Recently I opened a blogpost for the discussion of sports. It has been a great diversion – I love sports, probably too much. But that post has served two purposes. It gave us a chance to talk about sports while also keeping the sports trash-talk (something I consider a moral imperative) off the other posts. If you want to post about the Hawkeyes, the Yankees, or any of the lesser teams out there, you have a place to go.
There is a small group of bloggers who seem to come by Voices for no purpose other than to talk about the Conservative Resurgence that restored the SBC to its conservative roots after a few decades of theological drift. There are a half-dozen or so regular commenters who make everything about the CR. Whatever we write about, they tie it to the CR. There is no topic on which we can write that does not give evidence to them of the evils of the CR. I have repeatedly asked people to address the topic and ignore the CR, but no one seems to want to do that.
So, here it is – a moderate’s playground. I am going to give my view of the CR, then you can have at it. Whatever you want to say (within reason) about the CR and how evil and destructive it was is fine and dandy. Have your say without fear of my moderating (strangely appropriate word) interference.
The other side of this is simple. Since there is a CR playground out there, you will have the freedom to vent as you please, ON THIS POST. Unless it is germane to the intent of the author of the other post, or in a natural line with the discussion, I will expect you to keep your CR rants on this thread. We now have a playground on which to toss this ball. Let’s keep the game on this playground and not interfere with other discussions about other things.
Not everyone will agree with my (admittedly simplistic) categorization here. But for the sake of my discussion here, I want to define my use of terms.
Conservatives: those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and ascribe to the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
Conservatives believe that God exists eternally in three persons, that Jesus was God incarnate, that the Bible is truth without any mixture of error, that human nature is sinful and in rebellion against God, that Jesus died as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, that only those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus will have any hope of having eternal life and that one day Jesus will return to earth in victory and judge the living and the dead.
Not only do we believe these doctrines, we believe that denominational employees and seminary professors should believe these doctrines.
Liberals: This is a tricky term, because it is such a pejorative term – one that has been used as an insult repeatedly and sometimes unfairly. In the greater scholarly world, SBC “liberals” will generally be considered conservatives. But in this discussion, I am using the term liberal to describe anyone who does not subscribe to the fundamental doctrines I enumerated above.
A liberal believes that the Bible may have historical, scientific or factual errors. A liberal may believe that there is hope for salvation in other religions, or that all people will eventually be saved. A liberal may balk at the concept of substitutionary atonement.
In short (and I know that this is a specific use of this word that does not fit the general use of the word) a liberal in the SBC is someone who does not ascribe to inerrancy or to one or more of the bedrock doctrines of the faith.
Moderates: Like the word liberal, this word has a variety of usages. I use it specifically in this way: a moderate was someone who, while believing in the fundamental doctrines of the faith (pretty much identical to the conservative in doctrine), did not support the conservative movement in the SBC, did not see the reality of existence of liberalism in the SBC, or did not believe that it was crucial to get the liberals out of the SBC.
In other words, moderates are conservatives in doctrine who did not see the need for the CR or did not support the means used to accomplish the CR. Dan Vestal, Winfred Moore and Richard Jackson were solid inerrantists. They did not agree with the conservative movement, but they were theological conservatives.
If you wish to quarrel with my definition, fine. There is no fixed or established definition of any of these terms. Just know that in this post, that is how I am using the terms.
The conflict in the SBC during the CR years focused on two key issues.
- Does the SBC have a heritage as an inerrantist denomination or is the inerrancy movement a new issue?
The SBC has always championed the priesthood of believers and soul competency and has refused to subscribe to a formal creed. Moderates say this means that we were not a theologically-fixed denomination and that people have the freedom to believe a wide-range of doctrines and still be Baptist.
I disagree. Certainly, the term inerrancy was not used until more recently in the debate, but there is ample evidence that our Baptist forefathers regarded the Word of God as inerrant. Originally, the term “inspired” (a biblical term) was used to describe the Bible. But liberals changed the meaning of the term. Then the term “infallible” arose to describe a high view of Scripture. That term, too, was co-opted. So, inerrancy was coined – a term that is simple and direct. “No errors.” No wiggle-room there. Either you believe the Bible is 100% true or you don’t.
Nettles and Bush’s book “Baptists and the Bible” demonstrates the high view of scripture that was part and parcel of Baptist life for all of its existence. Hefley’s books give quotes that buttress that argument. Baptists have always had a certain theological foundation that we shared – a commitment to Scriptures as “truth without mixture of error” and a recognition of the final authority of Scripture on all matters.
Since that foundation was shared by all Baptists, it was not emphasized as much. But, when the foundation began to be washed away (the Toy controversy, the Elliott book serve as examples), Baptists felt the need to define our doctrinal foundation more carefully. The CR was the result of that.
In one sense, it can be maintained that the CR was a shift in the pattern of Baptist life. But it was one necessitated by growing liberalism’s attack at the theological roots of our denomination.
- Was there really a problem with liberalism?
I have had lengthy discussions with one person who simply denies that the SBC ever had liberals. Of course, that depends on your definition of liberal. Let me reword the question to take away the debate over the term.
“Were there people in our seminaries and denominational structures who did not believe the fundamental doctrines of the faith?”
I say there were.
I saw it firsthand. I attended a Baptist college and every one of my professors was a doctoral graduate from an SBC seminary. One of them (the most liberal of all) left our school and became a professor at Midwestern. Another became a leader in the CBF movement and eventually served as president of the Baptist Seminary that formed in Richmond. All of them went on to teach at other schools.
- They denied (and often ridiculed) every one of the major doctrines I mentioned above.
- One OT prof told us that there was no doubt that the author of Genesis clearly intended to teach a recent 6-day creation, but was simply wrong. He scoffed at the idea that God revealed the plans for the tabernacle and temple, as the scriptures state.
