Conflict and difference of opinion are inevitable to some degree when people congregate. It is difficult enough to work through differences of opinion when we all understand one another. It is all the more difficult when argument erupts not over the real differences but over misunderstandings or misinterpretations instead. A very wise professor once told me that we are only ready for debate when each side can state the opposing side's point of view so clearly that they themselves would say, "Yes, that is precisely what I believe."
A while back I interacted online with the blog Baptist21 by commenting upon a panel discussion held at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The panel discussion covered a wide range of topics. Among them was an insight by David Nelson that the problems in the Southern Baptist Convention are not generational, but are instead ideological. I agreed with this insight and wanted to applaud it, although I did not wish to applaud the manner in which he applied it.
Dr. Nelson presented the difference to SEBTS students in the way of a contrast between, as it were, black hats and white hats. According to Dr. Nelson, the struggle for the soul of the SBC is presently taking place between those who would ruin the SBC by clinging to what he regards as a Baptist sectarianism on the one hand, and the good, noble ecumenicals on the other hand.
You may not agree with Dr. Nelson and with myself that current SBC tensions are non-generational in their nature, but we must all agree that Dr. Nelson's manner of presenting this observation was pointedly biased in favor of ecumenism and against those who do not embrace his ecumenism.
So, I tried to approve of Dr. Nelson's basic insight, but attempt to show to him that he had applied it in a biased and incendiary manner. Here's what I said:
I think that David demonstrated a great deal of insight in his comments. I was impressed.
I would have described it as the difference between those who would sell our Baptist birthright of obedience to the commands of Scripture for a bowl of ecumenical porridge versus those who wish to fulfill the Great Commission in its entirety (including the teaching to follow all that Christ has commanded), and would have been no more slanted to one side than he was to the other.
But even though we look at the matter from apparently different sides of the aisle, I thought that his observations about how these really are NOT generational issues so much as they are ideological issues…well…he was astute there.
Thanks for posting the video.
Obviously, I identified with a different point of view than did Dr. Nelson, but I thought that I approached the matter with respect for him and his office while creatively attempting to articulate both my appreciation for his insights and the points where we differed. Nathan Akin took some apparent umbrage at my comment. He posted a comment asking me for clarification about my comment. Specifically, he wanted to know whether I was accusing Dr. Nelson of actually having sold out for the "ecumenical porridge." I will not post the entire comment, since it interacts with other people's comments in addition to mine, but here's the relevant passage of Nathan's rejoinder:
However, are you being serious with the Ecumenical porridge comment? Are you implying those in the stream that Dr. Nelson would represent do not care about fulfilling the entire command of the Great Commission and that they do not care about teaching the commands of Christ?
I was happy to help Nathan understand what I had written, especially since I wish no falsely grounded ill will between Drs. Nelson and Barber. I was not accusing Dr. Nelson of having sold out his Baptist birthright for ecumenical porridge. Rather, I was accusing Dr. Nelson of saying something just that incendiary from the other side of the aisle. Thus, I replied to Akin:
I tried to cobble together a comment that would be the opposite slant of Dr. Nelson. He characterized the convention as being at a crossroads between (bad) people who are sectarian and (good) people who are ecumenical.
It was a lopsided and inaccurate characterization. I was illustrating that by reflecting back another lopsided and inaccurate characterization, but from the other direction. Thus, my words: “I would have described it. . . and would have been no more slanted to one side than he was to the other.” Please note the subjunctive.
So, what is my charge (a stronger word than I would have employed) against Nelson? Is it that he has sold out his Baptist birthright for ecumenical porridge? No. Rather, it is that his comments on the panel amounted to a slur of that degree, but just lobbed in the opposite direction. I left the thread, thinking that I had cleared the matter up.
But no. Today I learned of a podcast interview at the same blog in which, among other things, Nelson responds to "claims by Bart Barber that he has sold his Baptist birthright." Of course, as you can clearly see by reading the exact quotes above, I charged Nelson with no such thing. He is responding not only to a misunderstanding, but to a misunderstanding that I thought I had already cleared up.
There is a silver lining to all of this. The folks over at Baptist21 are obviously sensitive to inflammatory and divisive comments directed toward the ecumenicals among us. Their reaction is evidence enough of that. Perhaps the original purpose of my hypothetical and hyperbolic slanted comment can be accomplished after all. The gentlemen at Baptist21 should think about how they felt when they falsely thought that I was actually accusing them of having sold out their Baptist birthrights. That feeling precisely is the way that I received Nelson's comments in the panel discussion, although his were not hypothetical comments, but represented his actual point of view and the instructional material that he was disseminating to the student body that day. The original purpose of my comment was to make them consider how they would feel if someone was making that kind of slanted and unfounded slam against their point of view. Perhaps we are most of the way toward accomplishing that purpose.