William A. Dembski's The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World is an interesting and provocative book. I have not yet finished it, and will supply my own thoughts about the book once I have done so.
In the meantime, I would direct your attention to a review of the book written by Dr. David Allen. Allen's review notably includes a preamble by Dr. Paige Patterson and a clarifying statement by Dr. Dembski himself about some of the more innovative portions of the book.
I will not go into a review of the content of the book, since I am saving that post for when I have actually completed the book myself. I will not offer at this time any opinion about the content of the book, the helpfulness or lack thereof of the theories proposed therein, or the compatibility of Dembski's book with Southern Baptist beliefs. I will, however, take a moment to highlight something particularly noteworthy about this review. Consider the following statement from Dr. Paige Patterson in the preamble to the review:
As president of Southwestern, I seized the occasion to meet with Bill Dembski. As a young-earth creationist, I do not agree with Dembski’s views of the age of the earth or the retroactive effects of the Fall. Indeed, as a “young earther,” my own position, which I naturally hold dear, is heavily critiqued in Dembski’s book.
You may have read on occasion the allegation—the deliberately dishonest allegation—that Dr. Patterson or other much-maligned Southern Baptists require that people agree with them on every point of theology or else they will not cooperate with them. Here we have a perfect test case to see whether this is or is not true. Dr. Patterson bluntly states that he "[does] not agree" with Dembski, and even that Dembski has authored a book "highly [critical]" of Dr. Patterson's own system of belief. Understand me plainly: A professor at SWBTS, working for Dr. Patterson, has authored and published a book that Dr. Patterson (rightly) perceives as highly critical of Dr. Patterson's own theological viewpoint.
We have here an example of a person who does not agree with Dr. Patterson at all points of theology, and of all things, with regard to the creation account in Genesis. If there is any truth whatsoever to the charge that Dr. Patterson will not tolerate and cannot cooperate with anyone who does not agree with him at all points of theology, then we are certain what we will read next: A ravaging Philippic against Dembski's book followed by a press release announcing Dembski's dismissal from the SWBTS faculty. If we do not read precisely that, then those allegations have been false witness borne against Dr. Patterson.
So, what do we read next?
The meeting with Dembski confirmed my previous judgments that Dembski is a biblical inerrantist, accepts the historicity of Genesis 1–11, including the special creation of Adam and Eve, and in every other way is teaching as an enthusiastic supporter of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Beyond that, Bill is one of the most humble of the great intellects whom I have ever known personally. In gentleness and great Christian grace, he discharges his duties to family, church, school, and denomination. . . .
. . . . As the case ought to be among brethren, colleagues, and sister seminaries, Southwestern and its president wish to express gratitude to Tom Nettles for alerting Bill Dembski and all of us to possible problems in his presentation. This is what friends should do. That this can take place in our Southern Baptist Zion with positions stoutly stated but without acrimony demonstrates that diversity of a tolerable variety exists within the unity of our broad fellowship—a unity motivated by love and trumped only by truth.
So, like most Southern Baptists, Dr. Patterson is someone who sees Southern Baptists as a people who enjoy "the unity of our broad fellowship" within which "diversity of a tolerable variety exists." Which matters belong in which category? Which ones belong to the necessary foundation of "the unity of our broad fellowship" and therefore cannot be compromised? Which ones pertain to the "diversity of a tolerable variety" within our unity which we overlook for the sake of unity? I may answer that question differently at some points than does Dr. Patterson. You may have answers that differ from both of ours.
But any honest person must admit that the mere categorization of a few items of doctrine into different categories does not in any non-demagogic way constitute requiring that people agree with you totally before you will cooperate with them. It does not constitute any attempt to drive out of the convention anyone who disagrees with you about anything. Anyone who tells you differently is flying in the face of the facts and is trying to hoodwink you.
Beyond the mere wording of this preamble is the action represented by the fact of its existence. Dr. Patterson has gone to the extraordinary action of defending Dr. Dembski's work against a severe review of it—against a severe review that itself came from the vantage point of Dr. Patterson's own beliefs. Dr. Patterson is defending the scholarly work of the professor who critiques Dr. Patterson against the review of the professor who agrees with Dr. Patterson.
So here we have the truth, not only stated in words but also demonstrated in actions. Praise God for the truth. Stand by for the spin, sure to follow soon.
Be wise, my friends. Don't believe everything you read.