christian history. Concerning the sixth century attempt of the monk Augustine (or Austin) to convert the native Britons from Celtic to Latin Christianity, the author says: "After a time of competition, the Latin, or Roman, form of faith prevailed." What was the nature of this "time of competition"? The native churches refused Augustine's demand to adopt infant baptism and thus were threatened to be "warred upon by their enemies." King Ethelfrid made good Augustine's threat and had twelve hundred unarmed ministers put to death. See The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation by the Venerable Bede, pages 67-68.

    With other twentieth century writers, this history dates Baptist origins to the 1641 "Recovery of Immersion" (p. 44ff). The untenableness of this position has been amply demonstrated by John T. Christian (A History of the Baptists, Vol. I, ch. 17). However, one reference demands note. The author confirms that Leonard Busher advocated immersion in 1614. Yet he makes the illogical statement that this testimony "is no proof that he or others actually put the idea into practice" (p 45). What more testimony Is required that a man practiced immersion than his description of baptism as "dipped for dead in the water"?

    Regarding the Baptist name, it is said "By the early 1640s some opponents were calling them 'Baptists'" (p. 48). The early 1640s to be sure — and much earlier. In 1569 Sir William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth, spoke of the "increase of the numbers and courage of the Baptists" (Christian, A History of the Baptists, Vol. I, p. 206). In the same vein, page 55 refers to the "familiar problem of using 'Anabaptist' and 'Baptist' as interchangeable names." This should pose no problem today when it did not to the very people who lived among the Anabaptists. It is a well documented fact that the Anabaptists preferred the name Baptist, but the majority of their enemies insisted on the term Anabaptist, even up to the 1800s in America.

    We might also note the categorical statement that "General Baptists also taught the possibility of apostasy" (p. 73). While some General Baptists denied security, others did not. The General Baptist Orthodox Creed of 1678 states that "Those that are effectually called... shall certainly persevere unto eternal life" [The History of the English Baptists by Thomas Crosby, appendix to Vol. Ill, p. 41). Generalized statements should not be made without explanation.

    In relating the doctrinal controversies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the author consistently passes character judgement on conservatives and casts liberals in a charitable light rather than just stating the facts. For example, in the English Baptist Down Grade controversy we hear of "the proud Spurgeon" (p. 304). Landmark leader J. R. Graves has a "lack of formal education" which caused "imbalance and rigidity" in the Landmark system (p. 448, compare these statements with Acts 4:13). Fundamentalist J. Frank Norris is "erratic, domineering, devious" (p. 763). In contrast, the Northern Baptist liberal Walter Rauschenbusch writes "powerful books" (p. 598). Noted modernist Harry Emerson Fosdick is kindly credited with "thoughtful critiques" and "moving sermons" and "eloquent preaching" (pp. 599-600).

    Overall the Northern Baptists [Squire, if you are reading this I'm talking about, Northern Baptist Convention, so don't get excited ;0)] are praised for their "spiritual vitality and vigorous ministry" (p. 608), an assessment hardly defensible when their beliefs are compared with Scripture. Landmarkers are represented as ignorant, anti-intellectual, and even emotionally unstable souls (pp. 448, 449, 459, 632). Fundamentalists, despite Biblical precedent, are reproved for using military terminology such as "fight to the finish" (p. 769; compare I Tim. 1:18, II Tim. 4:7, and II Cor. 10:3-4).

    One of the most disappointing portions of this history is the discussion of the Soviet Baptist situation. In 1960 the leaders of the Ail-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists (an evangelical umbrella group foisted on the Baptists by the government) issued a letter instructing the churches not to attempt evangelism, or to teach the young, encourage baptism, or baptize anyone under age thirty. An initiative group was formed in an attempt to rectify the problem. When they failed, many Baptists demanded permission to convene a congress on the issue. "The All-Union Council responded by excommunicating active supporters of a congress and assisted in new arrests" (Soviet Dissent, by Ludmilla Alexeyeva, 1985, Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, Conn., p. 204). These events led to the formation of a separate Baptist union in September of 1965 (ibid, pp. 205-206). Now Mr. McBeth tells us these "Reform Baptists have also cultivated the unfortunate habit of referring to the union leaders as 'mouthpieces of Satan'" (p. 817). If Paul called the Judaizers Satan's ministers (II Cor. 11:14-15), how much more are those who, posing as Gospel ministers, instructed their flocks "not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18)? Moreover, they aided In their arrest for not complying. The author's whole discussion of the situation leans in favor of the compromising Soviet stooges and against the valiant defenders of the faith.

