Sacred Narratives

Like Christians of many other traditions most Baptists view the world through an overarching narrative of creation-fall-redemption. On some elements of this narrative there is virtual unanimity among Baptists; on other elements there are significant differences.

Baptists believe that "in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1), as well as many of the inanimate objects and animate creatures that fill the heavens and the earth. Moreover, God created human beings, male and female. And, having created, God "saw all that [God] had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). God is Creator, and everything God created was good.

As is the case in many other Christian traditions, there is a diversity of views among Baptists regarding the details of when and how all of God's original creating work took place. Some Baptists believe in an "old earth," created by God billions of years ago; others believe in a "young earth," created by God tens-of-thousands of years ago. Some Baptists believe that God created virtually all of the diversity of life forms in his original creative work; others attribute much of this diversity to developmental or evolutionary processes. Some Baptists view Genesis 1 and 2 as providing a detailed literal and historical description of specific creation events and processes; others view these chapters in more literary or figurative terms. Baptists agree, however, that God is the Creator, that everything God created was good, and that the Bible, including the opening chapters of Genesis, shed light on these events and processes.

Baptists believe that human beings, and consequently the rest of the created order, fell into corruption through evil. The story of this "fall" is narrated in Genesis 3:1-24. Interpretations of this passage among Baptists in some ways parallel the diversity of approaches to the creation narratives noted above. Some (probably most) Baptists view this chapter as providing a literal, historical narrative of the entrance of evil into the world, and of the resulting corruption of both human beings and the rest of the created order. Other Baptists would view this narrative as in some sense figurative and suggestive, rather than literally historical. They would agree, however, that, unlike humanity's original state--namely, good--human beings are now sinful and corrupted. They would agree that in their fallen state, all human beings stand in need of the saving work and grace of God.

There are some significant differences among Baptists regarding the precise nature of the corrupted state in which human beings currently exist and, correspondingly, the precise nature of the process by which God works redemptively to save human beings from this corruption. The most fundamental of these differences correspond to a larger theological divide within Protestantism--the divide between elements of Calvinist theology and elements of Arminian theology. These Calvinist/Arminian differences within the Baptist tradition can be seen in its earliest decades, as two sub-traditions emerged: the Particular [Calvinist] Baptists and the General [Arminian] Baptists.

Those Baptists who embrace a Calvinist view of the fall see human beings as so thoroughly spiritually corrupted that we are incapable of participating in any way in the process of salvation; rather, salvation is solely the work of God, purely a gift. Those Baptists who embrace an Arminian view of the fall see human beings as corrupted, but not now so corrupted that we cannot in some measure cooperate or participate in salvation through the act of faith. This capacity is attributed to "prevenient" grace (that is, a grace that is given by God to everyone, enabling everyone to respond in faith), a remnant of goodness remaining after the fall, or some combination of both of these. All Baptists would agree, however, that human beings need God's gracious salvation, that each individual human being is accountable before God, and that salvation comes only through trusting faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Finally, with other Christians, Baptists believe that this overall narrative of creation-fall-redemption comes to its fulfillment not only in the redemption of individual persons but, ultimately, in God's final cosmic acts of judgment and redemption. Again, there is a diversity of views regarding the precise sequence and character of these events. Baptists may disagree on such matters as the nature of the millennium, the nature and occasion of Jesus Christ's return, whether or not there will be a rapture (or more than one), and the relationship (or lack thereof) of "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1) to the present heavens and earth. Baptists agree, however, that each person will ultimately be held accountable to God and judged accordingly; that God will triumph over sin, death, and the devil; and that ultimately God's good rule and reign will be completely and definitively manifest.

Study Questions:
     1.     How do Baptists understand the origin of creation?
     2.     What is meant by the “fall” of creation? Where does this idea originate? Do Baptists view it as literal?
     3.     What Calvinist theology have some Baptists adopted?
     4.     What is prevenient grace? What is its outcome?
     5.     Describe the Baptist understanding of judgment and redemption.

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