This is my third and final interview with some fellow Baptists. While Simon is a biblical scholar, Chris is a liturgical theologian, Anthony R. Cross is a baptist historian. Thanks to all 3 for taking part. Anthony amongst many activities is currently supervising my MTh research into recent Baptist thinking on the theology of children. Anthony has contributed to Baptist history with several volumes on baptism and sacramental theology. Earlier this year saw the publication of Baptist Sacramentalism 2 (which he co-edited) and On Being the Church which he co-wrote with Brian Haymes and Ruth Gouldbourne. both volumes are in the Paternoster series Studies in Baptist History and Thought, for which Anthony is the co-ordinating editor. I will be reviewing both in the forthcoming month.
Why did you, Brian Haymes and Ruth Gouldbourne decide to write On Being the Church?
Brian first raised the idea with me, and then Ruth came on board, and it grew out of a concern that Baptist theology is in need of revision. In fact, we believe every generation needs to revision theology. We shouldn’t simply and blindly accept the tradition into which we come. (This is only speculation, but I think it was shortly after Brian had been to the States and met with the likes of Philip Thompson, Curtis Freeman, Barry Harvey, Beth Newman and Mike Broadway who had worked with James McClendon on a thing often called the Baptist Manifesto, Re-Envisioning Baptist identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America . [In fact, it was through this contact and Brian that I got to know Philip Thompson, now one of my best friends—his The Freedom of God is a very important piece of Baptist theology.]) We also felt that perhaps a different way of looking at many of the key issues for Baptists might shed new light on them. We also feel very strongly that instead of starting from a Baptist distinctive (the doctrine of the church) we should start from what is central to Baptist faith and life—God in Trinity. So we examine the usual themes but beginning with the Trinity. It’s not intended as the final word on anything (all theology is provisional—1 Cor. 13.12), but we hope it will further theological discussion and stimulate (even provoke) further work in these fields.
I’d never written collaboratively before, and it was a strange and challenging process, but one I would not have missed. There are times, reflected in the published book, when it’s clear that we didn’t agree with each other, and there are others when we didn’t agree, but because we were exploring issues we didn’t feel the need to indicate that that was the case. The wonderful, fascinating thing was that though we all come from different Baptist traditions/backgrounds, we all ‘do’ theology in different ways and see things, at times, so differently, nevertheless we agree on most things, and those things on which we don’t agree aren’t problems. Our discussions were enriched by such differences, and we all learned much from each other. We met regularly throughout the years and those times were precious. I miss them—Brian and Ruth—and those times together. I forget who made the comment, but one of them said ‘What are we going to write next?’ (not their ipsissima verba). The best part of the process was the fellowship with Brian and Ruth. We hope and pray the book will be useful.
In the light of a second collection of essays on Baptist sacramentalism, do you think Baptists are now becoming more sacramentalist?
There is undoubtedly a recovery of sacramentalism among British Baptists—there have always been Baptist sacramentalists among both Arminian and Calvinistic Baptists (both Arminius and Calvin were sacramentalists [incidentally Arminius was a Calvinist]). As a result of this British recovery of sacramental theology a lot more Baptists are recovering a biblically-based sacramentalism in North America and further afield.
In recent years you’ve written a lot on the subject of baptism. What do you think are two or three of the most helpful books on baptism that Baptists should read?
Without doubt, George R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1972 ). If you can get a copy, also his Baptism Today and Tomorrow (London: Macmillan/New York: St Martin’s Press, 1966).
Then David F. Wright, What has Infant Baptism done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the End of Christendom (Didsbury Lectures, 2003; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2005) and Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective: Collected Studies (Studies in Christian History and Thought; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007).
I also anticipate that Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, forthcoming 2009) will be a must read as well.
Also, in a couple of years when its out, mine—please.
You’re a commissioning editor for the Paternoster series Studies in Baptist History and Thought. How did the series come about?
