Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Total Depravity or Total Naïveté

Scandalous Admissions

I believe that people lie. I believe that people are sinners. I believe that institutions built around the suspicious assumption that people will always lie are institutions doomed to failure. I believe that institutions built around the naïve assumption that people will always tell the truth are institutions doomed to failure.

Controversial Commentary

Dr. Ralph Elliott, of "Elliott Controversy" fame in Southern Baptist history, was canned in the early 1960s from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in connection with his authorship of The Message of Genesis, a tome espousing higher-critical views of the biblical book (the first eleven chapters are myth with no tangible connection to historical reality, Abraham probably existed, but certainly was not commanded by God to offer up Isaac, etc.). The book scandalized Southern Baptists so much that, in addition to giving Elliott his walking papers, the convention revised the Baptist Faith & Message (in 1963). Defending himself years later, Ralph Elliott said that a great many Old Testament professors at Southern Baptist seminaries agreed substantially with what Elliiott had written in The Message of Genesis. Elliott basically complained that he was being run out of town on a rail not for being a liberal, but for being honest about being a liberal. He even coined a term to describe the dishonesty of his colleagues: "Doublespeak." According to Elliott, his colleagues had learned to employ a nuanced terminology to express their beliefs to Southern Baptist churches and sound like they were conservative, while retaining the possibility of expressing their beliefs to the academic guild and identifying with them as theological liberals. To put it bluntly, Ralph Elliott asserted that Southern Baptist professors were lying to their constituent churches. Read what Elliott wrote:
"Doublespeak" has become an insidious disease within Southern Baptist life. Through the years, the program at Southern Seminary has acquainted students with the best in current research [i.e., higher-critical liberalism] in the given fields of study. Often, however, this was done with an eye and ear for the "gallery" and how much the "church trade" would bear. Professors and students learn to couch their beliefs in acceptable terminology and in holy jargon so that although thinking one thing, the speaker calculated so as to cause the hearer to affirm something else. When I taught at Southern Seminary years ago, we often said to one professor who was particularly gifted at this "doublespeak" game, that if the Southern Baptist Convention should split, he would be the first speaker at botn new conventions. It is my personal belief that this doublespeak across the years has contirbuted to a lack of nurture and growth and is a major factor in the present problems. The basic question is one of integrity rather than the gift of communication.
Elliott is right in at least this: It is a matter of integrity, and the depravity of mankind guarantees that many people will display their lack of integrity (yes, me included, although I hope not very often). Prior to 1979, the system in place called for Southern Baptist employees to tell Southern Baptist churches what they wanted to hear, regardless of whether it was the truth (again, see Elliott's The Genesis Controversy). Throughout the twentieth century up through 1979, Southern Baptists were reassured by denominational doublespeak, but by the late 1970s, the liberalism in Southern Baptist academic institutions could no longer be hidden. Uncomfortable as it was to do so, the people of the Southern Baptist Convention had to face the difficult fact that they were being misled. I think it was Dr. Malcolm Yarnell who once described to me the thinking processes of some British professors who, in order to obtain and keep their jobs, had to affirm some statement of faith (was it the Thirty-Nine Articles? Let's assume for the sake of discussion that it was), but who sharply disagreed with the content of this Anglican statement of faith. He inquired of them how in good conscience they could sign a creed which they could not truthfully affirm? One replied along the lines of, "Well, they gave me the document, I looked it over, thought to myself, 'Yes, those are the Thirty-Nine Articles alright!' and I signed to affirm that they were indeed the genuine Thirty-Nine Articles." People are depraved and will sometimes lie to you just for the sake of lying—put a job on the line and a great many people will lie to keep it. A recent study speculated that as many as 40% of resumes contain lies. As Southern Baptists, we have some differences about the five points of Calvinism. That's OK. Nevertheless, I think it is critically important that we have a realistic view of human depravity. Those who will not acknowledge the depth of human depravity are condemned to a life of naïveté. Those who do acknowledge human depravity will understand the profound need for strong accountability within the Southern Baptist Convention. And, to draw out the implications clearly, we cannot build a system of Southern Baptist cooperation upon a doctrine of Total Naïveté. "I went and spoke with that professor (missionary, denominational leader, former President of the United States, etc.), and he told me personally that he is orthodox. Therefore, he should keep his job. Therefore, we must cooperate with him. Therefore, the Conservative Resurgence was a mistake and went way too far." Yes, he said that he was orthodox. Have we learned nothing from "doublespeak"? Must we check our brains at the door and take everyone at their word, assuming that nobody ever lies? Obviously, the context of this post is the recent controversy over Jimmy Carter's particular beliefs about whether people will receive God's saving grace apart from explicit conversion to Christ. Carter has written publicly that he believes that they will. Carter has apparently assured Wade Burleson privately that he holds no such belief. In court, a cross-examining lawyer follows up statements like Carter's with the question, "So, were you lying then, or are you lying now?" That's the context of this post. But the implications of this post reach far beyond its immediate context. Indeed, it speaks to the whole controversy of the past year at some level. If the Southern Baptist Convention operates on the perennial assumption that people are always lying, then it is doomed to failure. We cannot long partner in complete suspicion of one another. I have no doubt that Wade Burleson and many of those who typically agree with him are of the opinion that such perennial suspicion is the modus operandi within the Southern Baptist Convention—that the problem is that some SBC leaders are too suspicious and are unwilling to trust people. I don't read them making this argument, but I suspect that some of them would affirm a statement to that effect. However, if the Southern Baptist Convention operates on the perennial assumption that people are always telling the truth—that we are obligated always to take denominational leaders and employees at their word—, then we are also assuredly doomed to failure. At that point, we have contradicted our own anthropology (doctrine of man, not the course at college). Such an approach only facilitates "doublespeak." The plague of "Conservative Resurgence remorse" that is spreading in some SBC circles has as one of its primary symptoms, I believe, the doctrine of "Total Naïveté" toward those on the left, coupled with an unbounded suspicion toward the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence who are willing to make the tough stands. I think that the Carter episode epitomizes what I'm talking about. The SBC contains in its upper eschelons of leadership people representing a wide variety of viewpionts on nonessentials (recognizing that this is a word defined differently by many of us—I would not put the exclusivity of Christ into this category). There is some suspicion at work today in the SBC; indeed, the experiences of the past fifty years show why some suspicion is a necessary component of our cooperative work. Excessive and paranoid suspicion is not the norm in our convention. Certainly, the kind of baffling naïveté demonstrated over the past week is no responsible cure for anything that ails us. Heaven help us if we decide to follow the leadership of the naïve.


