Does Jimmy Carter pass theological muster as a born-again Southern Baptist? Before responding, the Hefleys--he is a former Southern Baptist minister and author of 30-plus books on religious subjects--traverse the spiritual highway traveled by John Bunyan, the hardshells, the Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit brethren, abolitionists, martyrs, and money-raisers from Roger Williams to Jesse Mercer--the latter the chief promoter and organizer of the sect in Georgia. Missionary work gives the Baptist churches their common purpose, and the Hefleys try to do justice to the crusading efforts of Luther Rice--who once preached in his home church on the topic ""I am not mad""--assorted martyrs from China to Cuba, the fellow who works the Las Vegas Strip (""Hi, I'm your friendly chaplain. Can I be of any help?""), as well as, of course, Jimmy Carter who did preaching stints in Lock Haven, Pa., and Springfield, Mass. In politics or in the pulpit, the Baptists are a lively crowd--the Southern tincture especially--and the Hefleys have an abundance of perfervid opinions to cite on slavery, civil rights, women's ""place"" (here the mainstream follows St. Paul), and the evils of drink. Indeed their store of anecdotes about the fractious SBC seems unlimited--and a zesty entrÃ‰e to the mindset and milieu that produced the Carters, the Gordys (Miss Lillian's family), and their neighbors.