Baptist Catholicity in the Ecclesiology of John Gill

The scholarly attainments and expansive self-education of the eighteenth-century Baptist theologian John Gill (1697-1771) have long been noted and praised by those who have read his vast corpus of writings. In recent decades, a strand of scholarship focusing on Gill’s impressive and varied use of sources has developed. Scholars such as Richard Muller, Mark David Rathel, Hong-Gyu Park, and Steven Godet have advanced the thesis that Gill’s knowledge of the church fathers and Reformed orthodox theologians was expansive, and his widespread use of them significant, such that Gill cannot be properly understood except as a student of the church fathers and representative of the Reformed orthodox tradition. This paper will aim to contribute to this strand of scholarship by examining Gill’s use of sources in his ecclesiological writings. It will argue that Gill intentionally made use of patristic and Reformed paedobaptist sources instead of credobaptist sources in the presentation of his ecclesiology. His ecclesiological writings, therefore, exhibit a spirit of Baptist catholicity that takes seriously a great tradition of Christian theological reflection, even in reference to the Baptists’ most controversial distinctives. It will furthermore propose his thorough engagement with Christian history as an object for retrieval by the Evangelical Baptist catholicity movement. In service of this thesis, the paper will examine his extensive use of patristic sources, his creative and positive use of Reformation and post-reformation paedobaptists in support of Baptist distinctives, and his refusal to interact with Baptist sources even when discussing ecclesiology, the locus of theology in which Baptists are most distinct. The paper will conclude by offering observations on the similarities in method proposed by the Evangelical Baptist catholicity movement and the method employed by Gill.

5 thoughts on “Baptist Catholicity in the Ecclesiology of John Gill”

  1. Another Solid paper on Gill
    Topic fits with our section. The paper is solid enough to appear somewhere at ETS.
    Here we have another Midwestern Ph.D. student who is exploring John Gill. I believe that a section on Gill at ETS would be appropriate; I’m not sure that CHT1700 is the place for that (though I’m not closed to the idea). I do, however, think the rest of the group would like to look at other possible groupings for our open session this year. What are your thoughts?
    Note: We did have a Gill paper from a Midwestern Ph.D. student in our open session last November, 2022.

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  2. Create a Gill section?
    I also wonder if there might be warrant to create a separate section devoted to Gill, although I suspect the students are already aware of one another’s work through Midwestern. Perhaps someone at Midwestern might be persuaded to organize such a section?

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