I will admit two things at the very start of this post.
- I am not neutral in the presidential race for the SBC. I hope JD Greear is the next president of the SBC.
- I have never met Dr. Hemphill. He came to SWBTS after I graduated and I’d not heard much from him until the recent announcement. I have a positive impression of him, believing him to be a good man and good Southern Baptist.
But there is a growing tendency in the advocacy of Dr. Hemphill – by his supporters, not by him – that is becoming increasingly troubling.
In the announcement in BP about Hemphill’s candidacy, Dr. Eric Hankins left little doubt about his hopes for the Hemphill nomination.
We need a leader with an absolute commitment to the Southern Baptist core conviction concerning the Gospel’s unlimited power and unlimited scope.
Events have seemed to put Dr. Eric Hankins and I on opposite sides of most fences, but I appreciate his forthrightness. There seem to be no hidden agendas or political maneuverings with him. He speaks his mind and you agree or disagree. I respect that. He is making it plain that he wants Dr. Hemphill to advance the “Traditionalist” agenda and stanch the rising Calvinistic tide he sees as pervasive in the modern SBC. His speech at Connect 316 last year was widely seen as a call to arms in that struggle.
He is well within his rights as a Southern Baptist to do such a thing – to set an agenda, promote it, and seek to convince others to support it. There is nothing untoward about saying that he wants non-Calvinist leadership to advance the non-Calvinist agenda. In the original announcement of Dr. Hemphill’s candidacy, the statements of support were well within the boundaries of propriety – stating support for a worthy Baptist statesman who has every qualification to be president of our convention.
That standard did not hold in subsequent articles and disturbing trends began to emerge. Of course, some of this was expected from sources that never fail to disappoint. They did as was expected and their tactics surprised no one. But other voices, voices generally respected within SBC circles, voices from whom we expected better, chimed in with statements that were problematic, bordering sometimes on the absurd and even at times on the slanderous. Southern Baptists have the right to advocate their positions but they must do so truthfully and honorably. Political discourse in inevitable in a political body, but it must be discourse held to the highest standards of integrity. Smear campaigns, character assassination, and statements that are false, demeaning, and misleading must not be the tools of our political efforts.
Dr. Richard Land is a man I’ve always respected, even in those times that I have not agreed with him. I’ve known him (though he did not know me) since I was a seminary student and he was a frequent speaker in my church in Dallas, during his time at Criswell. In his first statements, he praised Hemphill in appropriate ways, but a later article by Bill Bumpas quoted him making statements that we can only hope were misquotes. The first one evidenced a common but persistent misunderstanding among anti-Calvinists. Land was quoted as saying:
This is about the gospel and whether or not the gospel is for everyone, not just the elect.
No matter how often Calvinists explain that this is not true, the anti-Calvinist wing insists on this harsh interpretation. Every Calvinist I know would say that the gospel is for everyone. To say that Calvinists believe differently is false. Even those who hold to the doctrine of Limited Atonement would say the gospel must be proclaimed to all and is for everyone. Granted, they might apply that belief in a different way, but Dr. Land’s statement is inaccurate.
And, more simply, I have seen little evidence that Dr. Greear is a five-point Calvinist. I suspect from what I have read that he leans to the Calvinist side, but there is nothing that would lead me to think he is a Reformed firebrand. Dr. Land is saying that Ken Hemphill must be elected to protect the concept that the Gospel is for everyone (from JD Greear!). There have been few Southern Baptists who have done more to take the gospel to everyone than JD. Insinuating that he does not desire the gospel to be preached to every man, woman, boy and girl in every nation on earth is patently false.
JD Greear tweeted this
For the record, I believe Jesus died for all people, that every person can and should be called to repent and believe, and that you haven’t fully preached the gospel if you haven’t called for that response.
Dr. Land, you can do better!
As unfair as this one is, it is excusable on the grounds that this meme is so often repeated in Traditionalist/anti-Calvinist circles that some have come to believe it is true. Had Dr. Land stopped there, this article would not have been written. Land’s next comment is more egregious, bordering on slander against J.D. Greear.
This is not an anti-JD campaign. This is a pro-John 3:16 campaign.
It is nice that he says he is not “anti-JD”, but when in the next clause he says that Hemphill’s candidacy is a “pro-John 3:16” candidacy, he is leveling the most severe charge you can level against a Baptist preacher. What would you call the insinuation that the pastor of Summit church is NOT pro-John 3:16? My friend, there are only two choices. You are either pro-John 3:16 or you are an anti-gospel heretic. If JD is not pro-John 3:16 he should not only not be elected president, he should be confronted as heterodox. The Traditionalist wing of the SBC cannot both lay claim to exclusive ownership of John 3:16 and then also say, “But we want to work together with Calvinists.” Anyone who is anti-John 3:16 is a rank, anti-gospel heretic. You cannot have it both ways.
