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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of baptist theology, 29 May 2012
By 
A. Goodliff (stevenage, uk) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
You wait for one Steve Holmes book, and then two come along. Earlier this year, Holmes published a historical study of the doctrine of the Trinity, this new book is a study of Baptist theology, in the T & T Clark Doing Theology series.

Holmes is well placed to write on Baptist theology, having studied at Spurgeon's College and been involved in a number of different Baptist conversations both internally in England and Wales and latterly in Scotland and also ecumenically with the Church of England. Holmes has also contributed to Baptist theology with particular essays on tradition, missiology, ordination, baptism, the Bible, Christology, the church meeting and ecclesiology.

In a fairly brief study of seven chapters, Holmes surveys the story of Baptist life and theology, Baptist contributions to Christian doctrine (what he calls here 'ecumenical theology'), and Baptist understandings of eccleisology, of liberty, and of mission. The first chapter tells the story of Baptist beginnings and this is one of the best introductions I've read in a while - in terms of length and readability - that is, it tells a fairly complex story with clarity and brevity. The second chapter tells the story of Baptists beginnings in North America, this is arguably even more complex, but as someone who always found it difficult to grasp all the different expressions of Baptist life in America, Holmes makes sense of the developments, drawing attention to key players and key theological choices. The third chapter picks up the story again in the UK and also now in Europe and the rest of the world. Here Holmes again gives a helpful description of how Baptist theology developed in the UK and Europe, although struggles with regard to the rest of the world (aside from Australia), which Holmes says is due in large part to the current lack of published work.

In chapter four Holmes makes the argument that there is not much that is distinctive about Baptist understandings of most Christian doctrine - Baptists agreed with thirty-five of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England. Baptist theologies of God, the work and person of Christ, of creation and eschatology and of revelation and theological method find themselves mirroring and sometimes contributing to basic content of a broad Protestant theology. Where Baptist theology is distinctive is the subject of the next two chapters on eccleisology and liberty. In the ecclesiology chapter the Baptist emphasis on believer's baptism, the local church, congregational government, interdependence and leadership are all explored here. In the final section on leadership Holmes makes a Baptist argument for the ministry of women on the basis of our practice of communal discernment in, and the authority of, the church meeting, to which we only ask that Baptists of another view take heed. The chapter of liberty introduces the reader to the important characters of Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Isaac Backus and their arguments for religious liberty and freedom of conscience. This is followed by a discussion of the work of the influential North American Baptist, E. Y. Mullins at the turn of the 20th century who argued for what he called 'soul competency' (the competency of each individual to relate to God), which ultimately Holmes finds unhelpful (democracy becomes an idol) and misleading (for it is only Christ makes a human competent).

The final chapter sees Holmes focus on mission and holiness, which includes a section of the place of the child in Baptist thought. Holmes identifies the problems for Baptists not practicing infant baptism, and that as a result, the Baptist approach to children is evangelistic rather than catechetical. In an argument in a short forthcoming book on the child in Baptist thought, I have made the argument, that at the very least, the child who is attached to the church, who grows up in the church, is more akin to a member of the catechumenate, than an object of church's mission, wanting to emphasise that an ecclesial relationship is established in infant presentation. The section on holiness, which explores the Baptist language of 'walking together and watching over', is very good, and deserves to be read by every member of a Baptist church in what membership means.

In the introduction and conclusion Holmes argues that Baptist theology has two central foci: the individual believer and the local church. There is an 'intense individualism' in Baptist theology and practice, to which this reader finds more concerning than Holmes. I suspect that is because I remain closer theologically on this point to Gunton and Zizioulas, than Holmes now does. I am not qualified enough to judge this on the basis of the history of theology, but it does appear to me that to emphasise the individual in our highly individualistic culture is unhelpful and so the theology of the person found in Gunton and Zizioulas makes an important contribution today, but this may reflect that my Baptist-ness is tempered by a greater concern for catholicity. This is not to suggest that Holmes gives in to the culture of the day, because the second central foci, the local church, ensures that any individualism is balanced by the importance of the local church.

