Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Some Honest Realism I Appreciate

A recent post by Timmy Brister (see here) has been critiqued (see here and here) as attempting to place a non-existent wedge between so-called "Baptist Identity" and "Great Commission Resurgence" ideas in the SBC. I do not regularly follow Mr. Brister's blog, so I only discovered his post after seeing the controversy. Although I agree that Brister is attempting to separate that which belongs together, I actually want to commend something that I read in his post.

Brister said: "…the heroes of my generation are, in large part, found outside the SBC rather than those inside the SBC."

I believe that Brister is absolutely correct with regard to the circles in which he travels. From the context, I conclude that both Brister and I are in agreement that this situation spells trouble for the future relationship between those he has in mind and the SBC. The part where we differ, I imagine, is that Brister takes this situation as indicative of problems with the SBC, while I take it as indicative of problems with him and his cohort at least as much as it highlights problems in our convention.

What I find most refreshing, encouraging, and honest about Brister's sentiment is the contrast between his statement and the autohagiography that Dr. Steve McKinion recently posted (see here) extolling the walking-on-water virtues of the "third generation" of descendants of the Conservative Resurgence. See the contrast in these two statements:

McKinion: [The third generation, in apparent contrast to all their predecessors in the SBC,] have taken seriously the admonition not to look to men but to look to Jesus.

And again, Brister's statement

…the heroes of my generation are, in large part, found outside the SBC rather than those inside the SBC

Brister is right and McKinion is wrong.

To be fair, McKinion did later list a group of men to whom these third-generation people are listening, but apparently he sees their relationship with Piper as far different from their "grandparents'" relationship with Rogers or Vines or Criswell. The essay genuinely reads as though McKinion has discovered an entire generation of pastors who are entirely free from avarice, ambition, eisegesis, and an undue affection for hairspray. In them the hopes and dreams of the radical reformation are finally realized—a pure, direct connection with the teachings of Jesus.

I think that I can see the color of McKinion's glasses from all the way over here in Texas. His essay would have been much stronger had he been able to see weaknesses in this generation about which he is so enthusiastic. When we can't see our own weaknesses, we have no hope of growing.

I teach people from the same generation as McKinion. They're good people. They have strengths (passion, idealism, love for the Lord). They have faults (I've encountered some who aren't bothered by a little Modalism here and there, who think that penal-substitution makes too much of a meanie out of God, etc.). Do these strengths and weaknesses really belong to generations, per se? Most of the strengths of the new generation, if they aren't apparent to Dr. McKinion in his observation of our 40-to-80-year-old pastors today, might possibly have been more evident in those same pastors back when they were in seminary, don't you think? Perhaps some of the exciting things that Dr. McKinion and I see in seminary students today are not so much a facet of which generation they are in, but are part-and-parcel of being a seminary student just starting out in ministry? Dr. McKinion and I have not been teaching long enough to have seen generation-after-generation come through the classroom, so we have the disadvantage of not having lived long enough to make sound comparisons from our own experiences.

Brister's observation, on the other hand, is undeniably accurate. Prone just as much to hero-worship as their predecessors, a generation of Southern Baptists is upcoming whose heroes are not Southern Baptists—perhaps not Baptists of any stripe. As a historian (a.k.a. knower of past Baptist secrets), I know that the Baptist "heroes" of a century ago were no better qualified for heroism than are our leaders today. They were real men and women with real faults. Furthermore, because I really do believe in the depraving effects of the Fall, I presume that the men listed by McKinion and intimated by Brister are also walking about on feet of clay too often unseen by their throngs of admirers. In other words, there is nothing to prevent this generation from having Southern Baptist heroes, but they have chosen to admire people outside our convention. This is our zeitgeist.

Mark my words: This is a big deal. The implications of these facts for the future of our convention are as yet unseen.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bart,
Very good thoughts. As near as I can tell, every generation has been affected by The Fall.
David R. Brumbelow

Anonymous said...

Bart,
Could the reason that many today are looking outside the SBC be because few SBC people are doing good research and work? I know that in my own field there are only a handful of people who publish good quality research. There are more coming up the line, but time will tell if they are able to make a serious impact that draws young people back to the SBC for quality research and 'heroes'.

jason

Anonymous said...

Bart:

Interesting post.

As a young man, I certainly engaged in my share of hero worship. It's almost impossible not to.

Aside from hero status - I agree that many SBC pastors are looking to speakers and writers outside of the SBC. That is certainly true in our church.

I am guessing here, but I would say that Piper, Stott, Packer (early Packer), Keller, Dever, Mohler are favorites within our church. Most of the reasons are theological. But many are cultural.

It is impossible to stop this trend due to greater exposure that people have to different teachers and writers than they might have had a generation ago.

What this means for the SBC is unclear.

