As we look back over the centuries, we can discern movements and counter-movements in the history of Christianity. One that easily discernable today is the resurgence in America of Reformed theology and tradition. I believe this is largely a reaction to the theological drift of American Christianity toward liberalism, “wokeism”, and (dare I say it?) apostacy.
So many Christians today are seeking more from Christianity than what a modern seeker-focused megachurches are teaching. They want deeper theology and richness in their Christian walk. Just hop on any social media platform and see these modern day Puritans denounce men, movements, and messages they deem as heretical and unscriptural.
What are these people turning to? In turning from the modern they seek the ancient. In turning from the emotional they turn to the logical. In turning from the shallow they turn to the profound. They are turning more and more to the the tenets of Calvinism and Reformed theology.
The influence of Charles Spurgeon in this is tremendous. Spurgeon himself reacted to the theological drift of his day by embracing the past preachers and theologians. He promoted the writings of the Puritans like no one else.
I see a parallel to this modern Reformed movement in the Fundamentalism of the early 20th century. I am certain they will crucify me for even suggesting that if they ever read this. But at that time so many across a broad spectrum of denominations were rejecting modernism and liberalism while embracing the “old time religion”. Fundamentalism was and is a reactionary movement to the theological drift towards liberalism. It was a movement towards conservative theology and historical practice.
The same things are are driving the modern Reformed movement. They are embracing and promoting practices such as singing of traditional hymns (even resurrecting some long forgotten ones) and the use of the liturgical calendar. I like to joke that Fundamentalism wants to keep things like they were in the 1950’s, but the Reformed movement honestly tries to keep their faith and practice in the 1700’s if not the 1500’s.
The modern Reformed movement and historic Fundamentalism are born of the same desires, reacting to similar concerns of theological drift, embracing traditionalist forms of worship, and rejecting unorthodox teachings and practice. Both promote the basis of Sola Scriptura in defining faith and practice. Both embrace their heritage, some of which overlaps as in the case of Charles Spurgeon. Today both can be seen taking similar stands on issues such as the use church music or their stances on abortion. You can watch these new and upcoming Reformed leaders come to the same realizations that Fundamentalism did a century before.
While they are similar, there can still be quite a bit of difference depending on what group you are examining. I, for one, reject the liturgical calendar as an unnecessary and extra-Biblical tradition. I reject the practice of infant baptism as unscriptural though classic Reformed theology promotes it. I reject the entire Calvinist-Arminian scale for measuring theology as outdated, unnecessary, and impractical. I reject much of the ecclesiology (I find the Baptist positions more in line with Scripture) and eschatology. I would not define the doctrines of election, predestination, or atonement the same as any Reformed theologian though thankfully I believe we are in agreement in “salvation by grace through faith”.
As a side note, the one area that I am surprised that the modern Reformed movement has not taken is the promotion and use of an historic translation of the Bible such as the KJV or the Geneva Bible. They have no problem reading authors or singing songs that read more like Shakespeare than any modern literature. I find it odd that in so many ways they embrace the theology, writings, and songs from the past yet use a Bible that does not reflect the same traditions.
To conclude, I believe what we are seeing in American Christianity is another repeat of a reaction to theological drift. Just as the Fundamentalists took at stand in the early 20th century against liberalism we are seeing Reformed leaders take a stand against apostacy in the church. These two are not the same but the similarities are striking.
I heard months ago from Raymond Barber that O.S. Hawkins was writing a book on Norris and Truett. I was very excited to hear that since Hawkins had written an article about Norris and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To hear someone within the SBC take a objective view on Norris’s ministry is quite rare.
In the Name of God: The Colliding Lives, Legends, and Legacies of J. Frank Norris and George W. Truett is published by B&H Academic. It is 213 pages long, with 152 of those being the text and the rest endnotes, bibliography, etc. List price is $29.99.
Before I begin my review, I want to acknowledge that this very website is cited as a source (see pages 64, 164, and 206) – which is so exciting for me! Having studied, collected, and written about Norris off and on for 15+ years there is a sense of vindication when you see your work cited in print. Even if it was just a reference to membership number at the First Baptist in Fort Worth which I had compiled from various sources and not something really original it still excites me. So much more so than the time this site was cited on Wikipedia. Anyway, I will note that the particular page that is referenced is not currently available. I did not put it back up after I switched over to WordPress. Guess I need to fix that.
