Central Baptist Theological Seminary’s MacDonald Lectures

This last Tuesday, February 14, I delivered the MacDonald Lecture series at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. I failed to post about these ahead of time, but if you are interested in watching/listening you can find the recordings linked below. For those who have read some of the things I have posted on my blog over the past while, or if you have read my book or articles, you will recognize bits and pieces of the lectures. These lectures, though, attempt to give a much larger and more coherent story.

The lectures are academic in nature and are attempting to make an extended argument. There are four total lectures and each are 45-50 minutes long. That is a lot to listen to (it was a lot to prepare!) but they did give me a unique opportunity to develop a longer historical argument than what any one individual lecture or article might. Because of that, I had the opportunity to float a trial balloon on some ideas I have been thinking through for several years. As the title and subtitle indicate, these lectures explored 19th century northern Baptist seminaries and their development. I begin with their founding round about 1820 and go through the end of the century. I try and give one narrative schematic by which we might be able to understand this movement as a whole. I am not aware of anything else that has tried to do what I have done here. The closest would be William Brackney in his Genetic History of Baptist Thought, which is foundational in the field. But whereas he was taking individual schools and tracing their heritage, I am moving taking all the schools together together diachronically. Again, this was my chance to do a historical exploration, and it was a good time.

Here are the titles to the four lectures:

  • A New Direction in Baptist Theological Education
  • Foundations: The First Generation
  • Expansion: The Second Generation
  • Divergence: The Third Generation

The lecture videos can be found at this link.

You can also find the handout/outlines at this link.

London Lyceum Article

This last summer I was invited to put together an article for the London Lyceum as part of their “Baptists and Slavery” Lyceum Disputation Symposium. That article was published today. You can find it here: Developing a Response to the Slavery Question.

The London Lyceum is a group of younger Baptist historians and theologians who have a number of great resources on a number of issues. I recommend you check them out.

Since my expertise was on the northern seminarians, I wrote on how northern views toward slavery slowly changed in the nineteenth century. My argument is summed up in this statement:

“Northern seminarians provide an example of how there was an evolution toward what became a clear, northern Baptist viewpoint. Like many others of their day, it took moments of agitation, time, and sometimes a new generation, before they spoke out clearly. Baptist answers to the slavery question developed through time and controversy.”

ETS Paper Presentation

This week I had the opportunity to present a paper at the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. My paper explores some of the topics that have shown up here at this blog, but does so in an academic setting. The title of my paper was: “The Bible and the Trinity: Trinitarian Reasoning among 19th Century Northern Baptists.” For those who might be interested, I am including the abstract to the paper below. For the full paper, you can access it on my academia.edu page here, or you can click here for a pdf.


Challenges toward Trinitarianism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are well known. The continued attack on classical conceptions led to what historian Philip Dixon called a “fading of the Trinitarian imagination.” Baptists were mostly absent the early key Trinitarian battles in America, largely due to their position outside the mainstream and their pre-occupation with other theological issues (mostly revolving around Calvinism, revivalism, and their own Baptist distinctives). This absence makes it difficult to know how Baptists thought about the Trinity at the time. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, American Baptists began to publish theological treatises (including systematic theologies) in large numbers. These theologies give a good window into the status of the Baptist “Trinitarian imagination.” This paper covers Baptist theologians in the Northern United States (because those in the South were functioning out of a different theological tradition) from about 1865–1910, surveying their Trinitarian reasoning. 

Most historians suppose that prior to the rise of the liberal “New Theology” of the later nineteenth century that Baptists largely held to what Timothy George has referred to as an “orthodox Baptist consensus.” This paper looks at how some Baptists within this so-called consensus approached Trinitarianism. Were they influenced by the relegation of the doctrine by Schleiermacher, the challenge of Unitarianism, by any confessional tradition, or by something else? This paper will argue that the Northern theologians were not bound by any confessional tradition (they consciously rejected such a notion), but instead approached the Trinity through the lens of their views of the Bible and their larger theological method. The result was a Trinitarian reasoning that was highly suspicious of metaphysical foundations and Biblicist in theological reasoning. They regularly rejected (sometimes in part and sometimes in the whole) the historic Trinitarian formulations of the early church councils. In the end, their Trinitarian theologies were significantly stripped down to only include explicit Biblical assertions and normally rejected “philosophical” notions such as eternal generation. The nineteenth century “orthodox” Baptist consensus also included a fading of the Trinitarian imagination, at least among Northern Baptists.

