Date of Award
Doctor of Theology (ThD)
Fr. Frank Berna
What began as a movement of Northern Baptists in the United States in the 1800s splitting from Southern Baptist affirmation of slavery and missional funding structures, the American Baptist Churches became one of the Seven Sister Churches of Mainline Protestantism in the early to mid-1900s. Much like their Protestant counterparts, the American Baptist Churches USA developed into a democratic, hub-and-spoke judicatory religious system, and highly corporate in its structure and model in Baptist life. As denominations continue to lose members in the twenty-first century, the American Baptist Churches USA is left with the difficult task of re-visioning to fulfill spiritual directives and missional activity. Changes in American religious identification and congregational affiliation have left American Baptists struggling with a solution to better mobilize and formulate their coordinated efforts to be a Baptist witness of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century. As society’s culture and attitudes towards religious communities shift and evolve with massive cultural shifts and attitudes toward religious communities, American Baptists must create new models, paradigms, behaviors, expressions, and patterns of theological, spiritual, and missional engagement with the broader American culture.
Several shifts have occurred in American Baptist theology, spirituality, ecclesiology, and missiology. This research will seek to identify, analyze, and contextualize these crucial shifts in American Baptist denominational life for fruitful spiritual, ecclesial, theological, and missional vitality. First, Baptist historically were motivated by a missional spirit of the Great Commission. Articulating and discovering Missional Church theology gives American Baptists a new purpose and mission. Second, the shift of denominationalism from the twentieth century to a new model of networked missional platforms is needed and contextualized for American Baptists. Emerging vi missional church scholarship makes the case that most American denominations have lost their theology of mission and built structures and systems. Instead, leading missional church scholars propose a different framework of Christian ministry, spirituality, and expression. An exploration of a missional church theology is required in order to provide a renewed theological basis for American Baptist spiritual witness for the twenty-first century. Third, historically, American Protestants coopted corporate leadership practices into ecclesial leadership systems, and American Baptists followed this structure as a means of efficient corporate denominationalism. In the twenty-first century, these structures no longer serve their ecclesiastical purpose because of broader cultural shifts in religious affiliation. Instead, American Baptists can move from such ecclesiastical technical strategies to ecclesiastical adaptive change leadership paradigms for a vibrant mission. Fourth, much of the theory and theological assumptions of leadership for national, judicatory, and local church practice followed twentieth-century business corporate leadership models. By examining how missional church theology spiritually frames adaptive leadership models, American Baptists can pivot away from corporate leadership theory and embrace ecclesiastical leadership that is reflective of New Testament apostolic behaviors of leadership. Fifth, Baptists mainly subscribed to a nineteenth-century theology and language of “ordinance” around baptism, communion activity, and spiritual nourishment. However, early Baptist theology for baptism and communion was more closely aligned with “sacrament.” American Baptist identity and spirituality can access a historical sacramentality (or as I term it for those Baptists uncomfortable with sacramental language, “sacred-ment”) that produces a vibrant faith expression. Sixth, early and mid-century American Baptists were active in expressions of Christian catholicity and ecumenism. By exploring modern scholarship of the Baptist Catholicity, twenty-first-century American Baptists can experience a vibrant and robust vii faith expression by participating in the greater community of saints found in a Christianity that is connective and catholic with Christians worldwide, rather than separating themselves from the Church Universal. These revisitations and shifts occurring within Baptist life give American Baptists new hope and future for their theological, spiritual, and missional impact upon the world.
Rudnick, Alan R., "NuBaptist: An American Baptist Vision of Spirituality, Ecclesiology, and Missiology for the Twenty-First Century" (2023). Th.D. Dissertations. 21.