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Puritan Richard Baxter’s relevance underscored by faculty lecturer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Puritan preacher Richard Baxter is an exemplary example to the modern pastor, professor Timothy Beougher said in an address to the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Though he lived more than three centuries ago, Baxter’s writings continue to influence pulpits in the modern evangelical world, said Beougher, who is the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern.

Beougher, who spoke Feb. 7 at the Louisville, Ky., seminary, gave examples of renowned ministers and apologists who were influenced by Baxter’s writings, including C.S. Lewis and Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

“C.S. Lewis acknowledges his indebtedness to Baxter for the title of his famous work ‘Mere Christianity,'” Beougher said. “Lewis says he is concerned not with controversial matters in dispute between different communions but with the exposition and defense of what Baxter calls ‘mere’ Christianity.”

Baxter, an English Puritan, lived from 1615 to 1691, serving as vicar of Kidderminster from 1647 to 1661. He was a renowned preacher and writer, with his best-known work being “The Reformed Pastor,” which remains popular among pastors and seminary students. Other works that continue in print include “The Saints’ Everlasting Rest” and “A Call to the Unconverted.”

Beougher listed several exhortations, taken largely from “The Reformed Pastor,” which he said Baxter would likely want to offer the contemporary church and pastors today:

— Focus on conversion. “Baxter’s emphasis in ministry was on conversion,” Beougher said. “Other Puritans wrote on conversion, but Baxter wrote more than any other writer on this topic.”

— Understand the true nature of conversion. Said Beougher: “Baxter taught that conversion was a process. People lie dead in sin and cannot respond until God moves them to do so through effectual grace. But this does not mean that they are to sit idly by and wait for God to work. They should prepare themselves through seeking God and listening to his Word.”

— Guard your own heart. In “Reformed Pastor,” Baxter wrote that a minister should be certain that they preach their sermons to themselves and live them out before preaching them to others, Beougher said. Baxter stressed that ministers should particularly guard against pride.

— Preach the Word. Beougher said that Baxter admonished ministers to preach as “a dying man to dying men.”

— Minister to individuals. In “Reformed Pastor,” Baxter urged pastors to visit the home of each family member in his church — no matter the size of the congregation — at least one time per year, Beougher said.

— Pursue family reformation. “Baxter would exhort us today to make family ministry a high priority,” Beougher said.

— Keep your heart in heaven. “He [Baxter] believed meditation was a vital discipline to motivate the heart for vigorous prayer and subsequent vigorous obedience,” Beougher said. “He especially advocated meditating on ‘the hope of glory.’ Meditation on heaven was for Baxter less of an occasional activity than a way of energizing one’s spiritual life.”

— Maintain a balance of head and heart. “Baxter would argue that we need both head and heart in our ministry, both doctrine and practice,” Beougher said. “Some in our day seem to make a keen mind antithetical to a warm heart, and a focus on theology antithetical to a commitment to practical ministry. As Carl F.H. Henry said in 1967, ‘… in these next years we must strive harder to become theologian-evangelists, rather than to remain content as just theologians or evangelists.'”

Beougher acknowledged that Baxter’s theology differs somewhat with that of Southern Baptists — he held to infant baptism instead of believer’s baptism, for example. Still, Beougher said the Puritan stalwart is worthy of being heard in the 21st century.

“As Southern Baptists, we would want to help Baxter with a few of his formulations, especially his emphasis on infant baptism, his views on the episcopacy, his lack of emphasis on equipping the saints for the work of ministry and certainly his views on the benefits of a celibate clergy.

“Despite the differences in theological perspectives on some issues,” Beougher said, “and the distance of time and culture, I believe Baxter still has a great deal to say to the contemporary church.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at https://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TIMOTHY BEOUGHER.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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