The Baptist Everywhere Man

Of all the names in Baptist history, William Staughton (1770–1829) is almost surely not a familiar one. Most would not know if he was an English or American Baptist. Most would be hard-pressed to point to the events that Staughton was connected with. Up to a short while ago, I would have been able to recognize his name and one or two events to which he was connected, but really only a few basics. As I’ve been doing some recent research I found reason to dive deeper into Staughton’s life, and I was amazed at all the places and events where he pops up. His fascinating life is filled with famous names and momentous occasions. He was the Baptist everywhere man.

Staughton in England

Staughton was born in the English city of Coventry. His father was a deacon in the local church there, and when the family moved to London when William was young they joined the famous Baptist church pastored by John Rippon (which church claimed previous pastors Benjamin Keach and John Gill and, later on, Charles Spurgeon). Young William both pursued a career as a silversmith and had some health problems, and so lived at various times in Northampton and Birmingham, where he was baptized into the Cannon Street Church in April 1786. Shortly after Staughton’s joining the church, the church called Samuel Pearce as its pastor. Pearce influenced Staughton toward ministry, and so Staughton enrolled at Bristol Baptist Academy, where he showed great promise. In 1792, Staughton joined Pearce at Kettering to attend the Northamptonshire Baptists meeting at the home of the widow Wallis as they planned and organized what would become the Baptist Missionary Society. As a matter of fact, Staughton was the student present who promised to give a half-guinea to the cause of overseas missions.

After this meeting, Staughton was being considered as a replacement for John Ryland in his church in Northampton. The church would eventually call Staughton, but he never accepted. Instead, a letter arrived from America, from a South Carolina pastor named Richard Furman. Furman asked if his English brethren could recommend someone to come to South Carolina and pastor the church in Georgetown. The English pastors all pointed to Staughton as the obvious choice, and Staughton himself was happy to take the call. And so, in 1793, Staughton left his native England for the newly established United States of America.

Staughton in America

When Staughton arrived in America, one of the first things that he did was get married to a previously-married woman named Maria (who made the trip to the new world with William; the circumstances of their marriage and the relationship before their marriage—while Maria was previously married—created no small amount of controversy—see the Nettles article linked below for a lengthy treatment of the controversies surrounding this marriage) by Furman. Once at Georgetown, Staughton struggled to settle due to both the hot and humid weather and also the culture of slavery. In 1795, Staughton relocated north to New Jersey, where he served at a few churches, taught in a couple local schools, and also was chosen as the one to write the regular “circular letters” for the Philadelphia Baptist Association. His endeavors were noticed to the point that Princeton gave him an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) degree. As Staughton’s recognition grew, he was called to pastor the famous First Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1805 (this church could claim Morgan Edwards among its previous pastors). Under Staughton, the church grew and regularly would send out its members to start new churches. The church was stunned in 1810–1811 when Staughton decided to join one of these new church plants: the Sansom Street Baptist Church.

At this point in the story, Staughton’s life gets extraordinarily busy and complicated. I can only give a brief listing of events. Staughton was active in starting local missions agencies, including the Philadelphia Missionary Society and also the first women’s Bible society. Staughton was instrumental in the starting of the Baptist General Missionary (Triennial) Convention. Staughton’s push for this went back to as early as 1799. He saw the Convention idea as important and wanted to see this national group be the force behind many different Baptist efforts, from missions to education and beyond. He was busy as correspondent, compiler, reporter, and author of missions reports connected with this group. He regularly wrote to and about William Carey and his colleagues, Adoniram Judson, Andrew Fuller, and many other Baptists. When 22 societies joined to formally organize the Triennial Convention in 1814, he served as the first secretary and was the editor of its magazine: the Latter Day Luminary.