Bart Barber said...

Oops! Somehow the comments wound up being disabled on this post. I have corrected the problem.

Bart Barber said...

As Dougald has pointed out to me, Blogger's new AutoSave "improvement" is wreaking havoc with some of our "New Post" features, especially for those of us using Mac Safari.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Improvements, improvements! :-(

I've been having blogger problems, too. But things seem to be getting better.

Good post. While one may not like Ralph Elliott's theology, his honesty is refreshing.

I also like the new theological jargon -- Total Naïveté!

Benjamin S. Cole said...


Excellent post. You really hit the nail this time. Amen, brother. Perhaps your best post ever. Thanks and God bless!!!

In Christ,


Bart Barber said...


If you liked this one, you are simply going to LOVE the next one.

Bart Barber said...


Perhaps we can come up with five points built around that concept? :-)

Matt Brady said...

Ben Cole,

I'm glad you have a good sense of humor. Even your sarcasm makes me laugh. I haven't decided yet what I think your comment says about the art of "double speak" and honesty. :-)

Matt Brady said...

Total Naïveté +

Unconditional Theology +

Limitless Acceptance +

Irresistible Ecumenism =

Perseverance of the Left

Jack Maddox said...


I am busting up here man! Thanks for making me giggle...that was a great post! And unlike Ben the Baptist...I am not being sarcastic.


