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Contesting Catholicity
Theology for Other Baptists

By Curtis W. Freeman

Contesting Catholicity
Hardback, 478 pages $49.95
Published: 15th September 2014
ISBN: 9781481300278
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All Theology

Baptists originated as a protest movement within the church but have developed over time into a distinct sect, one committed to preserving its place in the hierarchy of denominations. In today’s postmodern, disestablished context, Baptists are in danger of becoming either a religious affinity group, a collection of individuals who share experiences and commitments to a set of principles, or a countercultural sect that retreats to early Enlightenment propositions for consolation and support.

In Contesting Catholicity, Curtis W. Freeman offers an alternative Baptist identity, an “Other” kind of Baptist, one that stands between the liberal and fundamentalist options. By discerning an elegant analogy among some late modern Baptist preachers, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Baptist founders, and early patristic theologians, Freeman narrates the Baptist story as a community that grapples with the convictions of the church catholic.

Deep analogical conversation across the centuries enables Freeman to gain new leverage on all of the supposedly distinctive Baptist theological identifiers. From believer’s baptism, the sacraments, and soul competency, to the Trinity, the priesthood of every believer, and local church autonomy, Freeman’s historical reconstruction demonstrates that Baptists did and should understand themselves as a spiritual movement within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

A “catholic Baptist” is fully participant in the historic church and at the very same time is fully Baptist. This radical Baptist catholicity is more than a quantitative sense of historical and ecumenical communion with the wider church. This Other Baptist identity envisions a qualitative catholicity that is centered on the confession of faith in Jesus Christ and historic Trinitarian orthodoxy enacted in the worship of the church in and through word and sacrament.


Introduction: Church, Sect, or Self?

Part I: Sickness under Death

1.         Alterity and Its Cure

2.         Beyond Fundamentalism and Liberalism

3.         Toward a Generous Orthodoxy

Part II: Life That Really Is Life

4.         God in Three Persons

5.         Priests to Each Other

6.         Where Two or Three Are Gathered

7.         More Light from the Word

8.         Evangelical Sacramentalism

9.         One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

Conclusion: Recovering Baptists and the Coveted Future

"Curtis Freeman is doing for Baptists what other Protestant theologians are doing for their own ailing denominations—retrieving the catholic substance of the Christian tradition to undergird their passion for the evangelical principle. Contesting Catholicity contends that a church claiming to be evangelical while ceasing to be catholic is no Christian church at all. Freeman's evangelical catholic vision is ecumenically promising by virtue of its faithfulness to the essentials of the Baptist tradition."

—Carl E. Braaten, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

"In this remarkably lucid and learned monograph, Curtis Freeman suggests a way beyond 'liberalism' and 'fundamentalism' for the Baptist tradition, one that could renew ecumenical vision whilst defending the distinctive history and prophetic role of Baptist spiritual life. This is a masterful piece of ecclesiology, unfettered by false polemics."

—Sarah Coakley, Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge

Contesting Catholicity courageously addresses Baptists who feel pushed to the margins in the present prevailing climate of Baptist life, and succeeds magnificently in its aim of offering Baptists a vision which transcends the modern split between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’. Curtis Freeman is thoroughly convincing in urging that Baptists are best understood as a dissenting movement within the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ rather than outside it. This is an essential theology for Baptists ‘recovering’ from recent crises, retrieving the spiritual and doctrinal tradition of the church universal. It can and should engage emotions and change minds.”   

—Paul S. Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Oxford and Director of Research, Regent’s Park College, Oxford

"[Contesting Catholicity] is the most significant development in Baptist theology since Jim McClendon’s Systematic Theology. This work stands for me as a milestone in the road, marking the journey thus traveled and prospecting the one yet to be."

—Adam C. English, Pacific Journal of Baptist Research

"Baptist leaders, even if they do not share Freeman’s theological vision, should give attention to his diagnosis of problems in contemporary Baptist life and be aware of the therapy he is prescribing."

—Fisher Humphreys, Pacific Journal of Baptist Research

“…This is a significant book we must all read. If you are not an Other Baptist, you must read this in order to learn and to dialogue ecumenically. And if you are an Other Baptist, then this is the book that now sets the standard for your discussion.”

— C. Douglas Weaver, Pacific Journal of Baptist Research

“Whatever the response to ‘Other Baptists' from readers, all will benefit from this one volume bibliographic resource on theologies Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Free Church, Baptist, ancient and modern, postmodern, post liberal, post fundamentalist, pre Christian, post Christian and mid-Christian.”

— Bill J. Leonard, Pacific Journal of Baptist Research

"Freeman has done both the Baptist tradition and other ecumenically minded Christians a tremendous service with this book. The more the vision of ‘contesting Christianity’ takes hold in Baptist circles, the more they will be inclined to take creedal Christianity seriously, and the more confident we can be of an orthodox, ecumenical future for the church."

—Hans Boersma, The Journal of Religion

"...a valuable resource for those in other traditions who are seeking theological renewal."