At about this time, the Baptist Education Society in the Middle States named Staughton their official tutor, thereby giving official status to the apprenticeship school he had run out of his home for a few years. The need for Baptist education only grew. In 1817, Richard Furman introduced to the Triennial Convention the need for support for education. As a result, Staughton was appointed principal of the institution in Philadelphia supported by the Convention. By 1820, through the work of Staughton and also especially Luther Rice, the Baptists decided to establish a permanent school in the nation’s capital, with Staughton as its head (he was to be professor of general history, belles lettres, and rhetoric and moral philosophy in the classical departments, and also professor of divinity and pulpit eloquence in the theology department). The school, Columbian College, formally opened in 1821, and Staughton would travel to Washington D.C. for weeks at a time to fulfill his responsibilities.

In 1823, Staughton’s wife died and he moved to Washington. Columbian College was quite ambitious, purchasing land close to the Capital Building (they even received donations from John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and John C. Calhoun). The idea was for a Baptist flagship to be right in the middle of what was happening in the new country. For a while, it was working. The first commencement in 1824 was attended by the President (Monroe), the secretary of state (J. Q. Adams), the secretary of war (Calhoun), the speaker of the house (Henry Clay), and the world famous French General, the Marquis de Lafayette (who was doing a grand tour of the US in 1824). Staughton made a special presentation to Lafayette and then hosted all the dignitaries at his home. Staughton’s stature in Washington was also on display when he was asked to preach a memorial sermon (on July 16) to Congress just days after the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826.

Unfortunately, the good times did not last. The theological school struggled to get going, with its leading professor, Irah Chase, leaving to pursue other ventures. Staughton and Rice proved naive (at best) about the financial commitments made to the school and had unrealistic expectations as to how much the national Baptist group would get behind a national educational endeavor. As a last-ditch effort, Staughton was tasked to travel and raise money. By 1827 it was clear it was failing, first the majority of the board and then Staughton resigned (the school would be bailed out by Congress, detached from the Triennial Convention, then detached from Baptists altogether and eventually renamed George Washington University). Staughton moved back to Philadelphia, preaching in a few places before receiving a call to become president of the Literary and Theological Institution in Georgetown, Kentucky. In August of 1829, Staughton remarried, then began his move a few months after. He never made it to Kentucky, however. While traveling through Washington, D.C., in December 1829, he became ill and passed away in a few weeks.

Staughton’s Many Fingers

This was a rapid look at an incredibly interesting Baptist. Staughton was connected to leading Baptist pastors in England and the United States (including, Rippon, Pearce, Ryland, Carey, Fuller, Furman, Judson, Wayland, and Rice). He was instrumental in the founding of missions work in England (with the Baptist Missionary Society) and in America (with the Baptist General Missionary Convention). He was at the center of educational efforts in America (having hosted an apprenticeship school, then tried his hand at the Columbian College, and then looked west to Kentucky). He was also a leading Baptist statesmen who attempted to bring Baptists into the mainstream of American life. He not only knew more people and was present at more events than most, he had more longstanding influence than most.

This short post tracing the life of William Staughton has been littered full of name drops (English and American, religious and political). Staughton loomed large in Baptist life. He had his fingers in many different endeavors. Without questions, he would be a fascinating figure for more prolonged study. Yet, more than just being interesting, he stood at a crossroads in Baptist life. Time does not permit me to tell of how the Triennial Convention he helped found went a different direction than he hoped (the conventionalism of the Southern Baptist Convention was what he would have loved), or even how the educational direction of Baptists of the North departed from his views (both in terms of denominational support and theological content; again, he would have appreciated the SBC model more). Of his efforts, the missions work was clearly the most successful, even world-changing. His was a story of starts and stops, all in the context of a rapidly changing country and denomination. Staughton, for all his ubiquity, is an example of how the variety of one’s efforts do not always solidify and certainly do not always continue on the path one intends, yet God works through our feeble efforts for his pleasure and glory.

