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Bapto-Catholicism: A new path for Baptists in the postmodern era?

I recently read a delightful dissertation, which I really recommend to you called, “Bapto-Catholocism: Recovering Tradition and Reconsidering the Baptist Identity,” available in full-text as a PDF from Baylor.

The author, Cameron Jorgenson—a fellow Fuller alum who is now a professor Campbell’s div school—discusses the document “Re-envisioning Baptist Identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America,” which was composed by Curtis Freeman of Duke Divinity, the late James Wm. McClendon of Fuller Seminary (and husband of the incredible Nancey Murphy, also of Fuller), Barry Harvey of Baylor University, Elizabeth Newman of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Mikael Broadway of Shaw Divinity, and Philip Thompson of Sioux Falls Seminary.  The document was later signed by other cool people such as Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson, Glen Stassen, etc.

The document was apparently instrumental in the development of a disorganized but significant movement of Baptists with a new approach to Baptist identity, which some have termed “Bapto-Catholicism.”  Jorgenson says (see pp. 123-125) the main points of Bapto-Catholicism were described by Steve Harmon in his book Towards Baptist Catholicity (part of the Paternoster Studies in Baptist History & Thought series) as follows:

  • “First, Harmon argues that Bapto-Catholics see tradition as a source of authority.”
  • “Second, according to Harmon, Bapto-Catholics believe that there is a place for creeds in liturgy and catechesis.”
  • “Third, Bapto-Catholics approach liturgy as the context for formation by tradition.”
  • “Fourth, Bapto-Catholics see community as the locus of authority.”
  • “Fifth, Harmon observes that Bapto-Catholics have a sacramental emphasis in their theology.”
  • “Sixth, Harmon claims that Bapto-Catholics approach their task as a constructive retrieval of theology.”
  • “Seventh, according to Harmon, Bapto-Catholics engage in “thick” ecumenism.”

Jorgenson’s own list differs slightly (pp. 126-127):

“1) theological in its methodological orientation,
2) postmodern in its philosophical assumptions,
3) congregationally centered in its hermeneutics and practices,
4) catholic in its approach to tradition, especially with respect to sacraments and liturgy, and
5) ecumenical in its aim.”

As someone drawn to both Baptist and Anglican ways of doing church, I was instantly drawn in and excited to learn more.  I now have a giant reading list to attend to.

But what I found equally fascinating was Jorgenson’s suggestion that Bapto-Catholicism is an attempt to resolve a “crisis” in the Baptist “tradition” (in a McIntyrian sense), since the two sides of the SBC/CBF split—the “conservatives” (“fundamentalists!”) and “moderates” (“liberals!)—were both part of the modern era.  As Baptist move into postmodernity, identity must be conceived of in new ways, and the Bapto-Catholic approach is one such attempt which is specifically more postmodern, non-foundationalist, etc.


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  1. There are two similar and related primary problems I see in the way topics related to economic justice have been handled by evangelicals of late: (1) There is a tendency to speak to one’s entire audience with a message more applicable to only a portion of one’s actual audience. Mostly, I mean that there is a tendency to speak to the more privileged without helping the less privileged (whether somewhat-less-privileged or much-less-privileged) understand their role as relates to the pursuit of justice. (2) There is a tendency to overlook key issues relevant to even that smaller segment of “privileged” people or relevant to a basic concern with justice, in and of itself.

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012