Reclaiming & Re-Forming Baptist Identity: Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
by Terry Maples & Gene Wilder
Parts 1 and 2 of this book were written in 1992 by Dr. Gene Wilder as part of his D.Min. project. While visiting Dr. Wilder in his office at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Tennessee, I asked Gene about his dissertation. After he described the project, I requested to read it. He not only loaned me a copy of his dissertation but gave me “A Convention of Contention—A Layman’s Guide to the Southern Baptist Convention Controversy.” In this self-published work Gene attempted to parse his doctoral work into a guide more appropriate for Baptist laypersons. After reading his guide, I envisioned using it to tell the story of what happened within the SBC to set the stage for the formation of CBF. Dr. Wilder was delighted to share his work and encouraged the edits needed to make it more congruent with the focus of this book.
The purpose of Dr. Wilder’s dissertation project was to examine diverse Baptist roots (Part 1) and provide a guidebook to examine the issues and events that led to the conflict within the SBC (Part 2). While containing Baptist history, this work is not a history book. According to Dr. Wilder, “One cannot truly understand the events of the present without first understanding the past because we can’t know what we’ve lost until we first know what we had.” The chief purpose for this writing project was to help members of the church he served at the time be better informed about denominational matters and become better equipped to make decisions about future denominational partnerships.
Part 3 shows how values and convictions that shaped and formed CBF were put into practice in this new movement of God’s Spirit. This section contains historical perspective on CBF (1991–2017) and lifts up the words used to describe the Fellowship during the first 25 years. Rightly so, this section highlights the significant leadership of three executive coordinators: Cecil Sherman, Daniel Vestal, and Suzii Paynter. Part 3 concludes with the significant work of the 2012 Task Force, which strategically shifted the direction and structure of CBF.
Part 4 fleshes out the identity work of the 2014–2015 CBF branding campaign. Specifically, we focus on what it means to shape and form faith in the person of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. In addition, we unpack key concepts flowing out of the branding process that give shape and form to the future of CBF: “forming together” and “partnering to renew God’s world.” This section is the heart of this book—making a case for forming faith in the context of Christian community and exploring ways to partner with others in renewing God’s creation.