The Excluded Middle, the Ignored Edge, and The Battle for the Empire in the SBC (by Todd Littleton)

Todd Littleton blogs at “The Edge of the Inside.”  There is much to consider here and much to discuss.

The Ring of Fire just gave us a tectonic shift punishing Japan with a devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake. Tsunami waves washed over acres of land, destroying property and killing people.  There will no doubt be someone with an Internet connection firing up the keyboard to announce that Japan suffered judgement for ancestor worship, or some social ill. (Paragraph 7) Quickly the suffering and pain will be marginalized as the train wreck of such wretched projections make the rounds on the Interwebs.

Meanwhile, the SBC is stirred again. What is new. Not much. Bill J. Leonard’s “prophetic” prediction for the SBC seems more and more likely despite all attempts to avoid the icebergs. Tucked away in his 1991 book, God’s Last and Only Hope, is the conjecture the Southern Baptist Convention will splinter. Because he was considered on the “wrong side,” his prognostication has largely been ignored.

Andrew Jones (a.k.a. tallskinnykiwi) recently weighed in on the Rob Bell kerfuffle. As I was pointed to the recent stir in the SBC blogosphere, where young pastors are urged to say what high profile pastors think, I could not help but think of a paragraph from Jones’ piece,

There is a power struggle going on that ventures beyond doctrinal categories and theological correctness. It’s a battle for the empire! And if you don’t understand that, you wont appreciate the intensity of the Reformed backlash. Or why John Piper broke Lausanne etiquette by veering from his script to add “eternal suffering” to his Ephesians talk in Cape Town last year. I was there. I heard the murmurrings.

You guessed it. It is the sentence in bold that came to mind. “It’s a battle for the empire!” And, in the fray between those who are young, restless, and reformed in the SBC and those who are young, Southern Baptist, and irrelevant. Sounds like a queue for DeYoung and Kluck of the “why we’re not and should be” fame. This group is a much larger group when you take into account the “traditionalists” that often feel as though they are losing the convention. The real losers are those in the excluded middle and the ignored edge.

Whitt writes admirably of his growing sense the SBC is really no longer about cooperation understood in the sense of his heritage as a Southern Baptist pastor’s son. (Albeit interesting that in his melancholic piece he notes he has served at nearly every strata of the SBC. Too many have not and do not appear dejected by it all. Still trying to find him “irrelevant” with such a resume.)

Ed Stetzer responds framing the discussion as something of a “hardly one “Pastor’s Conference” does a shift make. Like maggots to dead meat, the defenders of those two sides offer anecdotal illustrations as to why their side is right and the other side is wrong. And, the battle for the empire goes on.

Typing from my mother’s basement in my housecoat – some of you will remember the disingenuous caricature from Greensboro – I admire those who now type unabashedly from their church offices and seminary offices, or as it were entity offices. Spare me the technicalities that you too have donned your housecoat and are hiding in some clandestine hideout typing away your diatribes. Some of us who found it uncomfortable under the bus as others of our contemporaries were angling for a seat at the proverbial table. These new up and comers now write to the applauds of the power now apparently gaining traction in the SBC.

And for what. Winning the empire. But, alas, the Kingdom of God is about subverting and overthrowing the empires we make. So, I feel for Whitt. I am amused at Stetzer. (Amused in the sense that he would take time out of holding hands in a genuine way with Christian tribes from West to East to weigh in on such a mess.) Maybe Stetzer is attempting what no one has been able to do since well before the CR, Conservative Resurgence for you non-insiders, point to something bigger than “my” vision, my “wish dream.”

Bonhoeffer learned in community that his expectations must die or the community to which he desired to belong would become no community at all. Were our leaders as valiant to demonstrate this on a public, national scale, our churches would have something worthy to point to when disagreements arise within local congregations. As it is, all we can do is hope they are not reading.

Yes, the excluded middle would be represented by those quietly toiling, hand to the plow, having little interest in SBC celebrity culture and hoping to remain unstained by the glitter of the platform. I am thinking of a friend like David Phillips. As long as he was building up another’s kingdom he was quite the popular guy. For many things he was a dependable “go to” guy. His small church runs into difficulty and must reduce their CP giving and he gets overlooked. Rather than a denomination serving his struggling church, he was included so long as his church was able to give. He may well now more fit the ignored edge. Yes, it is this excluded middle that for some time has thought the battle for the empire not worth fighting, but instead have held out hope that the way of Jesus in their town might win the day when people who give themselves to follow Jesus actually look like him.

And, the ignored edge. You rightly guessed it – that is where I prefer. I am a Southern Baptist but rather than just say I am a Christian first and then fight for my Baptist heritage like it were my life’s blood, I really believe in the victory of God in Jesus, the Christ. I really believe that is the Kingdom we should pursue and for which we should keep our hand to the plow. I really believe we should live out the character of Jesus in all we do. I really believe there is no place for a pragmatic, utilitarian ethic when it comes to the hard work of living out the life of Jesus in our own lives as he would were he us.

One final thought, that is for this rant that is now too long. Many in the SBC have found David Platt’s Radical to be quite compelling, if not disturbing. I wonder why it is we cannot hear the same from Shane Claiborne. I realize he shares a different politic, but he follows the same Jesus. Maybe the real reason is we need someone in a large church, not wearing homemade clothes and dreads to get to our ears. So be it. But, let’s stop parading around battling for our vision of an empire that in the end does not merit the energy and live in those radical ways whether you prefer Armani to an untucked shirt, or you prefer a goatee to a clean shaven face.

After all, to quote Jones,

There is a power struggle going on that ventures beyond doctrinal categories and theological correctness.



  1. says

    Because he was considered on the “wrong side,”

    Hmm, let’s see here–he works at Wake Forrest Divinity School. Therefore, he is ok working at a school that accepts homosexuals into the program. I would bet you a Hardee’s thickburger that he rejected inerrancy or at least would not consider excluding someone from fellowship who did reject inerrancy

    Sounds to me like he was properly pigeon-holed.

    • says

      And certainly his position on inerrancy combined with who his employer is make his historical analysis and subsequent predictions moot. He could not possibly say anything helpful and so he is properly pigeon-holed and, for you, rightly dismissed. After all, the view of a historian, any historian I suppose, is only valid if he carries an a priori commitment to inerrancy of the Scriptures.

      This is reflective of the nexus of this post. And, I am wondering, you noted in another comment somewhere, “when i was in the SBC.” So, your interest is?

      • says

        I didn’t say antying about his his analysis or predictions. I made the point that I was perfectly happy for him to have been marginalized since, by his theological positions and where he now works, he has demonstrated the gospel is something that’s pretty unimportant to him–regardless of whether his prodictions or historical analysis was corrent or not.

        I still have friends in the SBC. I also have a lot of respect for what conservatives have accomlished over the 150+ years of SBC life in missions. The church that we happen to go now is not SBC.

        And your point is…?

    • says


      I am not referencing an ideology. Nor do I have in mind a particular theological system. Instead, my thoughts center around the idea that for Baptists we have created a false dilemma between two poles and in the process of beating each other up for the right to name the vision, cast it, and execute it, there are a number who would as soon give their energies to King Jesus.

      One only need witness the difficult time carrying on a conversation before assumptions are made because someone is “liberal.” Joe has been my best illustration. I could not ask for a better one.

  2. Dave Miller says

    I think that while it is possible that Todd and I would come down on very different sides of this discussion in terms of where the SBC should go, I think he is exactly right that we are witnessing a “battle for the kingdom.”

    I don’t know if it is cultural or theological or whatever, but we have pretty much lost our denominational identity and we are in a tug-o-war over how we will be redefined. Reformed. Traditional. Hipster. Megachurch. Small Church. There are so many factions right now.

    • says


      Often I am left wondering why it is we must clarify before agreement that we may “disagree” at some point. It is akin to adding a “but” to an apology.

      I wonder if it is not the very climate I describe. For, had you simply noted your agreement, then you would then be guilty by association of other positions I might hold. And, of course, that is our first concern. That is why I prefer the edge. I don’t care what conclusions another person draws if they will not take the time to actually discuss nuances and meaning. And, I quickly add that you do just that, and to be precisely clear you are willing to work through nuances and meaning as evidenced in our other interactions. I just found it odd in your comment on this post.

      I have great appreciation and admiration at your attempt to maintain space for other voices.

      • Dave Miller says

        I think I learned that in the early days of blogging when if you expressed agreements with certain people you were assumed to be a mindless supporter of all that person’s beliefs.

        So, yes, I often do clarify my areas of disagreement before I express agreement. Never really psychoanalyzed it but I do think it goes back to the us-vs-them, pick-a-side debates of 2006/2007.

