Dr. Kelley preached a chapel message recently that has raised the hackles of many in the SBC. Before I raise objections to the message let me give a few words of affirmation about the ministry of Dr. Kelley at NOBTS.
- I had not had much involvement with NOBTS until recently when I was elected president of the 2017 Pastors’ Conference and the Caskey Center became our partner and major sponsor. Dr. Kelley was gracious to us and we have nothing but the highest respect and appreciation for the school and its president.
- Dr. Kelley has been a man of honor, decency, and integrity. To my knowledge, whenever he retires it will be with unstained reputation and character. His leadership of the seminary during difficult days deserves our honor.
- The events leading up to the firing of Dr. Patterson were traumatic for the SBC but unimaginably painful for Dr. Kelley because of his family ties to the Pattersons. Those of us who disagree with him should remember this as we state our disagreements.
- To his credit, Dr. Kelley tried to end the message on a note of optimism. It was a noble effort to define a positive future for the SBC. It fell short in my mind because he had created such an atmosphere of doom and gloom in the message that the optimism felt forced. But he did make the attempt.
- Dr. Kelley has the right to speak his mind and share his heart. His voice is not muted because he is an entity leader (unless his trustees mute it!). Many tried to mute Dr. Moore and we opposed that. We should not attempt to mute Dr. Kelley because we disagree with him. Several people who contacted me were greatly offended by the message and felt it should end Dr. Kelley’s presidency. I do not sing in that choir. I can disagree with him without denying him the right to speak his mind and without condemning him for saying what he said.
Dr. Kelley preached a message that I disagreed with, so what am I to do? I can stomp my feet and demand he be silenced. I can anathematize Dr. Kelley. I could keep silent, but that is not who we are. We respect our leaders but do not beatify them. There is another option, one that seems very Baptist to me. I can express my differences with Dr. Kelly in a context of respect.
Here are my thoughts.
1. Dr. Kelley gave voice to a narrow perspective and I wish he would speak to and for ALL Southern Baptists.
Calvinists at NOBTS have assured me that they are treated with respect there and I am glad to hear it. But in this message, Dr. Kelley aligned himself with a segment of SBC life that, while they constantly lay claim to the mantle of majority Baptists, have shown themselves to be a small minority.
Here is how I see the SBC soteriologically.
- Radical Reformed – they will not be content until everyone shares their love of the TULIP. Yes, these folks are out there. A small percentage of the SBC, they create much heat through their aggressive insistence on Reformed theology.
- Committed but Cooperative Calvinists – they are committed to Calvinist theology (both four-point and five) but they are willing to cooperate on mission with other Baptists who are not. They run the Calvinist playbook in their churches but they live and let live with non-Calvinists. This group is much larger than the first.
- Soteriological Moderates – Moderate is a dirty word in the SBC but I couldn’t think of a better one. Many of us straddle the Calvinist fence but do not accept the term because we reject the Reformed party line on many issues. I call my position Antinomist. The Bible affirms both God’s Sovereignty in salvation and moral agency in mankind (as with the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ – logically opposing truths affirmed in Scripture). We are a small but growing group.
- Committed but Cooperative Non-Calvinists – Likely the largest group in the SBC, they reject the tenets of Calvinism but will cooperate on mission with those who pray with their faces toward Geneva (just a joke – calm down, fellas).
- Radical Anti-Calvinists – they see Calvinism as a threat, cast everything in conspiratorial terms, and treat the SBC as a war between the good-guys (non-Calvinists) and the bad guys (Calvinists). Many who signed the Traditionalist Statement fit this category, but not all. This is a small but vocal group.
If someone has a better term than radical, let me know. I use it to describe someone who is committed to seeing that the SBC conforms to his soteriological position.
Dr. Kelley, from all I can tell, is a Committed but Cooperative Non-Calvinist. But it seems that Anti-Calvinists have been in his ear and this sermon reads like the anti-Greear campaign’s talking points.
It is not wrong for that small group to voice their concerns, but an entity leader like Dr. Kelley should not, in my mind, fully align himself with one group and become their spokesman. It is divisive when he speaks against the leadership of SBC on behalf of a disaffected group. He painted a picture that made the Traditionalists the defenders of “the Baptist Way” and painted others with dark shadows, as enemies of the good.
Though he claims it was not his intent, he was disparaging toward JD Greear, and I find that troubling. He defined the election as a contest between “younger Reformed leadership and older traditional Baptist leadership.” Then he said that the minority which lost in this landslide election had a…
…concern over the future of the traditional emphasis on evangelism and missions and the traditional theological focus on the Bible as the centerpiece of theological conversation rather than one school of thought about how to interpret the Bible. (I transcribed these quotes myself – it is possible I missed a word or two)
These were the half-truths and deceptions that the anti-Greear campaign continually voiced during the campaign. “He isn’t a real Baptist.” “He is a Calvinist who doesn’t believe in evangelism or missions.” Though his church gives the most to the CP in North Carolina, though his church has more missionaries on the field with the IMB than any other Baptist church, JD is a threat to evangelism, missions, and Baptist life? And when has he ever given any indication that the Bible isn’t the centerpiece of his ministry, but that he only operates out of some kind of Calvinist playbook? These are unworthy falsehoods that Dr. Kelley gave voice to and they paint a false picture of JD Greear.