This is an excellent book. Holmes writes with a broad audience in mind and many parts of the book give an important account of Baptist thought, both for the Baptist Christian and for ecumenical friends, who find Baptists a somewhat strange bunch. I have said elsewhere that Baptist theology is currently flourishing - now we just need to get Baptist churches to take some time to be nourished and challenged by it! The book will surely feature on all Baptist college reading lists, to be read alongside Fiddes' Tracks and Traces and Wright's Free Church, Free State.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for those who want to understand Baptist Theology, 18 Jun 2012
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This thought provoking book deserves a wide readership both within the Baptist community and by Christians of other traditions who want to be better informed as to what it means to be a Baptist. The review below is not exhaustive rather as the author has provoked me to think I have shared my responses. Any critical comments are not meant to deter the reader from reading this book. I would recommend this book to all who want to understand baptists better.

The author does us a service by tackling what is a neglected areas of historical theology and systematic theology, This short book can only be the start of serious reflection about Baptist Theology, but it is a good starting place.
In this review I will bring out some areas I believe need some clarification, where I do not comment the reader can safely assume that I agree with the authors conclusions.

Chapter one deals with Baptist beginnings, here we are introduced to the central characters and the early movements amongst Baptist namely the Particular Baptists and General Baptists. But before this we are given a very helpful study of the nature of separatism in Britain, this is vital to a greater understanding of the context of the Baptist Movement. I found the discussion of hyper-Calvinism and particularly Gill's theology interesting but I feel that we fail to give a proper estimate of Gill if we do not acknowledge his vast theological knowledge and his passion for expounding the Scripture. Gill's Body of Divinity and his Body of Practical Divinity, give insights into a deep understanding of the word of God. I am somebody who was raised in hyper-Calvinistic circles and once I saw that evangelical Calvinism was the truth in this matter, I tended to ignore Gill but recently I have been consulting these two volumes again. With Gill we are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Lets take the good and reject the bad. I don't know if any earlier baptist had tried to produce a systematic theology as Gill attempted but I feel we should honour him for the attempt. I have just read some of the comments about Gill in chapter 4, which seem to see his significance more clearly

I find Andrew Fuller's refutation of hyper-Calvinism utterly convincing, his writings were a major factor in liberating me from the bondage of hyper-Calvinism so the account here is of major interest to me.

This whole chapter is full of insights about the beginnings of the Baptist movement and I feel that anyone not familiar with Baptist history would benefit from reading this chapter.

Chapter two introduces us to the beginning of the Baptist movement in North America starting with the Pilgrim Fathers. I do not feel that I need to say much about this chapter but I found the comments about the context of the theological task illuminating, it certainly explained to me some of the reasons why I could not fully grasp what Augustus Strong was doing in his Systematic Theology. This whole chapter shows the pitfalls of falling into one of two extremes, dogmatic formulations such as the fundamentalist movement produced are reactionary, on the other hand Liberal theology watered down the gospel.

Carl Henry is given a rightful mention and it is not just Baptists but all evangelicals that are indebted to his pioneering work. Undoubtedly for many of us Henry is too much a child of the Rationalistic movement in theology, yet he taught us a lot about the theological task. Surely he is worthy of honour because of his work to bring evangelicals out of the ghetto of fundamentalism into engagement with culture.

Chapter 3 starts with a review of British Baptist life and thought since 1800. although the author mentions the advent of the open table at communion, he is strangely silent about the continuing stream of Baptist life in this country which still practices strict communion namely the Strict Baptists. The Strict Baptists have always been divided into groups, the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists are hyper-Calvinistic in their theology, whereas the other stream now known as Grace Baptist have always held to an evangelical Calvinism. In the early days of the strict Baptist there was also a heated Christological debate which resulted in J.C Philpot publishing his book "The Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ" Philpot was unusual among the Strict Baptists in that he was their only highly educated spokesman.

I am not convinced that the author has been completely fair to Spurgeon, to say that he was not a theologian is I think unfair, one has onle to read his sermon " A Dirge to the Down Grade" to see that Spurgeon saw clearly where Liberal theology would lead too. I grant that Spurgeon was not an academic theologian but he certainly knew what he wanted taught at his Pastors college.

On the whole this chapter is helpful and illuminating and I don't want comments to distract from the positive teaching and wealth of knowledge this book contains. The rest of this chapter gives greater insight into how Baptist Life developed in various parts of the world, there is much of value here. It would be great to see some ofthese themes expanded on in the future,not necessarily by Holmes because it seems from the material presented here, that other scholars from those parts of the world would be able to evaluate their own histories in greater depth.

Chapter Four, gives an overview of the doctrines hold in common with other other Christian bodies. This chapter gives an even handed presentation of those issues where there is no distinct Baptist view, but he presents us with Baptists who have contributed to the larger debates.