  3. says

    I wonder why it is we cannot hear the same from Shane Claiborne.

    Probably because he’s a left winger and therefore doesn’t deserve to be heard. I’m sure he applauds Rob Bell’s new book.

    • Paul says

      To quote: “I would urge you to contemplate the possibility that someone could disagree with you and it not mean they are stupid or bad (not counting [Shane Claiborne]. of course).”

  4. says

    Joe, is it true that people who don’t agree with us on everything don’t deserve to be heard? If that’s the standard then do we deserve to be heard by God?

    Is it possible that Shane Claiborne is a Christian even if he is liberal? If he is, does that not make him a brother? Todd is my brother. Todd and I do not agree on everything in life. Should I quit listening to him and he to me simply because we don’t agree on everything? That just sounds ridiculous.

    Balaam learned something from an ass. Is it not possible that God could speak to you and I in a similar manner today?

    • says

      Joe, is it true that people who don’t agree with us on everything don’t deserve to be heard?

      Everything? Where did I say everything? I disagree with RC Sproul on infant baptism and I am glad to listen to him. I disagree with Matt Svboda about some stuff in eschatology and I enjoyed reading his stuff here on SBC voices. The idea that just because I think it’s a good thing for left wing nutjobs like Claiborne, Bell, McLauren, folks at WF Divinity school to be marginalized and ignored does not mean that someone has to agree with me on EVERY point of EVERY doctrine. That’s just absurd.

      As far as whether he’s a “brother”–I’d more call him a 3rd cousin once removed. You don’t have to be a political conservative to be a Christian**. However, his left wing stances embarrass me like that distant cousin you run into at family reunions who shows up, good and drunk, cutting into line at the buffet, and getting up to the microphone to try his hand at free style rap. Yes, he’s part of the family but you hope no one outside the famiily realizes you’re related to him.

      **You just have to have common sense.

      • Paul says

        Sorry Joe. I guess I missed what part of “Probably because he’s a left winger and therefore doesn’t deserve to be heard” included something. As I note to Mark below, the context of Todd’s statement and your reply is not about some liberal theological concept, but about things our own David Platt says, yet you exclude Claiborne from that conversation.

        So, what it sounds like, especially in light of your reply, is that Sproul deserves to be heard regarding many things excluding baptism, but exactly what is it about which you are willing to hear Claiborne, when you state he doesn’t deserve to be heard? That’s what I’m missing. If you didn’t mean “everything” then I’m more than happy to hear what you think Claiborne has that’s worth hearing.

        If you want to call him a “third cousin once removed,” that’s up to you. The Scriptures would lead you to call him something else – a brother – whether you are embarrassed by him or not. I’m sure Paul was embarrassed by the Corinthians, yet he repeatedly called them “brothers.” If he is a brother, to call him a cousin is to imply that God is not the father of one of you.

        • says

          Well, the cousin thing is more a figure of speech—I’m not saying he’s not a Christian but more that I think of him like a cousin because, well, he’s an embarassment. As Freud said to Captain Picard “Nein, nein, nein, do not be so literal.”

          Secondly, you said that I meant that people who don’t agree with us on everything don’t deserve to be heard? That is not the case. I’d listen to Sproul about anything. I’d listen to him about infant baptism even. That is a position about which Christians can disagree and still be Christians. People who reject inerrancy or, as Claiborne does, shill for the political left in my book deserve no hearing on anything. If you’re ok with them, hey, that’s jake with me. I’m just glad to see people like excluded because, almost all of the time, political liberals are theological liberals who should DEFINITELY be excluded. Yes, that’s not true all the time, but it is a good bit of the time. Tell me you’ve found a political liberal who : affirms the miracles (virgin birth, healings, being raised 3 days later….), the historicity of scripture, the inerrancy of scripture, the vicarious blood atonement, and the exclusivity of salvation through conscious faith in Christ with repentance of sins and I’ll guarentee you that I can tell you one characteristic about that person before you give me a name or show me a picture. No, I’m not going to tell you why I could tell you anything.

      • Frank L. says

        Joe, sometimes you can be a little scary, but what I love about you is your consistency. You have a solid grasp of your identity. You have a consistent expression of theology.

        I especially love the “third cousin once removed.” That was brilliant. I also love that you do not allow people to caricature you to push you to the margins.

        Brilliant post.

        • says


          My best friend from high schoo, a dude I’ve known for 30 years or more, and I were talking one day. I told him “Scott, I’m grumpy, ill tempered, and…I’m just difficult for anybody to get along with.” He said, matter of factly, “Well….yeah, but that’s just you.”

          Like Popeye, I am what I am. :-)

    • says


      Your comment shows why it can be difficult to have a discussion on the internet. Your reply to Joe assumed his position without clarifying his actual position and his reasons for it.

      That just sounds ridiculous.

      I thought that line was ironic since it would have to be your own line of rhetorical questioning applied to Joe that sounds ridiculous.

      • Paul says


        How am I assuming a position with a question? I’m just saying what things sound like and asking if I’m hearing it correctly. Joe’s welcome to correct my impressions and if he does then it might not sound ridiculous at all. His statement comes across to me as if he’s saying that people who don’t agree with him are not worth listening to.

        “Probably because he’s a left winger and therefore doesn’t deserve to be heard.” What do you make of that statement, Mark? In context, Todd brought up Claiborne as an example of one saying the same thing as David Platt, but who does not get the same hearing. Is that not an example of what I’ve supposedly assumed about Joe’s statement? We can agree when Platt says it but we can’t agree with Claiborne when he says it because “he’s a left winger and therefore doesn’t deserve to be heard?” I mean, Todd wasn’t discussing Barth or inerrancy or some liberal notion, yet Joe says Claiborne still doesn’t deserve to be heard.

        It just comes across like a blanket statement to me.

        • says

          Ah, but what I didn’t say was the people had to agree with me on everything in order to be heard. That’s where your statement became ridiculous.

          • Paul says

            Joe, I’m happy for you to clarify for me. That what I take as an implication of what you did say. Feel free to let me know what it is you think a liberal like Claiborne has that’s worth our hearing.

          • says

            But you didn’t say what a liberal like Claiborn says that’s worth hearing. What you said was that people who don’t agree with us on everything (not liberals, but by saying people you’re saying any person–i.e. liberal, moderate, conservative, yadda yadda, yadda) don’t deserve to be heard?

            Quite obviously I don’t mean that any person who disagrees with me on anything doesn’t deserve to be heard. As far as what Claiborne deserves to be heard on, well, I guess if I wanted to know how cold it was and he’d just come in from outside I could ask him and listen. Mundane stuff like that. Pretty much anything related to the Bible I’d tune him out. If you wouldn’t, hey, iin the words of that immortal poet lauriet of the American urban landscape–“Get your freak on.”


        • Paul says

          Joe, my brother, you are equivocating on your definitions now, though I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much. Obviously the specific context of “doesn’t deserve to be heard” was related to theological content, just as Todd’s point was related to theological content. But then you change the definition to include the niceties of the weather outside. Well, brother, if that’s your defense then I guess my point stands because you’ve declared that a brother in Christ has nothing to contribute to a theological conversation, even if what he is saying is the same thing a theological conservative is saying. Well, that’s pretty much the definition of an ad hominem argument.

          • says

            Actually, you’re the one who took something I said and tried to use it to paint me as meaning something I didn’t. I said Claiborne, or whatever his name is, is not deserving of being heard because he’s a left wing nut job (and I mean that in the kindest possible sense). You are the one who said that I meant anyone who didn’t agree with us on everything didn’t deserve to be heard. Then you took an example I used, RC Sproul, and said that I meant I’d be willing to listen to him except for infant baptism when I made no such qualifier.

            You are the one who changed definitions in mid-stream. Not me. You said that I meant that people who don’t agree with us on everything (not liberals, but by saying people you’re saying any person–i.e. liberal, moderate, conservative, yadda yadda, yadda) don’t deserve to be heard? That isn’t what I said. It also isn’t what I meant. Despite your attempts to paint me as an ideolouge who expects absolute conformity on each and every major and minor doctrinal point I have pretty conclusively shown that your characterature is just not gonna hold water. The moderates tried the same thing back in the CR. Didn’t hold then either.

            Because playing verbal ping pong with you has become quite droll, I’m giving you the last word on this.

          • Paul says

            No, Joe, I didn’t. You need to go back and look. I asked questions and then I have repeatedly since offered you an opportunity to correct my understanding. You have repeatedly done so, so you can quit accusing me of putting words in your mouth. I’ve done no such thing. Questioning someone is not putting words in their mouth. I’m fine with your explanation that you didn’t mean “agree with everything,” ok? So I’m not misrepresenting you. A question was asked and an answer was given. Surely you understand the nature of discourse.

