Reply to Jared Moore Regarding Southern Seminary and the BFM, Part 3

Adam Harwood, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
Truett-McConnell College
Cleveland, Georgia


Moore misrepresents Harwood. Again.

            You write: “Harwood believes that mankind is only condemned for his own transgressions, and his sinful nature and environment are not ‘sin’ that requires a trust in Christ for redemption.  The only answer for sin in the BF&M2K is faith in Jesus Christ.  Consider Article IV of the BF&M2K where sin is only forgiven based on faith in Christ.” Once again, you have misrepresented my view. Your arguments would be strengthened if you supported them with evidence.

First, it is your view, Rev. Moore, which results in the salvation of guilty infants in contradiction to the BFM, which states: “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” You argue 1) all infants are born sinful and guilty and 2) they are saved by the grace of God. But consider: How can an infant have “personal faith in Jesus Christ”?

My view is consistent with the BFM: All transgressors (guilty people who are under condemnation) must repent of their sins and receive Christ in order to be saved; infants are not yet transgressors because they have not yet reached moral capability. But in your view, all infants are guilty due to Adam’s sin; those who die in infancy are elected and regenerated (thus, saved) apart from repenting and believing in Christ.

In my view, infants who die are safe with God through the Cross of Christ; hence, there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Christ. In your view, guilty infants are saved without repenting and believing in Christ; hence, you advocate for salvation apart from personal faith in Christ. Which view contradicts the BFM? The ax you wield against my view undercuts your own.

Second, I anticipated your objection in my book. Consider this extended quotation from page 154 of The Spiritual Condition of Infants:

Infants are sin-stained, not guilty. Infants are not sinless because they inherit a sinful nature. But infants are not guilty because God judges our thoughts, attitudes, and actions, not our nature. If I were pressed to speculate how God might deal with people who die in their infancy, I would offer this suggestion: All people who die in their infancy will be included in God’s restoration of his fallen creation through Christ’s work at the cross. Perhaps this is the time Jesus mentioned as “the renewal of all things” (Matt 19:28). Paul said that creation would be set free from its bondage to decay (Rom 8:19–23). Although infants are not guilty of sin, they have been stained by it. Even though they have not knowingly acted in ways that would incur God’s judgment, they may be in need of God’s redemptive and renewing work. And it is Jesus who promises, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Thus, your statement: “Harwood believes that … his sinful nature and environment are not ‘sin’ that requires a trust in Christ for redemption” is inaccurate. The sin nature requires the atoning work of the Cross of Christ; but people who have not yet become transgressors are nowhere in the BFM held accountable for Adam’s guilt.

Words Matter

            Your post raises good questions concerning the definition of certain words. Consider:

1. Does “sin” refer only to thoughts and actions contrary to God’s law (actual sin) or can it also refer to a universal, inherited inclination toward sin (per Article 3 of the BFM)?

2. Similarly, does “condemnation” always entail inherited guilt or can it refer to judgment which a person earns upon becoming a transgressor (per Article 3 of the BFM)?

If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then what is the problem?

Inherited Sinful Nature in Article 3 of the BFM:
Disparage, Ignore, Revise, or Affirm?

            Perhaps some people who are unhappy with the inherited sinful nature view are actually unhappy with Article 3 of the BFM. Some Southern Baptists disparage Article 3. Founders Ministries, for example, writes of Article 3: “The 1963 statement (which remains virtually unchanged at this point in the 2000 revision), reflecting the doctrinal downgrade of the SBC in that era that ultimately necessitated the conservative resurgence that began in the next decade, reduces the impact of the fall from leaving man’s nature enslaved to sin to leaving it, along with his environment, ‘inclined toward sin’” (http://blog.founders.org/2012/06/response-to-statement-of-traditional_05.html). Article 3 reflects the “doctrinal downgrade” which resulted in the Conservative Resurgence? If that is the case, then why didn’t Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines, Al Mohler, and others on the BFM 2000 Study Committee clean it up when they had the chance? Perhaps Article 3 was virtually untouched in 2000 because it was already a robust theological statement accurately reflecting Southern Baptist theology.

Others ignore the BFM. Consider, for example, the prominent Southern Baptists who regularly address SBC seminarians, conferences, and pastors but do not affirm the BFM in their own church. (This is so common that I consider examples unnecessary.) SBC churches are free to affirm any statement of faith of their choice. But it seems odd that so many Southern Baptists distance themselves from their own Convention’s statement of faith. I regard the BFM to be an excellent statement. I’m happy to cooperate with other Southern Baptists under the BFM. But such cooperation is disrupted when an institution such as SBTS publishes an interpretation of the BFM which affirms a position not affirmed in the BFM. Such a move excludes a group of Southern Baptists with whom it should be cooperating.

Perhaps the SBC will decide to revise the BFM. If so, fine. If not, fine. Either way, please stop referring to an affirmation of inherited sinful nature as “Harwood’s view” and please start referring to it as “the BFM.” This will provide an accurate starting point for these discussions.

Some of the people who commented on your post noted that a denial of inherited guilt is “flawed,” “dangerous to the church,” “opens the door to true heresies,” and “virtually ‘another gospel.’” I understand that you are not responsible for the comments under your post. But perhaps our posts can do more to foster a spirit of unity and peace as we discuss differing theological positions. An affirmation of inherited sinful nature–without affirming that all people inherit Adam’s guilt–is the view of Article 3 of the BFM. (Note: Until a search of the BFM uncovers the word “guilt” in the text, I’ll remain unconvinced that the BFM affirms that all people inherit guilt from the first man.)

Affirmations of inherited sinful nature (with its denials of inherited guilt) haven’t been universal in Christian history but they have been frequent. I will document their claims in my presentation at the March 2013 John 3:16 Conference (http://www.jerryvines.com/pages/2013-john-316-conference/2013-john-316-conference/), but here is a list of some of the theologians whose views are consistent with inherited sinful nature: Eastern (John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa) and Western (Tertullian) theologians as well as both Magisterial (Zwingli) and Anabaptist (Marpeck) Reformers. Similarly, inherited sinful nature has not been universally affirmed but it has been frequently affirmed among Baptists. Consider as examples a 400-year old confession of a Baptist “founder” (John Smyth) and statements from all three SBC Presidents who presided over BFM Study Committees (Mullins, Hobbs, and Patterson).

The list of theologians who deny that people are accountable to God for Adam’s guilt is impressive. Apparently, I’m in good company.

Happy New Year and God’s richest blessings on your life and ministry, brother.

In Him,
Adam