Pilgrim Pathways: Essays in Honor of B. R. White, edited by William H. Brackney and Paul Fiddes with John H. Y. Briggs. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1999. 328 pages.
The reverend professor Barrington Raymond White has set the standard for Baptist historical scholarship for over a quarter of a century. His work with the Baptist Quarterly has caused it to be the leading journal for scholarly dialogue among Baptists. Regent’s Park College, Oxford University, is forever in debt to Professor White for his leadership as principal of the college. Pilgrim Pathways is a festschrift in honor of White with contributions from his grateful colleagues and former students.
The list of contributors demonstrates White’s influence through the inclusion of Baptist historians from around the globe. Thought it is quite obvious that the contributors chose their own topics, the editors have deftly categorized them under four sections. The four sections are entitled, “Issues of Baptist Identity,” “The Baptist Way of Being the Church,” “History as Biography,” and “Crossing the Boundaries.” In alphabetical order, the contributors are Stephen Brachlow, William H. Brackney, John H. Y. Briggs, Stephen Copson, William R. Estep, Paul S. Fiddes, Scott M. Gibson, Roger Hayden, Ken R. Manley, Geoffrey F. Nuttall, W. Morgan Patterson, Marjories Reeves, Alan P. F. Sell, Karen Smith, and W. M. S. West.
Though his article is relatively brief, Roger Hayden presents an insightful essay on the life of Bernard Foskett. Foskett served in the Bristol area during the early and mid-eighteenth century. He influenced British Baptists through two major avenues. First, he reorganized the Western Association of Particular Baptists using the Second London Confession (the 1689 edition) as a mandatory confessional statement. Foskett’s work stabilized the association as evangelical Calvinist, opposing the influences of Arianism on the left and of a form of hyper-Calvinism on the right. Additionally, Foskett had a tremendous impact through ministerial training that he gave to young students. During the mid-eighteenth century, almost half of the forty-five churches of the Western Association had ministers that had been trained at Foskett’s school, Bristol Academy.
Current principal of Regent’s Park, Paul Fiddes presents a strong essay on the use of covenant in Baptist ecclesiology. Fiddes provides a succinct survey of the various understandings of covenant among the Separatists and early Baptists. He also attempts an assessment of how early Baptists related the eternal covenant of grace and the local church covenant. So, from Fiddes’ perspective, covenant not only relates to the salvation of an individual, but also to the allegiance to the community of faith. In obvious contrast to Hayden’s position, Fiddes concludes his essay by asserting that covenants rather than confessions have been and should be the Baptist method of attaining unity.
Two disappointing essays surface in this collection. First, Geoffrey Nuttall’s essay is too brief (not even three and one-half pages with footnotes), and he attempts nothing more than to demonstrate the possibility that the minister appointed to St. Margaret’s parish church in 1657 could have been the Baptist minister, John Norcott. Nuttall does little in the way of assessment of how this could have impacted the work of Baptists in the seventeenth century. The interested reader longs for more input from a scholar of Nuttall’s stature.
Second, Stephen Brachlow’s essay on covenant ecclesiology provides little in the way of new research. The importance of the local church covenant to the English Separatists (and Baptists) has received fuller treatment from Brachlow in the past. Other than his second point about the Holy Spirit being central to the covenant, there is a paucity of new material from Brachlow. Even this point could be easily concluded from previous work done by James Coggins and Paul Fiddes (found respectively in Baptist Quarterly, volume 30 and in Bound to Love, edited by Paul Fiddes).
The variety of essay topics in this volume serves as a launching point for many avenues of research for the aspiring student. Professor White’s desire to have students develop new theses instead of rehearsing old ones is aided by the quality of research in Pilgrim Pathways. Readers with little knowledge of the field may find it helpful to give at least a precursory glance to White’s The English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century and others in that series before delving into one of these essays.
Jason K. Lee
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Originally published in Faith and Mission, 18:1 (Fall 2000): 142-143.