Reply to Jared Moore Regarding Southern Seminary and the BFM, Part 2

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


Questions I’m Not Asking

            To guard against being misunderstood:

My question is not: “What does Dr. Mohler affirm?”

Your post concerns itself with that question under Reason #1 (http://sbcvoices.com/adam-brought-sin-into-the-human-race-a-response-to-adam-harwood/).

My question is not: “Does Dr. Schreiner affirm the BFM?”

Of course he does. He also affirms the Abstract of Principles. That, as my Nov. 29 article (http://sbctoday.com/2012/11/29/the-ets-the-ap-the-bfm/) attempts to demonstrate, may be problematic for professors at SBTS and SEBTS (both of which affirm the BFM and AP). The documents can be interpreted as making conflicting statements regarding the timing of condemnation. The AP mentions condemnation before moral capability; the BFM mentions condemnation after moral capability. In both documents, however, people become transgressors as soon as they are capable of moral action. Regardless, I never questioned Schreiner’s affirmation of the BFM.

My question is not: “Can people affirm inherited guilt and the BFM?”

People can affirm whatever they want to affirm. But people who serve as seminary faculty don’t have the luxury of teaching anything they choose to teach. Their employment entails teaching in accordance with and not contrary to the BFM. (Note: The point is similar to the one made by Conservatives regarding the teachings of SBTS professors during the “Resurgence.” SBC constituents rightly expected the professors whose salaries they paid to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the BFM.)

As Dr. Mohler explains in the introduction of the SBTS faculty exposition of the BFM: “The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is unembarrassed in our commitment to require all professors to teach ‘in accordance with and not contrary to’ our Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message” (http://www.sbts.edu/documents/bfmexposition.pdf). I commend Dr. Mohler for requiring his professors to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the BFM. I am thankful for his leadership in ensuring doctrinal fidelity among his faculty to the BFM. But his faculty’s exposition ignores the language of the BFM regarding our inheritance from Adam. Instead of explaining the BFM’s language of sinful inclination or becoming transgressors, the exposition inserts a theological concept neither stated nor implied in the BFM, inherited guilt.

As I wrote on Dec. 11 (http://sbctoday.com/2012/12/11/sbts-and-bfm/): “It seems necessary that SBTS clarify its position on Article 3 of the BFM. Why? If a denial of inherited guilt is unorthodox, then SBTS needs to be clear. If that is the case, then its interpretation of the BFM should remain and the BFM should be amended to reflect that view. If a denial of inherited guilt is orthodox, then clarity from SBTS is equally important.”

My Question Regarding Southern Seminary and the BFM

            The question of my Dec. 11 post was: “Does Southern Seminary have an institutional commitment to a theological position which is not affirmed in the BFM and excludes many Southern Baptists?”

I am not aware that SBTS faculty or administration have publicly addressed either of my essays seeking clarification. I didn’t expect a reply. As one of your commenters observed: “I doubt that the writing of a young theology prof in an obscure Baptist state convention college will set the norm for any seminary or for the SBC at large (…).” But this isn’t about me; it’s about the BFM.

Despite the SBTS faculty exposition of the BFM, neither the words nor the idea can be found in Article 3 of the BFM that “the guilt of Adam’s sin falls on all.” It’s an orthodox option; I’ve never suggested otherwise. But inherited guilt is not present in Article 3 and is (arguably) contrary to the BFM. The question is not whether inherited guilt is denied but whether it is affirmed in the BFM. And it’s not. If the BFM does not affirm such a view, then three options remain:

1. Certain SBC professors should modify their teaching on inheritance from Adam so their teaching accords with the BFM.

2. The BFM should be revised to explicitly include inherited guilt.

3. SBC Seminaries should stop declaring their professors will teach in accordance with the BFM. Why? Because they are permitted to teach more than the BFM–even when such teaching is contrary to the BFM and to the beliefs of many Southern Baptists who pay those professors’ salaries through their contributions to the Cooperative Program.

Criticism over My Denial of a View not affirmed in the BFM

            Your post and many of it comments reveal frustration that I deny inherited guilt. One person called it “flawed” and “dangerous to the church.” Another wrote that it “flies in the face of the plain reading of scripture.” A third person declared it “opens the door to true heresies such as universalism.” A fourth person called it “virtually ‘another gospel’” and “heresy if not worse.” To all of you, I say: Your objection is not with me but with Article 3 of the BFM.

Article 3 of the BFM places condemnation after people become transgressors. Also, there is no mention of inheriting Adam’s guilt. Covenant Theologians and SBC New Calvinists[1] insist that inherited guilt is the only orthodox view of the inheritance from Adam. If that is the case, then a person must be considered guilty prior to becoming a transgressor and under condemnation. According to such an interpretation, for those who affirm the BFM, infants should be regarded as non-condemned, non-transgressing, but guilty due to Adam’s sin. (To be clear: that last phrase is an interpretation held by Covenant Theologians but not found in the BFM.)

Inherited guilt is a view that is not required by the BFM. Why is it so upsetting that I am unwilling to affirm a theological position not mentioned in the BFM?

Moore misreads the BFM and misrepresents Harwood

            You write: “The BF&M2K defines sin as, ‘a nature and an environment inclined toward sin,’ in addition to transgressions. Yet, 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 portion of Article 3 of the BFM you cite is clearly not defining sin. Instead, it is describing our inheritance from the first man. The relevant phrase in Article 3 reads: “whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.”

Where exactly do I state that our “sinful nature and environment are not ‘sin’ that requires a trust in Christ for redemption”? My argument, rather, is that this inclination toward sin is not guilt. I am aware of no biblical text in which God states, “You are judged guilty and condemned due to the sin of Adam.” Of course we’re all in sin, condemnation, and death due to Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12-21). This certainly entails effects of the Fall, such as physical death. But none of those things necessarily entails guilt. In this way, we’re not regarded by God as sinners who are subject to God’s wrath and condemnation until we attain moral capability and become transgressors (which accords with Article 3 of the BFM).

**Part 3, the final part of Dr. Harwood’s reply, will be posted on January 9.


            [1]New Calvinist is a term used as the subtitle of Collin Hansen’s 2008 book Young, Restless, and Reformed and the name used by TIME in 2009 when it explored this movement within Christianity. New Calvinism is not used here as a derogatory label but as a descriptive term.