Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Where Frank Page's Calvinist Team Missed the Mark

While I do not disagree with the report of the Calvinist Study Team and while there are things in it that are helpful, after reading and reflecting on it I feel like I've eaten a mayonnaise and lettuce sandwich - it did not taste bad and it was a meal but it just didn't satisfy my appetite. Having some bacon and tomato would have made it much more substantial.

I commend Frank Page, our Executive Committee CEO, for the effort but here are some ways that I think the team missed the mark.

There is no strategy.

My goal is to develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism... most likely there will be the crafting of a statement regarding the strategy on how we can work together."            -  Frank Page
The Calvinist group's statement has no strategy. It does state areas of agreement, cooperation, common goals, as well as call on SBC individuals and entities to affirm and respect each other but there is no strategy. The group does not ask SBC seminary trustees, for example, to formally affirm that their institution does not and will not discriminate in hiring of faculty on the basis of Calvinism or non-Calvinism.

The group has a consensus statement, not insignificant but not a strategy.

The group failed to show that honest conversation among us can be helpful and beneficial.

We affirm the responsibility of all Southern Baptists to guard our conversation so that we do not speak untruthfully, irresponsibly, harshly, or unkindly to or about any other Southern Baptist. This negativity is especially prevalent in the use of social media, and we encourage the exercise of much greater care in that context.

We deny that our cooperation can be long sustained if our conversation becomes untruthful, uncharitable, or irresponsible.
While the group took time to assail the untoward conversations "especially prevalent" in social media,  a shot at SBC bloggers who have been discussing the problems with Calvinists and Calvinism in the SBC for years, they were not willing to have their discussion in public where they could demonstrate how SBCers should have these conversations.

Ordinary SBCers regularly receive from their leaders magisterial pronouncements about how prominent SBCers need privacy in order to have honest discussions about matters that cause tension among us.


The private meetings of leaders who are unwilling to discuss things where others can witness and hear their conversations about common problems is self-serving, unhelpful, and destructive. And to assail those who are willing to publicly discuss these matters, even if the discussion is sometimes negative, while having their conversations kept secret, is hypocrisy.

I am not unaware of the dynamics here. I suspect that there are people on this Calvinism group who have ambitions for SBC offices and leadership positions and they would rather not have their words on record where such might harm their career path. I do not assign this to any specific individual but only the naive among us would deny that this is one motive for private meetings.

Brethren, if you think it important to call out bloggers and twitterers for untruthful, uncharitable, and irresponsible conversations then act like Christian men and have your conversations where the rest of us can learn from your example.

Let's be honest here. The only arena where one can find routine conversations on Calvinism and Traditionalism in the SBC is among the blogs. Those may be imperfect but there are preferable to a group that meet and discusses in secret and then grandly pronounces how the rest of us should act and what we should do.

The instructions to ministry candidates and search committees was weak and ignored the obvious.
In order to prevent the rising incidence of theological conflict in the churches, we should expect all candidates for ministry positions in the local church to be fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine, even as we call upon pulpit and staff search committees to be fully candid and forthcoming about their congregation and its expectations.
Many SBC churches have had difficulty when staff candidates have not been forthcoming about their theological convictions and any call for openness and transparency is a good move.

The problem is that the reason for this paragraph being included is not that there have been vast numbers of SBC ministry candidates who were not candid and forthcoming about their Traditionalist beliefs. The problem is that there have been numbers of Calvinist ministry candidates who deliberately and deceitfully conceal their Calvinistic beliefs and goals in order to be more appealing to a church search committee.

Tom Ascol, Al Mohler, and other Calvinistic members of the group know this. Frank Page knows this. Ordinary SBCers like myself know this. Why not be plain and straightforward and say what needs to be said here?

The report makes no mention whatsoever of some of the most significant realities about the Calvinist/Traditionalist conflict.

These are, (1) Some churches are now negatively designating their Cooperative Program giving so as not to have any of their money going to Southern and Southeastern seminaries because they are considered to be too Calvinistic, (2) Graduates of these same two seminaries are being blackballed in some quarters because of the perception of excessive institutional Calvinism, (3) Many in the SBC are calling for some quota on the proportions of Calvinistic and Traditionalistic SBC leaders.

Did you guys even talk about these?

The report makes no mention of two looming problems caused by Calvinists in churches: Elder rule and destructive church discipline.

Perhaps it was felt that the group should avoid unpleasant thoughts and discussions but some SBC congregations have been ripped apart by Calvinists who implemented a polity whereby the church was owned and ruled by a small cabal of elders. Is such consistent with or contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message? Did you guys even talk about this?

Calvinistic leaders Al Mohler and Tom Ascol have been vocal in calling for the reintroduction of church discipline in SBC churches. Unfortunately, not a few churches who have heeded their call have created a nightmarish system by which a church is controlled by a coterie of paid
staff and cronies to the harm of the congregation and individual members. Did you guys have a conversation on this?  Did any names come up as examples of how church discipline can go terribly awry?

