Transforming views of Baptist ecclesiology : Baptists and the New Christendom model of political engagement.
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Whitt, Jason D.
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While most twentieth century commentators on Baptist distinctives note well the commitment to religious liberty, the context of the discussion typically treats religious liberty as a natural right secured through the emergence of the modern liberal democratic state. This view tends to interpret the concept of “religious liberty” as a univocal term throughout Baptist history, assuming that the meaning of this idea has been consistent during four centuries of Baptist presence within the Western world. Religious liberty has thus come to be understood as the securing of a natural right dependent for its preservation upon a form of liberal democratic polity. In this dissertation, however, I will argue first that Baptist conceptions of religious liberty and their concomitant views on the relationship between Christians and the state have not been univocal throughout Baptist history. In particular, I will suggest that contemporary Baptist models share significant foundational theological presuppositions concerning the realms of the secular and the religious with the New Christendom model of twentieth century Roman Catholicism. Second, having argued for the shared convictions between both models, I will then note the challenges from within Catholic theology to the New Christendom model and its failures, and by correspondence, suggest that similar shortcomings may be present in Baptist models. As a response to the critiques offered, it will be suggested that the church should instead imagine itself as an alternative body politic to the liberal democratic nation-state. This dissertation is therefore concerned with the development of a Baptist ecclesiology and concomitant social theory.
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