Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation, Part 2

[Part 1 of this series]

SBC Voices has posted the text of "A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" on their site. In the next few posts, I want to interact with the document in hopes of fulfilling the spirit of our late brother, Roger Nicole's, admonitions on "How to Deal with Those Who Differ with Us."

Though I am not ashamed to be known as a Calvinist by those who have an accurate historical and theological understanding of the term, it is not a badge I wear. Having held my theological convictions on this issue for over 30 years, I don't know how anyone could honestly call me a "new" Calvinist. I do have many young friends who could perhaps accurately be put into that camp, however. It grieves me to see them maligned and the doctrinal convictions which we share in common--and which we have repeatedly, publicly, historically and confessionally tried to articulate--misrepresented. Contrary to what the framers of this document assert, I hope that their judgments and views are far less representative of Southern Baptists than what they boldly assert.

At the outset I want to state plainly that, though I disagree not only with many of the theological expressions of this document but also what I see as several implied and stated misrepresentations, I am grateful for the clarity with which the authors have stated their views. For the most part, there is no difficulty understanding what they are affirming and denying. That is always helpful in theological dialogue. Furthermore, none of my critiques should be interpreted as suggesting that I think the originators of this document have no right to issue it or to argue strenuously--dare I say, aggressively--for their views. I am assuming that we are all mature enough to handle pointed, ruthlessly biblical debate. That does not mean "mean-spirited." It means doggedly determined to follow Scripture and to press each other to do so without apology.

I believe this document to be unwise. As I have stated previously, I think it has more potential to provoke serious division than anything else I have read on this issue coming from within the Southern Baptist camp. Given some of the debates and shenanigans that have gone on in the attacks and counter-attacks on Calvinism over the last ten years, that is a bold statement. However, I believe that the potential divisiveness might, by the grace of God, be negated and that the ensuing result could help clarify the attitudes and convictions of several key Southern Baptist leaders. Words have meaning and are a reflection, Jesus said, of what's in the heart. There is a spectrum of views on Calvinism within the SBC. At one extreme we have Calvinists who would be happy to run all non-Calvinists off (or at least relegate them to the arena of "being tolerated"). Their counterparts on the other extreme--the anti-Calvinists--have the same agenda but with their guns aimed, obviously, at the Calvinists.

This document helps position its framers and signatories on this spectrum for all to see. That will ultimately prove to be helpful as Southern Baptists come to terms with the increasingly inescapable decision of how we will live together in the SBC. Will we demand complete uniformity on each of the doctrines clustered around salvation? Will we only tolerate those who disagree with us at any point? Or will we choose to walk together as those who agree with the Baptist Faith and Message without crossing our fingers?

Following is the first of a two-part response to the stated rationale for the document.

The Preamble (part A)

The preamble to this document identifies the precipitating issue that has called it forth as "the rise of a movement called 'New Calvinism' among Southern Baptists." Though TIME Magazine popularized "New Calvinism" (NC) as one of the "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now" in 2009, the framers of this statement infuse the term with their own prejudices by describing it as being characterized by "an aggressive insistence on the 'Doctrines of Grace' ('TULIP')." Of course, one man's aggression is simply another man's passion but the authors have been called to action by their perception that the NC movement is committed to two goals: 1) "advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation" and to 2) "making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God's plan of salvation."

The first of these charges raises a question as to the signatories' attitude toward the autonomy of local Southern Baptist churches. If a church prayerfully and carefully calls a man to serve its membership as pastor, should those members not expect that pastor to "advance" his understanding of what the Bible teaches about salvation and to do so "exclusively?" I, for one, could hardly respect a man who did anything less, regardless of his theological convictions. If a Baptist church calls an Arminian to be its pastor then do we have any right to be alarmed if that man "advances an exclusively [Arminian] understanding of salvation?" Wouldn't the same be true if the church called a Molinist or Dispensationalist? We may lament and regret such a move, but should we be alarmed at a pastor and church for acting under the authority of Christ in advancing their understanding of Bible doctrine "exclusively?"

 On the second charge, perhaps Hankins, Patterson, Vines, et al are privy to documents that spell out this agenda. If so, it would be enlightening to know exactly how the NC movement plans to proceed and furthermore, how will they know when they have achieved making their views the "central Southern Baptist position?" Once again, if the concern is that Calvinists want everyone to believe what they believe, then what alternative would the framers of this document propose for truth loving pastors of any theological stripe? Surely they would not advocate that anyone--Calvinist or not--hold their views on salvation with a "que sera, sera" attitude.

I do not know any Calvinist who has an agenda to make Calvinism "the central Southern Baptist understanding of salvation." It certainly is not my agenda. Although I would love for everyone to read Scripture the way that I do, I am content to live within the SBC under the doctrinal umbrella of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and to cooperate with my less-Calvinistic brothers and sisters who are willing to do the same.

It seems that behind this second charge there must be some underlying concern that perhaps is not fully articulated in the preamble. I am speculating here and am willing to be corrected, but if the concern is that Calvinists are acting sinfully or unethically in trying to promote their views then let that be clearly stated. If there is a plot or conspiracy to make Calvinism "the central Southern Baptist position," then the authors would help us by making that known. Otherwise, their assertion of such is gratuitous and and reveals that they are warring against a straw man of their own creation. 

I will finish looking at the Preamble in my next post before evaluating the ten affirmations and denials.