Were I to be present in Houston, I would vote in favor the group's report, but they could have done better.


Matt said...

Great post. You would have voted for the statement, but who wouldn't? And what difference does it make?

Bureaucracy at its best.

Jeff Parsons said...

The issues some are having regarding private meetings is understandable, but don't you think there is a underlying fear of having each syllable they speak parsed for all eternity? Isn't it the vindictiveness and questioning of people's motives (rather than taking their words at face value) that has been on display in some blog conversations the very thing that has driven these meetings into a private setting? I do understand why you feel so strongly about public meetings and can easily see why all SBCers should want them. I just think one negative aspect of the blog world is a fear of having a single phrase or sentence taken out context and becoming the kerfuffle of the month, thereby detracting from any productive conversation.

William Thornton said...

Jeff, most of these guys preach several times weekly. These are people who make their living by public speaking and writing. I'm afraid I don't think you have much of a point.

Thanks for the comment.

Jeff Parsons said...

Check out one particular person's view on a post at SBC Voices. It makes my point for me and it's not insignificant. If someone goes off on a regular SBC guy like Dave Miller, what do you think they would do to entity heads. It would make much of the rancor directed at Jerry Rankin a few years ago seem like child's play. Here's the link to the article I'm talking about:

Anonymous said...

Still don't buy it Jeff. Miller was elected VP in spite of hundreds of public articles but then he knows how to handle himself in public.

I'll restate it: It is hypocrisy for leaders to discuss in secret and then complain about inappropriate public discussions of the same subject.

But that is the SBC way. We've gotten used to it.

Jeff Parsons said...

" It is hypocrisy for leaders to discuss in secret and then complain about inappropriate public discussions of the same subject." Can't argue with that......

Anonymous said...

"Brethren, if you think it important to call out bloggers and twitterers for untruthful, uncharitable, and irresponsible conversations then act like Christian men and have your conversations where the rest of us can learn from your example."

Fair enough assertion, but whether it be the task force or blogs, neither is a model of or sufficient proponent for reasonable discussion. I have seen the blogs (e.g., SBC Voices) censure reasonable voices because they challenge received wisdom; thus given some SBC blogs and some SBC task forces, let's not assume reason is the most important consideration in discussions or decisions.

Gary said...

Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

I ask you to consider these points:

1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

2. There is NO translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into ANY language, ANYWHERE on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, WHEN exactly does God give it?

4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism didn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, these early Baptists re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

God bless you!

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Jonathan said...

I have no doubt that the folks on the panel are well intentioned, serious minded folk who really want to see the SBC prosper. That said, I am surprised that any of these folk, all of whom clearly understand the modern history of the SBC, believe that a report from a blue-ribbon committee is going to lead to anything but a resolution at the annual meeting.

Here's the point: we are a convention of autonomous churches. We talk a lot, in high sounding terms using motivational speech style, about where we would like to see the convention go. And then there are those pesky details.

We do what we want to do...we don't do what we don't want to do. Remember, we were chartered in 1845 by folks who were willing to break away from a larger group who didn't want to deal with an elephant in the room (slavery) at the moment but who did want to focus on high minded goals like the global mission.

We have this conflict of vision to action in our DNA.

"There is no strategy."

Of course. You reference something like a strategy that would encourage the institutions to not discriminate in hiring (Calvinist v Non-Calvinist). Good idea...except there's nothing this committee can do about this.

Correct me if I've misunderstood the changes over the last several years...since the institution of the Executive Committee's "single member" corporation concept, if you want to make sure that policy changes at a seminary, you need the ExCom to pass a clearly worded policy, the Seminary's BoT to pass the same policy, and then the administration of the Seminary to agree and implement the policy...and then you would have to have external monitoring over several years to make sure that the policy was executed as intended.

That's a lot of work...not gonna happen any time soon.

"The group failed to show that honest conversation among us can be helpful and beneficial."

Of course this part of the report is a shot at the bloggers. The SBC is a pastor's convention and prominent pastors prefer an environment where they're the only one's with a microphone.

"The instructions to ministry candidates and search committees was weak and ignored the obvious. "

Don't disagree. But this committee has no power to even strongly influence how search committees do their work. Sure, we would all like if search committees would do X and Y...but autonomy is very heavy here.

"The report makes no mention whatsoever of some of the most significant realities about the Calvinist/Traditionalist conflict."

"The report makes no mention of two looming problems caused by Calvinists in churches: Elder rule and destructive church discipline"

I can summarize both of these concerns (and they are valid) in this way: if you think that these issues are the cause of widespread problems in the SBC (and these problems are high enough up on the list of SBC problems to do something about) then you will agree with William. If you don't, you won't.

Baptisms have been in decline for awhile, mission giving is not keeping up with the global increase in living expense, micro managing at the middle management level in the IMB is at epidemic levels (a story that you're only going to get from field personnel who trust that you won't share their names).

Perhaps Elders and Church Discipline are a big problem across the convention.

I would have to see the data on that least in terms comparable to the decline in full time IMB missionaries over the last 5 years.