- Another OT prof started class by making it clear that there was no such thing as predictive prophecy. If any scripture purported to make a prophecy, it was written after the event and falsely attributed to a prior time.
- This same professor made this statement in Hebrew class. “Let’s face it, men. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, they are all just different flags under which God flies his name.”
- He also told me I needed to watch the move “Oh God” to get my theology straightened out.
- My NT professor disdained the doctrine of substitutionary atonement and ridiculed the idea that Satan was a real being.
- I can remember one professor, red-faced with both hands on my desk, shouting in my face (my girlfriend heard it in the financial aid office) “You mean you actually believe that?” That was pretty much the attitude toward us cursed fundamentalists. Openness to all beliefs seldom extends to conservative beliefs.
We also had a speaker come for “Spiritual Emphasis Week” – a well-known professor from Southern Seminary. I sat dumbfounded as he told us that Jesus did not intend to die. Jesus did not come to earth with the purpose of dying on the cross for our sins. He was the victim of political forces and some choices he made. His death was a tragic accident, not the eternal purpose of God.
I make the following assertions:
1) Liberalism existed in the SBC.
2) While not every seminary professor in every school was liberal (a more wild assertion I have heard made by some in my camp) there was a real theological problem in the SBC.
A Serious Problem!
I will say one more thing. It was a problem that needed to be dealt with. One of the common fictions I see in comments is that the SBC was healthy and thriving until the evil fundies took over and destroyed everything. But liberalism is a cancer that destroys religious organizations. There has yet be a denomination that has drifted into liberalism and prospered. The denial of the fundamental doctrines of the faith is a real problem that had to be dealt with. The SBC had a real and growing problem with liberalism and that problem had to be dealt with or we would follow the path of other mainline denominations into spiritual oblivion.
It can hardly be argued that the SBC is thriving today. But I believe we are way better off than we would be if the cancer of liberalism had been left to fester. The surgery may have been painful, but it was necessary.
The facts can hardly be denied. Starting in 1979, conservatives organized to elect presidents who shared our convictions and would appoint committees who shared those convictions. For 32 consecutive conventions, we have elected inerrantists as SBC President and all our entities now have conservative Boards of Trustees. There came a tipping point in the late 1980’s when the Boards of our entities had conservative majorities. Obviously, there was a lot of disruption and conflict at that point. The leadership of every one of our entities changed.
Them’s the facts, folks. Interpretation of those facts is obviously less clear. I would make the following points. I think the moderates operate in the realm of fantasy related to the SBC and the CR. There are also some false ideas that some conservatives seem to believe.
- It was not about theology, it was just a power play.
Obviously, it is undeniable that the CR was a “power play.” Since the Elliott book brought the creeping liberalism to the forefront, conservatives wanted to do something, but their concerns were ignored. Patterson studied the workings of the SBC and figured out a way to make a change. If we elected a president, he could make nominations to the Committee on Committees and they would make nominations to the convention. It was clearly a political situation.
But folks, the SBC is a political organization. We do not sit around and pray until God reveals his will. We take votes. Pressler and Patterson figured how to give conservatives the opportunity to register our concerns. Then, conservatives showed up in majorities to every convention for 32 straight years.
So, yes, the CR was a political power move. The majority of the SBC asserted its will over the minority. We said we want to be a denomination that prizes and enforces inerrancy in our entities.
So, here are the facts. Of course the CR was political. It had to be. But the motivation was a deep sense of concern for the theological future of our denomination. Were there power-hungry jerks within the conservative movement? Of course there were. As there were among the moderates. But the motivation for the movement was theological. The method was political but the motive was theological.
- The CR introduced politics into the SBC.
Nonsense. The idea that the smoke-filled back rooms (metaphorically at least) did not exist prior to 1979 is simply a fiction. The SBC was a large human institution and politics existed. The idea that prior to 1979 we eschewed politics and simply were led by God is an understandable but nonsensical fiction.
- The fundamentalists were mean.
I lived through the CR. There were mean conservatives, mean liberals and mean moderates Nasty words abounded. This is a common tactic. Democrats engage in dirty politics then complain about Republicans dirty politics. Republicans engage in dirty politics then compain about Democrats dirty politics
The idea that the moderates were kindly spoken in response to the wild attacks of the fundies is fiction Both sides engaged in extreme, mean, even ungodly conversation
- All’s fair in war
Again, nonsense. In the kingdom of God, the means to the end are as important as the end itself. Here is where I think many of my conservative friends err.
I support the aims of the CR and I am glad it took place. I do not support many of the actions that took place in the pursuit of the CR.
Political subterfuge is wrong even if it advances a worthy cause. I know that some of this took place (on both sides) but I think that some conservatives were blinded by what they saw as a righteous cause and justified actions on that basis.
- If you are not with us, you are against us.
I believe that the leaders of the SBC conservative movement made a serious (if understandable) mistake. After the election of Morris Chapman as SBC President (was that 1990?) it was clear that the battle was over. When WWII ended, we reached out to the nations we had defeated. We made friends of Germany and Japan.
I believe we should have reached out to some of the moderates and let them know that while they did not support our movement, there is a place in the SBC for them. “If you believe in the inerrancy of scriptures, there is a place in the SBC for you even if you did not support our political cause.”
Instead, we continued to ostracize those who had chosen the wrong horse in the race. I have no desire to open the doors of the SBC to those who deny the inerrancy of Scriptures or who undermine the fundamental doctrines of the faith. But I think we should reach out to people who disagreed with the CR but are theologically conservative.
What Say You?
Well, that’s where I stand. ON THIS COMMENT STREAM, you can have your say about the CR and its blessings or its evils. But, since I have provided this forum for the CR, please keep the discussions on this comment stream.