It probably means one of three things:

1. The SBC will become more diverse in certain areas. Not in Christian essentials, but in other areas.

2. The SBC could try to convince the younger crowd to return to some theological and cultural forms that the SBC had traditionally.

3. These younger folks and their churches will slowly trail away from the SBC, either by choice (they just do ministry in places where they feel more comfortable) or due to the SBC focusing on these issues more and making them mandatory for participation or leadership.

I don't know which will happen.

I hope that there are not big changes, but that the SBC can adapt at things that are non-essential and retain the things that are.

That's a pretty non-commital way of saying things. I guess because I don't want to write a script or come down too dogmatically on many issues.

I do see that as long as church planting is an emphasis, that churches which are planted by the IMB or NAMB should be Baptist churches, and it is only right that they should be that. For me, that means baptism of confessional believers, the Lord's supper as an ordinance, and some form of congregational government - along with the doctrinal standards of the BFM and orthodox Christianity.

It would be very interesting to compare the average age attending, status, enthusiasm etc. of the annual SBC Pastors conference and other meetings, say, Together for the Gospel, for example.

We had several people go to Together for the Gospel last year. I heard that there were 5,000 in attendance. Lots of young guys. A lot of energy and excitement.

One member of our church, who used to be on the SBC Executive Committee, about 50 or so years old said, "It's too bad the annual SBC meeting could not be like this."

That is an interesting statement.

I would advise caution among folks in the SBC at pushing any agenda that is exclusionary toward a significant number of congregations, either theologically or practically.

On practical issues, I think that the worst idea in years is to try and mandate a percentage of CP giving. That ignores the reality of church budgets nowadays and the other opportunities that are out there. It's like a girl trying to attract a boy by being ugly to him. It seems to me that if the SBC programs are good and well run, people will want to support them. I believe that is the way to attract churches on the practical side.

On the theological side, I am a mixed bag. I clearly do not think that the SBC is charismatic or charismatic light. Even though the BFM says nothing about tongues etc., I think it clearly not Baptist practice, and I would be a mistake for the SBC to broaden in this area.

On the ordinances, I am more open. We practice open communion at our church. I believe that is the common practice among Baptist churches in our city. I think it is fine for people to debate that issue and try and promote the view they think is best. I do not think it would be productive for the SBC to push for a closed communion position.

On Baptism, I am the same. We accept for membership people who have been baptized as confessional believers only. If they are in a cult, obviously, they are not accepted. But if the Baptism was performed after their conversion, we accept that.

We have had some folks go with the IMB since the new policies were in effect who needed to be "re-baptized". The people understood the policy and decided that they wanted to be with the IMB enough that they went through a baptismal ceremony. I have not talked with them to know, but my understanding is that most of them do not consider that their real baptism, but one done out of compliance and respect for the IMB and Southern Baptists. These have been done in private and not like the regular baptisms done following the service.

There are many Christians in this country today who are dead sold on the Christian essentials. That level of understanding among Christians and Baptists has gotten better over the last 30 years, in my opinion.

Conversely, the level of commitment to distinct denominational practices is way down - across all denominations.

In our town, one can regularly find people moving memberships from Baptist, to Presbyterian, to Bible Church, to non-denominational - and back again, all the time.

It's just the age that we live in.

The main consideration I see driving this is (1) a belief on the part of the person attending that the spirit is really moving in a congregation and (2) the church is culturally attractive.

I don't know how to fix these issues. I think that it is proper to discuss theology and distinctives, but at the end of the day I do not feel a strong compulsion on some issues that others might feel.

Louis

Anonymous said...

I can be your hero baby. I can kiss away the pain. I will stand by you forever. You take my breath away.

peter lumpkins said...

Bart,

Very good and thought provoking. What may interest many perhaps, is the long line of "heroes" outside the SBC I've admired in some way--R.C.Sproul, John Gerstner, D. James Kennedy, N. Geisler, John W. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, F. Schaeffer, J.R.W. Stott, Bryan Chappel, Steve Brown, G. Ladd, Leon Morris, Wayne Grudem, Rodman Williams etc, etc. who've played remarkable roles in forming me spiritually and intellectually. One commonality among the above names--names which could be added to many times over--is the absence of "SBC" among their worthy credentials.

Why the new generation somehow assumes those of us who love our Baptist heritage sport a saran wrap coating to protect us from the views of others or that we could not fully appreciate the contributions of those not of our spiritual DNA is too fantastic for me to grasp.

One need not sell out loyalty to his or her spiritual-ecclesiological rootedness to enjoy the fruits of another's orchard.

The problem enters, as you rightly pointed out in other ways, when one picks only the sweetest fruit from the other orchid while self-righteously pronouncing his own orchid filled but with sour apples.

I hope our young generation will rethink their estimation of the SBC orchid.