    About the only value of this book is its hard-to-find information on European Baptists. As far as lending any understanding of "The Baptist Heritage" it falls far short of its goal.
     
  2. Erasmus

    Erasmus
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    I wonder if we might see the book you have written on Baptist history?
     
  3. gb93433

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    McBeth would say that the section of European Baptists is the weakest section and he wanted to include more information in a new book. It has been awhile since I talked with him. The last time I did his wife was not doing well and with all the upheavel in the SBC.

    A few years ago he was asked to write a book on women in Baptist life which he did. Broadman printed a few copies and when the books sold they refused to print more copies. Effectively the book was killed. It was killed on purpose.

    There are a number of things not in the book which he discussed in class when asked. His opinion of J. Frank Norris was not favorable toward Norris. He believes it was very likely that Norris got away with murder at least once. I think it was when when Norris' father in law fell off of a bridge while the train was crossing over a river.
     
  4. Erasmus

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    Also when he shot Chipps in his study.
     
  5. Mark Osgatharp

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    Yes, I read that book. Thank God Broadman quit printing it.

    My opinion of Norris is not favorable. The point of my mention of Norris was to show the bias toward modernism, and despite towards conservativism, with which McBeth writes.

    His characterization of Norris might be right on target. But he heaps praise on Fosdick who was an avowed modernist who openly renounced and viciously attacked the Baptist faith. You would think being an infidel would at least merit a little bit of criticism.

    All I can gather from that is that McBeth thinks a man can be an modernist and a Baptist in good standing at the same time; that is not the Baptist "heritage" with which I identify.

    If you think I have misrepresented the case and since you are aquainted with Mr. McBeth, maybe you could get him to appear here and clarify himself.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  6. Baptist Believer

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    McBeth would say that the section of European Baptists is the weakest section and he wanted to include more information in a new book. It has been awhile since I talked with him. The last time I did his wife was not doing well and with all the upheavel in the SBC. </font>[/QUOTE]His wife passed away a few years ago. He has since remarried and seems to be doing well. I saw him in church a few weeks ago.

    For good reason. I’ve researched Norris for a feature article in the local Fort Worth magazine a few years ago and have toyed with the idea of writing a book on him based on the wealth of information available. Norris was a complicated man who did a lot for the poor in the community, yet also seemed to be an unstable egomaniac.

    I haven’t heard anything about his father-in-law…

    Norris was put on trial three times and the details are fascinating, but here is the overview:

    Trial One:

    Tried for arson for the burning of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth building. (The parsonage also burned a few weeks later.) Norris claimed that he had been receiving threatening letters that indicated someone was going to burn down the church building and the parsonage. Norris was found to be in possession of the stationary used to write the letters (even the other half of a piece of stationary that had the corresponding matching torn edge – the photo was published in the Fort Worth newspaper). There was also a witness (his own church secretary) that testified that Norris had had a postal cancellation stamp created (they even located the man who created the stamp for Norris who testified against him) and had previously given her a stack of letters that she was forbidden to mail until he had be out-of-town for a few days.

    There was a wealth of evidence against him, and it seems clear that Norris perjured himself on the stand, but he was found not guilty at the judge’s demand (the judge was a supporter of Norris).

    Trial Two: (Immediately after the first one)

    Tried for perjury in his grand jury testimony for the arson trial. Things looked hopeless for Norris until his attorney discovered that the records did not indicate that Norris was sworn to tell the truth on the second day of his grand jury testimony – the day that Norris made assertions that were clearly demonstrated to be false – and no one could testify for certain that he was sworn on the second day (everyone apparently assumed that his swearing-in from the day before was sufficient for both days). He was found not guilty of perjury since he was obviously lying, but he wasn’t legally obligated to tell the truth because he had not been sworn-in on the second day.