The Radical anti-Calvinists continually foster an us-vs-them mentality and Dr. Kelley played into that, despite a couple of caveats he entered. He should attempt to pitch a broader tent and be a peacemaker rather than parrot the false accusations of the Radical anti-Calvinist group.
The problem is that the radical anti-Calvinist group is constantly using deceit and false narratives to inflame otherwise cooperative and unity-minded Baptists. For Dr. Kelley to serve their purposes is unfortunate. If he wants to be an advocate for peace he needs to move beyond being a voice for angry and divisive men.
2. Dr. Kelley presented a false binary picture of the SBC.
One of the tenets of the Radical Anti-Calvinist group is that the SBC consists of two groups – Calvinist and Traditionalist. They insist everyone identify with one group or the other. In my observation, most SBCers do not identify with EITHER 5-point Calvinism or the Traditionalist Statement. They may lean a little to one side or the other but they identify with neither.
Dr. Kelley labeled both Dr. Russell Moore and JD Greear as “Reformed” (by popular vote no less). I do not believe I have ever heard Dr. Moore speak on his soteriological position but I’ve heard he might land in the 4-point camp, perhaps even align with my “moderate” view. JD Greear explained his views clearly during the election after false accusations were lodged in the SBC Today voter guide and other places. I believe he might be in the middle group with me, possibly in the second group. What is clear is that calling either of these men “Reformed” fails in accuracy.
That is common in the Radical Anti-Calvinist camp (Traditionalists lay claim over ALL non-Calvinists, even those who do not choose to identify with them). You are with us or you are with them and there is no middle ground. If you are not on board with their agenda you are part of the Calvinist conspiracy. Us vs. Them. It is a false picture.
The SBC is not made up of the Reformed and Traditionalists. Yes, those groups form a small part of our life – and often social media deceives us into thinking it is a much larger part than it is – but they are only a part. Most SBC folks do not identify with either extreme.
By his insistence that Greear and Moore were Reformed and by the general tone of the sermon, he fed this binary view of SBC life and it is inaccurate as well as unfortunate. Most of us want to move beyond this petty fighting and when one of our leaders fans the flames it is not helpful.
3. Dr. Kelley dismissed the #metoo and #churchtoo movements in derogatory fashion.
This was the most serious offense.
I understand that he is being protective of his brother-in-law, but what he said about the SWBTS imbroglio was wrong and contrary to what we affirmed in Dallas. It was factually wrong. It was sinful gossip. Read what he said.
…driven by the efforts of 2 gay activists with Southern Baptist roots it became a dominant conversation in the SBC leading to the biggest mess that the Southern Baptist Convention has seen in a very long time. The internal controversy at Southwestern seminary – how big a mess was that? – saw its Executive Committee overturning a decision by an SBC-elected full board of Trustees.
The whole mess in the SBC was the result of “2 gay activists?” That is nothing but shameful and sinful gossip. In at least one of these cases calling the man a “gay activist” is factually wrong. We do not preach rumors as fact and Dr. Kelley should apologize for this. It is a slur and unworthy of Dr. Kelley.
And yes, these two men wrote extensively on issues related to Dr. Patterson, but the reasons that Dr. Patterson got in trouble cannot be blamed on two men. Dr. Patterson’s troubles went much deeper. There were so many issues. The issues on social media were not the only issues at stake in the trustee meetings. The idea that Dr. Patterson was fired because of what a blogger wrote is just not accurate. That played a part but there were many other issues.
The worst part of this is that it downplays and insults the hurt and pain of women who were involved. To pin the whole “mess” on “two gay activists” is to demean the experience of multitudes of women who stepped forward to share their stories and to say they had been mistreated. It is precisely the kind of thing we promised not to do in Dr. Allen’s resolution at the SBC this year.
Again, I realize Dr. Kelley has a personal connection here, but it would have been better not to speak than to disparage the suffering of women and to imply the whole mess was just a false controversy. It was a step backward. Real women suffered because men in power abused that power.
I would love to see Dr. Kelley apologize for that statement and affirm the Allen resolution.
I would add a word to those offended by Dr. Kelley’s message. Let’s not act like this message was scandalous or heretical. We have to stop acting as if his words were injurious in ways they are not. Other than his #metoo comments, my disagreements with him are tertiary at best.
I believe that:
- In his unique position, he became the sounding board for the angry and disgruntled minority that lost so badly at every turn in Dallas.
- He let his personal hurt and the voices around him cause him to say things in a harsh and divisive way that likely does not reflect his heart.
- The only true offense, his #metoo comments, reflect the narrative of those who seem to be using him as a sounding board. But they are wrong and sinful. He should retract them and apologize.
- We ought to extend grace there. His comments are offensive but I am sure his intent was to defend his brother-in-law not to demean abused women or to engage in slanderous gossip.
- Dr. Kelley should be honored for his years of service at NOBTS. Whenever he retires it will be summa cum laude and the convention should appreciate him for that.
While I disagree with his message I honor the man. It is only right.