            I did not change definitions because I didn’t give one. I gave you my impression of what you were saying and you corrected it. But you have consistently dodged the greater issue as well. You don’t want to sound like an ideologue and accuse me of painting you as one, yet you’ve admitted that, on theological issues, even when a conservative point is made by a liberal Christian that they do not deserve to be heard. They only deserve to be heard if they are discussing the weather or some other such subject that has no real theological importance. Actually you wrote, “People who reject inerrancy or, as Claiborne does, shill for the political left in my book deserve no hearing on anything.” I guess that would include the weather as well, since the weather is “something.” And you’re accusing me of painting you as an ideologue? No, Joe, you’re doing quite well all on your own, my brother.

  5. says


    What?! When did you stop agreeing with me on everything? You are no longer my sycophant? That’s it, you are dead to me.

    (big grin)

  6. says

    Dave writes “I don’t know if it is cultural or theological or whatever, but we have pretty much lost our denominational identity and we are in a tug-o-war over how we will be redefined.”

    Here is the problem with the SBC (well, one of the problems anyway)…

    We keep forgetting what the SBC is and what the SBC is not. The SBC is a missions facilitating organization; the SBC is NOT a denomination. I know I have been guilty of saying this many times here in blog-world. So, come on everyone repeat this after me… “The SBC is NOT a denomination”… Repeat it again “The SBC is NOT a denomination”… One more time “The SBC is NOT a denomination”…

    A denomination needs an “Identity”… while a Missions Facilitating Organization needs a purpose. When we take our focus off our purpose and begin to engage in a battle for the empire it is a clear sign that we have lost sight of what the SBC truly is. A missions facilitating organization can, and should, facilitate the missions desires of all who partner with it regardless of their individual “Identity”… It should not attempt to define for it’s missions partners what their “Identity” should be.

    Grace for the Journey,

    • Frank L. says

      Greg, “A Rose By Any Other Name Smells As Sweet.”

      I think people laugh at us when we say we are not a denomination. I understand what you would like to convey, I just think you fooling yourself.

      At least we have never convinced anyone in the real world we are NOT a denomination. It is similar to saying Christianity is not a religion.” That takes some explaining.

      My take is this: if it walks like a denomination, quacks like a denomination, it is probably a denomination.

      • says

        Based on the way the conversations have been going lately, I think we may be seriously quacking up or something.

        I have to give you credit for making a good analogy though. It would take a serious amount of verbal gymnastics to convince anyone on the outside and most on the inside that the SBC is not a denomination. We have enough trouble defining who and what we are without playing that game IMO.

    • Dave Miller says

      By the way, the official documents of the SBC say that we are both a convention and a denomination. Not to oversimplify, but we are convention in June and a denomination the rest of the time.

      • says

        I’m curious as to where this “We are not a denomination” idea comes from?

        I’m sitting here searching a PDF of the 1845 SBC Annual and the word “denomination” specifically “our denomination” is used to describe the SBC at least 100 times….

        • Dave Miller says

          I hear it stated as a fact, “We are a Convention, not a denomination.” I’m not sure where it comes from, but the governing documents of the SBC define it as both a Convention and a denomination.

          • Rick Patrick says

            Online Dictionary Definition of Denomination: “a religious group, usually including many local churches.”

            I have no problem identifying the SBC as a denomination, but not because in our documents we define ourselves that way. It’s not a term that each group can either embrace or not according to their particular preference. For example, the CBF and Acts 29 would consider themselves a fellowship and a network, respectively. But they are both really denominations.

            At least if words still mean anything, according to

      • says


        My point, which seems to have eluded everyone here, is that a “Denomination” exercises authority (great or small) over their member churches; and thereby the Denomination determines the “Identity” for all. If you join a church belonging to a particular Denomination your Identity is determined by your membership in that church and denomination.

        What I am trying to communicate, and apparently failing to do so clearly, is that in the Southern Baptist “Convention” (made up of fully autonomous churches which choose to cooperate together for missions work) it is improper for any group in the “Convention” to attempt to foster and force any form of an Identity beyond the broad meaning of “Baptist” upon the member churches of the SBC.

        Now, you can “Quack” about this all you want but it will not change the reality that any “battle for the empire” of the SBC is a seriously misguided effort when you are talking about “Autonomous” Southern Baptist who have proven in the past that they will not be ruled from above, no matter who is wearing the funny hats and long robes.

        Grace for the Journey,

        • Rick says

          You write that it is “improper for any group in the ‘Convention’ to attempt to foster and force any form of an Identity beyond the broad meaning of ‘Baptist’ upon the member churches of the SBC.”

          Why would that be true if the group seeking to foster that identity truly possessed the same autonomy as everyone else? Shouldn’t they be “free” to advocate for any meaning of Baptist they like, just as others would be free to oppose that understanding?

        • Dave Miller says

          I understand your point, Greg. You are just misusing the word denomination. The word you are looking for is hierarchy. We are not a hierarchy.

          But denomination simply means a name or designation within a larger group. There are a lot of bills, but a $20 is one denomination. There are a lot of Christian groups, but we are grouped into one class, one part of the larger group (Christianity). We are a denomination of Christianity.

          Your concept I get. Your use of the word denomination is incorrect.

        • Dave Miller says

          By the way, Greg, you also are not correct about Baptist Polity. In Baptist polity, the individual churches are autonomous, but so are the entities with which those churches fellowship and cooperate. The association is autonomous. State conventions are autonomous. And the SBC is autonomous. It does, in fact, have an identity. So, the battle today is for the direction that this autonomous convention is going to have.

          Once the autonomous convention decides it’s direction, then autonomous churches are able to decide if they wish to remain in fellowship.

          Autonomy belongs to all Baptist bodies, not just the local church.

        • Dave Miller says

          Which, by the way, is why we send “messengers” and not “delegates” to the SBC Annual Meeting.

          • says

            Dave, I understand Baptist Polity very well thank you!

            You may be comfortable being a part of the SBD… but regardless of all that, I am not comfortable with the word denomination. Perhaps I am the only Baptist who believes the use of this the word denomination implies submission to an authority outside the local church, and perhaps I have misused the word here, but you can mark my words here… Any attempt, by any sub-group withing the SBC to take control of the SBC as a whole and “Re-brand” it in their own “Image” will not end well. It will end with a much smaller convention as those who do not fit the new (narrower) definition of what a “True” Southern Baptist is will exercise their autonomy.

            That’s all I am trying to say…

            Grace for the Journey,

          • Dave Miller says

            That’s just not what the word denomination means. As I said, I don’t completely disagree with what you are saying. I’m just pointing out that you are misusing the word denomination to make your point.

          • says


            Far be it from me to disagree with you and agree with Greg, but I cannot help but come to Greg’s defense in this matter. While denomination can mean “a group,” another perfectly legitimate use of the word “denomination” is as Greg has used it. I rarely, if ever, use the word “denomination” when referring to the SBC because we are not a denomination in the sense that Greg is using the word.

            A denomination, in addition to denoting a group of like-minded churches, can also mean a heirarchical organization where those at the top of the denomination dictate what the local church should believe and how the local church should act. An older deacon in my home church when I was a teenager would always remind me that Southern Baptists were not part of a denomination and we were not a creedal people.

            As it now stands, the BF&M2000 is not binding on any church in order to be considered a member of the SBC. If that were to be made a requirement, then we would be taking a step in the direction of a denomination. That most of those in leadership refer to the SBC as a denomination may indicate their preference for such a top-down polity, but it is not Southern Baptist nor is it Baptistic.

          • says

            Evidently, it comes as a surprise to the SBC that we are not a denomination. On the SBC website there is a document that explains why we are a denomination. And one that explains why we are a convention. The two are not exclusive.

            We are not a hierarchical denomination. We are a denomination.

          • says


            Lots of things come as a surprise to the SBC these days.:-) Suffice it to say, one could loosely use the word “denomination” to mean “a group of like-minded churches.” The way that Greg has used it, with which I concur, is that a denomination can mean “an hierarchical religious organization whose power structure and polity flow from the top down.” Therefore, to put “hierarchical” in front of denomination is redundant.

        • says

          If you are going to define it that narrowly then there are no denominations at all. I say that because in practical terms, I have observed churches out here in the “sticks” that don’t conform to their Denominational authorities in all areas of identity all the time. Our local ELCA affiliated church has essentially elected to ignore many of the pronouncements from on high in the last few years and in talking to their pastor their attitude sounds a lot like the one you describe above for Baptist churches. If you want to use your own definition of denomination, that is your prerogative, but it shouldn’t surprise when others don’t “get it.”

