Monday, March 16, 2009

The Baptist Cocktail

Where did Baptists come from? Did they emerge from the English Separatists? Continental Anabaptists? Some amalgamation of the two? Or were they just ordinary Christians in different groups who . . . well, read their Bibles? While we're arguing over the relationship of Baptists to Reformed, Calvinistic theology seems like a good time to take a look at those sorts of questions.

So on that note, Nathan Finn has written a short series of posts at the consistently thoughtful Between the Times blog that examines the question (parts 1 2 3). Here are his conclusions (from parts 2 and 3):
I am in favor of breaking out of the too-simplistic either/or approaches to Baptist origins (Anabaptists versus English Separatists, apostolic origins versus post-Reformation origins). The portrait is too complicated for tidy answers.

The English Baptists represent the culmination of the reformation era, agreeing with the basic evangelical soteriology of the magisterial reformers and some Anabaptists and the radical ecclesiology of the orthodox Anabaptists and some English Separatists. They also recognized and appreciated that some medieval sects were correct in at least some aspects of their ecclesiology. But Baptists did not agree with these positions because they were affirmed by Waldenses, Lutherans, Reformed, or Anabaptists, but because Baptists believed an evangelical gospel and a free believers’ church represented the heart of New Testament Christianity.

The question of Baptist origins is best answered with a both/and rather than an either/or. The 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement seems like a great time to rethink our origins and appreciate the polygenetic theological roots of the Christian people called Baptists.
To summarize, I do not believe there is any historical reason to ignore Anabaptist influence upon the Baptists, though I also do not wish to see an overemphasis on this point. As I mentioned in my previous article, I suspect there are several reasons for contemporary hesitancy in this matter. Some Baptists shudder at Anabaptist sectarianism. So do I. Some Calvinistic Baptists are uncomfortable with the Anabaptist emphasis on libertarian free will, sometimes de-emphasis of justification by faith, and fuzziness on substitutionary atonement. Ditto. Lots of Baptists are skittish about the lunatic fringe of Anabaptism. You betcha. And some seem to suspect there are present attempts to “Anabaptize” the SBC. And there may be. But none of this changes what I think is good historical evidence that the earliest Baptists were influenced, to varying degrees, by some Anabaptists.
That was actually my working hypothesis as I head into some reading on the issue (as soon as I'm done with this book), but Finn's no doubt read a hundred times as much on the topic as I have, so take his word, not mine. Since Finn cites the two books I'm planning to read, Verduin and Estep, I'm guessing my opinion won't move much.


Kent Brandenburg said...

I also suggest Thomas Armitage two volume History of the Baptists, and John T. Christian's two volume set, A History of the Baptists.

Greg Linscott said...

So, no one's talking about going all the way back to John the Baptist, eh? :D

Ben said...


That's the sort of post that tempts me to revoke your G-Harmony status.

Andrew said...

Forget all of those other books. All you need to read is "The Trail of Blood," brother :)

matt said...

Andrew...from the smiley, I take it you are implying some degree of sarcasm :) What's wrong with The Trail of Blood (

Kent Brandenburg said...

I've never read The Trail of Blood and thought, "Wow, this is comprehensive. I know what I need to know now. And the documentation is beyond question." It seems to me that it was written like a pamphlet or booklet for men in the church, who might wonder if there had been anything but Roman Catholicism before the Reformation. It wouldn't make sense that we represent the truth, if there were a gigantic gap between the first century and 1500 where no true churches existed.

Abraham Lincoln was born 200 years ago and I've read a few biographies of him and they contradict each other all over the place. I'm right now reading "The Real Lincoln," which seems pretty credible, and it says he was a horrible president, if you judge him based on the Constitution of the U.S.

Greg, I don't get the joke. Could you clue me in?

Andrew said...


I was just poking a little fun. In some of the more landmarkian churches that I have seen (and grew up in), The Trail of Blood was THE authoritative source for Baptist History. Nothing else needed to be read. And I think the first sentence of Kent's response is a little closer to the truth.

Just ignore me. I generally have one obnoxious moment a day and I just happened to be writing during that moment today.

matt said...


No problem. I know enough to know that I don't know much about Baptist history. I have read the Trail of Blood...but not much else. I know that leads to a one sided view of things...I was just hoping to get some good ideas about potential problems and other good sources.



Anonymous said...

The Baptist cocktail? I don't remember exactly how it goes, but it reminds me of the old adage to make sure you never take 1 Baptist fishing. Always take 2. If you take 1 he'll drink all your beer, but if you take 2 they'll each act is if they've never seen the stuff.

Michael said...

This is a good history book written by a Reformed Baptist.

Anonymous said...

The Trail of Blood may contain some accurate comments about some historical "non-conformist" Christians. However, if I recall correctly (it's been a long time since I read it), the premise is logically fallacious.

The fact that there were some people in the past that believed some of the things that modern American baptists believe does nothing to establish a historical relationship or connection -- post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that.

Every denomination (or non-denominational grouping) has its arrogances, but this has been a big one among baptists. Anyone they agree with is "Baptistic". I always wanted to know why their name gets to be the defining term. Why aren't Baptists "Waldensianistic" or "Brethrenistic"?

All this typed in happiness and love from one in the family of true descendants from John the Baptizer -- the Presbyterians. We baptize the whole family man!


Ben said...


I totally agree. Cept for that furrin languidge part. Bein a Babtist and all I ain't unnerstandin it.

Bernie Wojcik said...

I would think a study of Baptist confessions / doctrinal statements throughout the years would be more enlightening to the greater question of the "relationship of Baptists to Reformed, Calvinistic theology."

Robbie Glazner said...

Ben, great post. In regards to the statement "Some Calvinistic Baptists are uncomfortable with the Anabaptist emphasis on libertarian free will," I have recently done some reading that implies the Waldenses were actually somewhat Calvinistic (even before Calvin came along). Calvin was even labeled an anabaptist by one of the bishops in 1533 do to his aborant views of election. Left that book in NM, I'll dig it up and see who it sites.

christopher said...

Ben, i think you underestimate the degree to which reading Verduin may move your opinion.

Ben said...

Which direction?