A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Chad Chauvin
Baptists have historically been confessing people. A confession of faith promotes transparency among churches and denominations, as they use it to explain how their beliefs about the Bible align with or differ from others. In 1644, pastors of seven Baptist congregations created the First London Baptist Confession of Faith to distinguish their doctrinal teaching from that of the Anabaptists. This confession would later be updated and enlarged in 1646.
Particular Baptists of the latter seventeenth century were compelled to produce a Second London Baptist Confession of Faith that closely aligned with the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration yet expressed their own doctrinal distinctives. Although this confession was first produced in 1677, it was not publicly promoted by the Baptist non-conformists until the 1689 Toleration Act was passed by the British Parliament which allowed them freedom of worship. That year, representatives from more than one-hundred churches formed a General Assembly to formally adopt the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, hereafter called “the 1689.”
The 1689 is the grandfather of many American Baptist confessions of faith. The first two American Baptist associations, the Philadelphia Baptist Association and the Charleston Baptist Association adopted versions of the 1689. In 1858, James Petigru Boyce and Basil Manly Jr. relied on the First and Second London Baptist Confessions to draft the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Abstract of Principles. The Baptist Faith and Messages of 1925, 1963, and 2000 have their origin in the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, which has its roots in the 1742 Philadelphia Confession—a version of the 1689.
The reemergence of Calvinistic Baptists in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has generated renewed interest in the 1689. Many Baptist churches and religious organizations are jettisoning newer confessions in favor of the historic 1689. At the time this review was written, Farese.com has a directory of five-hundred eighty-two churches that “hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith or a similar statement of faith.” Additionally, several seminaries have made the 1689 their doctrinal standard. Global, national, and regional associations are being formed that require its member churches to subscribe to the 1689.
With this renewed interest in Reformed Baptist confessionalism, A New Exposition of The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, edited by Rob Ventura, has been produced. The surging interest in the 1689 is evidenced by the large number of contributors, twenty-three in total, who are mostly pastors or retired pastors of confessionally Reformed Baptist churches. One notable contributor and pastor is Sam Waldron, who is also president of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1989, Waldron authored A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, the first of its kind. I have greatly benefited from Waldron’s novel work and am pleased to see that he contributed three chapters of this second commentary on the 1689. Waldron humbly does not cite his own 1689 exposition; however, most of the other authors reference A Modern Exposition in their chapters—a recognition of Waldron’s influence on how the 1689 is being taught today.
A New Exposition begins with an overview of the 1689’s history, including the origins of its 1646 predecessor and the value case for a second London Baptist confession. The remainder of the book is divided into thirty-two essays, with each one aligning with a chapter of the 1689. Many of the authors highlight similarities and differences between the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration, keeping with the intent of the 1689’s framers to indicate doctrinal similarities and distinctions. For example, Earl Blackburn in Of Creation points out that all three confessions ‘confess’ that the Bible reveals a literal six-day creation event. Likewise, Dave Chanski points out in Of the Lord’s Supper that “churches” in chapter thirty, paragraph one of the 1689 is plural, just like the Savoy Declaration but unlike the Westminster Confession. This nuance echoes the doctrinal agreement between Baptists and Congregationalists who emphasized that the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of “particular” local churches.
The contributors to this book are thorough in their commentary of the 1689. Its authors take pains to teach distinctives of the Reformed Baptist theology found in the 1689, including a robust Calvinist soteriology, a distinct credobaptist covenant theology, a harmony of the Law and the gospel, and a serious regard for the need and benefits of church associations. The historical context of the 1689 publication is given considerable attention, particularly against the backdrop of Protestant responses to Roman Catholic teaching. For example, Lee McKinnon notes that the framers probably had the Roman Catholic practice of mandatory celibacy of priests in mind when they wrote in Of Marriage that “It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry.” Jerry Smith and Gary Hendrix explain that the 1689 framers were intentional in Of Good Works to write that good works are limited to those “God has commanded in his Holy Word.” They argue this statement was a response to the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by faith as expressed in the Council of Trent. The Church of Rome believed its leaders had the ability to declare what is considered a good work acceptable to God.
I appreciate that Jim Savastio acknowledges it is not clear who the original framers refer to in Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper when they state the ordinances “are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ.” This clause contrasts with the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration, which both specify that an ordained minister of the Word must administer the ordinances. Savastio posits those “qualified and thereunto called” were likely intended to be pastors, but the ambiguity may have intentionally left room for churches to appoint someone in the absence of a pastor. After all, the confession makes provisions in chapter twenty-six for lay preachers who are “approved and called by the church.” This terminology is very similar. These kinds of conversations help contemporary theologians analyze the theological dialogue of our Protestant forefathers.
The main purpose of this book is the same as the 1689: to communicate the theology of the Bible as understood by Reformed Baptists. To this end, this book can be useful in a variety of ways. Pastors and Sunday School teachers can use it to help their church become familiar with the 1689 on their way to adopting it as their constitutional confession of faith. It would also make a good textbook for Reformed Baptist seminaries and for elder candidates to study while preparing for the ministry. I currently meet weekly online with about a dozen other pastors. Each week, we cover a new chapter of the 1689. I have found this book to be a helpful resource for this study. Finally, the publication of this book is another step towards promoting the confessional heritage of early Particular Baptists.
The rising interest in the confessional heritage of Reformed Baptists is evident by the publication of this book along with Waldron’s. With A New Exposition, Reformed Baptists have a second commentary of their historic Reformed confession similar to how Presbyterians have Robert Shaw’s The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Ventura’s work has a distinctively devotional flavor, which contains practical application for readers. This publication is likely to be very influential in the current efforts to promote Reformed Baptist confessionalism.
Chad Chauvin (PhD, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Senior Pastor at Salem Baptist Church in Walker, Louisiana.
Buy the books
A NEW EXPOSITION OF THE LONDON BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH OF 1689, edited by Rob Ventura