I’m co-ordinating editor, working with Stephen R. Holmes from St Andrews, Philip E. Thompson from Sioux Falls, Beth Newman from Baptist Theological Seminary, Richmond, and Curtis Freeman of Duke, with consultant editors David Bebbington, Paul S. Fiddes, the late Stanley J. Grenz, Ken R. Manley and Stanley E. Porter.
The series originated in a suggestion to me by the then Commissioning Editor for Paternoster Press, Dr Tony Gray. Paternoster originally had just one monograph series, Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs, which began in 1997, the brainchild of Prof. I. Howard Marshall and Mr Jeremy Mudditt, whose father founded Paternoster in 1935. Anyway, around 2000, they were receiving more submissions from Baptist authors—they had either published or had already accepted mine (Baptism and the Baptists), Stan Fowler’s More Than a Symbol and Peter Shepherd’s The Making of a Modern Denomination. Paternoster were concerned about appearing to be too Baptist, so Tony Gray made the passing comment that we either reject Baptist submissions or set up a Baptist series. So we did. From that point he let me set it up. I very early consulted David Bebbington who, in time, wrote the series preface we use, and he allowed us to use the three heraldic shields on the cover (see the preface for their explanation), borrowed from the International Conference on Baptist Studies. SBHT was the first of the now five Paternoster series to have a series preface, but also to have series editors, and the only one of the five to use volume numbers (we are about to accept volumes 49 and 50). We also have series consultant editors—this was because, at first, SBHT was the first series of its kind and the names of four world-renown scholars as consultant editors would help establish the academic credibility of the series. David Bebbington as a historian, Paul Fiddes and Stan Grenz as theologians from both sides of the Atlantic, and Stan Porter, a biblical scholar and someone who knows editing and publishing exceedingly well, being one of the editors for the JSNT Supplement Series. When Stan Grenz tragically passed away in 2005 we asked Ken Manley (an historian) to take Stan’s place (if you will forgive the indelicate way of saying that). All five are international scholars who are fully supportive of what we’re seeking to do in the series and to keep the standard high.
What new editions to the series can we expect to see in the next few years?
As for forthcoming volumes, if I may mention author’s names and their subject areas I hope you’ll allow me that shorthand (and forgive the lack of order):
John H.Y. Briggs’ collection of essays on eighteenth century Baptists, ministers and lay
John’s also general editor of the European Dictionary of Baptist Life and Thought, which is a departure for the series, and a resource for European ministers, sponsored by IBTS in Prague
John’s also editing the centenary essays for the Baptist Historical Society
Philip E. Thompson’s The Freedom of God: Towards Baptist Theology in Pneumatological Perspective
With Roger Ward, Philip is editing a collection of essays on Tradition and the Baptist Academy
Keith G. Jones’ study of the European Baptist Federation
David B. Riker on Benjamin Keach on federalism and baptism.
Paul F. Walker on Peter Thomas Stanford, former slave and Birmingham’s first Black Baptist minister.
Damian Brot’s Church of the Baptized or Church of Believers? A Contribution to the Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Free Churches, with Special Reference to Baptists
Keith S. Grant on Andrew Fuller’s Pastoral Theology
Brian Talbot’s editing a collection on twentieth-century Scottish Baptists
Clint Bass on Thomas Grantham and General Baptist Theology
Allen Yeh on the missiology of Orlando E. Costas
Kevin Herlihy on Irish Baptists and their Sources
Karen Smith on the spirituality of Hampshire and Wiltshire Baptists, including Anne Steele
Martin Sutherland on Baptists Thought in New Zealand 1850–2000
Ademola Ajayi on Baptists in Nigeria
Parush Parushev and Keith Jones are editing a collection of papers on James W. McClendon’s theology
Also, we should publish the Fifth ICOBS conference papers form Melbourne this summer, on Interfaces.
We’re just about to accept a volume of church and state and a collection of essays on Baptist women—an interdisciplinary collection of biblical, historical and theological studies by female scholars to be edited by Cynthia Y. Aalders.
