The SBJT Forum -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 14:4 (Winter 2010)
Article: The SBJT Forum
Author: Anonymous

The SBJT Forum

Editor’s Note: Readers should be aware of the forum’s format. Tom J. Nettles, Kelly M. Kapic, Tom Schwanda, Ryan Kelly, and Ian Hugh Clary have been asked specific questions to which they have provided written responses. These writers are not responding to one another. Their answers are presented in an order that hopefully makes the forum read as much like a unified presentation as possible.

SBJT: From A Broad Historical Perspective, What Benefits Do You See For Modern Christianity From Puritanism?

Tom J. Nettles: “By their fruits you shall know them,” said Jesus. A candid examination of the fruit of Puritanism points to it as one of the most beneficial and perennial fruit-bearing trees in the Christian forest. The problems that it retained as a bilious hangover from the medieval Christianity are abundantly clear. It did not escape the state-churchism of so-called Christendom entirely and consequently some Puritan writings and actions showed an overly confident zeal that godly political structures would aid in establishing the Kingdom of God. Moreover, they sought to justify repression of certain religious opinions by law and, in some instances, even believed that physical repression served a gospel purpose. These hangers-on of the medieval synthesis, however, were not endemic to the doctrinal and experiential power of Puritanism and when historical development, specifically the Act of Uniformity in 1662, rendered their political ambitions a moot point, their true genius flourished.

What self-corrective resided within Puritanism? The logic of seeking a pure local church disciplined by standards of regeneration developed into arguments for liberty of conscience and a believers’ church. Thomas Helwys, a Puritan layman, argued for believers’ baptism only and liberty of conscience in The Mistery of Iniquitie prodding Puritans to give up the remnants of Antichrist and adopt the gospel logic of their own theology. Helwys died in the effort but rang a bell that still sounds. Christopher Blackwood, another devotee of Puritanism, did the same in The Storming of Antichrist when he said that the two errors still in need of correction were infant baptism and repression of conscience. Roger Williams, Puritan to the core, found the intolerance of Massachusetts Bay antithetical to the deep emphasis on divine

sovereignty in salvation, total depravity, effectual calling, and the effectual sacrifice of Christ for his people so zealously embraced by him and his Puritan friends. In The Bloody Tenent of Persecution he championed liberty of conscience as the true implication of this theology. Eventually, by 1639, Williams adopted a Baptist ecclesiol...

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