Why We Need to Study Our Calvinistic Baptist Heritage

Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the leading church historians of this century, used to tell of an occasion in 1956 when he was in Copenhagen and decided to seek out Hal Koch, an authority in second- and third-century Christianity. Twenty-four years earlier Koch had published a book on the Alexandrian theologian Origen, Pronoia und Paideusis, which had subsequently played a fundamental role in shaping Pelikan’s understanding of early Christian thought. To Pelikan’s surprise and even chagrin, though, Koch had ceased researching the patristic era. Instead, he was concentrating his energies on studying the life and thought of N. F. S. Grundtvig, a Danish theologian. When Pelikan expressed his surprise at this change in area of specialization, Koch replied that while the thought of Origen and other early Christian authors would never lack for students, if he and his fellow Danes did not do research on Grundtvig it would never get done.[1] Ever since I read this anecdote I felt how accurately it applied also to our Calvinistic Baptist heritage. A few figures from this heritage are of interest to those of other Christian communitites, for instance, John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon, but the vast majority of those who played an important role in creating this heritage or tradition and passing it on have been all but forgotten. And the only way that their achievement is going to be remembered and valued is if we who share like theological convictions make a concerted effort to rediscover it.

[1] “Foreword” to Henry W. Bowden, ed., A Century of Church History. The Legacy of Philip Schaff (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), ix.