          Denomination is a broader term and in that sense there is certainly an SBC denomination, even if we can’t define it perfectly. It’s like that old quote. I can’t define it but I know what it looks like when I see it.

          • bill says

            To take this point further, the convention does exert some forms of control over the autonomous churches.

            Just ask Broadway…

            Sure the church still exists and continues to do its own work in the community and by sponsoring some of its own missionaries I would presume, but it is out of fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention because it is in clear violation of the BFM2K.

            And to echo Dave, I get what you’re saying, but you’re just using the wrong nomenclature.

            We do have autonomy, but there are some vehicles of control from the larger entity being exercised over some of the smaller entities.

          • says

            Well, since Broadway is not a Christian church by virtue of their disobediance to the clear teaching of God’s word they shouldn’t be in the SBC. Also, withdrawing fellowship does not equal controlling anyone.

          • bill says


            If you do not hold to the tenets of the BFM2K, you will have your fellowship with the SBC withdrawn. That is a form of exerting control. Likewise, a church can voluntarily withdraw itself from the convention. This is also a form of control.

            I’m merely stating this because the Convention does exert some forms of control over churches who wish to be associated with the Southern Baptist Convention and therefore be a part of the denomination or convention, which ever word to suit your usage. However, the church also can exert some control by being allowed to withdraw from the convention to pursue it’s own interests elsewhere.

          • says

            No, it isn’t. The SBC is not obligated to maintain fellowship. The ball, as it were, is in the church’s “court” and they are the ones in control. Therefore, the SBC is not “controlling” anyone by withdrawiing fellowship.

          • says

            Bill, again, that is a misunderstanding of polity. As autonomous bodies, each organization gets to set the parameters of fellowship for themselves. My church gets to decide who will be in fellowship with our church. The SBC gets to decide who will be in fellowship with the SBC.

            If the SBC tells my church what to believe, that is a violation. If my church demands to be a part of the SBC even if we deny SBC doctrine or practice, we are violating the autonomy of the SBC.

          • bill says

            The SBC has parameters, be it the BFM2K or its by laws, to be a member in good standing.

            That is a control.

            The church can choose to either follow, leave, or be removed.

            That is also a control.

            I’m not sure what I’m not getting.

            And no, I’m not trying to defend Broadway here though I’m sure some would love to have THAT to jump all over. We can discuss that another time, though many of you will find that I agree with the removal of Broadway much to your disappointment.

            I’m merely suggesting that there are some controls in place despite everyone’s notion of autonomy.

            You have an organization and you have people that want to be a part of that organization. However, to join the organization, you have to maintain certain rules and to remain a member of the organization, you have to abide by these rules. While a member, you can choose to leave the organization on your own or you can be removed were you to not follow the rules of the organization.

            What am I not getting?

        • Frank L. says

          Greg, your narrow interpretation of denomination is absolutely correct — in theory. However, we don’t live in theory, we live in reality. Science faces this same conumdrum in regard to quantum theory versus relativity. The theories are incompatible (at least at present) but both produce accurate experimental results. However, no one can “live” at the quantum level. We all live at the general relativity level where balls on a billiard table act according to common sense expectations.

          The same goes with the “convention vs. denomination” theories. If your theory were correct, it would be impossible according to the perameters you set up for anyone to “take-over” the SBC. But, that in fact, has happened several times over our history (a shift back and forth).

          For all “practical” purposes–the only kind we can actually “live” in–we are a denomination. Everything else is simply “theory” and parsing words.

  7. says

    Ouch! Oh well, and Really? The denomination is a bunch of Baptists, the missions organization means is the SBC, and the fact that our commitment to the faith is so weak that we are all afraid we are going to lose it is our big problem. We need to have the confidence that our view of the faith is the right one, that it will win the day, that it will win those who disagree with us, that our cause will triumph in the end by the most opposite of means, that is, by losing and dying, if need be. I must admit to trepidation on the one hand, and the expectancy on the other that we will see the Third Great Awakening in which the whole earth and every soul on it will be won to Christ in one generation and then for another 999 generations in order to fulfill the promises of God to Abraham of a seed as innumerable as the stars of Heaven, the sand of the sea, and the dust of the earth. The pleading of those promises among others by William Cary, Andrew Fuller, and others produced the launching of the Great Century of Missions and the Second Great Awakening besides religious liberty and a whole lot more. Jonathan Edwards Humble Attempt records nearly a 100 such promises to be pleaded for just such a heavenly visitation. The static here reminds me of Dr. Leonard’s address a few years back in which he cited some Episcopalian of the 1700s complaining about the Baptists and their fussins. All during that time they are fussing they are securing religious liberty, helping to launch the greatest nation on earth, launching the Great Century of Missions, uniting Separate and Regular Baptists, winning General Baptists who were neither very evangelistic nor missonary minded over to Regular (read Particular) Baptist ways who were both, employing educated and uneducated ministers together, experiencing the Second Great Awakening, and seeing some 255 Congregational churches become Baptist. So our fussins might well be the static attending great accomplishments. Now if only the Moderates will wake up to the intellectual approach to Scripture and realize how true and dependable and deep the work must be that is inspired by Omniscience, then we will be way down the road of the Third Great Awakening and all that follows for 1000 generations and reaching to the stars.

  8. Frank L. says

    Todd, let be honest and say I pretty much reject your premise out of hand–though I’m not absolutely sure I understand what it is.

    I’m sure you mean well and don’t want to suggest my disagreement with your point is disparaging your character.

    I think you are far too negative and the “sky is falling” is not a new prophecy. I do believe that some sort of split is inevitable in the Kingdom–all kingdoms split eventually. I see this as healthy and not something to be feared.

    I pretty much agree with Joe and others: I don’t think much legitimate help can come from heretics–except to use them as a contrast to truth.

    In my reading of your post I felt the urge to write, “he calls himself a Southern Baptist but his post looks like someone more non-denominational.”

    If one is “happy at the extreme fringe” not your exact words but your sentiment, I wonder, “why not just escape altogether?” Why stay in a community that one “barely” has any affinity for? I tend to be a little bit close to the fringe, myself, especially in anything SBC beyond the CP. So, I may have to take my own advice and skip town altogether.

    I have not skipped because I still believe there is much good in the SBC and the Battle for the Empire is important.

    I must thank you for making me think. I apologize if what it made me think was not what you intended.

    • says


      A warning. Be careful whom you call a heretic. I walked the grounds many a day at NOBTS and entered the C.H. Dodd building. There are several more like that across the SBC. The famed William Barclay, he of The New Daily Study Bible, is a favorite of many SBC pastors. Both were universalists. C.S. Lewis was possibly a universalist.

      John Stott is an annihilationist. So is the famed Isaac Watts who wrote such great hymns as “When I survey the wondrous cross” and “Joy to the World”. Do we need to exclude their voices? Are these men to offer us anything other than the contrast to the truth?

      Do they believe something different than what traditional orthodoxy believed? Yes. Some would even say that universalism is heresy – see the Council at Constantinople in 543 who condemned Origen’s universalism or the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553) who may or may not have endorsed the council’s findings.

      Again, just a warning. Do not be so quick to throw that term around.

      • Frank L. says

        David, let me ask you a question? Why would you assume I “throw the term around?” I only used it specifically about Rob Bell who denies the Biblical doctrine of hell (among others).

        Let me give you a warning: do not be so quick to accept that which God in His Word clearly rejects. Twice in the Pastoral Epistles within a couple books Paul warns to clearly identify AND AVOID heretics.

        So, my warning to you: be careful riding a high horse, the fall can be devastating.

        PS–I don’t recall saying I was a fan of either Dodd or Barclay. I don’t have any reason to read Dodd anymore, and I read Barclay only for his historical info that is often very good.

        And, no scholarly work I’m aware of has clearly made the argument that C.S. Lewis was a universalist. This has been a heated debate and it is unfair that you would disparage Lewis who has never been proven to be less than orthodox and not declare Bell a heretic who clearly is.

        • Christiane says

          C.S. Lewis was converted to Anglicanism by his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, a Roman Catholic.

          There is a recognizable resonance of Christian orthodoxy that shows up in the writings of both men . . . and the more recent films based on their work have brought many Christian people into theaters who, on seeing these films, have recognized the underlying Christian themes woven into the stories and characters.
          (Reference: the Narnia films, Lord of the Rings series).

        • says


          you crack me up! I love it. I mean that sincerely. I certainly appreciate your position. Now, on to associating with heretics…

          It’s settled then. You will never sing “When I survey the wondrous cross” again, nor will you sing “Joy to the World” because those songs were written by a heretic. Please make sure you discard all your John Stott books. Oh, and please make sure you stop listening to those who are quoting Stott as well, people like David Platt and others like him.

