Paradox and Perseverance: Hanserd Knollys, Particular Baptist Pioneer in Seventeenth-Century England. By Dennis C. Bustin. In Studies in Baptist History and Thought, Volume 23. Carlisle, Cumbria, United Kingdom: Paternoster, 2006. xvi + 380 pages. Paperback, £24.99.
While English Baptists in the nineteenth century had Spurgeon, and in the eighteenth century had Fuller and Carey, few names are as well known among English Baptists in the seventeenth century. To date, much of the work that focused on the early days of English Baptists has examined the circumstances of Baptist origins or Baptist denominational developments. This has left open the opportunity to investigate the lives of the men behind the developments, and a work on one of the preeminent leaders, Hanserd Knollys, is long overdue.
Along with William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys is arguably one of two founding fathers among the Particular Baptists in London. Where the General Baptists were inaugurated by the influence of Smyth and Helwys, the Particulars were served well by the lengthy pastorates and civil lives of Kiffin and Knollys. Kiffin’s life and work has yet to find a definitive and detailed treatment, but Dennis Bustin has thankfully provided such for Hanserd Knollys in Paradox and Perseverance. In fact, Bustin’s historical and biographical work is a strong compliment to Barry Howson’s theological treatment of Knollys in Erroneous and Schismatical Opinions (Brill, 2001), which, when combined, gives a thorough reading of Knollys for the twenty-first century.
A sprawling seven chapters buttressed by an introduction, epilogue, conclusion, and five appendices, this volume uses Knollys’ 82 years as a window through which to view the political machinations, theological developments, and denominational progress of English Baptist citizens in the seventeenth century. The first chapter provides an overview of the secondary literature to date that aside from misspelling the name of Southwestern historian, H. Leon McBeth (MacBeth), is quite helpful (19). Published in the same year as Stephen Wright’s The Early English Baptists, it would have been fascinating to see Bustin’s interaction with Wright’s new thesis that reclassifies General and Particular Baptists, especially as it relates to Knollys.
One unique chapter in Bustin’s volume discusses Knollys’ eschatology. Living in an era of multiple plagues, the English Civil War, the fire of London in 1666, and later monarchical restoration it is no surprise that many were prone to claim that the end of the world was near. In chapter six, Bustin interacts with Knollys’ eschatological works and metaphorical treatment of apocalyptic biblical literature. Further, Bustin traces Knollys’ understanding of four eschatological themes. First, Knollys saw the beast in Revelation 13, or the antichrist, as many Protestants did as the Pope in Rome. Second, Knollys understood the second coming of Christ to be a warning for spiritual preparation and a life of faithfulness rather than naming or predicting a time and place. Third, with regard to the millennium, Knollys shifted in his views as he aged. Initially, he believed that Christ would return physically after the millennium, but in his later works he seemed to favor a pre-millennial view. Finally, Knollys believed the eschaton to consist of the resurrection of the dead, followed by the final judgment, and then “Christ shall deliver up the Kingdom unto God the Father” (230). This chapter alone reveals the wealth of material yet to be discovered among the early English Baptist forefathers. Dennis Bustin has done all students of Baptist history and theology a great service with his work on Hanserd Knollys.
Jason G. Duesing
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Originally Published in the Southwestern Journal of Theology, 49.1 (Fall 2006), 105-106.