In the annals of Southern Baptists, the name of Truett has been revered and the name of Norris reviled. Hawkins’s objective approach in this book is that there is a much more balanced view that needs to be taken of the two. The two men are so easily compared and contrasted – they ministered some 30 miles apart, their paths intersected often, they were both leading pulpiteers, they both led in building some of the earliest megachurches, and so on. This is not the first work on the subject, nor will it be the last.
Hawkins does spend far more space dealing with Norris than Truett. That is because the main thrust of this book, though many will argue and refuse to acknowledge it, is that Norris’s impact on the SBC today is greater than Truett’s. Chapter 5 – “The Influence of J. Frank Norris on Modern Southern Baptist Theology, Church Growth, Evangelism, and Practice” is the best in the book. The previous chapters are largely background for this analysis. The Baptist historian Leon McBeth had written that Norris “had no constructive part in Southern Baptist ministries in this century.” Hawkins takes him to task, even calling out that statement five times with clear examples of its error.
Hawkins is clear that the ministry and personality Norris are complex. He does not paint him as a hero nor a villain. He is objective and analytical in his approach. But he shows that Norris was right on many issues, which is difficult to find SBC writers to acknowledge. Norris’s tactics and combativeness have distracted many from seeing that in so many ways he was right.
Some points of controversy are finally addressed, such as whether Norris was valedictorian at Louisville and if Norris gave rotting fruit to SBTS staff. I will say that Hawkins does take the word of Norris and Entzminger with less skepticism than I would expect since they can embellish things a bit.
I will say that I find the writing to be uneven. Sometimes it sounds very much like a sermon with elaborate and unnecessary alliteration. A couple of sentences I honestly had to reread a few times because they felt incomplete. It is not academic or dry by any stretch. Overall an enjoyable read.
The book is well sourced (and I am not saying that because my website is referenced). However, I get the feeling that not everything in the lengthy bibliography was actually referenced in the making of this book. I cannot prove that statement, just a hunch. I compared it to my own Norris bibliography that I have been working on in an attempt to compile an exhaustive list of resources and especially Norris’s publications. Many of these books and pamphlets are extremely hard to find. It took me years to find copies of some of them. So many of them I have never been able to locate copies of and I simply have recorded their reported existence. Yet I find all but a handful listed in Hawkins’s bibliography regardless of their relevance to the subject. Perhaps he is, like me, merely acknowledging the existence of the works. I sincerely doubt he has actually referenced them all.
There are some finer points that he does get wrong. Speaking of Norris heading to Baylor University on p. 23, Hawkins writes: “No evidence exists to show how he acquired the resources for this journey and his initial college expenses…”. However, Ray Tatum (whom Hawkins references multiple times) wrote: “…Frank presented himself in the small office of the family doctor, W.A. Woods, and told him, with confidence, of his aspirations to attend Baylor University. He asked the doctor for a loan of one hundred dollars, and received ‘one hundred and fifty.'” (Conquest or Failure?, p. 42, with a citation from a 1945 article in The Fundamentalist)
Another example that Hawkins either missed or simplified is that impact of Louis Entzminger on Norris’s ministry. He credits Norris with influencing Arthur Flake’s Sunday School system (p. 111-113). It was not Norris that invented that system, but Louis Entzminger who arrived in Fort Worth in 1913 to build that Sunday School system. Entzminger is also the man who convinced Norris to adopt Premillennialism.
Some other things he is wrong on or curious:
Repeats the unfounded rumor that Norris killed his father-in-law (p. 27). The endnote highlights the suspicious nature of the accusation.
J.T. Pemberton’s name is misspelled as Pemperton repeatedly (p. 27 and so on).
Attributing “multisite campuses” to Norris (p. 110, 136). Norris had to be creative in finding places to meet or to hold the crowds but these were never satellites of his churches – they were the same church meeting in different places.
Saying that Norris “wrote” commentaries (p. 129). These were lectures he gave so writing may be a stretch.
I also would like to take issue with a couple of statements made about Norris’s legacy. On page 144: “In the end, much of what Norris stood for diminished. His network of churches was repeatedly divided across the decades and is virtually unnoticeable today.” [emphasis added]. Splintered, yes. Unnoticeable? Only to those who do not look. Strong SBC bias against Independent Baptists there.