          Also please check your footnotes in your theology books that you rely on – Grudem’s systematic and James Leo’s Systematic, and Millard Erickson’s big green monster – and put aside to all those who quote positively C.H. Dodd and William Barclay, because they have not avoided the heretics either. Obviously they have not heeded scripture.

          Regarding Lewis, I do find it interesting that according to one who has actually read Bell’s book (I don’t have a need to read it because he says nothing new, according to Bell himself), he recommends Lewis’ book The Great Divorce as one which influenced his own views of hell. (Bell also recommends Tim Keller’s “Prodigal God”.) Additionally, Lewis’ fiction shows even more controversial—and directly universalist—views of salvation, with souls leaving Hell and going to Heaven, where they are saved after death. Now granted it’s fiction, but so was The Shack. Ironically, if you want to read an interesting Master’s Thesis on Lewis’ theology in his fiction, you might try this link from Virginia Tech:

          Now lest you think i’m a Rob Bell-loving, orthodoxy-hating moderate whose bashing Bible-believing, God-honoring Southern Baptists, please don’t. I love many people in my tribe. I am thankful for the education I got. I’ve been a SBC’er for 42 years.

          But when all people want to do is condemn those who do not agree with them and call heretics people who are trying to work out their understanding of God in fear and trembling (not salvation, mind you) because the pat answers they were given and are given don’t work, then I run.

          I run because I would rather come along-side those folks one on one and understand why they have changed their beliefs and then help them move back into orthodoxy (if they indeed deny things like the Trinity or virgin birth, etc). If they just don’t agree with me, then I wonder what they have have come across to give them that different perspective. I am confident enough in what I believe and confident enough in the Holy Spirit to keep me in orthodoxy that I will try to love them back into orthodoxy rather than let them go. And I am confident in the relationships I have with strong, orthodox Christ-followers who love me that they would do the same thing if I were to go astray.

          I really hope you have a wonderful evening. Blessings on you Frank and may your ministry, family, and life prosper!

          • Frank L. says


            Just to clarify. I didn’t say I remain ignorant of a heretics writing or thought. I think the difference is in what one believes “listening to” implies. See Todd for why I should not use the word, “implies.”

            One, I don’t read Bell anymore because I don’t feel the old heresy couched in new language is any better. In other words, I do not find him “refreshing in any way.”

            I distinguish between reading for scholarly purposes and “listening to” for advice. That is the distinction I was making. In that regard, I see no reason to set a place for Bell, for example, at my theological table.

            In regard to singing “Joy to the World.” Could you point out the heresy in that song? The fact that you discredit it based upon it’s source is a logical fallacy. I don’t do that with say, Bell. I evaluate what he actually has produced in writing. Some of his videos are nice and inoffensive, but I don’t use them anymore so as to make a clean distinction for those I am teaching. I don’t like to use material that takes half my time qualifying.

            I agree with this sentiment: “But when all people want to do is condemn those who do not agree with them.” This is a blog and discussion of Bell was apro po to the discussion. I agree it is a waste of time trying to “fix” everybody else. However, when in the process of trying to fix the SBC, I think we should limit who we bring to the table.

            That was the spirit of my talking points.

            I’m sure you realize that your post has a bit of sarcasm and straw man tones. I can distinquish when eating the difference between the fish and the bones.

            In regard to all those people you mention: Gruden, Garrett, et. al, I really don’t interact with them much any more. They just sit quietly in my study making me look good to visitors.

            In my old age, I find there is plenty in the Bible to preach and teach that will “build up the elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness in the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:1-2). Maybe I’m just too old to keep fighting the Calvinism/Armenianism, determinism/free-will, charismatic/cessation battles.

            They say as you grow older you have less and less brain cells. I find that the Bible all by Itself gives my remaining cells a good work out.

            Blessings back to you,
            Frank L.

  9. says


    If my post made you think, then I will feel I have accomplished something good with it.

    My premise that you reject? There is not one denomination that bears the mark of “God’s Last and Only Hope,” though a peering into our SBC history and rhetoric you would think that is precisely what we think. So, when one side whom some refer to as “Traditionalist” or “Baptist Identity,” is pitted against a “Younger, Hipper, Neo-Reformed” group I think we have vacated the core of our identity and are less concerned about saving it but more inclined to “win” for my group. Flowing out of that is the position that these two titans battle for what? In the end some of us prefer to our denominational heritage not for its un-tarnished past or its unstained tradition. We like it because it is the tribe in which we came to faith, were nurtured, and birthed.

    Some family members move to the edge with no real desire to skip town. They like the edge because it keeps them in proximity to the channels through which the experience of grace came. They remain on the edge in something of a hope-filled prophetic way, not a sky-is-falling way. They want to speak to the center in hopes of restoring the core. In this case, Jesus. Not my way or your way. And, not my nuanced view of Baptist theology versus your nuanced view of Baptist theology. For, surely you may agree that to say there is a Baptist theology is a bit of a stretch of history. We have our principles that distinguish us, but listen to the rhetoric. We borrow from the Reformed, Arminius, Anabaptists, and more. We are more Christian syncretist than originators.

    Leave. Frankly, I have not thought about it. Invite my denomination to live more charitably with those who share a love for Jesus, a longing to live in the reign of the King, and invite others to be swept in by the Spirit – you bet.

    As for heretics. It just does not make sense for any Baptist to lob that label. That is, unless we have so tightly defined our orthodoxy that we can do so with unwavering certainty. The truth is the breadth of orthodoxy, Christian orthodoxy, is what we fear. So, for those who are picking sides, which is a false dilemma, sometimes the voice of someone “that group” deems a heretic may well be the therapy needed to prompt us to stop worrying about the Empire and start giving more than lip service to the Kingdom.

    • Frank L. says

      Todd, I guess your premise that “all opinions are of equal value” which you imply by stating, “a Baptist should never refer to someone as a heretic” is where we cross swords.

      Also, your premise (again implied not stated) that there is no such thing as “Baptist Identity” simply sounds like an absurd statement, or a carefully crafted statement to achieve an ulterior agenda.

      As a Southern Baptist we have described our basic identity–the BFM 2000. So, I don’t buy your “floating platform identity” or amorphous understanding of what is a Baptist. There may be disagreement on particulars (that’s why there are 165 plus Baptist denominations) but there are some big categories we all agree on.

      Thinking like yours sounds vert non-denominational which is what one would expect from someone so close the the edge of SBC life that during an earthquake they actually leave periodically.

      PS–Rob Bell is a heretic and I am a Baptist.

      • says


        We definitely have grammar issues here Frank. Case in point you determine for me my premises by implication. This is why there is no conversation in Baptist, especially Southern Baptists, circles. For instance, if you are still unclear as to my premises after me stating, what for me was quite clear, then better to ask if my premise is, “Are all opinions of equal value.” That is an interpretive move. And a disingenuous one at that.

        I have been a Baptist, Southern one, since the cradle roll. In all that accounts for my nearly 48 years in “Baptist” life. I hold three degrees from Southern Baptist institutions of higher education – all considered conservative. I have witnessed the organic development out of which our Southern Baptist confessions arise – out of conflict, like it or not. To say that we have an identity based on the BFM is to forget the forbears of our, or your, beloved BFM – and to me it does not matter which version (’25, ’63, ’00).

        Our “confessions” were borrowed until ’25 and we “adopted” our own. Baptist’s, Southern ones, have “distinctives. There are generally regarded as five. Our identity has been historically in our practice as we have many streams in our theological DNA. You assumed, again, that I consider our identity amorphous. You must really ask rather than assume. Surely you know the old adage.

        Here is what is interesting. If you need me to leave because I don’t comport to your vision of Baptist, then, you prove my point and affirm my premises.

        And, your PS is quite telling. Not Baptists = heretic. Oops, did I assume too much. Seems like you are further in than you portray.

        • Frank L. says


          So I can get my grammar right. I want to get it right because that is what I teach, in part.

          You said, “Our “confessions” were borrowed until ’25 and we “adopted” our own.” Now, the term borrow to me, implies “from someplace else.” Did we borrow them from “non-baptists? Did we borrow them from Presbyterians? We may share some affinity with other groups, but I don’t think our identity is borrowed from them.

          I don’t think your argument of which BFM we choose supports an idea that there is no thing that can be identified as “Baptists.” All of those documents are “Baptist Covenants.”

