Q&A with Obbie Todd (Let Men Be Free)

Purchase a copy of Let Men Be Free here. Follow Obbie Todd on Twitter here.

Q&A with Obbie Todd

Evan: Tell us about yourself?

Obbie: Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself and my work. I live in Marion, Illinois where I pastor Third Baptist Church. I’ve been the pastor at TBC for 2.5 years now. Kelly, my wife, is born and raised in Marion so around town I’m known as “Kelly’s husband” more than “Reverend” or “Pastor”. Kelly and I have 6-year-old twins, Roman and Ruby. Needless to say, our house is full of energy and our hearts are full. I also do some adjunct teaching online for Luther Rice College & Seminary in Georgia. In the past, I’ve mainly taught Christian Theology but this Spring I’ll be teaching Christology for the very first time so I’m excited about that. I’m born and raised in Owensboro, Kentucky and I am a proud University of Kentucky grad. I received my M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Southern Seminary in Louisville and I earned a Ph.D. in Theology from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Evan: What sparked your interest in Church History and what do you like to focus on?

Obbie: People are sometimes confused about my research focus because I’m a little all over the place. I’ve written extensively on eighteenth-century Puritan Jonathan Edwards and his New England tradition, yet I wrote my dissertation on Richard Furman, a Baptist in Charleston who lived into the nineteenth century. I’ve written an entire book on a theory of atonement that I don’t personally hold, and I’ve also written a book on politics. I’ve written a lengthy article for Desiring God on Alexander Hamilton and a recent article for JETS on the Civil War. So, I’m a little hard to pin down. I just tell folks that I am an American religious historian specializing in the time period between the Great Awakening and the Civil War. So, between 1730 and 1865. In short, Edwards was my introduction to church history. After I discovered his writings during my Th.M. years, I was off to the races. Since graduating with my Ph.D., I’ve published four books and have published articles in a dozen academic journals, all of which are related to the history of American religion. At first, I wrote on the life and thought of Edwards. Before I knew it, I was all over the map in terms of figures and movements and denominations. You could say I started with “America’s theologian” and then branched out. I love exploring American religious history because it’s impossible to understand the American story without it, from the Puritans to my own religious upbringing. I was raised in the Christian Church, which sprang from the Second Great Awakening and was prevalent in the Ohio Valley region. Speaking of Ohio, I am currently writing a book on the Beecher family, so I’m beginning to extend myself beyond the Civil War. I’m eager to tell the story of the Beechers because I think their story is the story of American evangelicalism in the 19th century.

Evan: What do you hope readers will learn from Let Men Be Free?

Obbie: The title to Let Men Be Free comes from a quote by Baptist John Leland: “If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.” Leland called religious liberty the “polar star” of Baptist politics, and that’s essentially what the book is about. Baptists were united in their pursuit of religious freedom, but they disagreed on what that looked like. Sound familiar? The inspiration for the book came from an article I wrote for the Journal of Church and State on Baptist Federalists. I discovered that Baptists in the early republic were much more diverse politically than we’ve often thought. In other words, they weren’t all ultra-Jeffersonians like Leland or even Republicans like Backus. And this is part of the goal of the book: I want the readers to understand that our conversations over religious liberty today often look remarkably similar to the ones that Baptists had two hundred years ago. They disagreed on states’ rights, race, foreign ideas, education, and the extent to which pastors should wield power within the denomination. Again, sound familiar? My desire for this book is to give Baptists a much clearer, more complex picture of Baptist politics as it began in this country. This can give us more patience and understanding and wisdom in the way we conduct political and religious discourse today. 

Thank you Dr. Todd for doing the Q&A! I’m thankful for you and our conversations over the years. May the Lord bless your ministry! To purchase a copy of Let Men Be Free, click here.

Evan Knies is an elder of North Hills Church in West Monroe, LA. He is husband of Lauren and father to Maesyn. He is a graduate of Boyce College and Southern Seminary.

One thought on “Q&A with Obbie Todd (Let Men Be Free)

  1. Pingback: 2022 – Year in Review – The King’s Table

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