Book Review: Historical Dictionary of the Baptists

Historical Dictionary of the Baptists

(3rd Edition)

William Brackney

Rowman and Littlefield, 2021 (ISBN: 978-1538122518, 691pp, £130)

The series of Historical Dictionaries from this publisher is extensive and growing, ranging from Italian cinema to Arab and Islamic organisations to jazz. A number of items in the series focus on denominations of Christians, with this volume on Baptists being a very welcome addition. 

In the age of Wikipedia, print dictionaries cannot attempt to compete on grounds of comprehensiveness, but must rather rely on the advantage of authority. Thus the standing of the editor or author matters all the more. William Brackney is a long-established scholar of Baptist history and theology whose qualifications in this respect are robust. Although only ever employed by North American institutions, Brackney has the strong attachment to British matters and archives which is the particular mark of a Transatlantic Anglophile properly cognisant of the roots of their own religious environment. His own published work forms a substantial ingredient of this important new edition of his dictionary.

Particular strengths of this edition include historical theology in the Baptist tradition and accounts of Baptist life by political jurisdictions (including unexpected corners such as St Lucia and Kazakhstan!). Brackney’s interest in the origins of distinctions between general and particular Baptists, strict and open communionists, and so on, affords him the depth of understanding to summarise with clarity and concision great swathes of religious experience in mere paragraphs. Though the dictionary includes numerous biographical entries for individuals, this side of the work is more patchy, with figures such as Baptist Noel, Lewis Craig of the Travelling Church, and even Spurgeon, the very ‘Prince of Preachers’, omitted. More surprisingly, a decision seems to have been taken against profiling various categories of subsidiary institution, such as Baptist seminaries.

Though most of our readers may consider the Baptist principle misguided, this dictionary is an excellent resource for appreciating and understanding the denomination to which many millions of undoubted fellow-believers subscribe and the ‘baptistiana’ cultural accoutrements which have inevitably developed around it. Much edification and enlightenment may be gained from following the useful trails of cross-references strewn about the seminal piece. 

Edward Keene, Little Shelford