          “Seems like you are further in than you portray.” First, I stated exactly where I felt I was and did not “portray” anything more. Second, I only meant to suggest in as charitable a way as possible that I was not in as far as some but most certainly further in (using your term) than you are.

          I outlined my assumptions as such to be generous and give you an opportunity to correct me without making disparaging remarks like, “the old adage.”

          Unlike you–according to your own statement–I was not “born into Southern Baptist life. I made a conscious adult decision to become a Southern Baptist only after investigating their identity.

          Please feel to clarify what kind of document the BFM is if it is not one outlining (in however broad terms) a Baptist identity.

          In regard to your view that your views are not “a sky falling, the SBC is collapsing” I will accept you at face value. If you really feel that the SBC is doing a commendable job, though we both would no doubt agree it is imperfect, then my assumption from what you wrote was completely wrong and I apologize.

          And, if you meant to convey that there really is such a thing as a Baptist idea and I assumed incorrectly something different from what you wrote, then I apologize for that, too.

          I used the words imply and assume in a more charitable way than your reference to “the old adage” implies you took them :)

          • says


            there wasn’t a reply link under my thread, so I’ll put it here.

            You were right, there was sarcasm in my comment, and that was intended. I was using it to make a point. You had challenged me to avoid heretics:

            Let me give you a warning: do not be so quick to accept that which God in His Word clearly rejects. Twice in the Pastoral Epistles within a couple books Paul warns to clearly identify AND AVOID heretics.

            So if I should avoid the heretics, you should as well, correct? Therefore, Joy to the World was written by a heretic, therefore I should avoid it. Lot’s of sarcasm there and it was indeed intended.

            You actually got my point (I think), which was to say that we need to be careful about who we call heretics. People in the convention too often throw that word around, along with the term “liberal”, with a theological haughtiness that exudes, “This is what the Bible says and if you disagree with me you disagree with the Bible”. I’m tired of all this. I’m tired of the fighting, and honestly, if this is the kind of convention the SBC is going to be, it’s not one I want to be a part of. And that saddens me. And it is also what I think Bill Leonard was noting back in the 1990’s which Todd was trying to point out. We will eat our own.

            That was the idea behind the first comment to you. It wasn’t a high-horse. I was simply noting the propensity of Southern Baptists to accept many who may have expressed a heretical view without resorting to the language we use today because they were able to see that one doctrine may not a heretic make.


          • Frank L. says


            I think we agree on much. I’ve been a fighter all my life, but I’ve decided to hang up the gloves. I don’t regret the many church battles, association battles, and personal battles where I defended what I believed to be right.

            But frankly, its a new day–certainly for me. My fear is that the SBC will leave me with only two choices: 1) accept theological compromise for the sake of unity; 2) continue to draw the net smaller and smaller until the only people I’m left in fellowship with is me, and I’m not always sure about my theology.

            We need to redevelop an identity that the masses of SBC’ers can accept, stick with it and move on to missions. I thought we did that with the BFM 2000. I think that document gives enough theological stability and enough theological flexibility to have a large, though not limitless, tent.

            Unfortunately, some want to use the SBC for their own ends and everybody loses. We need an identity to help people make a solid choice to “get in or get out.” This constant griping and sniping and politicking is going to be the end of us, is my fear.

          • says

            Frank (re:#48),

            When I distinguish between Baptist Distinctives and, say, the BFM as a Confessional Statement I mean what is described at a site like this –

            Our confessions, that is those used prior to 1925 were from a variety of Baptist groups that predated the SBC. Here is a brief look –

            My apologies in referencing the “old adage.” I feared that unless we took a moment and clarified, I would at least bear the resemblance to the statement. “Conversations” in this format are tenuous most days. That is why I suggested more of a “is this what you mean” rather than “this is what you must mean.”

            I do believe there are some commendable things going on in the SBC. But, will quickly agree with you we are less than perfect.

            And, while I do believe there is a “Baptist” Identity, I am not sure I would define it as narrowly as to suggest Southern Baptists are its prime example. I have fellowshipped with Baptists from around the world. And, many would find the “distinctives” I noted to be more consistent in denoting what is Baptist is than rallying around the BFM 2000. That is what precipitated the Southern Baptist withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance. Or, so the story goes.

            Thank you for your candid conversation.

          • says

            Just a heads up, when you put more than a single link into a comment it tends to get caught in moderation and has to wait for approval. That is why it didn’t appear right away.

  10. Paul says

    I’ve been preaching through 1 Corinthians and reading Gordon Fee’s commentary as I go. I liked something he wrote as part of a summary of 3:18-23:

    “The Corinthians error is an easy one to repeat. Not only do we all have normal tendencies to turn natural preferences into exclusive ones but in our fullness we also tend to consider ourselves ‘wise’ enough to inform God through whom he may minister to his people….” We throw labels on our opponents as a way of dismissing them, “which means that we no longer need to listen to him, since his [perspective] has determined his overall value as a spokesman for God.” “The difficulty lies in allowing that it might really be true that ‘all things are ours,’ including those whom we think God would do better to be without. But God is full of surprises; and he may choose to minister to us from the ‘strangest’ of sources, if we were but more truly ‘in Christ’ and therefore free in him to learn and to love…. To be ‘of Christ’ is also to be free from the tyrannies of one’s own narrowness, free to learn even from those with whom one may disagree.”

    That’s all some of us hope for in our SBC. Honestly, I think it’s funny that there’s been this big to-do over heresy in the Baptist blogosphere and the two we keep taking swings at are Rob Bell and T.D. Jakes – who aren’t even Baptists. That must mean we can’t find any heretics of our own to go after. But that should also mean that, void of our own heretics, we could extend a bit of grace toward our Baptist brothers and sisters when the biggest things we have to fight over are how (non)Calvinistic, or contemporary/traditional we’re going to be. It might be that God would speak to us through our own orthodox brothers and sisters who we may yet have some disagreement with on a variety of subjects.

      • says

        I agree to some extent about Fee. He has written some great commentaries, but he certainly has his blindspots. In his NICNT commentary on 1 Corinthians he opposes all other scholarship in his complete rejection of 1 Cor. 14:34 as being written by Paul. I remember my Greek textual criticism professor, who incidentally oversees the largest Greek manuscript collection in North America, point out that no other textual criticism scholar has ever agreed with Fee on this point and that it is clear that he is so blinded by his devotion to Egalitarianism that he is unable to admit that his views on this text are severely flawed.

  11. Dave Miller says

    To everyone: We try to walk a fine balance at SBC Voices. By the very nature of this site, we have different voices with different opinions. So, disagreement is encouraged here. It is not unusual for me to contact someone to lodges a dissenting opinion to something I write and ask them to write it up and post it here.

    The whole point is to be a place where discussion can take place.

    On the other hand, SBC Voices was known as the Wild West of blogs for a while – very little law and order. I sat back and let thing go. I found I did not like being the editor of a blog when I was embarrassed at the discussions going on.

    Here’s the thing, we are riding that fine line here. I knew when I posted this that it would be a lively topic. Let’s just make sure we keep the discussion lively without straying into the snarky or personal.

    NO! I am not calling anyone on the carpet. Just asking for each of us to be sure that we express our differences in a proper way.

    Okay everyone. GROUP HUG!

    • says

      Dave, er uh Sheriff,

      I certainly do not want to bring disparagement to SBC Voices. If at any point you believe me to have crossed your line, please alert me. I would prefer to slip away than to stomp on your graciousness to consider any post I might send your way.

      Thanks for maintaing decorum. I appreciate it.

      (And, no there is no sarcasm at any point in this post save the playful reference to “Sheriff” in this here “Wild West.”

  12. says

    Since this has made it into this thread I will add one thought. I should note, I am not willing to call Bell a heretic. He may not comport to traditional Baptist theology, but in the course of what Evangelicals have accepted in others attempting to think through the Scriptures (C.S Lewis), Bell has not moved outside the broader scope of Christian theology. Now, I am not finished with his new book so there is still time for me to change my mind. I may disagree with his vision, but I cannot for the life of me understand why someone who “wants” people to experience the love of God through Jesus, the Christ and “hopes” for a breadth of God’s love is summarily dismissed. We may disagree with any speculative theo-philosophy that runs the trek of Bell. But, to pitch Bell onto the bin heap of heretics of a bygone day seems the antithesis of our hope in the love of God.

    • says

      Actually, pitching Bell into the dung heap with other heretics is the result of the hope we have in God.

      The gospel is the power of God that saves people. So, when someone completely perverts the entire gospel and in fact calls that gospel “toxic” as he does, they declare themselves the enemy of the gospel.