Also I would like to take issue with the statement in the end notes on page 160: “The remnants of Norris’s seminary still exist today…” [emphasis added]. Remnants? That is a loaded word and surely a better one could have been used.
I suppose we can give Hawkins a pass on some of this. He is many things but a professional historian is not one.
Lest you think otherwise, I do really like this book. Hawkins’s approach and perspective is a welcome one.
I like what Hawkins brings out when he compares Norris and Truett. Norris was for “doctrinal fidelity” and Truett for “denominational loyalty”. Norris reveled in conflict, while Truett stayed aloof from it. Norris preached with passion and animation, Truett with precision and dignity.
There is little new ground covered in chapters 1 through 4. We have brief histories of Dallas and Fort Worth, biographies of Norris and Truett, and synopsis of their conflicts and interactions. You will readily find better and deeper resources for the material, except maybe the presentation of the information in chapter 4. Chapter 5 is, again, the best in the book and a welcome addition to catalog of Norris research available. That chapter could only be written in today’s time with the perspective gained over the decades.
I was very glad to see the relationship between Norris and B.H. Carroll emphasized. Too little study has been done on it.
I absolutely love this perspective on page 148: “The fact that the church [First Baptist of Fort Worth] did, indeed, fragment after his death proved to be a blessing to many sister churches as Bible-believing men and women dispersed to find their places in the local churches of their city, thereby multiplying the ministry and lasting influence of J. Frank Norris many times over.” So true. The fragmentation of the Norris empire did not weaken it, instead it multiplied it.
Final verdict: Despite my nitpicking, this is a worthy and welcome addition to anyone’s library with interest on the SBC or Norris. I think the list price of $29.99 is far too steep so maybe everyone should wait for used copies to become available.
I am always interested in new books about the Baptist Fundamentalism. I heard about this book a few years ago but only recently purchased it. The reason I delayed buying it was that it has remained fairly expensive and I had not found a copy at a price I was willing to pay.
One in Hope and Doctrine: Origins of Baptist Fundamentalism 1870-1950 is co-written by Kevin Bauder and Robert Delaney and was published by the Regular Baptist Press in 2014. It is only available in paperback I believe and is 396 pages.
My first criticism is the title does not match the content of the book. It should be titled Origins of the GARBC (General Association of Regular Baptists Churches). It excels in telling the story of the origins and early days of the GARBC. As someone who has studied far more about Southern Fundamentalist movements I found that information well done. However, this book does not fairly or adequately cover any movements that did not lead to the GARBC or arise from Northern Baptist heritage.
My second criticism is the authors show little or no objectivity in dealing with Southern Fundamentalism. These authors have an obvious axe to grind against Southern Fundamentalism and its leaders. J. Frank Norris is treated as an inhuman and immoral monster and John R. Rice is treated as a closet Pentecostal. If there is a chance to take a jab at Norris it is swung with gusto even if it has little or no bearing on the actual focus of the book. He is the villain of this story.
Admittedly Norris did bring much of this criticism on himself. He tried to join the GARBC and probably would have attempted to absorb it into his own sphere. He attacked Ketchum and others in print and private. While Ketchum chose not to respond, these authors have chosen to fire multiple broadsides in response. The bias and vitriol is overwhelming for a book supposedly written by academics as a serious historical study.
Some proofs of this unnecessary bias include:
In the Index you will find that there are more references to J. Frank Norris than any other individual. More than Ketchum, Van Osdel, Riley. You will also notice that John R. Rice (who really had little to do GARBC) has about as many references as W.B. Riley (who had a lot to do with GARBC’s history). Why are Norris and Rice mentioned so much when the narrative is supposedly about a group they had very little to do with?
Beginning on page 313 and lasting 16 pages, there is an absolutely unnecessary section dealing with controversies with John R. Rice. The first is an overblown dispute between Rice and Lewis Sperry Chafer on the role of an evangelist. The second is a critical review of Rice’s positions in his book The Power of Pentecost. Neither of these add anything to the narrative other than to glorify the author’s own movement and vilify Rice (and by extension Southern Fundamentalism). When one of the few GARBC controversies (women preachers) is addressed, it is covered with only seven pages beginning on page 199.
