Burying The Lead And Baxter

By Dr. R. Scott Clark - Posted at The Heidelblog:

There is a phrase in journalism called “burying the lead” (or, since about 1979, the cloying variant lede). The lead (lede) is the paragraph in which the most important, salient facts are contained. In the old days (c. 1975), the writer was supposed to tell the reader the “who, what, where, when, and why” of the story in the first paragraph. Burying the lead has become commonplace as the line between journalism and analysis has been first blurred and then obliterated. Those who write about the history of Reformed theology also sometimes bury the lead. A great example of this phenomenon appeared just today. In a post celebrating the birthday of Richard Baxter (1615–91) an author waits until the 11th paragraph to tell us the following:

Despite his well-intentioned desires for a unified church, however, some of Baxter’s theological positions were unhelpful and divisive. His views on justification and atonement were not in step with the Reformed tradition. (Theologian Paul Helm has found similarities between Baxter and N. T. Wright in their views of justification.) Moreover, in trying to walk a middle path Baxter leaned toward Arminian sentiments in several major areas, though he was Calvinistic in others. This assorted theology annoyed contemporaries in both camps, and it can annoy us too.

According to our author, Baxter was a model Reformed pastor, a tireless advocate for Christian piety, and evangelist except that the subdued concessions revealed in the 11th paragraph should give us pause to anyone proposing Baxter as a model for 21st-century Reformed theology, piety, and practice. Let us change the subject of the paragraph to Arminius. He too was a well-intentioned advocate of Christian unity. Some of his theological positions were unhelpful and divisive. By changing the subject of the paragraph we see the importance of not burying the lead. We may write all we will about how pious Arminius was, about his tireless service, and about how he presented himself to the world. He was, remember, was a minister in the Reformed churches. He died in good standing. He was even made “Rector Magnificus” of the University of Leiden and it could be said that the first and only great ecumenical synod of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, Great Britain, the Palatinate, France (in absentia), Zürich, et al was dedicated to his memory. Of course, such a narrative about Arminius would be rightly regarded as grossly misleading.


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