Sunday, June 3, 2007
I Agree with Bill Underwood
North America does need a true Baptist witness, as does the world. Through the Conservative Resurgence, the Southern Baptist Convention has been poised to be that witness. Rescued from becoming yet another decadent ecclesial weathervane dancing to the winds of liberal mainline academia, The Southern Baptist Convention has asserted its faithfulness to the inerrant word of God, the doctrinal seedbed from which numerous Baptist sprouts were nurtured as the seventeenth century unfolded. But Baptists are not the only plants in that garden—not the only ones who claim biblical inerrancy. To be Baptist is to have concluded some things about what the Bible says. Let us not pretend that biblical interpretation is unimportant vis-à-vis the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The movie Crimson Tide pits Gene Hackman (Captain Frank Ramsey) against Denzel Washington (Lt. Commander Ron Hunter) in an epic contest with the detonation of nuclear weapons at stake. Command of a nuclear missile submarine changes hands three times during the course of the movie, with nuclear armageddon a trigger-pull away more than once. Throughout the movie, Hackman and Washington remain in complete agreement about who has the ultimate authority to order the release of nuclear weapons—only the President of the United States (i.e. "National Command Authority") possesses such authority. The difference between the two came down to a discrepancy over what the President had actually ordered: Not whose message was authoritative, but what had the authoritative message said? Sometimes my writing is clumsy and imprecise. Sometimes people struggle to discern what, really, I am trying to say. Communication can be a frustrating goal to achieve, due to our limitations in expressing ourselves. I believe better of the Bible. I trust that God writes better than Bart does. And, contrary to the assumptions of pragmatism and postmodernism, I believe that it is no more important to know the content of messages about the release of nuclear weapons than it is to know the content of messages about the relationship of people with God. If I were blown up by a nuclear weapon tomorrow, the event would be but a footnote to a life that will stretch eternally in Heaven. If, however, I were lost and lived to the ripe old age of 150 to die peacefully in my sleep, my great fortune in earthly longevity would constitute merely a footnote to an agony that would stretch eternally in Hell. The gospel is the focus of the New Testament. I believe that it is crticially important to proclaim the gospel clearly—thus my strong objection to the teachings of President Carter. The other things in the Bible are important, too. If they were not, God would not have bothered to provide them to us. Not only are they important, they are important for the sake of the gospel. For example, it is not necessary to know or even agree with the biblical qualifications for elders and deacons in order to be saved. But churches that, for example, call greedy swindlers as pastors are going to be less effective in the long run in carrying the gospel to the world than are churches that call godly men as qualified in the Bible. I believe that every element of biblical ethics, every element of biblical ecclesiology, every element of biblical pneumatology, every element of biblical doxology—every element of instruction for New Testament churches and believers—is a potential asset for the effective proclamation of the gospel. Ultimately, it is all about the gospel. Baptist churches share the gospel better when they are genuinely committed to Baptist belief. Recently, at a SENT conference for the SBTC, I presented a breakout session entitled "Baptist Identity as Missional Asset." My point was simply that the various elements of Baptist identity echo some of the same thoughts as those presented through the recent buzzword "missional." Healthy Baptist churches are naturally missional. Being Baptist is not something to run away from if you wish to be missional; it is something to be embraced and cultivated. So yes, Dr. Underwood, we do need a true Baptist witness in the world, for the very sake of the gospel. Evangelical porridge is a poor price to receive for the Baptist heritage, as is the liberal philosophy of man. Let us pray that such a witness endures somehow in the Southern Baptist Convention.