A ‘Novel’ Approach to Credobaptist and Paedobaptist Polemics -- By: Jeffrey A. Massey

Journal: Reformed Baptist Theological Review
Volume: RBTR 03:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: A ‘Novel’ Approach to Credobaptist and Paedobaptist Polemics
Author: Jeffrey A. Massey

A ‘Novel’ Approach to Credobaptist
and Paedobaptist Polemics

Jeffrey A. Massey

Jeffrey A. Massey is one of the pastors of Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Ontario, CA, and an M.Div. student at the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, Westminster Theological Seminary in California, Escondido, CA.

During the 19th Century, Credobaptists and Paedobaptists in America employed a new weapon in their polemics with each other over the proper subjects for baptism.1 This new weapon was the use of theological/historical novels. These novels, with such titles as Theodosia Ernest; Or, The Heroine of Faith and Theophilus Walton; Or, The Majesty of Truth, combined fictional stories with theological/historical arguments in an attempt to persuade their readers of the Credobaptist or Paedobaptist position. These novels had some polemical force in their day and were received with both criticism and praise.

The purpose of this article is to determine the significance and influence of these novels by examining three important factors. First, we will examine their literary significance and use by evangelical Christians during the 19th Century. Second, we will survey some of the novels written in this period to show how they combined fiction with theological/historical claims. And third, we will consider some of the responses that these novels received from opponents and supporters alike in the years following their publication.

The Literary Significance of these Novels

In one respect, the appearance of theological/historical novels in America during the 19th Century was of limited significance. With the increasing proliferation of novels during this period, the introduction of this new and relatively small group of works probably drew little attention outside

of Christian circles.2 Yet, in another respect, their appearance was of considerable significance for several reasons. First, the appearance of theological/historical novels was significant because prior to their appearance, most Evangelical Christians in America were suspicious of, if not opposed to, the use of fiction.3 Fiction was suspect because it was believed to encourage the reader’s use of imagination, direct thoughts away from heaven, corrupt virtue, exalt worldly tastes, and cause readers, especially women, to be unfit for their proper duties.4 Another reason that fiction was suspect was that it promoted romantic idealism in place of rationalism.

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