With that, I am...
Peter

kws said...

Bart,

This is interesting timing. I recently decided to research the effect of non-SBC evangelicals on the present generation of SBC pastors as a possible dissertation topic.

A week ago, I attended a popular SBC evangelism conference and observed the phenomenon first hand. A retired, seventy-something hero of another generation of SBC pastors was introduced. He was touted as a man who baptized 15000 individuals and took in 40,000 members at the church he served. This was just minutes after Ed Stetzer congratulated the convention on its resolution of regenerate church membership and implored us to practice biblical church discipline. Out of morbid curiosity, I looked up last Sunday's SS attendence for the speaker's church and discovered it was just over 3,000 (less than 10% of the aforementiond 40000. He then (without opening his Bible) proceeded to speak on the five "P's in a Pod" that were the causes of the decline within the SBC. His first point was "Prevailing Calvinism." Amazingly, his message, though not biblical in any way, was very well received by the audience. Granted, it was senior adult day, and the speaker was well-liked. However, I was in attendence for the other sessions and did not discern any difference in the demographics that day from any other.
Contrast that to John Macarthur's Shepherd's Conference that I attend annually. There will be between 3000 and 4000 pastors who will be fed from deep, text driven messages. Many of these young men are Southern Baptists and Calvinists. They feel welcomed and respected by their non-SBC brethren and come away feeling that they have more in common with these men than with many of their SBC leaders. I predict a major impact in the SBC in the next 20 years if this trend does not change. Just my perspective. Blessings. KS

Ben Stratton said...

Timmy Brister said: "…the heroes of my generation are, in large part, found outside the SBC rather than those inside the SBC."

This says it all. Brister looks to the baby-baptizing Puritans and Presbyterians as his heroes. Consequently it is no wonder he is so weak on Baptist Distinctives.

CB Scott said...

Peter,

You left out: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sandy Kofax, Harmon Kilibrew, Andy Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and Bob Dylan.

And finally, Paul Bear Bryant. :-)

cb

Wes Kenney said...

I thought Bear Bryant was a Baptist...

:)

Anonymous said...

KS:

Wow!

That is a succinct way of "saying it all."

Problem is, even if I had the power, I would not know what to propose to change this.

I am very grateful for the older generation, and actually appreciate their style and all that they have done. I can sit through and do enjoy lots of old style sermons such as the one you describe (sans the Calvinism bit).

Many of my younger friends are not as tolerant.

Plus, if that's all you get at an SBC meeting, it's hard to draw the younger crowd.

Again, I don't know what to suggest, but you have hit the nail on the head.

Louis

John T. Meche III said...

As a young person of 24, my blood boils when I even hear the term "Baptist Identity". I think that what a lot of our leadership needs to understand is that what young people like me have a problem with is the concept "Baptist Identity" and not the content.
Any church I plant in my lifetime will hold up the Bible as the inerrant inspired word of God. It will be interpreted exegetically through the grammatical historical method. It will require baptism by immersion for membership along with partaking of the Lord's Supper. It will hold up Christ as God who became man and died for the forgiveness of sin. This forgiveness will be received by grace alone through faith alone expressed in a life of repentance and the ordinance baptism. It will send missionaries out and cooperate with other like churches to send missionaries around the world. I love and hold tightly to all of these things. What I do not love and hold tightly to is the term "Baptist Identity". The reason for this is that the terms Baptist and Christian do not always historically line up. Preserving Baptist identity puts a very bad taste in my mouth. I guess that's because my experience with the Baptist church (I've never been a member of any other denomination) has presented these following things to me as Baptist Distinctives: gossip, racism, an unwillingness to change in order to reach people with the gospel, pretty much no desire or expectation to share the good news with anyone (unless your name has Rev. before it), legalism (in living and in teaching), and a rural focus. These things from my 24 years of experience have been what has identified Baptists. If you are concerned with spreading the gospel and at the same time holding to a certain set of doctrines, then by all means, pick a better name than "Baptist Identity".

Anonymous said...

John T. Meche III,
Just wait till Bart gets home :-).
David R. Brumbelow

WesInTex said...

Kws,

I was at the same conference and had the same reaction as you. There were a few men who did an outstanding job of taking a text and allowing it to speak to our hearts and minds. However, much of what I heard at the Empower Conference was the same old proof texted, pragmatic drivel we’ve heard so often before. The younger generation is wanting more and we who are in the middle (boy that really hurts! 8->) and older generations need to embrace that to the glory of God if we are really serious about evangelism.

