Baptist Theology

Posted on March 12, 2012

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My book on Baptist Theology is now out, or at least I have been sent the preview copies. If you are interested, you can read the first few pages here. Amazon have it available for pre-order. In the introduction I describe the thesis of the book thus:

…I begin by suggesting that there are two foci around which Baptist life is lived: the individual believer and the local church. On the one hand, the practice of believers’ baptism demonstrates an intense individualism, a focus on the belief that God deals directly with each particular human person;on the other hand, the Baptist stress on the significance of the local congregation provides a focus on that community as the context in which God has promised to be active.Theologically, God’s work in each of these poles needs to be described Christologically and pneumatologically. Christ alone has the right to command the individual conscience, which means both that every particular person is responsible for their own religious decisions and practices, and that state interference in, or legislation for, religious belief and/ or practice should never be permitted. Faith and regeneration are always a miracle of grace, dependent on the atoning sacrifice of Christ and made actual in each individual life through the present work of the Holy Spirit; believers’ baptism is (at least) a powerful witness to this pneumatological regeneration.

Turning to the second pole, the local church, I wish to argue that the particular Baptist vision of the local church depends, theologically, on the belief that Christ’s rule over the church is experienced directly by each local congregation,and not mediated through a translocal hierarchy. Christ is directly present wherever his people are gathered – congregated – in his name, and Christ’s presence guarantees the reality and adequacy of the church. In seeking to know and discover the call of Christ on its life,however, each local church is dependent on the Spirit’s aid and guidance, which is ordinarily experienced in gathered community.This is the church meeting, and the reason for the primacy of the church meeting in Baptist decision-making is that this is the place where the church can expect the Spirit to reveal the mind of Christ.

These two poles are not in tension in Baptist theology – or, rather, they can be in particular contexts and instances, but there is no necessary tension – but neither may be lost without losing the heart of the vision. God, through the Son and the Spirit, calls indi- vidual believers into covenanted relationship in the local church, and equips them to build up one another within the local church, and to hear and obey the ongoing missional call to make every other human person a believer.This is Baptist theology.

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