Thursday, July 26, 2007

What's In a Name?

I continue to struggle with finding a good adjective to describe what kind of Baptist I am. It would be nice to have a brief, short-hand way to communicate what my commitments are. "Liberal" is not a bad term if one uses the dictionary meaning ("marked by generosity and openhandedness") but it has been used so much in a pejorative sense that I hesitate to embrace it.

Many of us like to call ourselves "moderate" Baptists, but this tends to bring to mind the "lukewarm" church at Laodicea that the narrator wants to "spit out of his mouth"! I like the term "progressive," especially as it is defined by Fisher Humphreys in his book The Way We Were--informed, committed to women in ministry, concerned about the world's needs. Of course, at least one national Baptist convention has made this a part of its name, so the use of the term may be a bit confusing.

Some have drawn the distinction between "conventional" and "convictional" Baptists, but that requires a good bit of explanation. Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics has tried the terms "Golden Rule" Baptists and "goodwill" Baptists; those may catch on if we really act like that!

I occasionally use the term "Fellowship Baptists" to refer to my group and in so doing I am probably acknowledging that CBF is becoming more "denomination-like" all the time. Of course, I still call myself a Tennessee Baptist; I am not willing to give up that term to a particular denominational group.

Maybe at this point I am just a "seeking Baptist" and that might not be a bad term but it may be a bit dangerous. Roger Williams was a Baptist for awhile, but he ended up being a seeker and left the Baptist realm entirely. I am not ready to do that.

So right now when I fill out a survey, I just put "Baptist" and leave the interpretation up to others (and that is probably dangerous, too).

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