Pastor explores rise of Baptist America

Pastor explores rise of Baptist America

At Union University, Eric and Candace Smith were preparing for their life in ministry. They met as sophomores while Eric was studying theology and Candace was studying nursing and both graduated in the spring of 2008.

Today, Eric is the senior pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Savannah, Tennessee. The Smiths have served at the church since 2013. Candace is a stay-at-home mother to their three children who are 9, 7 and 5 years old. Eric earned his master of divinity and doctor of philosophy from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Eric not only has a heart for serving and leading his church, but also a passion for writing. His new book, “Oliver Hart and the Rise of Baptist America,” was published by Oxford University Press in August 2020. He is also the author of “Order and Ardor: The Revival Spirituality of Oliver Hart and the Regular Baptists of Eighteenth-Century South Carolina” published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2018.

His newest book tells two stories, Eric said: one about Oliver Hart, who was the longtime pastor of Charleston Baptist Church in South Carolina and “Southern Baptists’ most important pioneer,” as well as the bigger story about the rise of Baptist America shown through Hart’s life.

Eric discovered Hart in his first year at Southern Seminary during a Baptist history class with now-retired professor Tom Nettles. It was Eric’s first experience with Baptist historical heroes, and it was transformative for him.

“I had all these historical heroes already who I loved to read about and tell other people about, but none of them were Baptists,” Eric said. “Part of this is just because Baptists are such people of the book, people of the Bible, they tend to focus on the Bible and not their own history. That part can be good, but we don’t know where we came from and who’s walked faithfully with the Lord before [that] we could learn from.”

Although Eric enjoys writing, he is not planning to change his profession — he loves being a pastor.

“Every single day I’m benefiting from what I was taught in the classroom at Union, the relationships that were developed at Union, just the love for the Bible and for God’s people and the local church — it was cultivated in me at Union,” he said. “All the stuff that defines my life every day, by God’s grace, came at Union, and so it just could not have been more formative for me.”

While he was growing up, Eric said he had godly influences in his life and loved the Lord. But he had never encountered the careful and reverent handling of the Bible — and the study, teaching and preaching of the Bible — that he found in classes at Union with professors like Mark Dubis, Todd Brady, Ray Van Neste and Brad Green.

“I don’t think that there’s a better place to train for ministry where you’ll learn to love and handle rightly God’s Word,” he said. “You’ll learn to love and cherish God’s people in the local church. You will be loved by your professors.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was originally published by the Baptist and Reflector. To read more articles like this on Tennessee Baptists, visit This article also appears in TAB News, a digital regional Baptist publication. For more information or to subscribe to the TAB News app, visit