Just yesterday I posted about my concerns over the state of the future of Baptist Historical scholarship. Well, I have taken to study John Gill of late. Gill (1697-1771) has become my new best friend. I will be submitting my research proposal in the near future to Leiden University with the title “John Gill (1697-1771), Defender of the Trinity in the English Enlightenment.” I know this takes me in a different direction than my previously planned Andrew Fuller studies, but things do change. A new school, a new supervisor, and therefore in some ways, a new dissertation topic. It still fits my criteria: 18th century Particular Baptists; an important Baptist; a big theological issue. You cannot get much bigger than Gill and the Trinity debates in the 18th century.
But on to the point. In doing some reading by Richard Muller, I find it interesting that many of our future historical scholars do not feel the need to study our Baptist fathers. They are often more concerned about studying someone that will be respected by non-Baptist scholars. Well, here’s Muller, one of the finest Reformed and Post-Reformed historical theologians out there placing Gill in the same stream as other Post-Reformation theologians. GASP! Gill? A Baptist? Does that mean we can legitimately study Gill and other Baptists in and of themselves? Can it be a contribution? Listen to what Muller had to say about Gill:
“This brief survey of Gill’s sources indicates that, after the Bible, the main positive points of reference for Gill’s theology were the great Reformed and Puritan writers of the seventeenth century. The point is important for several reasons. In the first place, it locates Gill in relation to the Reformed dogmatic tradition, specifically, the tradition of Puritanism and its continental analogue, post-Reformation Reformed orthodoxy. Second, without in any way diminishing Gill’s commitment to the distinctive teachings of the Baptist churches, it identifies the larger number of his theological antecedents as thinkers not belonging to the Baptist tradition: Gill was not, in other words, an insular thinker, but he was clearly selective. Third, the point establishes Gill as a highly independent thinker in a relative sense: he was able to exert a degree of independence over against even his most trusted sources in order to position himself within the Particular Baptist tradition and in the context of the problems and debates confronting theology in the mid-eighteenth century. Fourth, Gill ws able, given the kind of sources with which he was acquainted, to produce a theology that was at once fundamentally Baptist and largely Reformed, and that because of its stance on a solid traditionary ground, was also able to maintain its distance from and dissonance with many of the currents of eighteenth-century theology” (Richard A. Muller, “John Gill and the Reformed Tradition: A Study in the Reception of Protestant Orthodoxy in the Eighteenth Century,” in Michael A. G. Haykin, ed., The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697-1771): A Tercentennial Appreciation [Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997], pp. 55-56).
My point? Particular Baptists are worthy to be studied in and of themselves. They are (like Gill for example) part of the stream of Reformed and Post-Reformation orthodox thought. In fact, someone like Gill, made many contributions to theology that need to be studied out. You do not have to feel like you need to study someone out of the Baptist stream of history to prove yourself to scholarship. Here is Muller showing us that someone like Gill can stand alone and be studied on his own merit because Particular Baptists, just like Presbyterians and Independents made valuable contributions to theology, polity, spirituality, and many other areas and therefore are worthy to be studied alongside our other Reformed friends!