Baptist Historical Society Centenary Conference: Thursday

I can do no more than offer a quick overview of the contributions that I heard today.

Tony Peck: ‘Religious Freedom for Central and Eastern European Baptists in the 20th Century’: this was the morning plenary session, and Tony offered a fascinating overview of the experience of Baptist communities before, during and after the period of communism.  Of course only representative examples could be given, but these served to illustrate a broad thesis – namely that the present challenges facing Baptists in Eastern and Central Europe are similar to those faced in the pre-WWII period.  There were some fascinating facts given along the way: for example, at one point in the Communist era, 50% of all Czech Baptist pastors were in prison.

Richard Pierard: ‘The Contribution of British Baptists to the Beginnings of the Baptist World Alliance’: a short paper that, while of interest, told me little that I wasn’t generally aware of already: namely that the BWA was largely the product of the hard work of John Clifford, J. H. Shakespeare and J. H. Rushbrooke.  The only new piece of thr jigsaw was the identification of Newton Herbert Marshall as a major player in the early years.  Dick seemed to suggest  that he was the most gifted of them all intellectually (he studied with Harnack and did a PhD at Halle, published as Theology and Truth.

Matthew Tennant: ‘John Clifford’s Theological Socialism’: again the title is relatively self-explanatory, and the paper was a little unsatisfactory in that we didn’t really get to grips, in my view, with the core theological dimensions of Clifford’s political commitments.

Jonathan Arnold: ‘Benjamin Keach on Evangelism’:  another paper by a DPhil student at Regent’s Park College.  He argued that Keach, though a Particular Baptist, did possess both evangelistic fervour and endorse the offer of the gospel to unbelievers i.e. he should, on this matter at least, not be too closely identified with other Hyper-Calvinists.  This paper set the scene for my own really well, which immediately followed and seemed to be well-received.

Keith Jones: ‘The Ecclesiology of the European Baptist Association’: Baptist ecclesiology has always wrestled with the question of the ecclesiological identity of churches and or unions of churches gathering at trans-local levels.  Keith argued that the notion of a trans-local fellowship like the EBF had notions of ecclesial identity written in from the beginning, in contrast (and thus sometimes in conflict) with the self-understanding of the Baptist World Alliance.

So overall a good day with lots to think about.  Paternoster Press will be publishing the Conference proceedings in due course and I hope that my own contribution will be included there.