Continue to Part 3

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Response to "A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation," Pt. 1

Today I had a document forwarded to me (from two different people) that was sent out to what looks to be a list of all the executive directors of state conventions in the Southern Baptist Convention. The title of the document is "A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation."

The email to which it was attached came from Jeannie Maxwell, the administrative assistant to David Hankins, the executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and included this statement:

I have attached a document entitled "A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" which some of us brethren have prepared. I believe it is self explanatory and that it can serve our Southern Baptist Convention well in these days. This document will be released to the general public soon. I wanted you, because of your leadership, to have an advance copy.
For what it is worth, I, along with other Southern Baptist leaders, am signing my name in support of the statement. The list of signers already includes Jerry Vines, Jimmy Draper, Paige Patterson, Malcolm Yarnell, David Allen, Eric Hankins, Mark Howell, Steve Horn, Emir Caner, Adam Harwood, and Chris Justice. Your comments are welcomed.

David Hankins
The opening paragraph of the Preamble gives the rationale for issuing such a statement.
Every generation of Southern Baptists has the duty to articulate the truths of its faith with particular attention to the issues that are impacting contemporary mission and ministry. The precipitating issue for this statement is the rise of a movement called “New Calvinism” among Southern Baptists. This movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation, characterized by an aggressive insistence on the “Doctrines of Grace” (“TULIP”), and to the goal of making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.
After professing to speak for the "vast majority of Southern Baptists" the statement outlines ten affirmations and denials on the following theological subjects.
  1. The Gospel
  2. The Sinfulness of Man
  3. The Atonement of Christ
  4. The Grace of God
  5. The Regeneration of the Sinner
  6. The Election to Salvation
  7. The Sovereignty of God
  8. The Free Will of Man
  9. The Security of the Believer
  10. The Great Commission
It is a serious doctrinal statement and is worthy of serious consideration. Over the next week or two, it is my intent to give it the evaluation that it deserves. I believe that this document, more than anything else that I have seen written on the differences that characterize many Southern Baptists on the doctrines of grace, has the potential seriously to disrupt the unity that Great Commission Resurgence has sought to foster and instead and to revive old suspicions and misrepresentations that too often have characterized past debates on these subjects.

I have no interest in participating in any such disunity. Neither do I care about denominational politics. But I do care about truth and especially the purity of the gospel. It is out of this latter concern, and with deep respect for many of the signers of the document that I intend to respond.

So join me in praying that the inevitable theological conversation that will result from this soon-to-be-published-statement will not degenerate into personal attacks or be carried out in a way that dishonors our Lord. Rather, may He grant us humility born of submission to His Word that will enable us to speak the truth in love.

Continue to Part 2

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering a WW II hero

On April 3 of this year I had the honor of preaching the graveside funeral of Art Davis, a World War II hero. Like many veterans of that war, Art was very reluctant to talk about his experiences in combat. In the 26 years that I knew Art, we only had one extensive conversation about his involvement in the war. It was after the death of his first wife, as we were sitting alone in his living room.
Art Davis Memorial Service, April 3, 2012

As a Marine Corp officer, Art fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including Guadalcanal. It was on that Japanese stronghold in the Solomon Islands that he experienced a dramatic display of brotherly love. Art lost several men during an intense firefight on an enemy-held hill. After regrouping, he, along with his enlisted assistant, went back for the bodies of his fallen brothers. Under a barrage of Japanese bullets, both men jumped into a foxhole only to discover a Japanese soldier sliding into the other end of that ditch less than 10 feet away. Art told me that they locked eyes, and for a minute or so seemed to have reached unspoken agreement that "if you don't fire, I won't fire."

While still staring at each other, the Japanese soldier suddenly grabbed a hand grenade, pulled the pin and jumped toward Art, trying to ram it into his chest. His suicide mission was interrupted by Art's assistant. This unnamed soldier, in an act of incredible bravery and heroism, rolled over Art, putting himself on top of the grenade and between his commanding officer and the enemy. He took the full force of the explosion.

Two men died that day--the one who unsuccessfully tried to kill his enemy and the one who successfully saved his brother. As Art told me that story tears streamed down his face. It was the only time I ever saw him cry. He would not talk about the reasons for his various medals or discuss any of his own personal exploits in the war. He did say that he successfully retrieved the bodies of his men that day, including the one that was blown to pieces saving his life.

Jesus said "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The Apostle Paul, elaborating on this truth, writes, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8). Art understood this truth and the dramatic illustration of it that he experienced at Guadalcanal led him to a lifelong, quiet devotion to Jesus Christ as Lord.

I watched Art bury two wives and honorably live with a third whom he left as a widow. I also watched him live out a life of unassuming loyalty to the church that he helped plant nearly 30 years ago. During my tenure as his pastor, Art remained steadfast. He never spoke in a members' meeting, but he was faithfully present, even in his octogenarian years, at the most crucial of those meetings that his church ever faced. And he quietly stood firm for his convictions, under the authority of God's Word and in fulfillment of the church's covenant and confession.

Art was a faithful man. You never had to wonder where he stood. He did not suffer fools gladly and he had no tolerance for those who did not keep their word. His generation has been called the greatest that America has produced. In many ways, that is true. He and the other American soldiers like him who have served this country in any capacity during war or peace deserve the honor and respect of those of us who live free because of their service.

May the Lord bless the memory of Art Davis and all those who have served this nation faithfully throughout her history.