Insights Into Baptist Historiography in the Reception of John Gill

Historiography relates to history in a manner similar to how theological method relates to theology. Though implicit in most studies, historiography sits in the background of any given historical study. Understanding one’s historiographical approach to the task of doing history answers questions related to how one receives, understands, interprets, and retells the story of the past. Given the complexity of the people called Baptists’ history, it is understandable that Baptist historians would take a variety of approaches to the task of studying the past. Perhaps nowhere else can these differences of approach among Baptist historians be seen more clearly than in the study and reception of John Gill. Gill was a Particular Baptist minister in London during the eighteenth century. His contribution to Baptist theology is unmatched due to his massive writing output, most notably he wrote a commentary on every verse of the Bible and a body of systematic theology that helped to preserve orthodoxy in a century wrought with Trinitarian downgrade. Yet, Gill’s legacy is complicated due to his adjacency to the eighteenth-century soteriological system often referred to as “Hyper-Calvinism.” Because of this association with “Hyper-Calvinism,” Baptist historians have taken a variety of approaches in their reception and study of Gill: some venerate Gill to the point of hagiography, others reject Gill entirely, and others still take more moderate approaches that desire to view him both critically and charitably. Therefore, this paper will present a survey of four Baptist historians’ engagement with Gill (Robert Seymour, Tom Nettles, Michael Haykin, and George Ella) and will explore how their differing conclusions provide insights into Baptist approaches to the study of history.