The use of unprofessional, unacademic, biased language. On page 253, Norris is described as acting “like a jilted teenager”. On page 258, the structure of the GARBC executive committee is described as “sheer genius”.
We can debate the actions of Norris and the positions of Rice and I have no issue doing so. What I take issue with is a book that proports to be a serious historical study yet constantly descends into petty partisan propaganda.
Related to this criticism, I find the section from pages 295-301 to be curious. It is an analysis of Southern Fundamentalism based on the thoughts of Jack Hyles. While every opportunity is taken to attack Norris and Rice, the authors are strangely silent about theaccusationsandlegacyofJackHyles. While Hyles’ observations are interesting, their inclusion without comment on their source highlights how unfairly this book treats other Southern Fundamentalists.
My third criticism is that the writers arrogantly assume their own movement to be true Fundamentalism. From the title to the declaration on page 380 that “Thus ends this first part of the story of Baptist fundamentalism” there is a misguided attempt to make the GARBC movement to be the one true bastion of historic fundamentalism. Other movements are criticized, downplayed, or ignored. This book is more propaganda and claptrap for the GARBC than an honest history survey.
What is this book? It does not live up to its title in scope. It covers the origins and precursors of GARBC and other Northern Baptists Fundamentalists well. It is very unbalanced in how it treats Southern Fundamentalists.
Oliver Van Osdel appears is finally receiving the recognition he deserves. Robert Ketcham is presented as the “Great Man” of the movement despite such a philosophy being criticized on page 300. The interaction of Norris with the GARBC is inflated I think to manufacture a villain for the narrative. The coverage of Rice is unnecessary and barely fits the focus of the book.
In my opinion, this book should be edited into two separate works. The first, a scholastic history of Northern Baptist Fundamentalism and the GARBC. The second, an editorial work criticizing Southern Fundamentalism and its leaders. Both would be of value separately, but combined it makes for an uneven narrative told with inconsistent voice.
Students of the history of Fundamentalism deserve better.
I have long argued that there is a connection between the Landmark Movement of the 1800’s and the the Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement of the 1900’s. Generally this is met with resistance, I think mainly because of ignorance of the subject or as an attempt to distance from some of Landmarkism’s positions. However, the more I have considered the idea, the more convinced I am that there is some link between the two.
The histories of both are so strikingly similar that a connection seems so evident yet few official ties have existed to my knowledge. Both created new separatist Baptists movements with emphases on foundational positions. Both impacted the larger Baptist world through their staunch defense of their beliefs.
History of Landmarkism
Landmarkism began as a movement in the mid-1800’s mainly in the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s chief spokesman was J.R. Graves (1820-1893) and other key early figures include A.C. Dayton (1813-1865) and J.M. Pendleton (1811-1891). Ben Bogard (1868-1951) was its chief defender during his lifetime.
The catalysts that launched Landmarkism are unclear. For J.R. Graves, he said that he had witnessed as a young man a minister immerse, pour, and sprinkle various converts in a single meeting. For others it was a reaction to conflicts with other denominations, especially the newly emerged Church of Christ.
My understanding of Landmark history makes me believe that the conflict with the Church of Christ is the primary reason for the rise of Landmarkism. It is not that they held any new or revolutionary position. They were responding to an attack on their own identity as an upstart group emerged to claim to be the one true church with the only true doctrines. Conflicts and debates between Landmark Baptists and the Church of Christ (or “Campbellites” as Landmarkers liked to call them) were very common. I have read numerous accounts of those debates taking place here in Texas in the late 1800’s and even into the early 1900’s.
In The Baptist Heritage, H. Leon McBeth lists these positions as illustrative of Landmarkism’s stance on the church:
Baptist churches are the only true churches in the world.
The true church is a local, visible institution.
The churches and the kingdom of God are coterminous.
There must be no “pulpit affiliation” with non-Baptists.
Only a church can do churchly acts.
Baptist churches have always existed in every age by an unbroken historical succession.
As you can see, Landmarkism places much emphasis on the practice and position of the church. The extent of those positions has led many to dub them “Baptist Briders”, as their belief that only Baptist churches are the true churches and therefore only they must make up the Bride of Christ.
