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What's In a Name? Evangelical? Baptist? Or Particular Baptist?

Guest Blog Post

From Dr. Michael AG Haykin

[The photo above is of Cow Lane Baptist Church, Coventry, where John Butterworth had a remarkable pastorate from 1753-1803.]

From circa 2016 onwards, as a result of certain prolonged reflections on what it means to be an evangelical Christian, a number of conclusions (might I even call them theses?) about my Christian life have pressed themselves upon me.

Words change their meaning over time, and certain terms that were once quite acceptable become deeply problematic. Here I am thinking of the term “evangelical,” once a term of respect, it has now become identified with a certain political stance, namely, that of a profoundly right-wing orientation and ethos, particularly marked by insensitivity (sometimes disguised under the term of masculinity) and at times given to outright bullying. I am actually quite angry at the way in which this term has been “hijacked” in the Anglophone world, but reality being what it is, I am increasingly disinclined to use the term as a substantive moniker of the Christian tradition with which I most identify. My preference is to describe myself as an evangelical Baptist. Very helpful for me in understanding why this term now best functions as an adjectival modifier has been Jessica Joustra’s essay “What is an Evangelical? Examining the Politics, History, and Theology of a Contested Label,” which appeared in The Review of Faith & International Affairs 17, no.3 (July 2019): 7-19. She rightly concludes that there is a distinct “thinness” to Evangelicalism in terms of its theological” heritage and confession” and that it needs a “thicker” theological tradition to enable it to engage in “unified social and political action” (p.17). In other words, being an Evangelical hardly does justice to the richness of the Christian tradition in which I have spent my entire Christian life, namely, that of the Baptist world.¹

Second, and most interestingly in light of the previous paragraph, I have been, since the onset of the Covid pandemic, deeply dissatisfied with the pattern of worship that dominates the Baptist world, in which my Triune Lord has placed me. I lament the way in which our tradition of public prayer has evolved from the battles of our 17th-century forebears against the weaponization of The Book of Common Prayer by the Anglican state church in England and Wales. John Bunyan’s plea for extemporaneous prayer in his I will pray with the Spirit (c.1662) has devolved into spiritual vapidity. The failure of so-called “free prayer” to sustain worship in Baptist circles has long been known. I find it fascinating that in the 1820s, James Hinton (1761-1823) of Oxford—the close friend of Andrew Fuller (1754-1825)—seems to have been equally concerned regarding patterns of praying and he compiled The New Guide to Prayer (2nd ed., 1824) for family worship, which contains over 500 pages of written prayers and forms of worship. I long for a pattern of worship that unites Baptist polity with something akin to those in The Book of Common Prayer.

Third, I do not believe that being called to be a preacher of the Gospel is the “highest” calling for a Christian. In some ways, this idea, which is quite prevalent in the Baptist and Reformed circles in which I move, is a denial of much that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. There he argues that every believer has a calling/gift and that every calling/gift is vital for the Body of Christ. In other words, professing Christians must serve God in the calling that God has shaped them for and that it is flawed argumentation to expect that every Christian to aspire after the gift of preaching, for example. It is this wrong thinking that lies behind some of North American Evangelicalism’s fascination with Christian celebrities, the vast majority of whom are preachers. I wish I had realized this truth about the multitude of different Christian callings experientially years ago (I gave lip service to it, of course, but did not know it as a reality in my heart and mind). I would have been far more comfortable with simply being a church historian. It is also failure to put this conviction into practice that has so often stymied Baptists and Evangelicals in appreciating the great panorama of Christian callings and why the Kuyperian tradition is so helpful at this point in its affirmation of Christ’s lordship over all of life. To tell the truth, though, some of those who argue theoretically for a Kuyperian vision of the Christian life are just as narrow in the practical outplay of their thinking. Christ is said to be Lord of all from the pulpit and conference hall, but where are the positive discussions of art and theatre and poetry, for example?

A quote from Dr. Michael Haykin, "I would love to simply call myself a 'Particular Baptist,' like the tradition in the British Isles and Ireland with which I most closely identify, but, to the modern ear, the adjective 'particular' conveys nothing of the original meaning that had to do with particular redemption."

Used by permission from Historia ecclesiastica Reflecting on the history of the Christian Faith from Dr. Michael AG Haykin. Can be found at

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