Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms
edited by Timothy and Denise George; Broadman & Holman, 1996; 282 pp. $24.99.
Reviewed by Tom Ascol
This volume is published as a part of Broadman & Holman's Library of Baptist Classics series. Timothy and Denise George, who serve as the General Editors for the series, are the most literarily prolific couple in Southern Baptist history. The Library of Baptist Classics has brought back into print some wonderful material which has long been out of print. The series not only has historical value for Baptists, it also is theologically important.
The doctrinal significance of this present work is hard to overestimate. It brings together for the first time a collection of Baptist confessions, covenants and catechisms. Among the confessions are included full texts of the First London (1644), the Philadelphia (1742), the Orthodox Creed (1679), the New Hampshire (1833), the Baptist Faith and Message (1963) and the Report of the Presidential Theological Study Committee (1994).
Fifteen personal and church covenants and one covenant produced by a convention of churches are printed in this volume, including the one found in J. Newton Brown's The Baptist Church Manual (1853). A poetic covenant of nineteenth century missionary Peter Philanthropos Roots is the most unusual of the collection and concludes with this final verse:
New rules we do not mean to make,
The Bible rules we only take,
And show by this our Scriptural creed,
In Bible truth we are agreed.
Only three Baptist catechisms are included, but they are three which show clearly the important place which this didactic method held among our Baptist forefathers. Henry Jesse's A Catechism for Babes, or, Little Ones, (1652) includes a summary of the chief points and the Ten Commandments in verse. Benjamin Keach's Catechism (1693), edited and widely used by Charles Spurgeon in the last century, and John Broadus' A Catechism of Bible Teaching (1692), originally published by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, are also printed in full.
This collection is an excellent resource to demonstrate the great importance which, historically, Baptists have placed on orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Proper faith and practice have always been central concerns to the people called Baptists, and those who would suggest otherwise are contradicted by the historical record. How important has precisely defined doctrine been to Baptists? One need only to read the confessions and catechisms in this book to receive a clear answer. Even many of the covenants, which focus more on practical living than on accurate belief, make strong doctrinal affirmations (including "particular election" "effectual calling" and "particular redemption").
The Introduction to this volume, written by the Timothy of the Georges, is of extreme value on its own. It comprises the finest brief summary of Baptist confessional history which I have ever seen. Of particular interest is his astute clarification of the confessional (and therefore, doctrinal) heritage of the Southern Baptists Convention, which he summarizes in the following words:
The Philadelphia Confession of Faith was transplanted to the Charleston Baptist Association in South Carolina. It soon became the most widely accepted, definitive confession among Baptists in America both North and South. Each of the 293 "delegates," as they were then called, who gathered in Augusta to organize the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, belonged to congregations and associations which had adopted the Philadelphia/Charleston Confession of Faith as their own.
This volume ought to be in the library of every Baptist pastor and church leader. It would make a great supplementary text for seminary and college classes on Baptist history. All who appreciate the theological and spiritual heritage of Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to the Georges and to Broadman & Holman for putting this book together.
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