Apr 01 2012

John Meunier: Is Baxter a friend or foe?

Original post at http://johnmeunier.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/is-baxter-a-friend-or-foe/

I came across something in George G. Hunter’s recent book that sounds wrong to me. In the book, Hunter argues that Richard Baxter‘s book The Reformed Pastor has been a bad influence on Protestant clergy. Here are Hunter’s words.

How did Methodism morph from the most lay-centered Christian tradition to one of the most clergy-centered? One book is substantially responsible; it is the most influential book that most pastors today have never read. But our predecessors read it, and it has silently shaped theological education ever since. I am referring to The Reformed Pastor, by Richard Baxter, published in 1656.

Hunter argues that John Wesley knew of Baxter’s book but “mainly ignored it” because it put too much emphasis on the work of the clergy.

I really find Hunter’s book wonderful, but when I first read this claim, I was surprised. My recollection was that Wesley praised Baxter and offered him as a model to his preachers.

For instance, here are the minutes from Methodist conferences recorded in Wesley’s works.

We must, yea, every travelling Preacher must, instruct them house to house. Till this is done, and that in good earnest, the Methodists will be little better than other people. Our religion is not deep, universal, uniform; but superficial, partial, uneven. It will be so, till we spend half as much time visiting, as we do now in talking uselessly.

Can we find a better method of doing this than Mr. Baxter’s? If not let us adopt it without delay.

The notes then go on to quote at length some of Baxter’s advice.

I read this as an endorsement of Baxter. It is also, perhaps not coincidentally very similar to the advice Donald Haynes offered in his most recent column about growing a small congregation.

I have read Baxter’s book and found much in it that echoes what I read in Wesley. So, I find myself trying to figure out how important Hunter’s critique of Baxter is for his overall argument and whether I have read Wesley’s take on Baxter wrong.

About the author

John Meunier

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