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The Contestable Church: southern Baptist Ecclesiology in Conversation with Radical Democracy (open access via Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Defense Presentation – A 10-minute lay summary of the dissertation that was given at the doctoral defense (23 April 2018)


Published Papers:

“All Are Alive to God: Paul Fiddes and the Ministry of the Departed Saints.”
Perspectives in Religious Studies 44.1 (2017): 53-68.

“Unbreaking the Circle: Conversational Hermeneutics and Intra-Congregational Difference”
Journal of European Baptist Studies 16.2 (2016): 19-32.


Christian churches, although they unite participants in common worship and mission, are inevitably characterized by an internal diversity of convictions. Members openly or quietly affirm viewpoints in contradiction to each other, to predominant community values, or to official statements of belief, yet recognition and exploration of this immediate otherness is generally avoided. Against such reticence, the Free Church tradition normatively affirms the equal responsibility of believers to govern a congregation by discerning the mind of Christ, and this conviction necessitates encounters with difference in dialogical process.  Nevertheless, the active practice of tending to intra-communal otherness remains a largely dormant potential. This absence contrasts with the employment of ‘congregational hermeneutics’ in the early histories of the Anabaptists and Baptists. Although openness to the robust interplay of opinions quickly subsided, contemporary theologians have reclaimed collective Scriptural interpretation as a distinctive marker of these movements. But this Free Church ressourcement has not advanced to the point of concrete suggestions for the renewal of hermeneutical deliberation in congregations. This paper looks beyond specifically Christian disciplines to consider an intentional group-conversation method that has come into prominence in recent decades. Known by names such as the ‘circle process’ or ‘talking circles,’ the model has been applied in a range of formal and informal settings. After defining the basic characteristics of these gathered circles as they are shared across particular expressions, it will be proposed that the realisation of congregational hermeneutics via the circle process, labelled ‘conversational hermeneutics,’ should be considered as a vehicle for restoring the dialogical character of churches. The exercise of conversational hermeneutics cultivates the hospitable reception of otherness in the commitment to hear the God of Scripture speak through the mediation of diverse voices.



“In a Congregational Way”: The Baptist Possibility of Sacramental and Radical Democracy”
Journal of European Baptist Studies (2010): 22-36.
Reproduced with permission.


Ecclesiology, as the study of the nature and purpose of the Church, calls for reflection on the structures of discernment and decision-making that are consonant with the Church’s mission.  The theory and practice of these governance structures reveal churches to be more than just communities, in a general sense, but also political spaces. This essay will consider the utility of “democracy” as a descriptor for the means by which such spaces are constructed in the Baptist tradition.  It begins with a review of Baptist ambivalence concerning democratic language.  After examining the church meeting as the central political gathering, the article surveys the development of political liberalism, the nature of its assumptions, and how these have negatively impacted Baptist ecclesial life.  From there the “democracy” expressed by Baptists will be reconfigured theologically.  Having rejected certain major liberal convictions, the theory of radical democracy – as articulated by political theorist Romand Coles -will be drawn upon for methodological insight on how “democracy” can be practiced in a manner in keeping with the convictions of Baptist ecclesiology.  The aim is to articulate Baptist ecclesial politics as “sacramental democracy” characterized by an ethos of receptive generosity.


Unpublished Papers:

To Punch Nazis or Shake Hands with the Klan: Clarence Jordan’s Pacifism as a Realistic Answer to White Supremacy
American Academy of Religion Western Region Annual Meeting

Between Babylon and a City on a Hill: A Review of Two Theological Assessments of Democracy



The Free Church in Belief and Practice
Duke Divinity School
Summer 2014



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