Paul Fiddes, Brian Haymes and Richard Kidd, Baptists and the Communion of Saints: A Theology of Covenanted Disciples (Baylor, 2014), 232pp.
Baptists have had very little to say, at least, constructively about the communion of saints. Well, that isn't wholly true, as Brian Haymes, one of the three authors of this new book on the doctrine points out. Baptists and the Communion of Saints is written by three friends - Paul Fiddes, Brian Haymes and Richard Kidd. Three friends who have be colloborating theologically together (with others) for over 30 years. The idea for the book emerged from a paper given by Haymes on the communion of saints back in 2006 and from that they decided to write a joint book that looks to see if anything can be said from a Baptist perspective on this doctrine that receives little attention.
The big theme of the book is to take a Baptist theology of covenant (which they wrote about first in 1985 in a little book called Bound to Love) and join it with a theology of communion. Each of the authors brings something of themselves to their two chapters - Fiddes his interest in covenant, participation and his recent involvement in the BWA conversations with the Roman Catholic church; Kidd brings his interest in liberation theology, process theology and poetry and Haymes' concern for Baptist history and his experience of pilgrimage to Lisieux, what was the home of the Catholic St. Thérèse. The book I think is stronger for the different style and approach to the doctrine, the chapters are both connected, but can also stand alone. The exploration of communion of saints is looked at from different angles, not all of which might have featured if had been the work of only one author. There is also something Baptist in having three authors writing together a book about the communion of saints.
The book is not just an academic treatise and ends with a jointly written chapter that asks what difference the doctrine makes. They identify four areas - the communion of saints enlarges our sense of the church, across time and space; the communion of saints enlarges our life of worship; the communion of saints can provide us with help in terms of pastoral care of the dying and the bereaved; and the communion of saints enlarges our understanding of baptism and the Lord's supper. The conclusion is that this doctine matters, and matters more than many of us recognise.
Baptists and the Communion of Saints is theology in service of the church, and not just for those who call themselves Baptists, but to other traditions. This is an important book and deserves to be widely read, especially by those engaged in ministry. This is a work of practical theology, which takes both practice and theology seriously. It is another indictator that when they can find the time, British Baptists can produce excellent theology. The book also joins an increasing number of Baptist-authored studies that have a catholic horizon - another recent example is Elizabeth Newman's study of (another Roman Catholic) St. Teresa of Avila, Attending the Wounds on Christ's Body (Cascade 2012) and also Curtis Freeman's forthcoming (and much anticipated) Contesting Catholicity (Baylor, 2014).
If you read anything this year, read this book, especially if you're Baptist. I'm convinced you won't be disappointed. I'm not saying you will agree with all of it, but it will stimulate and challenge you to think more deeply around ecclesiology, eschatology and hagiography, which will shape how you prepare and lead worship and those in your pastoral care.