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“A Clarion Call for Baptist Pietism”

Welcome to the new online version of The Baptist Pietist Clarion!

In addition to providing readers new and old with easy access to current and past issues of the Clarion, this website will host a blog, letting us share stories of interest and dip into the archives to revisit previous articles. To kick things off, editor G.W. Carlson offers this updated version of his July 2003 article with Ron Saari, “A Clarion Call for Baptist Pietism: Claiming Our Heritage”:

Scandia Chapel

Scandia Chapel (an early Swedish Baptist church relocated from Waconia, MN to the Bethel Seminary campus) – Bethel University Digital Library

The first two issues of the Baptist Pietist Clarion explored the following questions: What is Pietism? How has it impacted the Baptist General Conference (now Converge Worldwide) Baptist tradition? Who is John Alexis Edgren and what were his commitments to Baptist pietism? How did the BGC Affirmation of Faith develop in 1951? In what ways is it not a creed? How does the Baptist pietist heritage ensure support of the civil rights movement? Articles also discussed how God was at work in the history of Bethel College and Seminary (now University) and why our Baptist pietist commitment to religious liberty encourages support for the work of the Baptist Joint Committee. All these essays reflected our belief that everything we do communicates Christ as Our Lord and Savior and the Bible as our guide for belief and conduct.

That third issue of the Baptist Pietist Clarion focuses on another important question: “What is a Baptist?” The lead article reflects on the life of F. O. Nilsson, the founder of several Conference churches in Minnesota, notably Scandia and Houston. Richard Turnwall gave the address at the fall meeting 2002 of the BGC History Center dinner at Elim Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Nilsson, because of his Baptist convictions, was forced to leave Sweden in 1851 when the Swedish Court of Appeal condemned Nilsson to “perpetual banishment from the kingdom.”

What were these Baptist convictions? How were they articulated in the United States? Are they still valued? Three essays by Dr. John Anderson, Dr. Virgil Olson and Dr. Jim Spickelmier reflect on the meaning of these principles for today’s church, especially a church that seems to want to minimize denominational labels.

Future issues devoted themselves to the understanding of Baptist spirituality with an emphasis on the life and testimony of Dr Carl Lundquist, former President of Bethel College and Seminary. Dr. Lundquist and his wife Nancy frequently led spiritual retreats. Toward the end of his ministry he organized The Order of the Burning Heart. The cultivation of an intentional Christian discipleship was always on his heart. He spent a sabbatical engaged in visiting spiritual retreat centers, and encouraged faculty to interact with early materials that came from Richard Foster’s Renovaré movement. He and Nancy led retreats for Seminary students.

Although the origin of The Baptist Pietist Clarion emerged from the debate over Open Theism within the Baptist General Conference and especially the effort by the Edgren Fellowship to amend the Affirmation of Faith, our primary mission is to lift up the evangelistic, holiness and Biblical foundations of our denomination. Several years ago Diana Magnuson and G. William Carlson wrote a short history of Bethel entitled Persevere, Läsare, and Clarion. It recognized that our denomination is part of a “dissenting” Swedish Baptist community.

Carlson and Magnuson, Persevere, Läsare, and ClarionWe are “people of the Book.” Läsare refers to a small community of Bible readers who challenged the creedal State church in Sweden, engaged in serious lay study of the Bible and who believed that the New Testament is the sole and sufficient rule of faith and action. They also argued that church membership was for adult believers only who were willing to show their commitment through Baptism by immersion.

The Baptist Pietist Clarion articles advocate for the Baptist pietist tradition and explore its significance for the contemporary church. We are committed to the hermeneutic of Sola Scriptura, the necessity of a personal conversion, evangelism, holy living, religious liberty and the cultivation of the irenic spirit. Although we accept the Affirmation of Faith (1951) as a reasonable understanding of our core beliefs, we claim that the Scriptures are the only test of truth, not traditions or creeds.

In the summer of 2002 Bill had the opportunity to meet with several Baptist historians who attempted to “pigeonhole” the Baptist General Conference in terms of the theological disputes of the American Baptist experience. Are we Calvinistic or Armenian? Are we a fundamentalist community? What is the historical creed of the BGC? Who are the denomination heroes? What theological disputes has the BGC encountered and how were they resolved?

Bill suggested to the historians that the BGC’s history and heritage is generally outside of those theological wars. The Baptist world of Sweden was significantly influenced by the pietistic world of Northern Europe and the emergence of a more “experiential” Christianity. This heritage tended to avoid the religious wars of nineteenth and twentieth century and tended to reject significant American religious politics. They tried to establish their own unique perspective within the pietist traditions. Above all, it argued against a “creedal” framework, emphasized a commitment to evangelism and holy living and called for an irenic spirit, a civility of discourse and a commitment to the principle “in essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in everything charity.”

The Baptist Pietist Clarion has a commitment to spread the core spiritual values of this heritage. We believe that it is a tradition that has much to offer today’s church. It is our intent to allow the readers to understand and value the Baptist pietist heritage. It must not be forgotten. It is a treasure that needs to be constantly reaffirmed as we seek to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century.