Relationship with Fundamentalism
Should you compare the six positions listed above to those of Fundamental Baptists, I think only #3 would not be the same generally. #1 may not be taught but is is definitely practiced, and in fact there are those that would question the validity of even a non-Fundamental Baptist church. #2, #4, #5, and #6 are definitely taught and promoted.
There are two major differences that I see. One is that Landmark Baptists can have a more organized denominational structure (Association vs. Fellowship). Two is that Fundamental Baptists are, I think, more open to be influenced by non-Baptist sources. This could be because Classic Fundamentalism was not limited to just one denomination. Many early Fundamentalist leaders and writers were not Baptists but their works are still highly valued.
Historically there hasn’t been much overlap or fellowship between the groups. Landmarkers were suspicious of Fundamentalists and largely isolated from their battles. Fundamental Baptists were often not willing to hold some of the more extreme conclusions of Landmarkism. I know of anecdotal instances of Missionary Baptist churches (a typical name here in Texas for churches with old ties to Landmark movements) having fellowship with Fundamental Baptists or even becoming Fundamental.
Note – to illustrate this, I am going to here limit the breadth of Fundamental Baptists to just those whose heritage is from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Both movements began as reactions to movements or ideas that were deemed unorthodox.
Both movements sought to define what constitutes true doctrine.
Both movements created controversary in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Both movements could not wield enough influence to take control of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Both movements separated from the Southern Baptist Convention to create their own alliances and fellowships.
Both movements have their own schools/seminaries to train their own leadership.
Both movements have their historic positions continuing to influence the Southern Baptist Convention to this day.
Both movements are largely concerned with local church work and their own affairs with little effort to be ecumenical.
Landmark and Fundamental Baptists share many common positions and a similar history. Many of the positions of the earlier Landmark movement are evident to some degree in the Fundamental Baptist movement. Both remain defenders of their own brands of conservative Baptist identity.
I contend there that Landmarkism, with its staunch defense of Baptist identity and fierce independence, paved the way for the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement. I doubt the “Independent” portion would even exist without the principles developed and ingrained into the Baptist psyche by Landmarkism.
There is far too much to cover in just one quick article, and I doubt there is much of an audience clamoring for such a study anyway.
UPDATE – 7-13-21
Discovered this nice tidbit in a J. Frank Norris sermon I was adding to the website, in which he called J. R. Graves “the outstanding fundamentalist of his day“.
On more than one occasion I have been asked to whom we can compare J. Frank Norris to today. Some preachers have imagined themselves as a spiritual heir of Norris and there are some with similarities, especially among those who were influenced by him and his ministry. Some preachers are polarizing like Norris, some are controversial like Norris, some are trailblazers like Norris, but I have yet to find another man whose life and ministry parallels that of Norris.
A couple of years ago, I had an epiphany on the matter. I saw that the presidency and actions of Donald Trump show many similarities to the ministry and methods of J. Frank Norris. I have mulled over this comparison since then and feel that I can finally articulate it enough to foster a discussion on its merits.
Now, let me say up front that there are many areas in which the two could not be more different. For instance, I do believe Norris was sincere in his faith while Trump is not (and I probably just lost a lot of readers with those two statements). The greatest attack on Norris is that he did shoot and kill a man, which was ruled to be self-defense in a court of law, and I do not see a parallel in Trump’s life. The many instances of immorality in Trump’s life and business career are different than the questionable and debatable actions of Norris. It has only been in recent years, almost seventy years after his death, that accusations made against Norris concerning improprieties with women have been put into print and gained acceptance among his detractors. Quite a different situation than the cases brought against Trump by multiple women. Also let me say that I am looking largely at the five or so years of Trump’s candidacy, election, and term in office while looking at many decades of Norris’ ministry.
What I want to emphasize here is the similar mindset and methods of these two men. How one reacted to opposition is similar to the way the other did. How one promoted his agenda is similar to the way the other did.
With no particular order, let me begin with:
I. Norris and Trump both utilized cutting-edge media to reach their audiences and were both had their message censored or ignored by traditional media outlets.
Trump was legendary for the use of his Twitter account to attack his enemies and push his message. When Trump’s message was ignored or attacked in major media outlets, he promoted upstart networks or promoted it himself online.
