Every Man’s Conscience: Early English Baptists and the Fight for Religious Liberty

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Every Man’s Conscience: Early English Baptists and the Fight for Religious Liberty

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by Ryan Burton King

The Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon, once said of Baptist Christians, “The claim which we make to have been the first expositors and advocates in modern times of religious liberty, is based on the surest foundation, and is capable of the most satisfactory proof.”
This volume aims to concisely examine that foundation, particularly within the historical and theological context of the years 1612-1689 and the cultural context of England. Hopefully readers will be both informed, and perhaps even transformed, by a better understanding of the Early English Baptist development of a biblically distinctive theology of religious liberty in an era when it was not enjoyed by many and was endorsed by few, well before the radical cultural and intellectual shifts of the eighteenth century.
Clearly identifying and expounding a historic, biblical theology of true religious freedom is a matter of particular importance for our present cultural moment. Many do not have such freedom at all, and many others note a growing climate of anti-religious and especially anti-Christian antagonism. This hostility is fuelled by the influence of media and celebrity, and may in some cases even take legislative and judicial form, as public opinion shapes political orthodoxy and informs the actions of government and law enforcement officials, threatening religious liberty in a variety of ways. Non-conformity to the religious or irreligious status quo, whatever that might be, is at best frowned upon, and in many places suppressed—even, in far too many cases around the world, violently. Some Christians are reacting by exploring old ideologies and new movements that project strength and offer hope, but often mirror the power politics of world cultures instead of the other-worldly principles of Christ’s kingdom.
Early English Baptist history offers a better way, that puts total confidence in the power of the gospel and the promises of God.

“Every Man’s Conscience is a needed addition to the growing library of Christian Endurance studies. King’s work provides a window into Baptist history that helps the contemporary Christian recognize the dangers of accommodating state churches and antagonistic cultures. It acknowledges the role government has played in both liberty and persecution, while parsing the distractions and theological errors the church has continually faced. Every Man’s Conscience is not just for Baptists, but for any Christian from a Kingdom-oriented tradition who wants to increase trust in Christ’s infinite capacity to fulfill his promises under any—and all—cultural circumstances.”

K.A. ELLIS
Director of The Edmiston Center,
Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta

 

“Since the early seventeenth century, the struggle for religious liberty has been a regular, if not always consistent, feature of Baptist testimony. As Ryan King’s new book demonstrates, in wonderful historical detail, this commitment to liberty has shaped in profound ways Baptist thinking about church and state—and offers a powerful alternative to the Scylla and Charybdis of unprincipled relativism and inflexible hegemony.”

CRAWFORD GRIBBEN
Professor of History,
Queen’s University Belfast

 

“As a Reformed Baptist, and a devoted student of the English Civil War, I have sometimes reflected that Parliament’s Blasphemy Ordinance of 1648 would have sent me either to prison or the gallows. Our Presbyterian forefathers (who dominated Parliament at that time) were not renowned for religious toleration. It fell to Baptists and their allies to make the robust case for toleration. In this significant work, Ryan King documents the noble and principled Baptist commitment to religious liberty in the story of Christian and Protestant history. I commend the work very warmly.”

NICK NEEDHAM
Church History Tutor, Highland Theological College;
Author of the series 2000 Years of Christ’s Power

 

“Ryan King has produced an impressive piece of work, detailed in its research and addressing the vitally important subject of religious freedom and as such it is timely. We are facing new challenges to our testimony to the truth from postmodernism and particularly the LGBTQ lobby. It is good to be turned to those who have gone before and to be inspired by their faithful witness. Our theological forebears paid a high price for religious freedom. I am happy to commend this work.” 

ROBERT W. OLIVER
Author of History of the English Calvinistic Baptists 1771-1892

 

“Religious freedom is a vital topic—historically and currently. This excellent book guides the reader along the contours of the world in which early Baptists found themselves, and through which they forged a uniquely biblical and nuanced path. Meticulously researched, vividly written, and sensitively applied to the contemporary world, this is a wise guide to what our Baptist forbears wrestled with in their age, and what we must grapple with in our own.”

ANDREW ROYCROFT
Pastor, Portadown Baptist Church, County Armagh, Ireland;
Visiting lecturer in Biblical Theology & Apologetics, Irish Baptist College

 

“Given recent shifts in Western culture, it is understandable that Christians feel the pressing need to understand the church’s relationship to the government. What is needed in our day is not manmade knee-jerk reactions and short-sighted solutions, but rather sober trust in the sovereign God’s covenantal and eschatological promises. In this book, Ryan King offers such sobriety by showing how major Baptists in history have thought about religious liberty and how Baptist history can help Christians (even non-Baptists!) engage the government and culture wisely today. Highly recommended!”

BRANDON D. SMITH
Associate Professor Theology Early Christianity and Chair of the Herschel H. Hobbs School of Theology and Ministry, Oklahoma Baptist University;
Cofounder, the Center for Baptist Renewal

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