Some Sources:

There are a few places to start if you want to read more on Staughton, I’ll list them below. I’ve been compiling bibliographies for a larger project, so there are other pertinent sources that could be pointed to, but these will give the basic facts as I’ve presented above. The Nettles essay also gives a nearly comprehensive list of works by Staughton. Hayden also wrote a 1965 B.D. thesis on Staughton at Cambridge, though I have not been able to get my hands on it.

Brown, Obadiah B. “Memoir of Rev. William Staughton, D.D.” The American Baptist Magazine 11, no. 5 (May 1831): 129–36.

Hayden, Roger. “Rev. William Staughton, D.D., (1770–1829). Baptist Quarterly 20, no. 5 (1964): 226–28.

Hayden, Roger. “Kettering 1792 and Philadelphia 1814.” Baptist Quarterly 21 (1965): no. 1 pages 3–20, and no. 2 pages 64–72.

Hayden, Roger. “William Staughton: Baptist Educator and Missionary Advocate.” Foundations 10, no. 1 (January–March 1967): 19–35.

Lynd, Samuel W., Daniel Sharp, and Thomas Mitchell. “William Staughton, D.D.” In Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, ed. William B. Sprague, 334–44. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1865.

Lynd, Samuel W. Memoir of the Rev. William Staughton, D.D. Boston: Lincoln, Edmands, and Company, 1834. The longest treatment of Staughton’s life. Lynn was a son-in-law to Staughton.

Nettles, Thomas J. “William Staughton.” In A Noble Company: Biographical Essays on Notable Particular-Regular Baptists in America, edited by Terry Wolever. Volume Seven. 85–140. Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2016. Includes a lot of discussion about the controversy surrounding Staughton’s marriage.

“Staughton, William.” In The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Volume III. New York: James T. White & Company, 1893. 3:151–2. This has the references to the 1824 commencement at Columbian College.

Irah Chase (1793–1864)

There are a few figures who left behind a significant heritage for their denomination. Sometimes, these figures become lost as time and denominations move on. Irah Chase is one of those figures. The denomination he influenced was the early American Baptists (and the North more than the South). The area he influenced was theological education. More than a historical curiosity, Chase influenced the nature of Baptist theological education. 

Born in Massachusetts to a farming family, his own delicate health meant he was not cut out for life on a farm. He was educated at Middlebury College where he received a liberal arts education and made friends with a local pastor named Nathaniel Kendrick (who would go on to be another significant figure in Baptist education, being the first professor of theology at the theological school of Hamilton, NY). Chase related that when he finished his studies in 1814 an important experience gave direction to his life. It happened on September 11, 1814, that the Battle of Lake Champlain (the last British attempt to invade during the War of 1812) was near to Chase’s home. He could hear the war and then walked among the wounded and dead with his father. The firsthand experience of the cries of agony and the general aftermath of battle and war turned his eyes toward gospel ministry. “The actual view which I then had of some of the evils of war, and reflection on the source of various wrongs inflicted by men upon each other, in disregard to the authority of God, were adapted to remind me of the great remedy which the gospel proclaims, and to confirm my purpose of preparing myself to labor in promoting its influence.”1

Chase enrolled at Andover Theological Seminary, being by his own description the only Baptist student at the congregational school. While there he was a member of the church pastored by Thomas Baldwin in Boston and became convinced of the need for Baptists to have their own theological school. At this time, Baptists claimed Brown University as their only school of higher education, and it was not a theological school. The scandal was even greater because of the size of the country and the growing influence of the Baptists. Chase felt that the energy that Baptists were then demonstrating meant that the time was right to act. Chase and some others in the Boston area even drew up some plans for a theological school and what it might look like. 

