Our story begins in exile: ‘Baptist social theology’ and the EU referendum

One of the books I have recently been reading with interest and profit is Anglican Social Theology (ed. Malcolm Brown) (London: Church House Publishing, 2014). Apart from the intrinsic interest in tracing significant contributions to political theology that happened to come from within the Church of England, I was struck by the contributors’ awareness that the project, or projects, they were tracing were distinctively ‘Anglican’. As Brown puts it in an early prospectus: We have chosen to speak of an Anglican social theology with a deliberate intention of echoing the concept of Catholic social teaching because we recognise that the latter is much better known as a theological school or tradition that informs practice. Our contention … is that a distinctively...

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On religious liberty: an open letter to Franklin Graham

Dear Mr Graham, This week someone who has put himself forward as a candidate for the presidency of your great nation made a number of hate-filled and inaccurate comments about Muslims, and proposed some extreme policies on the back of those comments. This came to our attention here in the UK because one of the things he claimed, entirely erroneously, was that parts of London were so radicalised that they had become no-go areas for our police and security services. Our national response was, as our national responses so often are, as mocking as it was derisive. The mayor of London led the way, but on social media many of us joined in with the humour. I know London well; I trained for ministry there, took my PhD there, pastored my first church there, made, with my...

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‘A dirge for the down-grade?’

I recently had a meeting in London at the Oasis Waterloo centre; arriving slightly early, I stayed on the tube for one more stop and went to the Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop, which I frequent fairly regularly, mostly for its republications of older Puritan and Baptist material that is not easily available elsewhere. I picked up, amongst other things, a slim paperback promising Spurgeon’s original source materials on the ‘Down Grade’ controversy, the event that led to his withdrawal from the Baptist Union, and to several strained relationships. The volume is not complete (most obviously to my eyes, MTP2085, ‘A Dirge for the Down-Grade’, is missing; that said, I had the privilege of discovering and cataloging Spurgeon’s own...

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Abolishing the secular life

In our beginnings, Baptists did away with various traditional distinctions of Christian life. Although practising ordination, we denied it established any set-apart hierarchy within the life of the church; we also rejected the traditional Roman Catholic practice of recognising a particular consecration of certain people, clerical or lay, to ‘religious life’, characterised by the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience (in popular parlance, this is the way of life of monks and nuns, although that is to elide a number of important distinctions between (e.g.) sisters and nuns, or monks and friars). This was all narrated as a rejection of priesthood, and of the religious life, and, historically, we generally accepted those...

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Communal discernment and the church meeting

As Baptists, we believe in communal discernment of the will of God, and we engage in such communal discernment through the church meeting. However, this raises a question: is the practice of church meeting just a convenient occasion for communal discernment, or is it of the essence of such work? Is there something special about communal discernment that takes place in the context of church meeting, or is that practice of gathering merely a way of facilitating a process that can happen equally as well in other contexts?

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