James Robinson Graves

Staking the Boundaries of Baptist Identity

  • Author(s): Patterson, James A.
  • Series: America's Baptists
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2020-09-14
  • Status: Active
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“No student of the nineteenth century South will be able to find a better working introduction to the Landmark phenomenon than that offered here.”—Andrew C. Smith, author of Fundamentalism, Fundraising, and the Transformation of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1919–1925


James A. Patterson’s groundbreaking study of the life and mind of James Robinson Graves explores the history of Landmarkism in the nineteenth century. Under this doctrine, Graves proposed that “true” Baptists should be able to trace their lineage directly to the early church, rather than through the strands of Protestantism. Controversial in its day, and often poorly understood now, Landmarkism, in Patterson’s nuanced interpretation, is important for understanding an essential feature of Baptist life to the present day: how do Baptists stake out their identities in reference to other Baptists and to members of competing denominations? While Graves has been widely dismissed by recent historians, in Patterson’s skillful revision, this figure draws much nearer to central concerns of Baptist thinking since the First Great Awakening.

This addition to the America’s Baptists series blends biographical insight with a thematic approach that focuses primarily on Graves’s controversial beliefs about ecclesiology, Baptist history, and eschatology. Patterson divides this work into seven chapters that progress chronologically, and this updated edition includes an expanded discussion of Christian republicanism, elaborates on the question of Graves and race, and features a longer epilogue to account for recent scholarship on Graves and Landmarkism.

James Robinson Graves is an accessible introduction to the significant albeit disputed role that the Landmark tradition played in the shaping of Southern Baptist life and thought. Seminary students and scholars of nineteenth-century Southern Baptist history will find a rich new interpretation of this misunderstood figure.

JAMES A. PATTERSON holds a PhD in American church history from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is emeritus university professor of theological studies at Union University. He is the author of Shining Lights: A History of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities and To All the World: A History of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 1972–1997.