Chapter 5, In this chapter the author examines the two key items which most people think of when they think of being a Baptist namely Baptism and Congregational Church government.

Firstly be looks at the subject of Baptism, I am more than a little surprised to see the term "individualist" applied to baptism, surely baptism states not only that the believer has been born again but also he now is a member of the Church of God. Therefore it is unhelpful to divorce baptism from church membership as many British Baptist Churches do. The New Testament and Post-Apostolic Church pattern is to see baptism as the gateway to church membership. Baptism is a sacrament of the church and therefore not purely individualistic. Baptism testifies to the believers new life in Christ and his incorporation into the body of Christ. In the New Testament all church members were baptized and all those who were baptized were church members. Baptism emphasizes both the individual's coming to faith and his incorporation into the family of the church. Because of this I am glad that I belong to a closed membership church. We need not be ashamed of our baptist distinctives, nor do we need to tone down down the teaching because of ecumenical concerns, ecumenism seems to operate on the lowest common denominator of faith rather than trying to unite the church on the basis of biblical doctrine. It will be obvious I hope that I approach the doctrine of baptism from a sacramental standpoint rather than a symbolic interpretation, Holmes helpfully explains the differences here with reference to George Beasley-Murray's helpful book on the subject.

Secondly, we are led into a discussion of congregational church government, Holmes rightly stresses that the purpose of a chjurch meeting is to discern the mind of Christ for that congregation. The church meeting is vital to this process but in my view in recent years the average church member does not understand this important principle. In the past it was not uncommon to have the Church Meeting after the prayer meeting and I have read of some eighteenth century churches that would not allow a member to vote if that member had not been present at the prayer meeting. This underlined the importance of seeking the mind of Christ, today one often hears the comment that goes something like this "why did we have to spend so much time worshiping and praying when its a business meeting". The author rightly explains the difference between democracy and what goes on at a church meeting. The section on Church leadership has many helpful insights into the nature of ordination and the issue of women's ordination, this section deserves careful reading and reflecting upon. However although Pastors, elders and deacons are all mentioned this section does not deal with the vexed question of the authority of Church leaders. some Baptists believe that all authority is rooted in the church meeting, this does not give an adequate reflection of the picture of the eldership given in the New Testament. The elder of the church is the shepherd of the flock and has a god given authority to teach and lead. This is not to confused with models of heavy shepherding which were prominent in some circles in the seventies and eighties.

This is bit of an aside but on page 110 Holmes makes this statement,

the distinctive teaching of the contemporary charismatic movement, as of its Pentecostal precursor,is not the present reality of the action of the Holy Spirit, but that certain `supernatural' gifts, long regarded by mainstream Christians as withdrawn from the church, are in fact still given by the Spirit.

I find this statement amazing because a look at both Pentecostal and Charismatic theology and history will confirm that it is because of the present working of the Spirit that the gifts are to be expected. The gifts are for the edification of the church as it gathers together and are therefore a mark of the present work of the Holy Spirit. Whether one looks at the original documents of the Azussa Street beginnings of Pentecostalism or one looks at contemporary reflections in the Journal of Pentecostal Theology, one will see a desire for the present working of the Spirit in the church not only through the exercise of the gifts but also through preaching, teaching and evangelism. I feel that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of Pentecostal and Charismatic Theology at this point.

Chapter 6. In this chapter we have a truly insightful account of how Christ's Lordship is applied in the Baptist Community and how this leaves the believer free under Christ. The historical sketch of the development of baptist thought and toleration is very helpful. The discussion about Mullins and his theory of"soul competency was very interesting.This whole chapter is worth careful reading. I do wonder however if some form of the idea of sphere sovereignty would be better than the use of individualist language.

Chapter 7, gives us many insights into the DNA of Baptist life both in mission and holiness. It is interesting to note the communal nature of holiness presented here, this undoubtedly highlights the Baptist Tradition, my question is, how well do we live up to this today?

I hope that every person reading this book finds it as instructive and stimulating to further thought as I did.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Report of this., 6 Feb 2014
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I bought this book for a friend and he has found it interesting and thought provoking. He finds Stephen Holmes a very honest theologian, even when his conclusions might disturb some within his denominaation
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Baptist Theology (Doing Theology)
Baptist Theology (Doing Theology) by Stephen R. Holmes (Hardcover - 19 April 2012)
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