Bapto-Catholicism : recovering tradition and reconsidering the Baptist identity.
This dissertation is an exploration of a contemporary approach to Baptist theology which some have dubbed “Bapto-Catholic.” The Bapto-Catholic sensibility is described as an attempt to respond to the collapse of the Enlightenment project and its influence on modern Baptist thought. It provides an alternate narrative of the Baptist identity by drawing upon the resources of seventeenth century Baptist theology and the breadth of the Christian tradition in order to find solutions to the current difficulties in Baptist theology. The study proceeds in four major sections. The first section provides historical context for the movement, surveying the debates among Baptist historians, and between conservative and moderate Baptists, about the nature of the Baptist identity. Special attention is given to the controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention in the final decades of the twentieth century and the effect that the resulting schism had on Baptist self-conceptions. The second section assesses the Bapto-Catholic conversation, focusing on its initial programmatic work, the Baptist Manifesto, and its chief proponents and critics. Various conceptual “marks” of Baptist catholicity are also suggested. The third section explores Alasdair MacIntyre’s critique of modernity and his philosophical account of the nature of tradition. This section notes MacIntyre’s influence on Bapto-Catholic thought as well as his potential as a resource for future theological developments, especially with regard to the role of conflict and historicism in Baptist thought. The final section revisits the central question driving this study : what is Baptist Catholicity? It is suggested that the controversies surrounding the Baptist identity since the late twentieth century, and the emergence of the Bapto-Catholic project as an alternative proposal, are an excellent example of what MacIntyre calls an “epistemological crisis” wherein a tradition’s coherence is tested through internal conflicts and encounters with rival traditions. For this reason, the future vitality of the tradition is at stake and the Bapto-Catholic sensibility is an important attempt to discover new conceptual resources for the tradition. The future of the movement, however, may depend on its ability to provide a coherent account of authority and Baptist ecclesiology.