Back to doing my research reading today... all good fun, getting to read in order to critique a text book produced for the old Baptist Union Christian Training Programme called English Baptist History and Heritage, Roger Hayden, Baptist Union 1990. When I've done, I'll do the same with last year's new book of the same title by the same writer.
I like this statement in the Author's Preface:
'... writing... on this theme puts the author under great stress. It requires a general knowledge covering a long period of history. Inevitably it is highly selective and has to leave out so much that could properly have appeared within it. In the end there will be some emphases which are not quite true in reality. For this I apologize, and especially if I have misrepresented some of my friends. There is only one proper remedy. get hold of th eprimary documentation and read it for yourself...'
I like the honesty of the statement, but it is suitably vague, and I wonder just how many readers will have read it before embarking on Unit 1 of an educational process they may be doing under duress (history = boring, irrelevent; training = hoop to jump through).
So to his selectivity, having now read the first three units (believe me i'm geeting to the point where I know this story, and its emphases quite well!). Like Underwood, and indeed just about anyone else I've read, there is a fairly lengthy discourse on the Dutch Anabaptists with whom Smyth and Helwys clearly spent time, and by whom they seem to have been significantly inmfluenced, before the familiar 'but of course we're not connected to the Anabaptists' statement.
I know that this view is now being revisited by some, and revised by others, but I find myself, yet again, wondering why we go to such great lengths to describe somehting in order to dismiss it. Methinks we doth protest too much.
Likewise, perhaps because Particular Baptist origins are more vague, after long descriptions of our General Baptist beginnings - slightly earlier historically, we think, we leap to point out their heresies, strange customs and decline. Again, if these roots are so precious, why are we keen to sever the conection as another group grows up? And epsecially when nowadays there aren't many people who know, let alone care, about Arminian or calvinist views on atonement.
Roger Hayden is honest about the existence of selectivity in the story we tell, but, for whatever reason, does not give away anything about the party line he follows - does he agree with it or is this one of the 'stresses' he faced? I wonder what might happen if we worried less about what we are/were not and instead concentrated on the positive insights we might gain from reading the stories of Dutch Anabaptists and English General Baptists? Rather than perpetuating the "rise and fall" approach to story telling, what if we accepted (as some historians do) a more life cycle view whereby the validity of these forebears is celebrated without getting hung up on their limitations? What other ways might there be of reading/writing the story that allows it to speak into our hear and now about this diverse family of God's people? I'd rather we were good Protestants than that we protested quite so much about what we're not!