    Trial Three: (January 1927)

    Tried for the murder of Dexter Chipps in his pastor’s study. Norris alleged that he has shot Chipps in self defense. Chipps was shot three times in the back (one of the four shots missed) and no weapons were found on or around Chipps. A deacon (L.H. Nutt, a zealous Norris supporter) who was in the office with Norris claimed Chipps was armed, but a church member (Roxie E. Parker) waiting outside Norris’s office testified that Chipps was running out of Norris’s office when Norris shot him. The trial was moved to Austin and the jury pool suddenly began receiving Norris’s church newspaper that repeatedly painted Norris as the innocent victim of a conspiracy.

    The prosecution sought the death penalty for Norris, but a juror had a medical emergency shortly after they were sent to reach a verdict and the jury ended up finding Norris not guilty.
     
  7. Pastor_Bob

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    For those interested in the Baptist history here in America, I would strongly recommend America in Crimson Red - The Baptist History of America. I have personally read this book and have found it to be a warehouse of information. It is very easy to read.

    LINK
     
  8. rlvaughn

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    BB, I think you make a good point. If there were not some good sides to the man, he probably could not have ever achieved the fame (and infamy) that he did. Overall, I don't have that good of an impression of him either. But neither do I of Fosdick, though perhaps for different reasons.

    Bro. Osgatharp, thanks for the review. I think you make some valid points. I think no one should be surprised that a person's book would reflect their bias. I think part of the problem is that somehow in our day we've arrived at a false notion that scholars, newspapers, news programs, and so on, do not have opinions but rather are merely robots recording and citing the facts.

    I don't think that invalidates the usefulness of a book like McBeth's. It has a lot of good historical information. And I expect him to make his point of what he believes. People just need to have their eyes open, whether they're reading McBeth or Christian or whomever. That's one good thing with which book reviews help.

    Perhaps you would like his sourcebook better. It contains lots of documents with a minimum of commentary. BTW, thanks for the Hallmark BC link.
     
  9. Baptist Believer

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    BB, I think you make a good point. If there were not some good sides to the man, he probably could not have ever achieved the fame (and infamy) that he did. </font>[/QUOTE]I’m sure you are right. My wife’s great-grandmother and her three young children were deserted by her husband at the beginning of the Great Depression. Because job opportunities for everyone, especially women, were very scarce in those days, her great-grandmother was in a desperate situation. Under the leadership of Norris, First Baptist Fort Worth sought out her great-grandmother and provided food and financial assistance to her family which made the difference between living in a very modest home and living on the street (or worse). A lot of other local churches didn’t do anything for the poor.

    I’ve often been accused of bashing Norris even though I have carefully noted my sources and tossed out material that has an obvious negative bias. But I’m convinced that God used Norris to do some good work – even though I’m convinced that Norris often worked hard against God’s will for his life and ministry.

    I have some appreciation for Fosdick, but his theology is a mess. Norris’s theology seemed to change to fit whatever cause he happened to be promoting.

    I agree completely.
     
  10. Mark Osgatharp

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    I have McBeth's sourcebook and find it to be a very useful book.

    As for the bias of historians, while I doubt that any man writes without bias, the theological left is, for the most part, extremely so. And what makes them so annoying is their incessant crow of their own superior learning and objectivity.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  11. Erasmus

    Erasmus
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    McBeth is doing very well. I was worrieda about him after his first wife died, but his second wife, Thelma, has breathed new life into him. There is not a time when I speak to him that I don't learn something. He is an encyclopedia of Baptist knowledge. I feel the same way about James Leo Garrett. I would have to consider him the greatest living Baptist theologian. I am sad to say, they don't make them like McBeth and Garrett anymore. Both have retired and no one has stepped into the void.
     
  12. Baptist Believer

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    I find that it is at least as bad on the "right".

    Haven't ever heard that from Leon McBeth or most other people of character that are regularly trashed on Baptist Board...

    I know some people like that (on both the left and the right), but McBeth isn't one of them.
     
  13. Erasmus

    Erasmus
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    In spite of his acumen, McBeth is a good ole boy and has no arrogance in him at all. Little crow from McBeth, unless he is bragging on his wife.
     
  14. Rhetorician

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    Erasmus,

    Would you not liken Tom Nettles and Timothy George to be cut from the same cloth as Dr. McBeth and Dr. Garrett?