—L. H. Hoyle, Campbell University, Choice

“In this first truly twenty-first-century ecclesiology, Curtis Freeman offers a brilliant argument, not only for revisioning Baptist notions of church life, but for a readjusted notion of Christian catholicity itself. Challenging, rich, and persuasive, Freeman’s ‘other Baptist’ vision is an important ecumenical event.”

—Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology, Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto

“Freeman imagines with fresh eyes how Baptists, by retrieving their own heritage, can embody in new ways that catholicity which is authentically Christian.” 

—Robert Louis Wilken, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the History of Christianity Emeritus, University of Virginia

"This may well be one of the most important books written by a Baptist, both for its vision of Baptist life for Baptists and also for its vision of the church for those of other traditions."

—Andy Goodliff, Belle Vue Baptist Church, Regent's Reviews

"In this wonderful book, Freeman recovers for both Baptist and non-Baptists the spiritual heart of the traditional practice of theological contestation as an ongoing effort of reform and transformation, and thereby reaffirms the practical and vital importance of doctrine in the life of the Church catholic in all its forms."

—Nicholas M. Healy, St. John's University, Christian Century

"As the subtitle Theology for Other Baptists indicates, Freeman primarily addresses Contesting Catholicity to fellow Baptists. Its publication last year, however, was also an ecumenical event, a major contribution to 'receptive ecumenism' (270-71) in which Freeman challenges fellow Christians to recognize the gifts they might receive from Baptists."

—William L. Portier, Horizons

"[Contesting Catholicity] is an ecumenical tour de force that moves all of us in the right direction."

—Dennis Doyle, Horizons

"Overall I appreciate how the book zeroes in on the Holy Spirit at work in salvific ways in small groups of the faithful, inviting them to express a distinct color of the Christian life for the benefit of the whole church."

—Susanna L. Cantu Gregory, Horizons

"Contesting Catholicity is the result of Freeman’s personal odyssey to retrieve, negotiate, and proffer a distinctively Baptist theology for the present moment by listening to diverse Baptist voices as well as 'the holy imperfection and medley of difference' that is the great company of the saints. The book is his lucid (and critical) attempt to follow the vector of McClendon’s baptist vision, and an ecumenical announcement that Baptist theology is indeed 'come of age'."

—Mark Medley, Horizons

“This is an important contribution to the ongoing study of Baptist and Catholic theological relationships—a Christian relationship that becomes more urgent by the day.”

—David Tracy

"Contesting Catholicity makes a significant constructive contribution to Baptist theology, an important addition to recent discussions of Baptist identity, and represents the most sophisticated articulation of the Bapto-Catholic vision that has yet been published.”

—Nathan A. Finn, Southeastern Theological Review

“[Freeman’s] well-told narrative of Baptist trajectories as a microcosm of a larger American Protestant story deserves to be read widely not only within but also outside Baptist circles."

—Kimlyn J. Bender, Books & Culture

"Curtis Freeman's latest book, Contesting Catholicity, is one all Baptists should read."

—Derek C. Hatch, The Baptist Standard

"Freeman's book is a manifesto, detailed and learned, but also engagingly vigorous, for a special way of being'Baptist'."

—Ephraim Radner, Wycliffe College, First Things

"A refreshing contribution to the question of Christian unity"

—David W. Boshart, Anabaptist Witness

"...this is the most important book of post-liberal Baptist theology since James Wm. McClendon Jr. completed his three-volume Systematic Theology in 2000."

—Fisher Humphreys, Samford University, Baptist History and Heritage Journal

"This learned and well-argued work offers an evangelical and catholic alternative to fundamentalism and lukewarm liberalism. Written for Baptists, it embodies important lessons for other Christian theologians and leaders."

—Gerald O'Collins, Emeritus Professor, Gregorian University

"Freeman's exposition of catholicity is an important one that invites reflection accross the ecumenical church...there is much to ponder in this important book."

—Walter Brueggemann, Christian Century

"Part history, part theology, and part social theory, Contesting Catholicity, seeks to point the theological way forward for Other Baptists who wish to retrieve the tradition of Baptist-catholic protest."

—R. Lucas Stamps, Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, California Baptist University, Journal of Baptist Studies

"I believe that Curtis Freeman has written one of the most important books in Baptist theology that I have seen in my lifetime. His Contesting Catholicity is simultaneously a work in historical, constructive, and even (excuse the phrase) sacramental theology. While no one will agree with every particular judgment made in the book, this prodigious work is an extremely significant contribution and should be seriously considered by anyone attempting to lead in Baptist church or academic life."

—David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics & Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University

"An outstanding work. A beautifully illustrated narrative theological approach. Thoroughly documented. I found the work to be an exceptional presentation of theology’s migration from erecting barriers to affirming catholicity."

—Stan Nelson, Senior Professor of Theology, Golden Gate Theological Seminary, retired

"An important book for Baptists that care about the future of the movement"

—Spencer Boersma, First Baptist Church, McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry

Curtis W. Freeman is Research Professor of Theology and Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School. 

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 478 pages
 9in x 6in

  REL067000, REL073000, REL108000
 Baylor University Press

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