Next Monday marks the formal release date for my new book (with Barry Hankins) Baptists in America: A History. Why should you consider buying a copy, or using it in a college course, or in your adult Sunday School class? Here are four reasons:
1) Baptists in America offers a fresh approach to the history of Baptists within the larger stories of American history. How did Baptists go from being persecuted colonial outlaws to American Patriots? How did the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention and the ravages of Civil War permanently alter Baptist life in America, for both whites and African Americans? Where did the Conservative Resurgence come from, and how did it connect to the new religious conservatism in American politics? Our book takes on these and many other questions in a fast-paced historical narrative. Instead of looking inward to technicalities and lists of Baptist groups, our book looks outward to the ways that Baptists have shaped and been shaped by American cultural history.
2) The book brings together my expertise on colonial and Revolutionary America with Barry Hankins’ knowledge of late 19th and 20th century religion and culture. Almost as soon as I joined the faculty at Baylor, I thought that Barry and I should write a general history of Baptists in America, since our specialties matched up so well. (Barry is one of the country’s top authorities on 20th century evangelicalism, and has written in my opinion the finest history of the Conservative Resurgence, in his Uneasy in Babylon.) This book represents the culmination of that idea.
3) We offer a framework for understanding how Baptists interact with American culture and politics, in the tension between Baptists as “insiders” and “outsiders.” They started off in the colonial era as the epitome of persecuted cultural outsiders. However, relentless efforts at evangelism and frontier missions made the Baptists into the largest Protestant cohort among both whites and blacks by the mid-twentieth century. The memory of their dissenting past, mixed with their new cultural clout, has made Baptists into insiders and outsiders at the same time. No matter how large their denominations, how patriotic their Fourth of July services, or how welcome their spokespersons are in the mainstream media, Baptists never seem quite at home in America (again, they’re “uneasy in Babylon.”)
4) Barry and I are both committed Baptists who serve in (two different) local Baptist congregations in Waco, but neither of us have played an active role in Baptist denominational politics. This gives us our own “insider” and “outsider” approach. We care very deeply about Baptist history and evangelical beliefs, but neither of us feel like we have a polemical agenda in writing the book. We try to be fair, but we’re also passionate about the topic.
I think you’ll really enjoy reading Baptists in America – and thanks as always for your support of my work.