Bro. Matt said...

Well, there's your five points.

Benjamin S. Cole said...

I've got a little tulip of my own:

Total Subservience +

Unquestioned allegiance +

Limited discernment +

Irresistable committee appointments =

Praisegod Barebones

Bart Barber said...


Man, did I open the door for that one, or what? :-)

Bro. Robin said...


If you will allow me to use the words of a leader I have respected for many years.

Trust, yet verify.

I believe if we do that, we would see what Mr. Carter means by his use of the term gospel.

Bart Barber said...


I like yours better.

Matt Brady said...


Stop! My side is splitting from the laughter :-)

Allow me to to agree with your comment.

Total Subservience [to God] +

Unquestioned allegiance [to His Word]+

Limited discernment [about what in the Sam Hill Ben and Wade are up to]+

Irresistable [for Ben to mention] committee appointments =

Praisegod Barebones

CB Scott said...


It is a good post.


Bart Barber said...

Thanks, CB. I hope you enjoyed the nickname post, too. When my daughter gets a little older, I may borrow your hammer. :-)

Bart Barber said...


Personally, I think I discern pretty well what Ben and Wade are up to. ;-)

Matt Brady said...


I know, I know! I think it is becoming increasingly clear to everyone what Wade and Ben are up to. However, you must understand my great difficulty in finding something to equate a man of your clear discernment with the word "limited." :-) It was the best I could come up with on the spur of the moment.

Anonymous said...


Excellent post. You really hit the nail this time. Amen, brother. Perhaps your best post ever. Thanks and God bless!!!

david....volfan007 :)

ps. i'm so glad when ben writes my comments for me. they are so much better than what i could've written. thanks ben, really. :)

Anonymous said...


Outstanding post!

When my church was voting to align with THE conservative SBC convention in Texas, some opposing the move dismissed the necessity of the CR as mean-spirited tactics of fundamentalist. I shared at length about the Elliott controversy and it being a catalyst spawning the reformation in the SBC. Upon completion an old man in my church slowly approached the microphone and shared that he had Elliott in seminary. He then shared just how far left this professor was as he continually taught contrary to Scripture. God used this 'witness' to help seal an almost unanimous vote to make the needed change. But I digress...

It appears doublespeak could be filtered with a few pointed questions. After reading the blogs this week I have begun to wonder just what Wade, Ben, et al did speak to Mr. President about? I know they were concerned about not joking in his presence and maintaining proper protocol, so does this relieve them from asking enough questions to determine whether they should hitch their horse to his wagon? With so much print media containing Carter's beliefs (pursuant to him spelling them out for the news media) why would you not ask questions that were direct enough that one might at least find out if he truly believed Mormons go to heaven. Perhaps "Total Naivete" is the answer.

Byron McWilliams

Bart Barber said...


Wow! The guy had actually studied under Elliott? That must have been some business meeting.

kws said...

In regard to Elliot's use of the term "doublespeak" to describe the practice of his colleagues, certainly the practice was borrowed from politicians. Whether you call it political expediency, spin or doublespeak, these kind of semantical gymnastics are designed to distract and confuse the naive. Should we be surprised that a career politician says one thing to the media and another to a group he desires to use to advance a political agenda? Sometimes in our haste to be harmless as doves we forget to be wise as serpents. This is particularly dangerous when dealing with the famous and the powerful. Bart, I really do believe this is your best post ever.

Ckey said...

Bart (and many others)—

Please don’t ever give up the fight. The devil will certainly never give up probing for weakness in our churches and institutions. He has the ability to appear wise and knowing and helpful all the while he is trying to destroy us. And it seems to me that same quality is evident in so many who would lead the faithful to stray from Biblical truth.

God less all of you,

Luke said...




sbc pastor said...


You are the man, indeed. God bless!!!

In Christ,

Malcolm Yarnell said...


Yes, your attribution is correct.

