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Through a Glass Darkly

Contested Notions of Baptist Identity

Keith Harper, Keith Harper, James P. Byrd, Bill J. Leonard, James A. Patterson, Christopher H. Evans

Publication Year: 2012

Through a Glass Darkly is a collection of essays by scholars who argue that Baptists are frequently misrepresented, by outsiders as well as insiders, as members of an unchanging monolithic sect.
In contemporary discussions of religious denominations, it is often fashionable and easy to make bold claims regarding the history, beliefs, and practices of certain groups. Select versions of Baptist history have been used to vindicate incomplete or inaccurate assertions, attitudes, and features of Baptist life and thought. Historical figures quickly become saints, and overarching value systems can minimize the unsavory realities that would contribute to a truer interpretation of Baptist life.
The essays in this volume use the term Baptist in the broadest sense to refer to those Christians who identify themselves as Baptists and who baptize by immersion as a non-sacramental church rite. Over the past four hundred years, Baptists have grown from a persecuted minority to a significant portion of America’s religious population. They have produced their fair share of controversies and colorful characters that have, in turn, contributed to a multifaceted history.
But what does it mean to be a “real Baptist”? Some look to historical figures as heroic exemplars of Baptist core values. Others consider cultural, social, or political issues to be guideposts for Baptist identity. Through a Glass Darkly dives deeper into history for answers, revealing a more complete version of the expansive and nuanced history of one of America’s most influential religious groups.
James P. Byrd / John G. Crowley / Edward R. Crowther / Christopher H. Evans / Elizabeth H. Flowers / Curtis W. Freeman / Barry G. Hankins / Paul Harvey / Bill J. Leonard / James A. Patterson / Jewel L. Spangler / Alan Scot Willis

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Religion and American Culture

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

It is always a pleasure to acknowledge those whose hard work led to the production of a work such as this. First, I want to thank the contributors. Each author provided an excellent essay, and it was my honor to work with each one. Two essays appeared previously in scholarly journals. ...

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pp. 1-10

If bibliographies, book lists, and the like are any indicator, North American Baptists ended the twentieth century in the throes of an identity crisis. Little wonder. The world had witnessed a communications revolution that spawned the Internet. The Soviet Union had collapsed. ...

Part I. Key Themes

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1. Baptists, Church, and State: Rejecting Establishments, Relishing Privilege

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pp. 13-29

Writing around 1612, Baptist founder Thomas Helwys set forth one of the earliest statements on religious freedom, anticipating liberty of conscience and religious pluralism.1 In fact, the paragraph contains in itself some of the essentials of Baptist approaches to church and state. It (1) attacks establishmentarian religion; ...

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2. Democratic Religion Revisited: Early Baptists in the American South

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pp. 30-50

Virginia Baptist minister James Ireland would never forget the winter of 1769–1770. He spent most of it incarcerated in Culpepper County for preaching without a license. There, dreadful living conditions and worries about his impending court appearance turned out to be the least of his troubles. ...

Part II. Biography

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3. Persecution and Polemics: Baptists and the Shaping of the Roger Williams Tradition in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 53-83

Controversy has always surrounded Roger Williams. Soon after arriving in New England, he engaged Puritan leaders on several issues. He denied the validity of their church because it was still aligned with the corrupt Church of England. He denied the validity of their colony, arguing that King Charles I had no right ...

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4. E. Y. Mullins and the Siren Songs of Modernity

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pp. 84-111

Ancient sailors attempting to navigate the waters between present-day Italy and Sicily faced two seemingly impassable perils: Scylla, a massive rock that devoured hapless victims in its sharp teeth, and Charybdis, a whirlpool whose currents sucked helpless ships into its swirling vortex. ...

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5. The Contested Legacy of Lottie Moon: Southern Baptists, Women, and Partisan Protestantism

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pp. 112-144

When conducting an ethnographic study of Southern Baptist women a few years ago, I heard an ordained pastor involved with Baptist Women in Ministry speak of the “real Lottie Moon.”1 Having grown up in a Southern Baptist church and participated in the denomination’s mission group for girls, Girls-in-Action, ...

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6. Walter Rauschenbusch and the Second Coming: The Social Gospel as Baptist History

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pp. 145-171

In his 1912 book, Christianizing the Social Order, Walter Rauschenbusch made a passing comment in response to a pamphlet that critiqued his first major book, Christianity and the Social Crisis. The pamphlet in question was written by prominent northern Baptist clergyman I. M. Haldeman. ...

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7. “I Am Fundamentally a Clergyman, a Baptist Preacher”: Martin Luther King Jr., Social Christianity, and the Baptist Faith in an Era of Civil Rights

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pp. 172-202

To some, the sound was that of a truck backfiring; the Reverend Ralph David Abernethy initially thought “Firecracker?” Charlie Stephens, a tenant in Bessie Brewer’s rooming house on South Main Street, knew it was a gunshot, as did a Memphis fireman, George Loenneke, who was observing the scene through field glasses at nearby Fire Station No. 2. ...

Part III. Historiography

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8. “Written that Ye May Believe”: Primitive Baptist Historiography

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pp. 205-227

A denomination with Primitive in their title proclaims a deep commitment to the principle of ad fontes and, therefore, a profound commitment to the past, at least as they understand it to have been. Two factors hamper their investigations. First, most Primitive Baptist history is purely oral or recorded in unpublished church minute books ...

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9. Reframing the Past: The Impact of Institutional and Ideological Agendas on Modern Interpretations of Landmarkism

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pp. 228-250

The modern historical enterprise assumes a close relationship between memories of the past and the present-day identities of both individuals and organizations. In other words, one of the widely acknowledged benefits of historical consciousness is that it sharpens memory and thus can contribute to an enhanced sense of personal or group character. ...

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10. Is There a River?: Black Baptists, the Uses of History, and the Long History of the Freedom Movement

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pp. 251-271

Writing to Ralph McGill in 1962, a black Georgian queried the white southern moderate editor of the Atlanta Constitution on the unconscious assumptions that distorted the views of even the best-intentioned white southerners. In a previous editorial, McGill had excoriated religious institutions for doing “nothing at all” to address the region’s social ills. ...

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11. Symbolic History in the Cold War Era

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pp. 272-295

In February 1945, the Southern Baptist Training Union, an organization dedicated to training Baptists to live their faith in their daily lives, provided a carefully planned “tea party” social for Juniors, who were typically between the ages of nine and eleven. The evening’s festivities unfolded around the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, ...

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12. Southern Baptists and the F-Word: A Historiography of the Southern Baptist Convention Controversy and What It Might Mean

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pp. 296-324

In 1992, an article appeared in Church History titled “The Strange Career of J. Frank Norris: Or, Can a Baptist Democrat be a Fundamentalist Republican?.”1 Norris identified himself as both a fundamentalist and a Baptist, and he claimed to be a Democrat while almost always supporting Republican candidates for president. ...


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pp. 325-326


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pp. 327-333

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386146
E-ISBN-10: 0817386149
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817357122
Print-ISBN-10: 0817357122

Page Count: 345
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Religion and American Culture