These plans took time to come to fruition. Chase was ordained to ministry and called to be a temporary evangelist in western Virginia (an experience which again solidified his conviction for the need of an educated leadership) before receiving two offers to join new Baptist schools. One of these was Waterville College in Maine and one was a theological school in Philadelphia headed up by William Staughton. Chase was more intrigued by the idea of a theological school and by its placement in the middle states and so moved to Philadelphia. This school was short-lived, moving to Washington, D.C. in 1820 to be part of the Colombian College. Chase was never pleased with this arrangement as he recognized the financial difficulties the Colombian College was having as well as the lack of attention on the theological school meant the school never developed. Chase was able to take an extended trip to Europe for theological education in 1823–1824, but when he returned, he soon made the decision to look for a better form for a theological school. 

The idea of having a theological school in the middle states still made sense, since it could service the entirety of the country. After trying both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Chase thought some about New York City, but there was now a theological school attached to the Literary and Theological school in Madison, NY (under the direction of Nathaniel Kendrick, Chase’s old pastor). This meant that the New York Baptists were committed there. Chase was then drawn to his old environs of Boston. There was great enthusiasm among well-to-do Massachusetts Baptists, and in late 1825, a new theological school was born in the Western outskirts of Boston: Newton Theological Institute. 

Newton was the first stand-alone theological college in the United States. It became perhaps the most influential Baptist seminary throughout the nineteenth century producing more denominational leaders than any other Baptist school. It was Chase who was the architect of this school, and this deserves attention. While Newton long retained prominence, some parts of its makeup were controversial among Baptists. This is a key point of the Chase legacy.

While at Andover, Chase studied under the famous biblical scholar, Moses Stuart. Stuart is known for his method of biblical interpretation and his insistence that biblical interpretation ought not be influenced by theological systems. This method is often described as biblicist and it is certainly what Chase learned. What this means can be helpfully illustrated through Chase’s design for theological education. At the Philadelphia/Washington school, they had three professors: Staughton taught Divinity, Alva Woods taught Church History, and Chase taught languages and biblical literature. As Chase’s biographer described it: “This arrangement was after the old mediaeval fashion of theological schools, and assigned no place to a chair of Biblical Theology, nor scarcely any sign of an approach to a conception of an idea that it enfold. The professorships of divinity, generally, taught systematic theology as a series of propositions set forth by some standard writer, and on some accepted formulary of doctrines that had already acquired the weight acknowledged authority,—propositions based on abstract and speculative principles, logically reasoned out, and supposed on an aggregate to constitute a science of religion.”2 This method was not what Chase had learned under Stuart and was not his preferred. The critique is that this somehow predisposes the interpreter to what the Bible must say, and so they are spoiled as an interpreter before they even begin.

When he went to Newton, Chase was able to upend this design, despite being fully aware that it would fly in the face of how Protestants had always performed the task. “Instead of allowing the student to have his mind subjected to a logically-compacted system anticipatory of what he would find in the Scriptures, and thus prejudging what he ought to find, to constrain him to become thoroughly grounded in the original Scriptures themselves, and to make him, like Apollos, mighty in those Scriptures by a conscious mastery of their meaning, their scope, and of their applications, according to those fixed principles of interpretation that would stand the test of the severest scrutiny like pure gold tried by the fiery crucible” (23).3 

This was not just a new method of interpretation, but a new method of theology and theological education. The Newton curriculum replaced systematic theology (divinity) with biblical theology, with Chase being the professor of biblical theology. He used the textbook of Storr and Flatt, translated and edited by Schmucker (of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg) because it also followed such a method. This method was self-consciously a new one. Newton was largely modeled on Andover, but this was a major departure, as was Newton’s decision to not adopt any confession of faith as a standard. In another writing, I have referred to Chase’s method as one of “biblicist theological reasoning.” By this I mean: “(1) utilize a scientific approach to Scripture, to (2) resist allowing any theological system of statement to influence biblical interpretation, to (3) utilize any source of truth, and to (4) build a positive theology from this basis.”4 This method was passed on to many thousands of students over the years by Chase, by Chase’s protégé, Barnas Sears, and by Sears’s three most influential students, Alvah Hovey, Ebenezer Dodge, and Ezekiel Gilman Robinson (these three men collectively taught theology to all Northern Baptist theology professors through the end of the nineteenth century).

