Friday, June 8, 2012

Let's start over on the Calvinist/Traditionalist debate

I'm a hacker and a plodder so maybe I don't have this straight. If not, perhaps one of the dozen or so folks who read my witty and insightful blog will enlighten me.

Calvinism in the SBC is recognized as somewhat of a problem.

I have anecdotes personal to me of aggressive, insistent Calvinists coming into churches and implementing, rather bulldogishly and clumsily, a plan to personally correct a century or more of 'heresy.' I have no doubt that this strain of my reformed colleagues is a decided minority.

Some churches have defunded two of our seminaries on the basis of their excessive Calvinistic leanings.

Some Southern Baptists in leadership positions have written contra-Calvinistic books.

Some Southern Baptists advise churches to eschew declared Calvinists, especially graduates of the two seminaries.

Some state convention presidents take gratuitous shots at the Calvinists.

In response, some SBCers, some prominent, some not, put out a document claiming the high ground of traditional Baptist beliefs on soteriology.

The document is aimed at "agressive" Calvinists in the SBC and makes  concise affirmations and denials about soteriology.

Al Mohler is the SBC's most prominent theologian and also our denomination's most visible and prominent Calvinist. He writes a rather irenic blog article in which he agrees that it is time to talk.

He also reacts to the traditionalist's theological statement thusly:
Some portions of the statement actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied.

Note the term "appear". Note the lack of the term "heresy".

In response, Eric Hankins, the individual most prominently mentioned as authoring the contra-calvinist document (and a candidate for one of the SBC vice president slots this month), reacts in a disappointingly combative blog with what in my view looks like excessive indignance, perfectly common for bloggers but not terribly useful here.
If Dr. Mohler intends for his words to engender an irenic but honest debate of these issues, opening with a charge of apparent heresy and chiding its signers for being too ignorant to know it is a strange way to begin. It is important for him to understand that, though he would certainly reject this characterization, he is often considered a principal force behind the very tribalism he is seeking to disavow. Charging us with being heterodox and obtuse doesn’t help. We will hope for his better instincts to prevail as our conversation continues.
Note the word "heresy". Note the word "obtuse". 

Mohler might consider allowing for imperfection in what looks like a hastily formulated theological document. Hankins might consider that it is not helpful to claim victimhood just yet on this.

If necessary, we can have this conversation without Hankins. We cannot have it without the SBC's primo Calvinist, Mohler.  

Jerry Vines has the far better approach. He states only a "general" agreement with the document.

Age, gray hair, and wisdom anyone?

I'm thinking that we need people involved who have the temperament to actually have a conversation. I get the feeling that Vines and Mohler know how to talk to each other. 

Frank Page, author of a contra-Calvinist book rather than a short blog, has said that he will offer an initiative in New Orleans on this whole sordid matter.

He has lots of gray hair and a healthy modicum of wisdom. I have confidence that he is savvy enough to do better than has been done so far.

Would someone please push the reset button on this whole thing. 


Anonymous said...

Irenic is telling your colleagues they don't believe what they signed? Of course that embedded zinger was sandwiched between a lot of nice stuff. It is called the Dale Carnagie way to insult.

I just don't get that you all think Mohler's statement was irenic when he insulted what he calls his "friends".

I don't like to feel I am being conned with lots of sweet sounding words and then a zinger. I am supposed to ignore the zinger because of the sweet sounding words? I find it deceptive. I prefer direct communicators. I think Hankins showed more wisdom in being direct. Mohler comes off like he is playing a game and both sides...he says a bunch of nice stuff, embeds the zinger insult and affirms it 'might" be heresy.


Anonymous said...

1963 BFM was about general agreement and what did the wisdom of those people OK with the BFM net them? I guess you might say CBF? If this thing hits a high gear expect more purges or attempts at purges. Perhaps Vines will trot out his seating arrangement experience. I'll Have Another seems about right ... for the Belmont, too.

Dave Miller said...

Excellent article, sir.

William Thornton said...

Lydia, if Hankins et al intended for their theological pronouncement to be merely a general statement but not to be held to the words used, then they should have said so. Even Hankins in his response had to explain what they meant when they said what they said.

Notice carefully what Vines said about his signing. He said that he "was in general agreement with the statement and would not attempt to nuance its content."

Like I said. What say we just start over on this?

Jonathan said...

I'm writing this from a region of the world where IMB personnel are most concerned about 1) getting the details of the Gospel right, 2) firing a passion to share that Gospel with the lost in dangerous places, and 3) discipling those that the Holy Spirit chooses to convict with that Gospel.

This particular debate (no pun intended) is, at best, a sideshow to them. At worst, it is just the latest manufactured crisis in North America that threatens the unity that funds their work in these difficult places.

Dale Pugh said...

Al Mohler is the SBC's most prominent theologian? I was completely out of the loop on that one.....
Heaven help us.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your articles. Keep up the good work.