David S. Dockery, Ed., Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books 2009. Pp. 304. $19.99. Paperback.
It has often been said that, thanks to the battles of the last generation in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to return the convention to a commitment to biblical inerrancy, we can be grateful that theological discussions in the SBC can be conducted on that basis. We do not spend our time debating and arguing the veracity of the creation narrative or whether the teachings of Paul on gender roles and homosexuality are culturally conditioned. We have been set free to have robust theological debate on the basis of a firm reliance on scripture, and our disagreements are family ones among brothers and sisters in Christ. David Dockery has contributed greatly to the family discussion in this presentation of essays, compiled from two conferences held at Union University, where he presides. The topics addressed are the ones we ought to be discussing, not allowing less important issues to sidetrack us. The present writer was privileged to attend the second of these conferences, and is grateful for the opportunity to review this important book.
SBCToday’s editorial team has conferred regarding a couple of sentences in Dr. Michael Cox’s post on July 27 titled “A Biblical Critique of Calvinism Part 2a: Old Testament Scriptures Teaching the Optional Nature of the Gospel Invitation.”
While we agree that the analogy was intended by Dr. Cox to be illustrative of a significant point, we also are aware that the comparison presented significant offense to others. We must note that, the analogy is not original with Dr. Cox (see CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, works by Norman Geisler and RC Sproul). Further, we have no desire to be insensitive to others — especially if the analogy is personal — nor do we want to diminish the informative treatise by Dr. Cox.
To those who moved past the analogy and conversed about other salient points in Dr. Cox’s post, we are grateful. But for those who were offended by the two sentences in question, we offer our sincerest apology to you and ask for your forgiveness. We deeply regret any negative impact; and to illustrate our genuine lament in this matter, we have removed the analogy and the sentence subsequent to it.
As I have read the comments regarding my interview and a portion of my book, a few things deserve a response from me. First, I am greatly heartened by those comments, agreeing or not, that sought to interact with my actual words in a gracious manner. Being human, I know how hard that is, and hence my magnified gratitude and admiration for your valiant reliance on the Holy Spirit. Thank you!
Second, the comments have exposed a few of my descriptions that either need further clarification or that can be restated in a better way without sacrificing my point; for example, I used “God of Calvinism”, which I think would be better stated, “according to Calvinism, God….” I changed the wording in my following responses and will also in future revisions of my book. Also, I can see that the contrast between “vertical and horizontal passion” needs more clarification since so many infer that I am commenting on whether a Calvinist can be evangelistic, etc., which I am not. Thank you for helping me to see these.
If my inability to communicate has caused my words to unduly hurt some of you who disagree with my position, I am truly sorry and ask your forgiveness. I am and will continue working on this weakness.
The following remarks are to only briefly offer a few clarifications concerning misunderstandings about some of my comments that have appeared in this forum. Please forgive me if I leave you still in want of a more comprehensive response. I am sure you understand that I simply cannot rewrite my book here or comment sufficiently on every puzzlement.
At some point, it is fair to ask the question, “Is it good stewardship for me to pay for the institutional advancement of organizations promoting doctrines I do not embrace personally, nor desire to teach my children, nor favor publishing at Lifeway, nor seek to advance through church planting?” It is precisely here, in the practical outworking of our theological disagreements through our institutional struggles, that the same elephant we might overlook in our Sunday School class or church becomes absolutely impossible to avoid at the denominational level.
3. The Adversarial Agenda
Some have claimed that we not only have an elephant in the room, but we also have a snake in the grass. The only way to sympathize with such a sentiment is to consider whether a clearly adversarial agenda has been advanced by a network of Calvinist organizations relatively unknown to Traditionalist Southern Baptists, who secretly and quietly seek nothing other than to turn Traditionalist churches into Calvinist ones, a clearly stated goal they simply refer to as reform.
In their defense, it cannot be said that the Calvinists are doing anything they perceive to be wrong. Once one understands that they equate Calvinism with the true gospel of Christianity, any pejorative connotations are removed with regard to motive. Frankly, if I believed the way they do, I would also seek the spread of Calvinism everywhere, including the primarily Traditionalist churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. However, the agenda is adversarial in nature just the same. In order to explore this further, we will (a) identify five such Calvinist organizations, (b) examine one purpose statement, (c) evaluate our conflicts as interpersonal or foundational, and (d) clarify the uneven rules of engagement that have thus far marked the contest.
Charles Kettering said, “A problem well-stated is half-solved.” Now that Southern Baptists are talking about the proverbial elephant in the room, it seems helpful to define that elephant as clearly as possible. Thus, I write this article not to foster division among us, but to more clearly define that division which already exists. The tension between Calvinism and Traditionalism in Southern Baptist life will never make sense to anyone who views this struggle merely as a dispute over minor doctrinal concerns. Rather, our present fault lines stem from three specific components: a theological debate, an institutional struggle and an intrinsically adversarial agenda. Unless we look at this elephant from all three sides, we will fail to comprehend the scope of our conflict resolution challenge.