My contribution to the theological flower debate is the Lily:

Lord: Jesus Christ Alone

Integrity: Say what you mean, and Mean what you say

Love: The ethics of our Savior

Yieldedness: Discipleship is the Call of God upon us

Notice that this is not a Tulip, for it is not indebted to the speculation of the Dutch, whether economic or theological. Indeed, lilies grow quite well in water, just like Baptists.

In Christ,

joerstewart said...

I've enjoyed tiptoeing through the TULIPS. How about the fact that one of the signatories of the new meeting is Godsey? Burleson did not mention the fact that Ascol called his position heresy. See my post at

Matt Brady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Brady said...


Allow me to make a link out of your blog address. Your last post is so hilarious, I'd hate for anyone to miss it.

What to Wear?

Matt Brady said...

Jeremy and Dr. Yarnell,

Thanks for the compliment, Jeremy! However, after that explanation of the Lily's superiority to the Tulip, I yield and gladly pass that "you are the man" award on to Dr. Yarnell. That was great!

Come to think of it, Scripture doesn't tell us we ought to act or believe like tulips, but it does teach us to act and believe like a certain Lily (Song Of Solomon 2:1).

Wade Burleson said...

I think the theology of many in the SBC could be described as CARNATION theology.

C aught

A ttributing

R adical

N eo-orthodoxy

A t

T he

I nstant

O thers

N otify the SBC of their dissent.


kws said...

This thread has been good for laughs, but he Synod of Dort it ain't. (Although, I do believe Bart will make a fine Calvinist some day.)

Tim Rogers said...

Brother/Sister kws,

Do you believe Brother Bart to be closet Calvinist? Bart, are you coming out?



Bart Barber said...



I really would like sometime to finish our conversation we began in Arlington.

Bart Barber said...


Keith Wayne Sanders is very much a brother. He knows point-for-point where I agree and disagree with Bro. Calvin.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, looks like I was beaten to the punch on the "five points". I couldn't come up with anything original anyway, but based on your post and some comments, the two following might complete the IP:

Irrepressible spin
Perennial assumptions

Benjamin S. Cole said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kws said...

Bro. Tim,

I don't think Bart is a closet anything. We have fun with the five points, but I'm thankful our Lord has given him a great mind and the courage to speak the truth.


Bart Barber said...


Pick on me all you want. Pick on others all you want, too, but do it at your place. At least allow me the narcissism to have your sarcasm over here be somewhat about me.

Bart Barber said...


After all, Dr. Yarnell already has his own tag category over at your blog. I'm really starting to feel insecure about it—as hard as I've worked for a year. Yarnell doesn't blog at all and rarely even comments, and he gets a category! What does a guy have to do?

And then you come over to my blog and give him an acrostic!

I get no respect.

sbc pastor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sbc pastor said...

Does anyone know what in the Sam Hill a theologically moderate Baptist is?

Slanders conservatives
Accomodates liberalism
Makes use of doublespeak

Haven for disgruntled
Integrity issues
Loves to wine and dine
Lessens doctrine for the sake of "unity"

Thanks and God bless!!!

In Christ,

Bro. Robin said...

Bro. Jeremy

Your too much! :-D

Pray tell, do you have anyone in mind?

selahV said...

Bro. Bart: this is an incredible post. I only read briefly that some bloggers had been issued an audience with our Presidential Peanut farmer/everything else in the world. I'd already formed an opinion as I usually do. Not about the bloggers, but why our former Georgia man would seek them out as confidants for a hearing before him. Your blog sums up about what I had thought about intent and motives. Politics as usual. What one can't do while duly elected the highest office in the free world, one seeks to accomplish by crowning himself a king in a checker game with pawns as checkers.

A depraved but not so naive selahV

BTW...loved Dr. Yarnell's acrostic.

Travis Hilton said...


Good analogy with the Elliot episode. It seems that issues in Baptist life seem to run in a cycle of sorts. Naivete is a part of that cycle. I REALLY like when you stick it to Ben. :-)


Rob Ayers said...

Thanks Bart. Great post - my thoughts exactly. Although after reading the comments, I really think I should have brought my waders with me. :-)