Does anyone believe that Dr. Land thinks JD Greear is a heretic? I do not. There are a few in Traditionalist circles who might make that accusation, but I would wager my spleen Dr. Land would not. He simply used inflated rhetoric in politicking for his candidate. And that is my point. We can do better than that. We must. To deceitfully paint the other candidate as a heretic, even insincerely, is a serious thing. It is just not right.
- Dr. Ken Hemphill and Dr. J.D. Greear are both gospel men.
- Dr. Ken Hemphill and Dr. J.D. Greear both believe in John 3:16.
- Dr. Ken Hemphill and Dr. J.D. Greear both believe the gospel should be preached to every tribe and nation on earth, and to every person in those tribes and nations.
- Dr. Ken Hemphill and Dr. J.D. Greear both believe that every person in those tribes and nations should be called to repent and believe in Jesus.
We are used to deceit in the pursuit of political gain in the partisan battles of Washington, but in our fellowship, it has no place.
Apologist Alex McFarland from North Greenville University takes things a bit further, going beyond simple deceit into the realm of the absurd. He is quoted as saying:
We’re not commissioned to talk theology over lattes. We’re commissioned to go and preach the gospel to every creature – win the world for Christ – and we need a president that will inspire us.
We need Dr. Hemphill to save us from latte sipping theologians such as JD Greear who will abandon the Great Commission to debate TULIP and the Ordo Salutis? Can he not see how absurd the accusation is? The Summit Church has found a way, in between their between their sips of latte, to lead the NC convention in Cooperative Program giving, make strides toward planting 1000 churches, and to send more missionaries onto the field through the IMB than any other church in the SBC (I saw the number 252). No real man sips lattes, I’m convinced, but if that’s what is going on with JD Greear and the Summit Church then bring on the Baptist baristas!
No, our commission is not to sip lattes, but neither is it to smear churches such as Summit and men such as JD Greear with false and absurd accusations.
There have been several articles written about Dr. Greear or about Dr. Hemphill using passive-aggressive smear tactics, praising him in a way that insults JD. The Bumpas article is only an example. Other articles use classic “guilt by association” techniques to convict Dr. Greear of Calvinism or paint him with suspicion because his motto is “The Gospel above All.” (Shocking and shameful, to be sure!) Some have insinuated he is not a “real” Southern Baptist or genuinely committed to the Cooperative Program. Such accusations say more about the integrity of accuser than they do about JD.
May I say, to be clear, that Dr. Ken Hemphill has, to my knowledge, engaged in none of this.
Plotting a Course for Dallas
There are more than four months left in this campaign, and there are two paths open to us.
- We can continue the path that has been set by far too many of deceitful attacks, nonsensical accusations, or passive-aggressive attacks.
- Or, we can elevate our discussion to a more noble and Christ-honoring level. We can forego false accusation and absurdity. We can speak truth and honor one another.
I would make several suggestions.
- No one should be criticized for promoting their candidate as forcefully and enthusiastically as they wish. By nature, we are a political entity and supporting candidates is part of that. Make your case as to why the SBC should vote for your man. I intend to!
- We ought to recognize that both of these candidates are honorable Southern Baptists, contributors to the Cooperative Program, invested in our convention. To intimate otherwise is unfair and dishonest. Both of these are good Baptist men who seem utterly qualified to be president of the SBC.
- We need to abandon false accusation. Both Drs. Hemphill and Greear love Jesus, love the gospel, preach it, and want it to go to all the world. Both of them believe in John 3:16. This “we have to save the gospel from…” silliness must end.
- Here at this blog, we will make a covenant to publish no personal attacks on either candidate, unless specific information of serious moral, spiritual, or theological lapses is raised – and I doubt it will be. The case for JD or for Ken is about their appointments and philosophies, not their doctrine or their character. We will keep it at that. Personal attacks will not be published and comments to that effect will be deleted. We did this last year – I personally deleted several anti-Steve Gaines comments. We will continue that policy.
Baptists, it is wholly right to campaign, but it is not right to deceive. The tactics of secular politics have no place among us and we must reject them. Can we not aim higher? Can we not take our cues from Scripture instead?
Yes, we can do better. We must.