Recommended Books on Baptist Historical Theology

By Nathan A. Finn

James Leo Garrett, Baptist Theology: A Four Century Study (Mercer University Press, 2009). This volume, written by the dean of Southern Baptist theologians, is the most exhaustive survey of Baptist theology. As a general rule, Garrett sticks with description rather than prescription, providing a useful summary of major figures, movements, themes, and controversies. One particularly helpful contribution is Garrett’s discussion of Baptist biblical theologians alongside historical theologians.

William H. Brackney, A Genetic History of Baptist Thought (Mercer University Press, 2004). Brackney is arguably the most influential Baptist historian in North America. His volume is more interpretive than Garrett’s and is more overtly colored by a more moderate perspective. Brackney is particularly interested in mapping out the evolution of Baptist identity, using the image of genetics as an interpretive grid. Brackney was for many years an American Baptist, so his discussion of theological trends among Baptists in the North is especially helpful.

Timothy George and David S.Dockery, eds., Baptist Theologians (Broadman, 1990). This volume is a collection of essays introducing some of the key theologians in the Baptist tradition. The subjects and contributors represent a wide variety of theological perspectives. A shorter (and more uniformly conservative) version of this book, which includes some new essays, was published as Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (B&H Academic, 2001).

Fisher Humphreys, The Way We Were: How Southern Baptist Theology Has Changed and What It Means To Us All, 2nd ed. (Smyth & Helwys, 2002). Paul Basden, ed., Has Our Theology Changed? Southern Baptist Thought Since 1845 (B&H, 1994). These two volumes survey the history of Southern Baptist theology from a mostly moderate perspective. Humphrey’s volume does a fairly good job of identifying different theological “camps” among Southern Baptists, while Basden’s collection of essays focuses upon specific doctrinal topics.

L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible, 2nd ed. (B&H Academic, 2000). This influential volume looks at the history of Baptist perspectives on the inspiration, authority, and truthfulness of the Bible. The authors demonstrate that Baptists have normally held to a high view of Scripture and defended its inerrancy and infallibility.

Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life, 20th Anniversary ed. (Founders Press, 2006). Nettles’s volume focuses upon the history of Calvinism in the Baptist tradition. His overall thesis is sound, though historians might quibble with him over specific details and individuals. This revised edition includes controversies in the SBC over Calvinism through 2005.

Anthony R. Cross, Baptism and the Baptists: Theology and Practice in Twentieth-Century Britain (Paternoster, 2000). Stanley K. Fowler, More Than a Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism (Wipf and Stock, 2007). These two volumes discuss the history of the debate among British Baptists over the nature of baptism, specifically whether or not there is a sacramental element to baptism. Though relatively few North American Baptists have been participants in this debate, this issue has dominated British Baptist discussions much like biblical inerrancy and gender roles have dominated Southern Baptist discussions.


Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a senior fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.