Norris did not have modern social media, but he was as effective as anyone at using the media of his day. He was a pioneering radio broadcaster, which is a fact that is largely unmentioned today. He used his personal paper, known by various names like The Searchlight and The Fundamentalist, to disseminate his sermons and launch attacks on his foes and even on his allies. Local newspapers and denominational publications would reject Norris’ material in their pages but his message still went out. If Norris had been able to have a Twitter account, I think he would have used it almost exactly like Trump did.
II. Norris and Trump both demeaned and demonized their opponents through name-calling and personal attacks
Trump famously gave nicknames to his opponents. “Sleepy Joe” for Joe Biden and “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren are some well-known examples. His enemies, not mattering if they were in his own party, would expect to be treated to constant accusations and attacks that Trump used to transform their message or person into a caricature.
Norris had his nicknames also. For example, he said he was attacking “Dawsonism” (named after J.M. Dawson) instead of just Modernism in the Baptist denomination. He used Dawson to personify these attacks. The attacks on Dawson are legendary, but I’d like to point out that Dawson did openly and unapologetically hold modernist positions in areas such as Creation and Inspiration of the Scriptures. But Norris could not keep the battle in the theological realm and instead made it personal.
III. Norris and Trump both developed extremely loyal followings that dwindled over time and after controversy.
As I write this we are less than a month from Trump’s successor Joe Biden being sworn in as President. Yet I still see Trump flags and signs displayed proudly. Not as many as a few months ago though. After the riot at the Capitol, even some of his strongest supporters where ready for his departure. Now his own party is largely ready to move on from Trump’s time in office.
Norris had an entourage of extremely loyal followers and supporters. I have heard more than one preacher who claimed to be Norris’ “right hand man” before embarking on their own pastorates. I have seen reports that Norris would hold meetings at the same time and place as denominational conventions and outdraw those meetings. Even today, a few preachers are fiercely loyal to and quick to claim the name of Norris, but they are not many. His contemporary and somewhat rival George W. Truett is not afforded the same popularity and loyalty.
IV. Norris and Trump both used the “cult of personality” to their gain.
Trump promoted Trump. When press conferences were held in the early days of the COVID pandemic he was front and center. His campaign was largely on the name TRUMP and not the ticket of Trump/Pence.
Norris promoted Norris. Other men came and went, like John. R. Rice or G.B. Vick, but Norris was the center of attention. Roy Kemp tells of him preaching about selling J. Frank Norris to the crowds so people would come hear the Gospel. From page 17 from Kemp’s Extravaganza!:
“Then Norris – his soul on the wing – soared up, and up, and up! And for what purpose? Answer: To get his people to sell J. Frank Norris to the masses – by house to house visitation – in order that they might get the sinners out to hear him. And then, he pressed upon them, the claims of Christ, unto eternal salvation, and service in the Lord’s church; yes, and Heaven!”
V. Norris and Trump both attacked their own institutions and made enemies of those of similar beliefs.
Trump was largely and outsider to the political realm. He did not spend time strengthening his party’s influence or strength. He made enemies of some of the most influential party leaders like Romney and McCain. Many in his own party were prepared to lose a presidential election just to rid themselves of Trump.
Norris held few loyalties in his life. I think the only major denominational leader of his time that he did not attack was B.H. Carroll. He attacked leaders and programs of the local, state, and national Baptist conventions of which he began his ministry strongly advocating. He attacked his alma mater Baylor University when evidence of modernistic teachings came to light. His own followers split over Norris’ leadership when many broke away and formed the Baptist Bible Fellowship in 1950. Over the course of his life many of his enemies had earlier been in the ranks of his allies.
VI. Norris and Trump both used populism to push their agenda.
Trump appealed to the “every man” in his message. I have spoken to many people that were convinced Trump had the back of the common man. Much of his message could be interpreted as common man vs. the elite.
Norris appealed often to the common Christian layperson. He accused the denominational institutions of moving in directions that rank-and-file Baptists would not approve of. He appealed not to intellectualism, but to the ordinary faith of the ordinary Christian.