While Chase was pleased to utilize such a method, not all Baptists were. Southern Baptists founded their own seminary in 1859, in part because they did not approve the method of Chase (some other reasons were because they did not like the Northern ethos and did not like the option of sending their young men to the schools of other denominations). Augustus Strong noted in the 1890s that Chase’s method had always been uncomfortable for many Baptists and was a prime reason many pastors sent their young men to alternative schools.

Irah Chase was a chief architect of Baptist theology in the Northern United States throughout their founding. It was not without its critics, yet Chase’s vision for theological education dominated the landscape among early American Baptist seminary professors and gave shape to what was Northern Baptist theological method.


  1. Irah Chase, “Rev. Irah Chase, D.D.: An Autobiographical Sketch,” The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record 9, no. 2 (1850), 73.
  2. William Hague, A Discourse on the Life and Character of Rev. Irah Chase, D. D. (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1866), 21–22.
  3. Hague, Life and Character of Rev. Irah Chase, 23.
  4. Matthew C. Shrader, Thoughtful Christianity: Alvah Hovey and the Problem of Authority Within the Context of Nineteenth-Century Northern Baptists. Monographs in Baptist History (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2021), 31n65.

A Narrative of the Historical Process

It’s been a long road, but I just published my dissertation in book form. Considering all that’s gone into this, it’s rewarding to see the end product. It has also given me cause to reflect on the process behind this moderate-sized dissertation-turned-book. In what follows I would like to give the (very short) narrative of the six and a half years that has led to this academic, historical monograph. I think there is value in showing what the historical process looked like. It wasn’t something that I spent a few hours on each week for a couple months. It was immersive for many years. The work of doing this kind of history (academic) is difficult, but very rewarding. This post is a short narrative of some of that process. It is meant for those who might be considering this kind of study or for those who are simply interested in the behind-the-scenes work. Of course, not all histories will follow this exact process, but this is what went into mine.

Before I begin I should note that my focus here is solely on the historical academic process. Much more than what I will say below has gone into this project. That would be the personal cost that I, and many others, have invested. Chief among those who have sacrificed are my wife and kids. That side of things is another tale to tell, but one I do not intend to tell at this time or in this venue.

To narrate the academic process I am going to first look at what the dissertation process looked like for me before moving on to the publishing process.

The Dissertation

When I began my doctoral work I did not have a topic nailed down. I knew I wanted to write on my own theological heritage and I knew I had interest in the nineteenth century. One of my profs, Doug Sweeney (who became my primary advisor), advised that I take a look at American Baptists because they had not received much attention in this time period. That prod led me to begin outlining the major Baptist thinkers from the North. I chose the North because it is my more direct heritage. What I found really surprised me. There were very few works that gave sustained attention to this time and area. I explored the options and came up with a basic question: what was the character of nineteenth-century Northern Baptist theology? There were many ways to try and explore an answer, but I kept coming back to Alvah Hovey because his life (1820–1903) and his academic career (1849–1903) span very important times, he was incredibly influential, and he left behind mountains of materials. I ran these ideas past the three church history profs at TEDS (Doug Sweeney, John Woodbridge, and Scott Manetsch) and received encouragement that I was on to something. I was excited that I had a topic, but the reality was that I was far from a proposal. This was the Fall of 2014.