      Paul declared anyone who preaches a different gospel to be accursed. Bell preaches a different gospel. Therefore, Bell is being rightly raked over the coals for telling a bald faced lie which has no biblical support whatsoever. Perhaps you can call him brother and you would cooperate with him in ministry. That would be a “you” problem.

      Anything done to or said about Bell is WAY better than he deserves.

    • Frank L. says

      “”Bell has not moved outside the broader scope of Christian theology.””

      I don’t know why you keep comparing Bell to C.S. Lewis, but I don’t see the comparison, frankly. I do know exactly what Bell believes about death and judgement because he states it clearly in an interview a few days ago. He said,

      “If we have the freedom to choose these things now, that Jesus came to offer us and show us, then I assume that when you die, you can continue to choose.”

      Now, there is no way I can see that the above statement squaring with the gospel as revealed in God’s Word. Bell clearly believes a person can get saved “after” they die. I can’t think of a more damnable heresy no matter how nice a guy Bell might be or how many people he has managed to get to drink his elixer.

      • says


        For anyone to declare Bell to not be outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy is laughable. But of course, you and I haven’t read Bell’s book so we’re just a couple of fundementalist idealogue chickens who can’t stand people who ask innocent questions–pure hearted truth seekers like Bell.

        Ok, that last sentence was even more sarcasm than I can stand.

        • Frank L. says

          Joe, I have not read “This” book, but I don’t need to because Bell states his position clearly in the aforementioned statement.

          Those that defend Bell in this thread purport to take “the high ground,” but I don’t buy it. If Bell is wrong about what happens after one dies and causes people to think they will have another chance after death, I can’t think of a greater disservice or more unloving act.

          It is an error of old liberalism to so focus on the higher ethic of love that they caricature God and make Him less than what He clearly and forcefully revealed Himself to be.

          In several interviews Bell sets forth his theology as being totally guided by preaching the love of God. This imbalance is where the heresy no doubt developed.

          Frankly, I wish Bell were right and people do get a second chance to respond to God’s grace after death. However, the Bible clearly reproves any such notion. The most loving thing we can do is warn people of God’s wrath if they die without responding to His love.

        • Frank L. says

          Just like I would expect when you cannot defend Bell with reasonable argument you resort to attack. You also throw in a smokescreen. If you prove Lewis is a heretic it does not spare Bell from the charge.

          That is easier than defending Bells own words. But I most say your schoolboy name calling is not becoming. Why not just let Bell speak for himself? This is a blog so I’m not trusting it will save the world from anything.

          Bell clearly believes in the possibility of being saved after death. I don’t have any problem calling that heresy, anymore than you do defending it. That’s sort of what a blog is about.

          This is also aSBC blog. So I really don’t think my position on salvation AFTER death is so far from the mainstream.

          I do think I understand that calling anything, heresy, makes young emergent types uncomfortable. I do not use the term lightly.

          • says


            Defend Bell? I have no interest in defending Bell. I stated that I have not read his book and soundbites do not an argument make unless of course you and Joe are the one’s making your points. I do think orthodoxy is not your prevue. And while you and Joe have self-identified as the “magisterium” to which we must all submit under your rubric of needing Scripture for a basis is laughable.

            Name calling? Here is where it gets real funny. You were offended by my reference to an “old adage.” I sought a conciliatory move for I did not intend to offend. Now here in this comment you charge me with name calling and in the comment to which you reply you would have to be a postmodern philosopher to imbue that text (reply) with your preferred meaning. That is, you read what I write and disregard what I am saying and insert what you want me to be saying so that you come off as winning an argument. Thus, my reference above to you and Joe proving my point.

            Emergent types. Putting aside reading what others are telling you, it is odd that you would then make the move of “categorization.” It makes it easier to pitch me aside and as Joe tells me to just shut up. I will agree I am no fundamentalist. That is a category I would eschew. But, heretofore I have said nothing but offer a call to charity when talking about these matters. A move I sense you cannot or will not make. Funny thing it is. You have decided what Scriptures apply to conversations, that is you want Scriptural support to defend Bell for instance, and which ones do not. So, you can treat a brother dismissively and ignore the one another’s of the Scriptures you pretend to defend. Classic.

            I think it better for me to say, “You win.” I will not worry how you will interpret my meaning. You have proven great skill at telling me what I am thinking and believing.

            You have not made me uncomfortable. You have done more to make my point than any word in the post. And, for that I thank you.

            PS – I appreciate the reference to “young.” Most grandparents need that every now and again.

        • says

          You know, Todd, it’d be a lot more fun if you’d pretend like you could defend Bell’s position of post-mortem salvation–from scripture. Or his position that people of other faiths can come to salvation through Christ without ever hearing about Christ. Again, from scripture. I don’t give a rip about C.S. Lewis. I’m not talking about him. Besides, bringing C.S. Lewis into the mix really just shows how weak your argument is. “Appeal to authority”=logical falicy. Defend Bell’s views from scripture. Put up or shut up. I’d prefer you did the later.

          Oh, and if you’d be willing to fellowship with and cooperate with Bell then, yes, I’d say you are something for the world to be “saved from”.

          • says


            I have not defended Bell. Nor does he need me to defend him. I read Bell saying he is “hoping” for the things with which you charge him. If you had read what you use to whip him with in context, you would know he says much of what we talk about beyond this life with any specificity other than it is where God is and all is good, is speculation. I have not read far enough to see where he goes from there, but unlike you I prefer to read him for myself rather than spew venom without “giving the brother a benefit,” a matter you care little about. Fine. And, as I mentioned to Frank, seems to defy the very Scriptures you say you are beholden to. But, this is now your game and those Scriptures fall flat in favor of those giving you privilege of whipping this “something for the world to be “saved from”” into shape or telling him to shut up.

            Bringing Lewis up and the link I referenced is simply to demonstrate that while you would be willing to quote Lewis, I assume, in, say, Mere Christianity – or my favorite The Abolition of Man, you would be treating him better than Bell despite his Problem of Pain or his Great Divorce. That is just inconsistent. And, I will readily admit, should you not care to quote or read Lewis in any charitable way then my illustration rightly falls short of its hopeful mark.

            And, since this post is not about defending Bell, nor was it my intent despite him becoming an illustration, your call to shut up is nothing more than bullying in a blog comment thread. Quite a sad move. But, as I noted to Frank above. Were I to want illustrations for my post and some of its implications, you have done me the greatest service. Even to the point of making this thread about something other than what was intended.

            Joe – I would be willing to fellowship with you. I have little doubt we would find something to spark a conversation. But, I suspect you would be more fun to have a conversation with out from behind your keyboard. For I want to believe you are not nearly as angry a fundamentalist as you evidence in your comments.

          • says

            He is not saying what he “hopes” is going to happen. He’s saying what he believes is GOING to happen. I haven’t, and certainly don’t plan on, reading his garbage but I’ve heard sermons of his, listened to interviews with him, and read reviews of the book. Since, not if, Bell believes what he believes he has denied the gospel, preaches a false gospel, and most certainly is not a Christian and therefore is not my brother. He is outside the bounds of Christian fellowship and should only be welcomed into such fellowship if he publicly repudiates what he has said and written and repents. I pray that he does, but I’m sure not gonna hold my breath.

  13. says


    I will be content with “my” problem. If you have read the Bell book and capture the context of your reference and maintain your position, that is “your” prerogative. If you have not then I will, as Frank did earlier, acknowledge your consistency regardless of my agreement or disagreement with you.

  14. says

    The one way to work out the differences is by a closer study of the Bible – albeit with a more perceptive methodology than is presently employed. We need a (shall I say it with trepidation as many will surely misunderstand me) a more intellectual approach, one that respects the place of analysis and history but one that has a more synthetical comprehensiveness. It was by such means that I was enable to discover the two-sided and apparently contradictory truths of the Bible which were evidently designed to set up a desirable tension in the mind which enables the believer to be flexible and balanced, desirable traits to say the least. One of the reasons why I stuck with verbal inspiration was because it fit the facts, the liberals (a misnomer if there was ever one) always erred in calling it mechanical dictation to the point that even some of their own advocates protested against such gross misrepresentation of the teaching. Verybal inspiration involves the Divine side and the human side, both aspects are crucial to the doctrine of Scripture as presented by the writers of the Bible themselves. I remember one fellow student who had received a lower grade on his paper about inspiration. The professor had written in the margin in red, concerning L. Gaussen and his Theopneustia, “This man started mechanical dictation.”

    We were standing in front of the Library, and I said, concerning Gaussen, “He did not; he allows for human differences though he uses the term dictation.” We went into the Library, pulled the volume, and I showed the student the section on the human authors. He immediately went to the professor and showed him the material. The professor admitted he had erred, but he did not change the grade. Clearly, one must be exceedingly careful to read sources closely, even minutely.