So there’s plenty to look forward to.
What theologian/scholar has had the most influence on your theology?
F.F. Bruce. He was trained as a classicist before becoming a biblical scholar and his historical approach to biblical studies (and all he wrote) undoubtedly makes him the most influential scholar on my theological development. The first theological book I ever read was Bruce’s The Apostolic Defence of the Gospel (Leicester: IVP, 1959). In order to do the degree while at Bristol Baptist College I had to re-take ‘A’ levels and my father taught me ‘A’ level RE at home—he was a former head of the RE department of the local teacher training college in my home town, Bromsgrove—and this is the first book he gave me to read. In fact, when my father died last year I kept his copy of the book—the one I had read—and passed on the copy I had subsequently bought. I have always loved reading Bruce’s many books and articles, and am taken at the way he always maintained academic integrity and Christian faith. In fact, his faith shines through his work.
My third year, undergraduate dissertation at Bristol University was comparing F.F. Bruce and Rudolf Bultmann on the historical reliability of the New Testament. At Dr West’s suggestion I sent it to Bruce and he read it and we exchanged a few letters and phone calls. At one stage it was being revised as a TSF (Theological Students’ Fellowship linked to UCCF) monograph, and I travelled to Manchester and met professor Bruce in the lobby of the Piccadilly Hotel. It was one of the most memorable hour and three quarters of my life and the only time I met him. He was a godly, Christian gentleman. Probably my favourite books are Bruce’s Tradition Old and New (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1970) and Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, rev. edn, 1977). These were the two books I took with me and got him to sign when I met him. Favourite books, though, would have to include George R. Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1972 ). The quirkiness of history, there, is that all three books were published by Paternoster Press, who I have spent the last nine years working for as a freelance consultant editor. They published my doctorate—at Dr Beasley-Murray‘s suggestion at the end of my viva.
What was the last book you read?
Barrington R. White’s The English Separatist Tradition: From the Marian Martyrs to the Pilgrim Fathers (Oxford Theological Monographs; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971). It’s background reading on John Smyth and Thomas Helwys and their exiled congregations’ adoption of believer’s baptism. It’s one of those books I’d dipped into before, but never read cover to cover. Excellent.
How does being a B/baptist shape how you do theology?
Consciously, it doesn’t. The way I study and write theology has developed over the years and is the result of all the influences on me. I don’t consciously write as a B/baptist, but as a Christian first and foremost, and then an Evangelical and Baptist Christian. I don’t know which comes first—I suppose contexts would dictate which I said first, whether Evangelical or Baptist or together as an evangelical Baptist. By ‘Evangelical’ I mean that scripture is the primary source for faith and practice, but also in the sense set out by David Bebbington in his Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989). However, like F.F. Bruce I am only happy to call myself, and be called, an evangelical—I don’t like additional adjectives. To be honest, I don’t like labels as people think that once they’ve labelled you then they’ve somehow categorized you and know what you think. Ward Gasque presented a paper last year on Bruce and sub-titled it ‘An Unhyphenated Evangelical’—I like that. Labels often tell you more about the person using the label than the person being labelled, and it’s divisive. So, I’m an Evangelical-Baptist Christian and I do theology the way I do. It’s changed over the years and I expect it will continue to do so as I read, listen, think and learn more. The major influences on me have been my father who, as an educationalist, taught me how to learn and to love learning; Dr Morris West, Principal of Bristol Baptist College; Rev. Keith Blades, my minister at New Road Baptist Church, Bromsgrove, who was a great pastor, preacher and evangelist; and, on the study of baptism, George R. Beasley-Murray and David F. Wright, both of whose humility, grace, generosity of spirit, encouragement and desire to be biblically-based in their many writings on the subject have challenged, enlightened and taught me so much.
What do you think will be the major discussion points in B/baptist theology over the next ten years?
The obvious one for me to mention is that there’s an increasing interest in sacramental theology and it would be good to see more attempts to apply this in practice.