VII. Norris and Trump both thrived on controversy and upheaval and eschewed bipartisanship and compromise.
Many of Trump’s more memorable acts were in the heat of battles. I’ve already mentioned the demeaning names which he would lambast his enemies with. Those usually flew around when he was forced to work with those individuals in effort to throw pressure on them to accept his proposals. We can see much of Trump’s demeanor in the first presidential debate of 2020 in the way he went on the offensive against both Biden and the moderator Chris Wallace.
Norris fostered controversy and many of his attacks had little impact on the issues. He had an ability like P.T. Barnum to market any situation to his advantage. He used sensationalist and controversialist methods that alienated him from potential allies and often hindered any progress to address the issues at hand.
I’m sure these observations are not exhaustive but I hope that the reader can see the same conclusion that I have come to; that is, we finally have someone in Donald Trump in which we can use in comparison to foster a greater understanding of the ministry and methods of J. Frank Norris.
Unless you are a student of Baptist History then you may have not run across the theory that Saint Patrick was a Baptist. W.A. Criswell preached an entire sermon about it in 1958 and if you do a Google search you will find many blogs presenting arguments for and against. I would like to give you my opinion.
Who was Patrick?
The main source for information about Patrick are his autobiographical Confession and one Epistle. There appears to be little doubt that these Latin documents are authentic.
According to the Confession, Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the 4th or 5th century A.D. He says his father was a “deacon” (Latin diaconum) and his grandfather a “priest” (Latin presbyteri) but that Patrick was not a believer in his youth. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of sixteen and escaped home six years later. He began to study and train for the ministry.
Patrick famously returned to Ireland as a missionary. Details of his work there are fragmentary. The more famous aspects of his ministry you hear today, namely using a shamrock to illustrate the Trinity and banishing snakes from the island, are most certainly legends with no fact behind them.
What impact did Patrick have? In his own words:
“How has this happened in Ireland? Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks [Latin monachi] and virgins of Christ!” – Confession, Paragraph 41
Why Doubt that Patrick was Catholic?
A few reasons:
The first is one of Chronology. The Roman Catholic church was not yet the dominant power that it would become in the coming centuries. A compelling case can be made that the ministry of Patrick was retroactively adopted by Rome.
The second is the Language. Some of the words he used in Latin can have loaded meanings when translated to modern terms. Take the Latin word presbyteri that he uses as the office that his grandfather held. Most scholars seem to translate this as priest but it could be term for an elder or presbyter in the church. If you believe Patrick to be Catholic, you would translate it priest with little thought to other possible meanings. These ecclesiastical terms can have multiple meaning across denominations, traditions, regions, and centuries.
The third is Practice. Patrick seems to have only baptized adult candidates and there are no references to him performing infant baptism. He never speaks of other Catholic hallmarks such as the Eucharist or Confession. Admittedly, there are few things, such as the women who become virgins for Christ (nuns?), that are closer to Catholicism by today’s standards. However the bulk of Patrick’s ministry does not match up well with Catholic practice.
The fourth is Theology. Patrick’s writings we have today do not contain core Catholic teachings. He makes many allusions to Scripture prove that he had an intimate knowledge of the Bible. A couple of quotes that illustrate the Gospel he preached:
“It was there [Ireland] that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognized my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.” – Confession, Paragraph 2
“These are not my own words which I have put before you in Latin; they are the words of God, and of the apostles and prophets, who have never lied. ‘Anyone who believes will be saved; anyone who does not believe will be condemned’ – God has spoken.”– Epistle, Paragraph 20
So, was Patrick a Baptist?
I personally don’t think so. But I also don’t think he was a Catholic.
The earliest centuries of Christian history or difficult to navigate. We try to categorize people or movements based on modern thought or denominations but that has many shortcomings. Patrick doesn’t fit the mold of Catholicism, but neither does he quite fit the mold of Baptists.
I think its best to let men like Patrick be themselves and speak for themselves. What is evident is that the actions of Patrick radically reshaped the history of Ireland and helped turn its people from paganism to Christianity. From his own testimony it sounds to me like he preached the true Gospel. Therefore, it seems that God greatly used Patrick and that his testimony and missionary example are still relevant today.
I’m excited to announce that I have just posted the information on Biblical coins that was among the more popular pages from the old website. I’ve combined the original pages that covered the general overview and the KJV coinage terms. I’ve also added a short new section on coinage and money in the Old Testament.. You can find it all here.