Once I knew I wanted to write on Hovey I began working on the idea in earnest. This included reading as widely as I could into Baptist history in the nineteenth century, American religious history in the nineteenth century, theology in the nineteenth century in general, and diving into Hovey’s substantial corpus. I reached out to a couple scholars who at least knew about Hovey and interacted with them, I wrote class papers on various aspects of Hovey’s thought, and I got myself started in archival research. When I began working on the Hovey papers I connected with the library that held them (Andover Newton Theological Seminary, in Boston). Their archival librarian (Diana Yount) was incredibly gracious and sent me several rolls of microfilm to work through (which were only Hovey’s correspondence) and she warned me that the Hovey papers were “daunting” (12 linear feet of archival space is a lot to work through). I read and read and read. I took notes and asked questions about everything I was reading. I spent hours and hours at the microfilm reader discovering new pieces to the puzzle. I spent days and weeks looking at old (from the 1800s) newspapers and magazine. I sat down with my advisors often and threw ideas around. I talked to classmates about what I was trying to get my mind around. I wrote and delivered papers on Hovey in about 5 different classes. I still have several Moleskine notebooks filled with notes from all of these things. This was the slow work of history. I enjoyed it all, but you also have to try and build something with all this.

I took to the task with a lot of energy because I was excited to uncover something new and contribute my findings to Baptist history. What I found out pretty quickly was that I was wandering without a compass. I had a pretty hard time relating my subject to other studies because there was such a dearth of work on nineteenth-century northern Baptists. There was no standard textbook on what nineteenth-century Northern Baptists were like. Even the larger Baptist history books hardly touched this area. Even though Hovey was extremely influential in his day and left behind dozens of books, he was not even mentioned in most standard Baptist history books. The entire time period has been largely overlooked. I had to plow new ground and then make sense of it, largely on my own. It was a lot of reading, thinking, writing, and then re-reading, re-thinking, and re-writing. There were a lot of dead ends. There were a lot of books and articles that I wished existed, but did not. It was a slog. But the process of historical research cannot be rushed.

Perhaps the biggest struggle was to construct a formal dissertation proposal that connected what I wanted to write on with other works on Baptist figures and nineteenth-century America (and, of course, a proposal that satisfied all the institutional demands of my school). In particular, I needed to find the focus of my project and connect it with existing scholarship. This was a big deal and really hard for me. My breakthrough came when I took out a sheet of paper and started drawing bubble diagrams of all the disparate ideas about Hovey that I had. I tried several times and finally found “authority” as the center. I still have the picture I took and sent to my wife in great excitement (she was of course excited for me…she’s a saint). When I shared the idea with my advisors they also rejoiced with me that I had found a central topic (having advisors who suffered and rejoiced with me along the way was invaluable). Finding the center allowed me to focus my work and start to make real progress. I was required to write proposals for two different classes before this point, but I now had something substantial to connect with. I wrote several further proposal drafts for both my advisors and also for a group of classmates that would meet at my advisor’s home once a month for academic discussion. Once my primary advisor gave me the nod, I was able to schedule the formal hearing (Oct 24, 2017). I am grateful to have had an advisor who forced me to produce a quality proposal. I had to know what I wanted to ask, how it related to other histories, and how I was specifically going to fulfill my project. To put the hard work of organizing your project at that stage saved me much work later on.

After the proposal you normally attain candidacy status and begin writing your dissertation right away and that is the last part of the PhD, at least at TEDS it was this way. For me, I found out when applying for candidacy that I had to take one more class (this is another story…suffice it to say that there are always hoops you must jump through). This put my start a little behind, but I did use the paper for that class in the dissertation, so it worked out ok. By the summer of 2018 I had finished this last class, drafted the first two chapters (with approval from my advisor), and moved away from Chicago to Colorado.

By this point, I had a large part of my research complete. I had read most of Hovey’s works that I had my hands on (and some of them I had read several times), I was familiar with the other primary works (of nineteenth-century Northern Baptists), and I was up to speed on the secondary literature (which my comprehensive exams helped solidify). I also had notes upon notes documenting what I had found and where. It was now time to take a research trip to the Hovey archives. The archives had been recently moved from Andover Newton to the Yale Divinity School library in New Haven, Connecticut, so that’s where I went. I spent five days scanning everything from Hovey’s hand that I could in the restricted time I had. His archives were so large that I had to be quite selective even though I had a full work week and was able to scan thousands of pages a day. Fortunately I had a guide of his archives and could plan my week ahead of time. Over the next several months I worked through these scans (literally thousands of Hovey’s own hand-written pages) to add substance to the claims of my research. Fortunately, I did not discover anything that upset my ideas; rather, it reinforced what I wanted to argue. I had done so much work on Hovey that I knew what I wanted to say, I just had to do the work of composing it all.

