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      A review by James R. Duvall, editor, Baptist History Homepage

James Robinson Graves: Staking the Boundaries of Baptist Identity
By James A. Patterson, 2012

      This is an interesting book in that it has so much bibliographical information and analysis; but it also presents a mostly negative slant of its subject throughout. Patterson stakes out his own boundaries in the book, showing he doesn't approve of Graves' theology (boundaries).

      Two men have written earlier biographies of Graves: Samuel H. Ford, a contemporary, who received much of the same type of criticism as Graves, though he didn't attempt to deal with as many doctrinal issues as Graves; and O. L. Hailey, a son-in-law of Graves, whose work Patterson refers to as "non-descript." Both bios are descriptive, but somewhat "homey" and sympathetic as one would expect. These earlier authors dealt primarily with the life and work of Graves and did not attempt to analyze the "thought" of the man, as Patterson attempts to do.

      From the sixty or so academic dissertations written relating to J. R. Graves and the more than a dozen dissertations specifically analyzing aspects of his doctrine and legacy, as well as many short biographies written in the 19th and 20th centuries, J. R. Graves has not been shielded from criticism.

      James Patterson's work has a definite anti-J. R. Graves sentiment toward the subject's views of church polity and especially his view of church history. The author refers to Graves as "an amateur historian," since he had no academic training as a historian; should he also be labeled "an amateur preacher" as he had no academic training in that area as well - though he drew huge crowds to hear him proclaim God's Word. Or possibly Patterson also would consider Graves "an amateur journalist," as he had no professional training in that arena. The paper he edited, the Tennessee Baptist, had by far the largest circulation of any religious newspaper in that era and was eagerly anticipated by its readers.

      Graves said he and many others were re-setting the "ancient landmarks" among Baptists; Patterson calls it "staking the boundaries." Patterson implies it was Graves and his associates (James A. Pendleton and A. C. Dayton) who were mostly involved in these issues. These three definitely emphasized "Baptist doctrinal landmarks" through Graves' newspaper and their other publications. However a reading of the newspaper* edited by Graves shows there were multitudes of Southern Baptist Convention pastors who championed these same positions; they just did not have the same platform as the men mentioned above.

      The sub-title chosen by the author reminds one of the more recent movement known as "The Resurgence of Baptist Identity." The moderate/progressive Baptists who were removed from their academic and official leadership positions, said about the conservatives who replaced them: they were "re-setting the boundaries" that the moderates/progressives had developed over several decades of control of the Southern Baptist Convention "machinery" and academic institutions. "Staking the boundaries" was not limited to Graves. In Exodus 19:12, The Lord told Moses "... thou shalt set the bound unto the people round about ...", so it is an important principle. Patterson admits this in his discussion of European peoples who had emphasized their boundaries.

      J. R. Graves was not unique in his beliefs and certainly not shy in stating them. His influence was such that a great many Baptist leaders and especially pastors associated with the Southern Baptist Convention believed and taught those doctrines. In fact, author Patterson says, Graves "had become one of the best-known religious personalities in the nineteenth-century South."

      This is more than a biography; it is a comparison of the author's theological views with those of his subject; this reviewer does not agree with many of its conclusions. It is believed the book will be more interesting to those in academia.
     * The paper changed names through the years: The Baptist, The Tennessee Baptist and later the Baptist and Reflector; initiated by R. B. C Howell as editor and later edited by J. R. Graves (for more than forty years) and others.


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