John T,

I pray you’ll forgive an old man (I’m 48), but I don’t see comments like yours as productive. You hate “Baptist Identity” but in truth never even address any of those things which have historically identified Christians as Baptist. Your wealth of years of experience in Baptist churches (a whole 24 I believe you said) certainly puts you in an expert position, but if you think Baptists have a lock on things like gossip, lazy membership, resistance to change or racism – you are sadly mistaken. Not every Baptist church is what you describe (many are, true), but let me just share an old truth with you – you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

You mention just a few truths we Baptists hold too, but said nothing about our positions on doctrines such the royal priesthood of believers; local church autonomy; congregational government; religious liberty and a regenerated church membership; church discipline and accountability. Certainly not all Christians have the privilege of being Baptist, but no one is perfect! (that’s a joke, breathe, it’s alright, just breathe, it’s a joke). Life as a Southern Baptist is not as gloomy as you or some others would have people think.

Grace Abundantly,
WesInTex

timmybrister.com said...

Bart,

Regarding my comments about hero, I think you are reading in too much so as to argue that having mentors or men whose examples we seek to emulate somehow is the same thing as "hero-worship." None of these men have or ever will sign my Bible. :)

Furthermore, I and others have been open to critique at times those whose ministries we most appreciate.

When I refer to heroes, I am not talking about evangelical superstars or celebrities who we fawn or drool over and seek to copy their every move. I am talking about men of God who love their family well, serve their church faithfully, and preach where they live. God has raised up some eminent saints today, and to recognize God's grace in their lives and seek to pattern our lives after their life and ministry is explicitly biblical.

Now regarding the fact that I don't have many heroes in the SBC is not due to the fact I haven't been looking but because of what isn't there. Exceptions there are, including men like Danny Akin, David Dockery, Mark Dever, and my fellow pastor Tom Ascol (which, btw, are not all Calvinists), and most recently, I have come to grow in appreciation for our new president, Johnny Hunt, although I have had strong disagreements with him in the past.

The silliness of comments like Ben Stratton is indication of why many are looking outside the SBC for personal leadership and direction in ministry.

A good example to consider, Bart, is the issue of regenerate church membership. This was a cause you took up last year, and I have the records to prove that some of the most vocal champions of this cause do not practice it in their own churches. I want to follow men whose Baptist Distinctives run deeper than their blogposts and whose Christianity runs as wide as the gospel and Great Commission takes us.

Perhaps the younger generation will leave a legacy in word and deed that the generation come will say, "I want to be like that."

Bart Barber said...

Now, Timmy, we've talked about this before.

It's great that you're at a church without a padded roll. But if we're going to turn things around in the SBC, some people are going to have to have the courage to go into churches that have lost regenerate church membership and do the very hard work of turning them around. I'm pleased to say that our church has already seen our new Constitution & Bylaws, that we anticipate the introduction of our Church Covenant this month, that the vote on both is scheduled for July, and that FBC Farmersville is a people whom I would commend to anyone in the SBC as a model of how to make this difficult transition.

We would have been helped, no doubt, if we had been able to read of all of your experiences in going to churches that were not practicing RCM when you went there, but that you led to turn things around.

Bart Barber said...

John T. Meche,

As to the term "Baptist Identity," it is an interesting story. Interesting because of the way that history repeats itself. I did not choose to be labeled that way, nor did any of the other men to whom it has been applied. It is a slur that others have tried to hang around our necks, crafted to dissuade folks just like you.

In this way, it is just like the word "Baptist" itself, and just as those brave Christians did long ago, I've decided to embrace the term and wear it readily rather than to fight those who have no argument and therefore can do no more than label.

I am no defender of the status quo. I have seen all of the things that you have seen, and perhaps more. My message is not that we need to hold onto something that we have now; it is that we need to recover something that we have lost.

Some of the problems that you mention are endemic to all branches of Christianity. Give your church plant enough time, and it will struggle with them too. I do not think it is a sustainable model for us to have a disposable church syndrome—when they get to be fifty years old as a congregation, throw them away and start a new one. That's an inefficient and compassionless approach. We need to find a way to combat those problems in existing churches.

The way exists. It just requires a willingness to invest in a long tenure at a church, lead patiently and lovingly, and pray like crazy.

Bart Barber said...

KWS,

I, too, am predicting major impact if this situation does not change. I was not present for the sermon that you have mentioned. I think I can say with confidence that I appreciate the same kind of exegetical preaching that you appreciate.

I think that the comments here may have been better than my original post. To wit:

1. Peter's listing of men appreciated outside of the SBC or even Baptist life altogether. I echo his sentiments.

2. John's enabling me to clarify that I am no defender of the status quo. I am doing what I am doing because I see real problems within Southern Baptist life and believe that we must take action now to deal with them.

What concerns me is that, in reaction to our problems, I sometimes see people who would throw out what is good about our convention (e.g. our commitment not to our sometimes-foolish quirks and foibles but to our distinctive beliefs) in order to retain and intensify what is worst about it (e.g., a rank pragmatism that justifies such things as vulgarity in the search of an audience for the gospel or lying to Moslem potential converts in order to try to secure a syncretistic decision).