During the Fall of 2018 I worked through the Hovey papers, wrote two more chapters, and was on the job hunt. In January 2019, my family and I moved to Minnesota to work at Central. I also applied for May 2019 graduation (when I had about half the dissertation written). Once in Minnesota I was able to crank out chapters five, six, and seven in quick succession to complete my dissertation. I defended April 24, worked through all the formatting changes, and then graduated May 10. That was a great day.


Now what? Finishing the PhD was an accomplishment in itself. To leave the dissertation as it was would have been completely fine. But I had been encouraged all along to have publication in mind. So I tried to have that in mind throughout and to work in that direction once done. I sent out a couple email feelers to try and get feedback from some other scholars connected with the Baptist publishing world to hear their thoughts. As it happened, I never heard back from any of them. That combined with a very busy life made me put the idea of publishing on the back burner. I knew I needed to edit the dissertation anyway, but I wasn’t ready to do it. But then COVID hit in March 2020, which drove me to look harder at publication.

I reconnected with my advisor and he helped by writing a reference for publishing my dissertation. I looked into a couple publishers that focused on Baptist studies, and decided to try the Monograph in Baptist History series with Wipf and Stock. I sent my dissertation to the series editor, who gave me a kind review and said he would be happy to have it as part of the series. At that point I did two things, I began the formal process with Wipf and Stock (another proposal) and I began editing the dissertation for publication. It had only been a year since I finished, so there wasn’t much literature to add, but I had the chance to smooth a few things out, add a little, and make it more of a book rather than a dissertation. In all, the book is not substantively different than the dissertation. The proposal took time but was accepted and I had a book contract in hand. I then needed to submit the final document, edited according to their house style. That took a lot of careful, detailed work. There were further edits for the copy edit and the typeset stages, both with more careful, detailed work. Then I created an index (again, a sustained effort at careful, detailed work) and then the book hit production in April 2021. The publication process was an alternation of furious editing activity and then waiting. In all, I think I read and edited the book about a dozen times.

The project I began in the Fall of 2014 has now made it into book form in Spring of 2021. Six and a half years of study, writing, and editing. And now I have a book to hold in my hands. There were times when things moved really slow, times when it was pretty steady progress, and times where I was at a dead sprint. From the beginning of the project to now, I’ve written easily a hundred pages that didn’t make the cut (and all those wonderful footnotes that no one will read), read tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of pages, and have hundreds of pages of scribbled notes and questions. To hold the finished product and flip through it causes me to remember the entire process. It’s been rewarding and satisfying.

Unfinished Questions

A lot went into this one historical monograph. Writing this kind of history is slow and difficult, but it has been worth it. The historical process itself was the fun part. This process has been the constant asking of questions (which has been more fun than I expected), searching for answers (which don’t always exist), sifting of materials (the slow work of doing history), taking notes along the way (probably the most important step), writing (sometimes fast but usually slow), and editing (over and over again). As I’ve outlined above, it basically started with a question: what is the character of nineteenth-century Baptist theology? This book is a small dent in that question, but one I’m proud of. I’d like to see more done to answer that question. There are many books and articles that I wish existed, they would have made my process much easier. But that gives me something to continue working on. That would definitely be a bigger project that builds on the work I did for this dissertation. That’s where my research eyes are now focused. Which has me excited to jump into the historical process all over again.

Now Available: Thoughtful Christianity

This post is a quick one: The book form of my dissertation is now available for purchase! The beginnings of this book go back to the Fall of 2014 when I began my doctoral work. A lot of work has gone into getting to this point (perhaps that is a story for another post). But for those interested, you can purchase this from Amazon or from the publisher here.