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The Challenge of Being Baptist
Owning a Scandalous Past and an Uncertain Future
The largest Protestant denomination in the United States is in the midst of a serious identity crisis; many Baptists are revisiting or turning away from the tradition, leaving others to become increasingly uncertain that the denomination can remain viable. Here, however, noted Baptist historian Bill Leonard wades through the murky waters of the Baptist past and explores the historic commitments of this unique people—all in an effort to shed light on its contemporary dilemmas and evaluate the prospects for a Baptist future. While encouraging members of the faith to thoroughly and fairly evaluate their heritage—and its many blunders along the way—Leonard ultimately argues that the Baptists’ contentious “audacious witness” shown throughout its history still has a worthy role to play in the twenty-first century.
Preface: What’s in a Name?
1 Being Baptist: Scandalous Past, Uncertain Future
2 Historical Consciousness among Baptists: Owning and Disowning a Tradition
3 Baptist Polity: A Peoples’ Church
4 Biblicist but Not Bible? Revisiting Baptist Hermeneutics
5 Once Saved, Almost Saved: Revisiting Baptists and Conversion
6 A Congregational Sacramentalism: Revisiting Baptist Ecclesiology
7 Toward a Baptist Future: The Challenge Ahead
"...A 'warts and all' approach, unafraid of confronting the divisiveness of much Baptist history over matters both of grave importance and of apparent trivial nature... Leonard's deployment of language is well-focused and rich in meaning."
—John Briggs, President of the Baptist Hictorical Society, Baptist Quarterly (2013, 45)
“This is the kind of conversation that Baptists need to have in the remaining part of the twenty-first century. With his unique style of writing, Bill Leonard conveys his thoughts as if in personal conversation, talking about Baptist life while sitting on the deck at his home in Winston-Salem.”
—David W. Key Sr., Director of Baptist Studies, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
“Engaging and accessible, a must-read for everyone who thinks the church still needs Baptists and others who wonder if it might be better off without this contentious lot.”
—Steven R. Harmon, Associate Professor of Divinity, Samford University
“Deftly written with the delightful prose and the keenly insightful narrative that we have come to expect from Bill Leonard. In the context of contemporary pluralism, Baptists can still identify with a focus on believers’ church, covenant communities, individual conscience, individual and communal dissent, global mission, and commitment to Scripture.”
—Doug Weaver, Associate Professor of Religion, Baylor University
Bill J. Leonard is Dean and Professor of Church History at the Wake Forest University Divinity School. A prolific and esteemed author, Leonard’s most recent books include Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers and The Acts of the Apostles: Four Centuries of Baptist Interpretation. He lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.