WesInTex said...

"disposable church syndrome"

Wow, that's good. I've got to write that down somewhere ...

Thanks Bart,
Wes

Steve Young said...

Bart,
I have some heroes who are SBC. B. Gray Allison comes to mind very quickly. My now in heaven Hebrew professor, T. V. Farris who taught Hebrew, was one of my favorite preachers, and was a long time missionary. Dr. Bud Bickers. My Greek professor, Dr. Richard Melick. (Who also wrote the first commentary for NAC.) My pastor during Seminary, Tommy Hinson. My boyhood pastor, Charles Whedbee, still preaching, serving, and encouraging. Neal Prock - who I still call "my pastor."
All of these men are godly men who have served faithfully. Some well known, some not known to many. There are some marks they hold in common: gracious, biblical, major much more on their calling than anything else, and unashamed of being Southern Baptist.

timmybrister.com said...

Bart,

You missed the point of my comment, and furthermore, what you chose to talk about (RCM) is about the recovery of something that should not have been lost nor perpetuated under the watch of the Conservative Resurgence. True Baptist Identity would not have allowed the unregenerate state to begin in the first place.
RCM is a another example of how the Conservative Resurgence did not bring reformation to our local churches.

Bart Barber said...

Timmy,

I agree entirely.

Once, sitting across from Jerry Sutton, I told him that, although I greatly appreciated his book The Baptist Reformation, I thought it a lousy title. That which only "reforms" denominational institutions is hardly a reformation. The center of Baptist life is the local church, and until we have reformation there, we will have no true Baptist Reformation.

However, I do believe that the changes at our denominational institutions were necessary and long-overdue. Furthermore, I am hopeful for the potential that these institutions have to encourage and support local-church reformation. Nevertheless, we have not accomplished our task until we have seen thoroughgoing action by the Holy Spirit to correct many of the problems in our local churches.

Now, Timmy, if I know anything about what the "Baptist Identity" movement is about (and I'm open to the possibility that, even though I'm quite involved in it, I've missed something here), the statement that I just gave is precisely and entirely what that set of ideas is all about. You seem to agree with them.

So, why are we disagreeing?

Bart Barber said...

Timmy,

Re-reading your comment, I would take issue with one aspect. I think you should brush up on your history if you believe that the loss of regenerate church membership took place during the period of the Conservative Resurgence. It happened far, far earlier than that.

Our forefathers have flaws. It is unseemly and unbiblical for the younger among us to be rubbing the noses of the elders in them, but they are real. As I said in the post, all of those whom I respect and admire, SBC and non-SBC alike, are flawed. Bemoaning the loss or imperilment of these distinctives is a very real part of the mourning that I feel for our churches. You rightly note that the loss of these things reflects the folly of some of those who have gone before us.

But someday much sooner than you or I would like to admit, those who come along behind you and me will quickly discover and point out our own flaws. I want to work to shore up what remains, recover whatever we've lost, and do so as graciously as possible toward those who preceded me, especially when I am indebted to them for so much.

Ben Stratton said...

Timmy,

You wrote:
"The silliness of comments like Ben Stratton is indication of why many are looking outside the SBC for personal leadership and direction in ministry."

It's not at all silliness. Just look at many of the Calvinistic Southern Baptist preachers. (This has nothing to do with soteriology, but ecclesiology.) This men read, promote, and glorify the Puritans and the Presbyterians and largely ignore historic Baptists. I once heard one of the leading Southern Baptists of this type describe his devotional reading. Only one month out of twelve did he read Baptist books. The rest of the time he read after the Puritans, the Presbyterians, and the Reformers. This is typical.

Hence it is no wonder that most founder's Baptists believe in open communion, alien immersion, and ecumenticalism. It is no wonder they reject any form of Anabaptist kinship in Baptist origins. It's all in their reading material and their "heroes."

Now I'm thankful there are a few exceptions to this. Particular Baptist Press is publishing information on old Baptists who were staunch in their views of Baptist Distinctives.

Let me also add that I do own and read non-Baptist books. But I read them at arm's length, knowing that most of them were violently opposed to Baptist beliefs. And I don't read them on a 12:1 ration more than Baptist books.

kws said...

Bart,

Love you:) Go to LA with me next week and enjoy some of that exegetical preaching we both love. I need an advisor on this research and you are my first choice. KS

Bart Barber said...

KWS,

Should you get ready to go to LC, give me a call.

;-)

timmybrister.com said...

Bart,

You are correct in saying that I agree with you in the marks of a healthy church and their relation to being Baptist. The issues I have with Baptist Identity has to do with other issues, not the least of which are (1) rejection of theological triage, (2) the slur of "ecumenical compromise" regarding cooperation with non-Southern Baptists on Great Commission causes, and (3) the inability to see that the heart of the issue today among Southern Baptists is not merely a loss of Baptist Identity (though that is certainly true), but a loss of the gospel and the sufficiency of Scripture.

