A theological shift

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A theological shift

Postby Rvaughn » Tue Mar 07, 2017 5:03 pm

The American Regular Baptists, who adopted in the 2nd London Confession (in the version of the Philadelphia Confession) and were primarily staunch Calvinists, in the 19th moved away from the doctrines of predestination toward libertarian free will? Why? I suggested these possibilities:

  • The possibility that some of these Regular Baptists nominally held the doctrines of grace, but were not consistent, clear and firm in their teaching of them.
  • The anti-creedalism of the Separate Baptists, who merged with these Regular Baptists toward the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. Though they were generally predestinarians like the Regular Baptists, they would not commit to “man-made” confessions like the Second London or Philadelphia Confessions.
  • The influence of the evangelism of revivalists like Finney and Moody on these Regular Baptists. Probably the Frontier Revivalism of the early 1800s should also be included. Those who came into Baptist churches from these revivals might be predisposed to favor such methods and find them more compatible with a “free will” theology.
  • The removal from these Regular Baptists of an aggregation of doctrinally strong predestinarian churches in the so-called missions/anti-missions schism.
  • The “Spirit” of the American experiment, emphasizing freedom and individualism, seemed to fit better into a system of free will than unconditional election – influencing some of these Regular Baptists either directly (causing change) or indirectly (causing re-evaluation).
I did not include “changing views due to the study of the Bible/New Testament.” I do not exclude the fact that people changed from a view they thought the Bible did not teach to a view they thought the Bible did teach. Many would earnestly profess that to be their case. But in the above list I am thinking of outside means that may have been at work with, without or in addition to this factor. Do any of you have thoughts on these, or suggestions of other reasons for the change?
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Re: A theological shift

Postby Sandy » Wed Mar 08, 2017 10:49 am

Lots of blending in those groups, and differences even among those who are referred to as "Regular Baptists." If you're referring to those descended from the New Salem association in Kentucky, I'd say they were influenced by the mergers they experienced that led to their being known as United Baptists. The Sovereign Grace Association also considers themselves to be "Old Regular Baptists" but less influenced by other groups.

I think that the nature of being a Baptist church, and congregational polity, leads to a fellowship among believers within individual congregations or groups that lends itself to discussion and change, depending on the open mindedness of a congregation's members. The only experience I've had with Regular Baptists, or Primitive Baptists, was years ago in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia, the "Old Ragalars" as they called themselves. They were neither open minded, nor tolerant of any view that wasn't already embedded in their own presuppositions. They also believed that only the King James Version was "the preserved Word of God in English," which may also be something that affects interpretation. I was back down in that area last summer, and I noticed that a lot of the Old Regular and Primitive Baptist church buildings are abandoned, and the congregations long since disbanded and gone.
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Re: A theological shift

Postby Rvaughn » Wed Mar 08, 2017 4:44 pm

Thanks, Sandy. I need to back up and do some clarification. This post has a background in a conversation that started on Facebook. I need to explain my use of "Regular Baptists". I am not speaking specifically of groups such as those in Appalachia who in the present denominate themselves "Regular Baptists" or "Old Regular Baptists," but further back -- the Particular Baptists who came from England and came to be known in America as Regular Baptists rather than Particular Baptists. Early representatives would be associations such as the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations. These associations were solidly Calvinistic (or seemingly so) and most adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, which the Philadelphia Association adapted from the 2nd London Confession of 1689. Modern descendants of these do include the New Salem and Sovereign Grace Associations, and the Primitive Baptists -- but also the Southern Baptist Convention, American Baptist Churches, Baptist Missionary Association, General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and so on. So I was meditating on how these churches rooted in the strong Calvinistic tradition of the London and Philadelphia Confessions (like the SBC & ABCUSA) had pretty much by the end of the 19th century shed the strongest points of their Calvinism -- especially unconditional election, particular atonement and effectual call (irresistible grace).

Hope this helps.
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Re: A theological shift

Postby Sandy » Wed Mar 08, 2017 8:16 pm

Well, that takes me back to Baptist History at Southwestern. Dr. Estep would credit the influence of Anabaptist theology on Baptists, which they brought to America with them. That, combined with the spirit of frontier revivalism, which greatly benefitted Baptist churches, and the way they were organized, with a high level of local church autonomy, and a natural aversion to authoritative ecclesiastical structures, along with a strong belief in the authority of scripture, would have been contributing factors to doctrinal development. The historical-literal way Baptists interpreted the scripture could also be a factor in drifting away from Calvinism.
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Re: A theological shift

Postby Rvaughn » Wed Mar 08, 2017 11:54 pm

Yes, I think all those factors could have come into play. Here is an opinion on the theological shift from a Baptist theologian in the North mid 19th century (Francis Wayland). He gives a lot of credit to Andrew Fuller. Fuller's Calvinism might be too strong for many non-Calvinists today, but it clearly was a modification of the old strict Calvinism of Gill, et al.

"The extent of the atonement has been and still is a matter of honest but not unkind difference. Within the last fifty years a change has gradually taken place in the views of a large portion of our brethren. At the commencement of that period Gill's Divinity was a sort of standard, and Baptists imbibing his opinions were what may be called almost hyper-Calvinistic. A change commenced upon the publication of the writings of Andrew Fuller, especially his 'Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation,' which, in the northern and eastern States, has become almost universal. The old view still prevails, if I mistake not, in our southern and western States."
Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, Francis Wayland, New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co.; 1857, p. 18
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Re: A theological shift

Postby Sandy » Thu Mar 09, 2017 12:23 pm

Do you think New England Congregationalists played a role in influencing the Baptists? They had some pretty dynamic preachers. How many influential Baptist pastors and theologians got their training at Harvard? And I think there was a lot of trading of members of churches and perhaps even pastors and ministers going back and forth.
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Re: A theological shift

Postby Tim Bonney » Thu Mar 09, 2017 4:47 pm

Rvaughn wrote: So I was meditating on how these churches rooted in the strong Calvinistic tradition of the London and Philadelphia Confessions (like the SBC & ABCUSA) had pretty much by the end of the 19th century shed the strongest points of their Calvinism -- especially unconditional election, particular atonement and effectual call (irresistible grace).

Hope this helps.


Were you aware of the merger of Free Will Baptists with the Northern Baptist Convention (American Baptist) in the early 1900s? Already Northern Baptists had become far less Calvinistic. After their merger with the Free Will Baptists that trend excellerated as best as I can tell.
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Re: A theological shift

Postby Rvaughn » Thu Mar 09, 2017 11:07 pm

Timothy, I think that merger pretty well devastated the Free Baptists in the North, and may have motivated those in the South to get better organized. I think that merger suggests just how much the Northern Regular Baptist soteriology had changed by that time -- for both groups (for the most part) to be well satisfied with such a merger.
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Re: A theological shift

Postby Rvaughn » Thu Mar 09, 2017 11:09 pm

Sandy wrote:Do you think New England Congregationalists played a role in influencing the Baptists? They had some pretty dynamic preachers. How many influential Baptist pastors and theologians got their training at Harvard? And I think there was a lot of trading of members of churches and perhaps even pastors and ministers going back and forth.
That's a good question, Sandy, and one well worth looking into (which I haven't, so don't know the answer).
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