The following interview is with Dr. Adam Harwood, Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, Truett-McConnell College, Cleveland, Georgia.
1. How has the invitation to speak at the conference impacted you?
I am honored that Dr. Vines extended the invitation and have been praying, thinking, writing, and rewriting my presentation for several months.
2. How important is this conference in light of the current climate within the SBC?
In recent years, there have been other conferences on the topic of Calvinism in the SBC–including the John 3:16 Conference in 2008. Next month’s conference will provide an opportunity for Southern Baptists to hear theological viewpoints peaceably articulated in order to advance this important discussion within the SBC family.
I know that some brothers in the SBC do not support this conference because they expect the speakers to advance views they do not affirm. I prefer to consider the conference to be an opportunity to articulate what we affirm rather than what we are against.
A common criticism that I hear from my Calvinistic brothers in the SBC is this: “You’ve told us what you’re against. If you don’t affirm these points of Calvinism, then what do you believe? Make your case from the Bible.”
By God’s grace, that’s my goal.
3. How important is your assigned topic — “What did we inherit from Adam? — to the total content of the Conference?
I suspect all the speakers think their assigned question is the most important, but all six questions are highly relevant when considering the doctrine of salvation.
In addition to that question, I will lead a breakout session on the eternal destiny of people who die as infants. During that time, I plan to present the different positions Christians affirm when answering this question: “What does the Bible teach about people who die as infants–before they have a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel?”
4. Regarding your main address, what do you hope your paper will accomplish?
I hope to answer one question: Who is guilty of Adam’s sin?
Christians differ on the answer. Some say everyone is guilty of Adam’s sin. I will cite support from the Bible, systematic theology, and church history to argue that only Adam is guilty of Adam’s sin. All people inherit a sinful nature and are responsible to God for their own sin–not the guilt of Adam’s sin.
The best possible outcome for the paper is that listeners who disagree will say the view finds robust support in the Bible, theology, and history–it’s a legitimate and biblical option for Southern Baptists.
5. How important is your assigned topic within the broader SBC conversation regarding Calvinism?
My topic is critically important for the convention-wide discussion of Calvinism. Here’s why: Inherited guilt (the view that all people inherit Adam’s guilt) is a theological commitment for most Calvinists–but inherited guilt is not affirmed in the Baptist Faith and Message.
I am not saying that Calvinists cannot affirm the BFM. They can and do. I am simply observing that inherited guilt is not affirmed in the BFM.
Last summer, a theological statement was released which explicitly denies that we are guilty of Adam’s sin. Two SBC seminary presidents (and many other SBC statesmen) publicly affirmed the document. One week later, a third SBC seminary president wrote in his blog that the statement “appears” to affirm semi-Pelagian views. That seminary president has neither clarified nor retracted his remark. (Note: Substitute semi-Pelagian with “unbiblical.”) Even our seminary presidents differ on inherited guilt. This needs to be discussed.
Can’t we simply agree to disagree? No. There are three reasons we can’t simply agree to disagree.
First, if denying inherited guilt is an unbiblical view, then Article 3 of the BFM should be revised. As currently worded, it is consistent to deny inherited guilt and affirm the BFM.
Second, if denying inherited guilt is an unbiblical view, then–since I teach theology at a Baptist college–I should be fired. Why? I deny inherited guilt (and encourage my students to consider denying inherited guilt) every semester when I teach on the doctrine of sin.
Third, if denying inherited guilt is an unbiblical view, then SBC Seminaries should view Truett-McConnell graduates with suspicion; SBC churches should do the same when our graduates interview with churches. Why? Our students sit under Christian Studies faculty who are comfortable denying inherited guilt.
For these reasons and others, we can’t simply agree to disagree. Instead, we need to peaceably and openly discuss these theological differences. My topic is important for the convention-wide discussion in the SBC because it provides an opportunity for people to clarify their theological views. That’s crucial for Great Commission cooperation.
6. What result(s) do you hope to see from the Conference?
Unity. Baptists have differed on certain points of Calvinism for over 400 years. Southern Baptists have differed on Calvinism since the founding of our convention–almost 170 years ago. Even so, we cooperate to share the Gospel with the world. I hope this discussion will restore unity and cooperation among Southern Baptists for the sake of the Great Commission. I don’t expect everyone to affirm the same view of original sin. But I hope that we can differ without labeling the other view as unorthodox.
7. Do you have any response to how the Conference will be received across the SBC?
Yes. Internet chatter has already begun regarding the motive for the conference. Some have claimed it will be a forum for attacking Calvinists. But consider: When Dr. Stephen Wellum (Professor of Christian Theology at SBTS) advocated for limited atonement in a faculty address last year, he was not attacking non-Calvinists. Rather, Wellum was advocating for the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement (the view that Jesus died only for the elect, not for all people). The message is available here: http://www.credomag.com/2012/07/26/what-does-the-extent-of-the-atonement-have-to-do-with-baptist-ecclesiology/. Similarly, I’m not interested in attacking a group but advocating for a view, which necessarily involves refuting competing views. I hope to persuade listeners that a non-Calvinist view of original sin is superior to the Calvinist view.
At next month’s conference, I plan to advocate for a theological position based on support from the Bible, systematic theology, and church history. This view happens to contradict a view affirmed by most Calvinists. That’s not an attack on Calvinists; that’s making a case to Southern Baptists.