Regarding my history, I am fully aware of when the denominational slide began with bloated statistics; however, 30 years since the Conservative Resurgence began, very little if anything has changed due to the same denominational politics and bureaucracy.

I am grateful for what Southern Baptists have left us (see my blog as example as I quote John Dagg).

In closing, let me ask you a question. I recently was trained at Global Church Advancement, a PCA church planter center and attended an Acts 29 Bootcamp and assessment. Would you approve of my benefiting from these two church planting networks who do not hold to Baptist distinctives? Would you approve of me as a Southern Baptist church planter? Why or why not?

John T. Meche III said...

WesInTex,
You're right. I don't know if there was some troll bait in that response or not, but I'm going to just go ahead and concede to you. There are plenty of men who have been around longer than me and suffered more abuses than me. I am a passionate young guy, and I need to learn to chill, endure, and work for change. I will say this though. There are certain guys in the denomination who are venomous toward anyone who doesn't look like their notion of what a Southern Baptist has historically been (even though the things I cling to have been part of the SBC tradition in a positive sense at one time or another). I will work with anyone for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ being spread to the ends of the Earth, but it seems to me that these guys are more concerned with me conforming to their standards than with just agreeing to disagree on a few issues and moving forward with the spread of the gospel. I understand that this is how we could possibly drift off into liberalism, but I assure you that all of the positions that I am talking about are theologically conservative. You're right that life in the SBC is not as grim as some of us make it, but some of us feel like we're staring down the barrel of a shotgun.

Bart, your response to me is the reason I keep this blog in my feed reader. I've seen you get pretty stern with some of your trolls, but you've been very gracious to a young guy like me, and I thank you for your reply. I haven't left the denomination yet, and I know there are plenty of guys within it working for change. Those churches that I have had such bad experiences with...I don't think they should be abandoned to shrivel and die. I may be naive, but I think they need the gospel, the real one, apart from entertainment, manipulation, and programs. I love those churches, and I love those people. And I want them to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Bart Barber said...

Timmy,

I'll reply in multiple comments, just to keep any one comment from being too long. So look to the next few to get my responses.

Bart Barber said...

Regarding your "triage" objection, and after seeing what your boss has put up recently, I would offer the following.

I acknowledge the value of "theological triage" in (a) as an imperfect metaphor, (b) to be used in an external sense, (c) regarding the relative severity of the effects of disobedience in any particular area of what Christ has commanded.

The metaphor is humanly devised and therefore imperfect. The strength of the metaphor, I think, is that "triage" as a medical procedure is employed only in a crisis situation when one cannot possibly treat everything. The desire of the medical staff, however, is to treat every injury and remedy every illness.

Should one, however, take triage to mean some strange state of denial in which one dismisses certain legitimate injuries as non-injurious and unworthy of available treatment, then we've moved from triage to something far less reasonable.

It is plainly obvious that everyone on the Baptist Identity side is not only willing to do something akin to "theological triage" but is constantly engaged in the actual practice. Here's the proof: They all regard Mormons as heretics and Presbyterians as genuine Christians in unrepentant sin and error. You may disagree with the classifications, but you cannot say that they are the same thing, nor can you deny that we make the distinction.

Your statement, then, that BI people have rejected theological triage is therefore an empty one.

You can easily demonstrate that some folks in the Baptist movement have objected to the way that some people have tried to APPLY a concept of theological triage. For example, Wade Burleson's and Morris Chapman's (see his speech in San Antonio) application of the concept has been to deny the appropriateness of separating over "secondary" or tier-two doctrines. This is not Mohler's schema, and he explicitly said so in San Antonio. So, for those who use "theological triage" to eliminate tier two and have only the first and third tiers, yes, the Baptist movement rejects that approach.

Also, because the concept of "theological triage" is human and not divine in origin, somebody needs to counter-balance the idea of triage by reminding us that Jesus expects us to obey all of His commandments.

To employ another imperfect analogy, consider the task of parenting. I expect my children to obey everything that I command them to do. If, by practicing "triage," they should be referring to a process by which they will determine when to obey me and when not to bother, then it is disobedience even to embark upon such an enterprise.

However, this does not mean that I regard all of my commands as equally important. "Clean up your room" and "Don't play in the street" are two commands with vastly different levels of importance to me. Part of their maturing as human beings, and therefore part of my goal as their parent, is for them to learn that the consequences of playing in the street can be far more severe than the consequences of failing to keep their room clean.

