Most Baptists today have adapted rather well to the modern world—that is, they worship as they live, in ways that don’t much deviate from the general cultural milieu. It was not always so. In the past, the ways of Baptists were eccentric, their children were sometimes embarrassed by them, and their grandchildren were astonished by many features of their communal Christian life and practice, some of which now seem hilarious. Yet David Lyle Jeffrey shows that in their firm faith and strong character, these forebears still have much to teach. The legacy of "old-time" Baptists is rich: in ways we might not recognize, we are still living on spiritual capital they built up a century ago.
In this fast-paced and thought-provoking memoir, Jeffrey recalls growing up in the "old-time" Scottish Baptist tradition in rural Canada. With nostalgia, good humor, and sometimes lament, he considers his own theological and spiritual formation in a nearly vanished variety of Christian culture. Jeffrey reflects on events and customs that today may seem esoteric or quaint, perhaps even comical. Along the way, he considers the lessons a fading brand of Baptist life may hold for Baptists in the twenty-first century. Jeffrey offers witty and insightful commentary on theological matters such as sin, salvation, and grace, and practices like baptism, worship, and Sabbath-keeping.
The Baptists of Jeffrey’s youth encouraged abstinence from pleasures most folks took for granted. Their churches were often small, but they were the vital, stable hub of family and communal life through good times and bad, and had an extraordinary missional and evangelistic impact that belied their marginal status. This confessional recollection of a world of weird and wonderful "peculiar people" is an expression of Jeffrey’s gratitude to the ones he knew.
Preface: The Way We Were 1 The Sabbath 2 Outhouse Theology 3 Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting 4 Baptism 5 The Missionary Conference 6 Churchy Expletives 7 Youth Groups and the New Music 8 Sin 9 Salvation 10 Grace 11 Grave Matters 12 Gratitude 13 A Reckoning Appendix: The Necessity of Biblical Language
David Lyle Jeffrey is Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities at Baylor University. Jeffrey earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University and is also the author or editor of many books, including The King James Bible and the World It Made.
David Lyle Jeffrey is a consummate storyteller. His witty account of Baptist life in rural Ontario in the 1940s and ’50s takes readers back to a world far simpler and more innocent than our own. Jeffrey vividly recaptures for readers the staples of old-time Baptists: from Word-based preaching, theologically rich hymns, and gripping Protestant hagiographies to routine sword drills and lackluster handbell choirs. Jeffrey skillfully weaves his family history, with its delights and disasters, into a rich cultural and religious history of this ‘peculiar people’ in the Canadian countryside. At once memoir, history, and entreaty, this entertaining and gripping volume is a lesson in striving for a life of true holiness.
~Holly Faith Nelson, Professor of English, Trinity Western University
It is hard to imagine New England Puritanism without Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novels or Southern Protestantism apart from William Faulkner’s stories. Yet I am not aware of a comparable account of Canadian Calvinism. David Lyle Jeffrey’s unpretentious narrative has remedied that. Neither highbrow literature nor academic history, he offers up a tender and loving story about the faith and practice of a peculiar people. Baptists are peculiar enough, and old-time-strict-and-particular Scottish Baptists are peculiarly peculiar, but who knew they could be so interesting? Whatever you think you might know about this branch of the Baptist tree, bracket those thoughts and read this book. Jeffrey will not disappoint.
~Curtis W. Freeman, Research Professor of Theology and Director of the Baptist House of Studies, Duke University Divinity School
Perspective, lament, gratitude, humor, hope—all these are here in this wonderful memoir by David Lyle Jeffrey. Step back into the world of bygone Baptists who, for all their quaintness, still speak gospel truth into our own fragile world. A delightful read!
~Timothy George, Distinguished Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School
Jeffrey’s book is a treasure, full of stories and reflections that are at once wise, funny, and poignant. More than a spiritual memoir, however, it is an encouragement to become more aware and grateful for all those "peculiar people" who, in big and small ways, shape our own stories of coming to faith. These are the kind of stories and vision that the church needs to remember and proclaim for its future.
~Darin H. Davis, Director, Institute for Faith and Learning, Baylor University