Scandalous AdmissionsI 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 CommentaryDr. 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.