And in this second sense, we can see that there is no "internal" validity to playing "triage" but there is some "external" validity to it. Internally, my children are to do no triage at all—they are to do what I tell them to do…everything that I tell them to do. Externally, if my son sees his sister playing in the street and I'm not around, he has permission to grab her, push her, pull her by her hair, hit her, kick her, punch her, do almost anything to get her out of the street when a car is coming. If, on the other hand, he punches her in the face for her failure to pick up her toys, then he's going to be in trouble. On the other hand, he has my blessing to tell Sarah that she's sinning by refusing to clean up her room and to do whatever he might to persuade her (rather than force her) to be obedient.

I think that this analogy applies quite well to explain my attitude toward "theological triage."

Bart Barber said...

Second, regarding your objection to the use of such a term as "ecumenical compromise" in certain situations:

There is such a thing as ecumenical compromise. Does the label apply correctly to "cooperation with non-Southern Baptists on Great Commission causes"?

I submit that you've given us a pretty broad category there. Within it I can imagine both some cases where it would rightly apply in my mind (e.g. using CP funding to plant a Presbyterian church) and some cases where it would not rightly apply in my mind (e.g. using CP funding to support joint Disaster Relief efforts with The Salvation Army). Get more specific and we may be able to find where our differences actually lie.

Bart Barber said...

Third, regarding your objection that the real issue in Southern Baptist life today is a loss of the gospel and a loss of the sufficiency of scripture:

The gospel found me when I was but a lad. Not all Southern Baptists have lost the gospel. Some on our rolls have never found the gospel nor been found by it. I learned what the gospel was in Southern Baptist churches.

If by "the gospel" you mean "Calvinism" then we will not soon come to agreement.

If by "lost the gospel" you mean "have ceased to share and live the gospel as they should" then we are in agreement already.

If by "lost the gospel" you mean that inferior preaching that does not rightly proclaim the gospel has made far too much of an inroad into Southern Baptist pulpits, then we are in agreement already.

And certainly, if we are in agreement in the ways that I have offered above, then I gladly consent that the weakening of the Baptist distinctives and the weakening of these gospel-related concepts are interlinked. I'm frequently found saying that the endangerment of our Baptist principles makes us less and less believable (more and more hypocritical) when we try to preach the gospel.

As to the sufficiency of scripture, if you mean by that to indicate that anything one might argue from scripture alone is correct, then we've got serious problems. Some of the most profound heresies in Christian history have arisen from arguments made from scripture alone.

If this is not what you mean—if multiple arguments can be made from the scriptures, and if some of them are not only poor but also heretical, then how do you tell the difference between the two, Timmy? I suggest to you that you rely upon some systematic clarification of the proper interpretation of scripture.

I'll gladly stipulate that any theological argument which cannot be made from scripture alone is defective. If that is what you mean by the sufficiency of scripture, then we are in agreement. But of all of the arguments that might be made from the sufficient scriptures, they are not all equally good, equally valid, nor (by the way) equally positioned in the "triage" system that we mentioned before.

Indeed, by the mere affirmation of the "triage" scenario, you've moved against any absolute and rigid sense of the "sufficiency of the scriptures." If you mean something softer and more qualified when you speak of scriptural sufficiency, then I'm in agreement.

Bart Barber said...

Finally, Timmy, regarding your questions at the end of your comment:

1. Am I against your receiving training outside of a Southern Baptist perspective? No.

And really, it is quite clear that this is not a "Baptist Identity" position. Malcolm Yarnell, one of the favorite targets for tar and feathers in your milieu, holds a terminal degree from Oxford. Oxford, last time I checked, is not a Southern Baptist institution.

Think critically and receive the best training that you can get anywhere.

Now, if we should reach the point where Southern Baptists are incapable of training our own, then I think we are bound to become like those to whom we are outsourcing our training. Furthermore, if you should be getting all of your training exclusively from Presbyterians or whomever, then I should think that I might at least ask the question whether you would be more comfortable over there full-time. But that's just a question and I'm more than happy to listen to the answer.

Would I approve you as a Southern Baptist church planter? Frankly, I have no idea. Our boards have lengthy procedures that they follow for trying to answer such questions. I do not know that those procedures are perfect, but their existence is an indication that we as Southern Baptists find your question a difficult one to answer and one that requires diligent effort and careful research to answer. I personally regard the question in precisely the same way.

I'll take the question in this way: "Do you think that my participation in the training opportunities that I've mentioned would ipso facto make you unable to support me as a Southern Baptist church planter?"

And my answer to that question is "No." The rationale for my answer is largely given and entirely implied in the first portion of this comment.

Now, if you're planning to plant a church in the local beer joint, then I'm opposed to funding that. If you're planning to plant a church teaching Benny Hinn Word of Faith nonsense, then I'm opposed to that (even though, I might point out to you, it would be difficult to make a case from the BF&M against such a church plant). If you're planning to sprinkle the occasional infant, then I'm opposed to funding that. If you're planning to admit as members those who were sprinkled as infants but who have never been baptized, then I'm opposed to funding that.

