(Not that Dr. Hankins needs my defense! He works at academic heights and I am more of a blue-collar guy. But I want to defend his right to forcefully state his views, as he did today at SBC Today.)
I did not sign the Traditionalist document last summer for a simple reason – I don’t agree with some of the theology expressed in it. In addition, I believed that some who promoted and supported the Traditionalist document came from a mindset that threatened to divide and destroy our denomination. I perceived a definite anti-Calvinist bent within many, especially those who blogged about it, in the Traditionalist movement.
But, my dear Calvinist friends, what is it that you seek? Is it not the freedom to exist within the boundaries of the SBC and not be excluded? If you desire to have that right, if you want a place at the table, you have to be willing to extend that which you seek to those with dissenting opinions. Every time I have seen a non-Calvinist state his doctrine, it has been followed by a flurry of posts, tweets or Facebook statuses from Calvinists bemoaning the mortal wounds inflicted by the false accusations levied against them. Frankly, Calvinists, I think some of you have demonstrated an extremely thin skin and a hyper-willingness to take offense. Nothing is gained by whining when the other side has a say.
Disagreeing with Calvinism is NOT a personal attack against Calvinists. If we want the right to proclaim what we believe, if we want a place at the SBC table, we have to grant to non-Calvinists of all stripes, including those who signed the Traditionalist document, the same right. Here are a few thoughts.
1) No one’s puppies were drowned in the writing of Hankins post!
I have some significant areas of disagreement with Dr. Hankins’ post. I also think that there are places in which he did not give a completely accurate view of what SBC Calvinists believe. But from the reactions I’ve seen, you’d think he threatened to send zombies to kill all the Calvinists in the SBC. I just did not see anything offensive (other than the unpardonable sin of disagreeing with me) in his article. He stated his convictions clearly and in a way that delineated his disagreements with Calvinism. I say it again. If we are going to advocate for the right to promote our theology, we have to also advocate for the right of those who promote different theologies within the SBC.
Recently, I watched as Dr. Adam Harwood stated a view of human sin that I find contrary to scripture as I understand it. But I watched his demeanor, as well, especially as he dealt with critics. He was a complete gentleman in every interaction I saw. He articulated his view and did it well. The fact that I disagree with his view does not make his presentation of it a personal attack against me or those who hold my position.
That is the nature of theological debate, isn’t it?
2) Hankins misrepresented Calvinists? Of course he did! We all do that.
It should come as no surprise that Calvinists feel that Dr. Hankins did not completely and accurately portray their views. But I can tell you that all non-Calvinists, especially the Traditionalists, feel exactly the same way about Calvinists. They feel that their views are caricatured and misrepresented by Calvinists in their writings. I’ve not yet talked to a Traditionalist who thought that the semi-Pelagian designations thrown around last summer were accurate.
In watching responses to Dr. Harwood’s posts recently, I noticed that often the Calvinistic responses – those I tended to agree with more – often caricatured the Traditionalist view.
We all have a tendency of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the views of those with whom we disagree. It is something we need to fight, but it is something we all tend to be guilty of.
What matters is our response. When we feel like our views have been misrepresented, then represent them. State them clearly. But claiming mortal wounds, questioning the integrity and character of the other side, or, frankly, whining about the misrepresentation, does more harm than good.
3) Demonstrate the grace you proclaim!
My Calvinist friends, I’m going to be real honest with you here. Remember, I’m inside your camp, though I’m not a gung-ho, Piper-spouting, 5-pointer. (I actually call myself an antinomist, but its more Calvinist than not.) But this statement comes from a friend, not an enemy. Calvinists sometimes come across as bull-headed, stubborn and even arrogant. We need to fight that.
Look, if every time someone expresses a contrary opinion to the Calvinist view, we act as if he is drowning puppies, it adds to the division. If, when someone misstates your view you simply state it more carefully, correct the misperceptions and do it in a kind, gracious way, it will promote unity.
Yes, there are a few within the SBC family who are ardent anti-Calvinists. They will not be satisfied until there is a Geneva Gulag somewhere (probably near Louisville) where all the 5-pointers and a good deal of the 4-pointers have been quarantined. It’s not hard to identify those guys. But not every non-Calvinist is anti-Calvinist and it is harmful to the Calvinist cause when they are treated as if they are.
I’m afraid we may always have two dangerous riptides flowing within the SBC ocean. There are going to be thoroughly Calvinistic reformers who will not be satisfied until every institution (and church) is run by a 5-pointer. Traditionalists err when they assume that every Calvinist shares that agenda. There are also going to be anti-Calvinists looking to herd a large segment of the SBC into the Gulag Calvinistago. But Calvinists err when they assume that everyone who rejects Calvinism has an anti-Calvinist agenda.
I continue to believe that the majority of Baptists today reject both the rabid Calvinists and the rabid anti-Calvinists. We want to work together to do missions and serve the Savior. Most of us neither want to Calvinize the SBC or rid it of all Calvinist influence. We live in the cooperative middle where Calvinism is neither our main passion nor viewed as a dangerous virus.
But, my Calvinist friends, if you want to be part of the cooperative middle, you have to let men like Dr. Eric Hankins have their say. You don’t have to agree with him or like everything he says. It is perfectly acceptable to give a counterpoint to his point. But he did not do an act of evil by writing that post and SBC Today did no sin by publishing it.
If we are going to get along, we are going to have to learn to talk to each other. More than that, we are going to have to learn to LISTEN to each other.
Perhaps that has been our biggest failure.