In discussing Baptist origins in a recent post, brother Vaidas responded thus: “Professor, we discussed your reflections on Baptist origins with NOBTS Baptist Heritage professor. My professor made a good point and mentioned that you overlooked the idea that Baptists were aware of their Anabaptist cousins. Knowledge of existence and beliefs of Anabaptists influenced Separatists as they became Baptists. Also could it be that you understate the importance of General Baptists. It looks like that General Baptists did precede the Particular Baptists.”
True, there was an awareness on the part of the early Baptists about their Anabaptist cousins: so what? My point was that the 17th century Baptists were not extensively reading their writings. They were not meditating on those writings. Nor was the ethos and ambience and culture of the early Baptists an Anabaptist one, it was a Puritan one. That was my basic point. The entire web of Baptist culture was primarily woven from Puritan strands. If there were some Anabaptist strands they were small and negligible. This has got nothing to do with whether the Anabaptists had it right or wrong, or whether their experience is a usable past. And it has little to do with contemporary Baptist politics, where some want to revise the past so they can feel comfortable with it. I am trying to see through those early Baptist eyes and feel through their skin.
General Baptists important? Sure, they preceded the Particulars. That is well known and a given, but again so what? If importance is solely linked to chronology, sure they were important, but I am thinking of influence through Rezeptionsgeschichte. If it is a matter of Rezeptionsgeschichte, then the seventeenth-century General Baptists are of next to no significance in understanding the transatlantic Baptist community in the long eighteenth century (1680s–1830s). The vast majority of them were sucked into Unitarian bogs in the early eighteenth century, never to be seen again. There was a revived rivulet led by Dan Taylor—but in the overall schema, they are not important until the nineteenth century when we have some interesting Baptist explanations about their history à la Landmarkism emerge, and we have some nostalgic Victorian Baptists looking for Baptist roots, somewhat akin to the larger Victorian culture awash with nostalgia for medievalia.
Once again: my main point is this: what was the main river that shaped Baptist culture? I am arguing it was Puritan. It amazes me that much of the hard work of explaining who Baptists are still remains: and Rezeptionsgeschichte is vital in this work.