There you go, Timmy. Have I answered your questions sufficiently?

Bart Barber said...

John,

I'm glad to have earned an extension of your readership! Indeed, let us pray together for the Lordship of Christ through the Holy Spirit to become more and more real among the churches of our convention.

Let us pray that way, and let us work, too.

onepilgrimsprogress said...

Somehow I missed this post initially, but have enjoyed the discussion, particularly Dr. Barber's thoughts on theological triage.

timmybrister.com said...

Bart,

Thanks for taking the time to address my questions. I will not be able to respond to all that you have said, but allow me to elaborate or clarify some of the things you mentioned.

Regarding theological triage, I have read the dialogue with you and Tom over on his blog, and as far as I can tell, I am not in disagreement with you. The fact that not all doctrines are "essential" (I say that with qualification) and intrinsically related to one's salvation. Calvinism is not a first-tier issue and neither is infant baptism (though Lemke confused infant baptism with infant salvation, of which I am sure you disagree). Another example is to say that substitutionary atonement is first tier while definite atonement would be second (third?) tier. I think that is the benefit of hold to theological triage because it provides essentials for that which makes us Christian and affords us opportunity to cooperate with other gospel-centered evangelicals without "ecumenical compromise." The second tier issues are those in the nature of which distinguish us as Baptists, and my concern with some of the BI talk is the conflation of Christian distinctives and Baptist distinctives as first-tier issues together. That I cannot agree with.

Regarding "ecumenical compromise," I think it is incumbent upon those who continually talk about "creeping ecumenicism" to explain what exactly they are talking about. The way I understand it from the messages I have heard and articles I have read is that it represents a separatist view of Baptist Identity that precludes evangelical engagement and fosters isolationism. If I am wrong, I would like to hear your correction. The Band of Bloggers fellowship which I have lead for the past three years, I suspect, would be considered as ecumenical, not in the true sense of the word relating to other religious faiths, but to the fact that I regularly enjoy fellowship and benefit from brothers and sisters in the evangelical world who are not Southern Baptist.

Regarding the loss of the gospel, I do *not* mean Calvinism. I think Tom, myself, and others (including Nathan Finn) have made it clear that is not what we are talking about. What I am saying is that the gospel is not the hermeneutic of the Christian life nor the currency of Christian fellowship nor the sum and substance of preaching today. The gospel has been truncated, watered down, shelved, assumed, and yes, in many places, lost. I'm not saying that people don't believe in the gospel; I am saying that the gospel which should shape and conform our lives and churches is conspicuously missing today, and consequently, I believe that its absence has contributed to the missing marks of a healthy church.

Regarding the sufficiency of Scripture, all I am saying is that the formal principle of inerrancy is not enough; we need the material principle of the sufficiency of Scripture. Practically speaking, this is where I differ with some Southern Baptists who exceed beyond what God has spoken on various issues like alcohol and made it a litmus test for true conservatism or Baptist Identity. Other areas include having our ecclesiology governed and our practices measured not by human standards but by God's Word.

Finally, regarding my last question. I am encouraged to hear your response. For the record, the kind of church I would plant is one that is confessionally Reformed, distinctively Baptist, and missionally driven. The reason I look elsewhere for the training and instruction than the Southern Baptist alternative is simply because they are much better at what they do and have the records to prove it. The reason, for example, why so many young Baptists take hold of everything Tim Keller teaches and does is not because he is Presbyterian but because he is right in what he is saying. There isn't a Baptist version of Keller or Piper or Mahaney or Driscoll, etc.

Anyway, I've profited from this discussion and enjoyed the exchange. I hope to be convinced otherwise by you and others in the BI camp that what I have seen and heard in the past is incorrect. Though we may ultimately disagree on various points (that's another benefit of triage), I hope we can agree on the ability to have constructive and healthy dialogue about these matters that does not compromise our character nor diminish our commitment to Christian virtue. Thanks for the discussion.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother Bart, like onepilgrimsprogress, somehow I missed this thread. Didn't take notice of it till you mentioned it (and quoted from it) over at Tom Ascol's blog.

Now I am coming by to ask about quoting your thoughts on the theological triage over on my blog, beginning about here -- "I acknowledge the value of 'theological triage' in..." -- and thereafter. Do you mind?

Thanks.

Bart Barber said...

Brother R.L.,

Feel free to correct the typos and grammatical shortcomings that I see therein, but also feel free to employ my words however you see fit. Those of my words that go onto my blog, in my estimation of things, belong to the public domain unless otherwise published in a different context.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks. I have posted re Brother Mohler's theological triage before, and think your comments will make a good follow-up.