|The Future of Baptist Theology
by Timothy George
Several years ago, Will D. Campbell published a fascinating
novel entitled The Glad River. The chief character is a man named
Doops Momber. Actually his real name was Claudy Momber, but everybody
called him Doops because Claudy sounded too much like a girl's name.
He grew up among the Baptists of Mississippi, attended the revivals, the
hayrides, and the Sunday school wiener roasts, but somehow he never got
baptized. Later, when he was inducted into the army, his sergeant
asked, "You a Protestant or a Catholic?" Doops did not answer for
a moment Then he said, "I guess I'm neither. I'm neither Catholic
or Protestant. I never joined. But all my people are Baptist."
"But there's a P on your dog tag. Why not a C?" They asked
me what I was and I told them the same thing I told you. And the
guy stamped a P on it." "Why do you suppose they did that?"
the sergeant asked. "Well," said Doops, "I guess in American
you have to be something."
The confusion Doops encountered about his own religious
identity is symptomatic of many other Baptist Christians who, unlike Doops,
have indeed taken the plunge but who, no more than he, have any solid understanding
about what that means in a postdenominational age of generic religion and
dog-tags Christianity. In the first edition of Baptist Theologians,
I wrote an opening essay entitled "The Renewal of Baptist Theology," which
began with the following lamentation.
There is a crisis in Baptist life today
that cannot be resolved by bigger budgets, better programs, or more sophisticated
systems of data processing and mass communication. It is a crisis
of identity rooted in a fundamental theological failure of nerve.
The two major diseases of the contemporary church are spiritual amnesia
(we have forgotten who wear) and ecclesiastical myopia (whoever we are,
we are glad we are not like "them"). While these maladies are not
unique to the people of God called Baptists, they are perhaps most glringly
present among us.
This article is a sequel to that earlier essay.
First of all, I want to point out some of the difficulties in speaking
about the theological identity of Baptists. Then, in the heart of
the paper, I will present a mosaic for the renewal of Baptist theology
by identifying five major components for such an agenda.