Commission Chair Publishes Book on Scottish Baptists
A Distinctive People: Aspects of the Witness of Baptists in Scotland in the Twentieth Century
Edited by Brian R. Talbot
(Studies in Baptist History and Thought Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2014)
Part of the well known Paternoster series, Studies in Baptist History and Thought, this book holds interest and value for a wide range of readers. It is valuable in itself showing how a small but diverse denomination can benefit from reflection on itself, indicating how much is owed to the team of eight writers and the editor (who is a productive historian as well as a pastor and Chair of the BWA Heritage and Identity Commission), each one with insights often gained from deep personal participation in the areas they discuss. The coverage is as varied as home missions, war, relations with other Baptist groups (a surprisingly complex topic); there is a particularly ambitious section forming Part I of the book with a chapter each on key leaders of the Baptist Union of Scotland, laymen in the life of the denomination and the place of women in Scottish Baptist life (the latter forming the largest chapter by a significant margin). However it is unfortunate that planned chapters on children and youth work and on overseas mission did not eventuate.
Perhaps the most interesting chapters for those outside of Scotland are those dealing with the ecumenical relationships with other denominations, theological developments over the period covered by the book, revival and piety, and social action.
Social action covers many different issues, such as temperance, aged care, peace and war (supplemented by another complete chapter on this topic) and family life, reflecting some of the disturbing trends that have plagued the world during the century, although the discussion is restricted to social action itself rather than the social thinking that would have prompted these efforts. However, the section on ecumenical relationships is different – as an evangelical denomination that is relatively small and of comparatively recent origin in the Scottish scene, this study shows how it has found its place within its own wider ecclesiastical and national context, although with some uncertainty at times.
Part of the reason for that mixed response is revealed in the chapter on theology, which moves from the early days of the ‘Higher Criticism’ and modernism, through confessions of faith, revival and the impact of World War I, all the way to Karl Barth’s impact and finally to the theology of baptism, an important matter of national ecclesiastical debate. More insights are found in chapter 7 which deals with ‘experiences of the Holy Spirit’ which includes first the impact of Edward Irving and dispensationalism, then the holiness movement and the Welsh revival, followed by the charismatic movement and restorationism, all of which are set in the wider context of national and global developments. This chapter is particularly valuable in showing how the influences which have shaped the faith and practice of Scottish Baptists – and far beyond. So this is a very helpful chapter for understanding the dynamics of theology, spirituality and churchmanship in many other contexts.