Personally I hope that B/baptists will start being more theological and less pragmatic. For me this is something that we need to recover, being the people of the Book not just in theory but in practice. We need a thoughtful and thought-provoking ministry, and theologically literate ministers and laity. The needs of today will not be met by a continuing anti-intellectualism that characterises too many B/baptists and Evangelicals. We need, in my opinion, to move away from superficiality to competent biblical/theological expositors of the word of God from the pulpit, in Bible studies, Sunday school and private devotionals. I have the strong impression from my work with Paternoster’s five academic monograph series that there are more B/baptist pastor-scholars than at any previous time, not just here in the UK, but in North America and further afield, and this is a sign of real encouragement. If we could support more the work of the Colleges in preparation for ministry at all levels—not just pastoral—that would strengthen the church in providing stronger, securer foundations than the superificality that so typifies too much of B/baptist life, thought, worship and mission.
I hope B/baptists will become broader in their vision of the work of God amongst the whole people of God and not just focused on their own faith and the life, worship and witness of their immediate church contexts. Issues of church and state, persecution and witness, perseverance and faithfulness might well be issues, not least because western governments appear to becoming more Big Brother-ish (interfering, even to the point of interfering with religious freedom) and secularist, and a- if not anti-Christian (even, perhaps, anti-religion).
I also think issues of inter-faith dialogue will continue to be important, as will matters ecumenical (at all levels).
All that said, I’m probably way off the mark and my gifting as a prophet will have been shown as the sham it is!
Can you tell us anything more about your current writing projects?
I’m working on a paper for this autumn, a series of lectures at Regent’s Park College [Ed. These will be given in Hilary term 2009] on ‘Baptist Origins’. My paper is on ‘The Adoption of Believer’s Baptism and Baptist Beginnings’. Then there are the following.
A book on baptism:
Rediscovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2010–11)
And several edited volumes:
I’m hoping that we’ll get an expanded collection of papers from the Second International Conference on Baptist Studies out in the next year or so, co-edited with David Bebbington, Global Baptist History (Studies in Baptist History and Thought, 14; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2010), which includes my paper on ‘The Holy Spirit: The Key to the Baptismal Sacramentalism of H. Wheeler Robinson’. The conference papers were originally published in Baptist History and Heritage 26.1-2 (Winter/Spring 2001).
A chapter entitled:
‘Baptists and Baptism’ (provisional title), in Gordon L. Heath and James D. Dvorak (eds), Baptism: Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives (Hamilton, ON: McMaster Divinity College Press, 2009) (including responses to the other papers in the volume)
Also some dictionary and journal articles:
Chapters on ‘Baptism’, ‘Infant Baptism’ and ‘Christian Initiation’ in John H.Y. Briggs et al (eds), European Dictionary of Baptist Life and Thought (Studies in Baptist History and Thought; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009).
‘Baptism’, in Martin Davie, Tim Grass, Stephen R. Holmes, John McDowell and Tom Noble (eds), New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009).
‘Joachim of Fiore’, in David Fergusson, Karen Kilby, Ian A. McFarland and Iain Torrance (eds), Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
‘Recovering a Biblical-Theological Baptismal Sacramentalism for Baptists Today/Die Wiederentdeckung eines biblisch-theologisch begründeten sakramentalen Taufverständnisses im Baptismus’, presented to the Gesellschaft für Freikirchliche Theologie und Publizistik (Society for Free Church Theology and Publishing), Marburg, 30 January–1 February 2009, forthcoming in their journal Zeitschrift für Theologie und Gemeinde.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Depends what aspect of me your referring to. Also, if you ask my wife, Jackie, you’ll know I can’t handle questions like this. But to show willing… If you’re thinking of my writing: evangelical, detailed, well-footnoted. If you’re thinking about my preaching: biblically-based, long, un-footnoted. If you’re thinking about my character, I’m pleading the fifth. That was painful.