    One of the things I learned long ago ws to read the footnotes. I use to take notes on the footnotes as well as the text. Biblical believers should be the most careful, astute, insightful, studious, deliberative, and thorough in their documentation. The professor who taught me to do research, Dr. Lorenzo J. Greene (whom Dr. John Hope Franklin in his From Slavery to Freedom in the bibliography for chapter 8 declared to be “the authority on slavery in New England.”) stated that you hafve to examine everything that is written on a subject, if you woul be truly thorough and scholarly (a virtually impossible task in some fields due to the vast amounts of documents on the subjects). I have perhaps 10,000 5×8 notecards covering a number of subjects (e.g., church history 3000, agape love in I Cors.13 2000, preaching 2000, the first 13 Psalms 1500, 3500 on various other subjects and many notebooks (e.g., I John 5 notebooks, one for each chapter).

    We will honor our Lord more by taking care to do thorough research on subjects..even exhaustive research. Over learning as some call it is one of the best ways to get at the truth. This does not mena there is no room for inspiration, instant insights, illumination, etc. One the contrary, those things are enhanced by vast researches.

    It is such efforts aided by prayer that enables us to win others to what we consider to be the proper point of view. Dogmatics are far more effective, when they are buttressed by an in-depthy acquaintance with all of the available evidence. It is also the means by which we can come to see the error of our own ways and make the proper changes consonant with the truth.

    We have to allow for differences. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”(Jn.16:12) We must develop some parameters that allow for differences that can be allowed without being overly harsh, etc. In fact, we should want to win those who sriously differ with us and nothing is so calculated to do it as a full mastery with a winsome presentation. The Bible calls for an intellectual approach, saying to us, “Be ye wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves.”(Mt.10:16)

  15. Lydia says

    “I don’t care what conclusions another person draws if they will not take the time to actually discuss nuances and meaning. ”

    Todd, Thank you for this! My sentiments exactly.

    “Many in the SBC have found David Platt’s Radical to be quite compelling, if not disturbing. ”

    And we saw the same ‘disturbed’ response by some of the celebrities in Christendom to Francis Chan.

  16. says

    Todd, quick question. You said:

    For I want to believe you are not nearly as angry a fundamentalist as you evidence in your comments.

    Question: How do you view/label Rob Bell as evidenced by his writings, teachings, etc.?

    • says


      Great question. Interesting that of all my comments you pulled that one.

      I refuse to label Bell as I have had no direct conversation with him – email, online, chat or otherwise. I have read a book or two. I have watched a few Nooma videos.

      When I hear him say there is not hope without/apart from Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection, I cannot agree he is preaching another Gospel. Is he speculating as to the extent and efficacy of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? I think he may well be. But, his more broadly gracious speculations are little different than the fictional, yet deeply rooted in a very particular eschatological/theological vision, albeit more narrow speculations of LaHaye’s egregiously popular Left Behind series.

      My friend David Fitch remarked that the difference between Sproul and Pinnock when it comes to the vision of the extent and efficacy of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus is one of percentages. Sproul would, he suggests, believe maybe 3% of all human beings will enter God’s rest in eternity. Pinnock would see it as 97%. (I know this reference will stir the fires of Scriptural authority for some, and the label heretic for others, but that will be little more than an obfuscation of my point.)

      Fitch followed by saying the difference in Bell’s case, seems like using the above analogy and making it Bell and Piper.

      The extent and efficacy of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is often the nexus of debate between Reformed and non-Reformed positions. Thus, the issue is not new. Bell simply, to me, restates not “old liberalism, ” a la Mohler’s description, but rather his wrestling as a pastor with the issues of human suffering and compassion. Some want to make the matter one of sentimentality. I think that is dismissive and makes for good sound bites.

      Here is the real thing I could not get others to consider. I am not defending Bell, I do not agree down the line with Bell, but when boring down to the issue on which these debates are built, we may either go to seed on a statement or a sentence and throw the brother into perdition. Or, we can walk with and seek to understand in a more charitable fashion.

      Alvin Reid tweeted sometime yesterday. There is nothing wrong with standing for the truth just be sure you don’t have halitosis doing it. What I read in vitriolic responses to Bell betrays the ethic of Jesus. When Jesus became angry he did so because the space made for all people had become a bazaar keeping people from hearing the story of YHWH. Bell is not interested in keeping people from hearing the story. He appears, to me, to want to tell the story that maximizes the speculative efficacy of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the face of our normal false dilemmas and witch-hunting.

      There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with Bell. And, quickly, there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with me. How we disagree says more about what we really believe about Jesus than whatever we type into this little box that shows up on the interwebs. Some seem content to practice a scorched earth policy. Maybe it is an attempt to make people “feel” as though they have entered Hell.

      My original intent in this post has been well illustrated in this thread a time or two. The battle is more for an “Empire” than the Kingdom. For, if it were for the Kingdom we would certainly find ourselves emulating the King. At least that is what I find in my copy of the Sacred Text.

      Mark – that is more that what you may have asked for. But, since of all the things we may have considered, it seemed the right course for the question.

      What are your thoughts about Bell?

      • says

        If he preaches inclusivism, which he obviously does, then he preaches another gospel. There is no biblical support for the idea that people of other faiths will be saved apart from personal, conscious faith in Christ. Therefore, Bell is a false teacher. He most certainly isn’t a Christian.

    • says

      Chapter 6 is about what is usually called inclusivism–that salvation through Jesus Christ is not limited to those who hear his name. (I’ve discussed problems with restrictivism here before.) I find nothing in that chapter that Billy Graham has not said. (Go to and look up Graham’s responses to questions from Robert Schuler.)

      From the Billy Grahm Association:
      At the time of the interview, Mr. Graham was struggling with physical symptoms related to a then undiagnosed condition called hydrocephalus, involving fluid on the brain. These issues, in addition to his age, were evidenced by a weariness and instability in many areas of his life. We believe that, under the pressure of a live interview, Mr. Graham may have become sidetracked and acknowledged something he has never believed.

      Inclusivism is heresy. No Christian advocates inclusivism. Further, even IF Billy Grahm did (and apparently there is reason to believe he did not if his organization sent that out) saying “Well, Billy Grahm believes it…” as a buttress for a totally unbiblical position that no Christian takes is a logical fallacy called “appeal to authority”.

      So, no matter how badly moderates and liberals (and really, is there a need to make a distinction there. I mean, one group is just as worthless as the other), people from other faiths will not be saved by Christ without repenting from their sins and consciously placing their faith in Christ. All Christians recgonize that.

      • says

        So, no matter how badly moderates and liberals (and really, is there a need to make a distinction there. I mean, one group is just as worthless as the other), want to pretend otherwise…

        Left some words out.

  17. Frank L. says

    It is interesting that one commentator uses the argument: if you disagree with me that proves my point. That’s the ultimate debate strategy, Very postmodern and emerging.

    • says

      Frank, we’re just a couple of ignorant ol’ hateful fundy’s. We actually believe that people who deny the gospel and preach false doctrine aren’t Christians. We care to think that such people should be excluded from fellowship. Gasp. We’re just two narrow minded, exclusivist hicks.


  18. Frank L. says

    Joe, some people who post betray their age. They think their ideas of inclusivism and “big tent,” Rodney King theology is new. Anybody who would dare challenge the aberrant theology espoused and propagated by the flavor of the day talking head, is condemned as narrow-minded and unloving.

    Liberals in the early 1900’s (I remember many of them) used the same argument to defend their aberrant theology. I don’t hate Bell–I nearly know him. I hate what his theology causes–people to be misled and their souls put into jeopardy by teaching doctrines the Bible exposes as heresy.

    I’m sure many other preachers are much worse than Bell, maybe even C.S. Lewis. I say that facitiously because C.S. Lewis never made a clear, unequivocal statement that someone can be saved after death. Bell is a default spokesperson for Christianity. Just read the press and see how they describe him. He freely accepts that role.

    Therefore, I have the right–the responsibility to point out his error. I do so not because I am any better than he is, or any smarter, or any other reason than Jude mandates believers “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” This faith, as Jude points out, is not emerging. It is fixed.

    I feel the same way with T.D. Jakes. If he wants to play the part of a Christian spokesman, then he has an obligation to make his shadowy theology clear (1Cor. 13). At least Bell has been crystal clear in rejecting the Biblical teaching on hell and judgment.

    And yes, I’m a proud owner of a set of The Fundamentals. I also like have fun and have been accused more than once for being a little “mental.”

  19. Jack Wolford says

    When the two of you are gathered – Frank L & Joe Blackmon – everybody listens. ( sarcasm )