    Comments?

    sdg!

    rd
     
  15. Broadus

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    Add Greg Wills (like Nettles, at SBTS) to the mix. His book Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900 should be read by every Baptist pastor.

    Concerning McBeth's Baptist Heritage, it does reflect the author's moderate biases. No one, of course, writes with pure objectivity. One must decide what to include and what to leave out, and the decision is doubtlessly colored by one's perspective. Overall, I think McBeth is a good book and very readable.

    Concerning the OP's statement concerning General Baptists and apostasy:
    it should be noted that this statement reflects a minority position among General Baptists. According to Lumpkin's Baptist Confessions of Faith, "The Creed was not published in the name of the General Assembly but of a group of the more earnestly orthodox General Baptist churches [in contrast to the followers of the heretical Matthew Caffyn] of the Midlands, in the counties of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Oxford" (295). Most GBs did believe in the possibility of apostasy. Is there another General Baptist confession which endorses such a Calvinistic view of perseverance?

    Bill
     
  16. Erasmus

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    I have read Nettles' work and I find him a great scholar and historian. Timothy George is also a fine scholar. Nettles is working on new Baptist history book for a press somewhere in England, I think. I kind of like McBeth better because he is not quite so Reformed. They are both great scholars. Garrett comes closer to being objective than any Baptist scholar I have read. McBeth, George, and Nettles, are not quite as objective as Garrett.
     
  17. gb93433

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    Dr. BcBeth was a mentor to Dr. Karen Bullock. She was often touted by both the faculty and students as being the best teacher at SWBTS. That is until Paige Patterson saw fit for some strange reason to get rid of her.

    She does live in Godly, Texas.

    http://www.dbu.edu/honors/faculty.asp
     
  18. Erasmus

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    She was one of my teachers at SWBTS. She is a really good teacher. A good explainer. I wonder why this wonderful teacher was removed from SWBTS?
     
  19. Mark Osgatharp

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    Here is a first class example of McBeth's bias:

    His discussion of "Fundamentalism" if filled with invective against the Fundamentalists. For example, he speaks of "The Fundamentalist attack upon the NBC" and concludes that Fundamentalism "inflicted gaping wounds which have never healed" on the Northern Convention (pages 568-578).

    But when he comes to discuss the modernist movement he does so under the heading, "Trends in Theology" and the closest thing he comes to passing any judgement on modernists is the calm note that, "these and other pacesetters among the Northern Baptists tilted the denomination distinctly leftward in theology."

    Now get this in historical perspective: a set of designing men rose up in Baptist acedemia to assail the Baptist faith in the very institutions Baptists established for the advance of their cause. They trashed the authority of the Scriptures, replaced the creation with their wild eyed theory that man sprang from apes, emasculated God, swapped the Holy Spirit for Sigmund Freud, bastardized Christ and disposed of the resurrection, the final judgment, heaven and hell.

    The modernists robbed the Baptists of their money, their schools, and their souls and left them little more of the Baptist faith than a worthless shell of believers baptism by immersion and "soul liberty" - which, to the modernist, means nothing other than a license to sin.

    And the worst thing Mr. McBeth can say of these men is:

    But of the men who rose up to challenge these spirtitual theives, to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, to save their institutions, to insure their Christian money was used to advance the cause of Christ, Mr. McBeth has the unmitigated gall to indict with an,

    And when these men failed to turn the NBC from it's "leftward" tilt (to use McBeth's euphemism) and thus, obeying God's command, went out from among them so as to be separate, Mr. McBeth accuses them - not those who spearheaded the affair by introducing an entirely new religion among the Baptists but those who sought to preserve the faith of Christ - with inflicting,

    and of being,

    in the tradition of the Campbellites!

    That, my friends, is McBeth for you, the man who has taken it on himself to impart to you some understanding of "The Baptist Heritage".

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  20. Hardsheller

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    It is my understanding that McBeth would have been at odds theologically with his uncle who wrote a commentary on the Book of Romans. I have that book in my study and at first glance Uncle McBeth seems to be strongly Calvinistic.

    I'm not in the office now or I could tell you his name. Does any one know it?
     

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