St. Peter was showing a new arrival through heaven. (Bad theology and really old joke alert!) He took him through the pearly gates on the streets of gold, showing him the lay of the land. But at one door, Peter stopped and put his finger to his lips. They tiptoed by until they were well past the door. The new arrival queried, “Peter, why were we so quiet there?” Peter shook his head and said, “That’s the Southern Baptists – they think they are the only ones here.”
Now, for a true story. The year was 1979, a big year for theology and for Southern Baptists. I had just come back from Houston rejoicing because Southern Baptists had elected Adrian Rogers as our president, triggering what we now know as the Conservative Resurgence. I was sitting in Dr. Blum’s theology class and he began to talk about the recent Chicago Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the statement they had released defining the doctrine (still the best statement out there). I am perhaps not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but I put two and two together, got four, and asked Dr. Blum, “Do you think the Chicago Statement will have any effect on the Southern Baptist situation?”
He shook his head. “Southern Baptists are so isolated from the Christian world at large that what happens out here has little effect in their world.” It was pretty true. Back in my day, we walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways and Southern Baptists kept themselves unstained from much contact with the outside world.
It was a different world back then. A degree from a seminary not affiliated with the SBC was considered a black mark by most pulpit committees and use of materials from non-SBC sources was not a petty offense.
Frankly, I thought we had moved past that kind of isolationism.
Cards on the table time – I am a Southern Baptist. Been one all my life. I am a Southern Baptist convictionally (well, Baptist anyway). I am a Southern Baptist enthusiastically. The 12% that my current church gives to missions through the Cooperative Program is actually the smallest amount any of the churches I have served has given. I am Southern Baptist born and Southern Baptist bred, and when I die I will be Southern Baptist dead!
But I have always thought the sort of provincial isolationist tendencies of some Southern Baptists is just plain silly. More than that, I believe it is dangerous to Southern Baptists and contrary to the mission God gave us. We can learn and grow and benefit from Christians of different stripes, even those who disagree with us on secondary issues. To act as if we have a repository of all wisdom and knowledge and are somehow harmed by learning from and being instructed by Christians who are not Southern Baptist is not a healthy view.
I have been much less involved on a day-to-day basis with this blog recently, because of time factors and some other things going on in my life and work. I seldom get a chance to read other blogs. Whatever time I spend in the blogosphere generally has to be focused on this site.
But I got a tweet a couple of weeks ago that referenced a comment made by Norm Miller, Truett McConnell’s director of communication and marketing and the moderator at SBC Today, a site devoted largely to fighting against Calvinism in the SBC. It was an outrageous and saddening comment, one that I hope is a minority opinion among Southern Baptists.
Here is the comment, left on April 3, at 9:30 AM, in response to David Rogers:
David: To allow those outside of our denomination and who hold doctrinal positions diametrically opposed to our doctrinal positions to then comment to us about theology and doctrine through a teaching curriculum is not a matter that should require me to use scripture to refute as we are aware of our doctrinal differences with Anglicans, Methodists and Presbys. To wit: works salvation, falling from grace, and baptizing babies, respectively. I should not have to offer biblical evidences to the contrary of those positions which I believe are not biblical, nor are they Baptist. I therefore see inviting such people to speak to the SBC in a teaching curriculum, e.g., smacks of ecumenicism at least, and allowing wolves in the sheeps’ pen at worst.
This is not the sort of behavior that pleases me in a Southern Baptist leader (Stetzer). Such behavior is not Southern Baptist statesmanship; it is treason. I would seek no such traits in an SBC presidential candidate. — Norm
Wolves in the sheeps’ pen? Treason? It is a comment that simply boggles the mind.
I tell you what really bothered me was that not one of the folks at that site called him on that kind of insulting rhetoric. Had someone called one of their heroes a traitor, certain blogs would have lit up in horror. If it is wrong for one side, it is wrong for the other! In recent months, I have been accused of being part of the Calvinist conspiracy to take over the SBC. I have also been accused in emails (by someone I would have considered a friend) of turning on Calvinists and joining the anti-Calvinist movement in the SBC. I wear that as a badge of honor – offending the extremists on both sides.
Norm Miller’s rhetoric here is sad and destructive. He should apologize for saying such a thing. Disagree with Ed Stetzer or any other leader of the SBC – fine and dandy. It is healthy to express our disagreement and hold leaders accountable. But to use such language is counter-productive to the cause and an offense against the Body.
Treason: the betrayal of a trust, the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family.
It seems that he is accusing Stetzer of attempting to destroy the SBC from within. Miller is a writer – he works in the field of communications. He knows what words mean and we can only assume he knew what he meant and he meant what he said. It is a serious and slanderous charge, one which Miller should retract and for which he should apologize. Those who share his views should not defend him, but should call him to account for that kind of rhetoric. As long as we protect ungodly rhetoric from those with whom we agree we cannot credibly complain about it when those with whom we disagree employ it. Friends of Norm Miller need to encourage him to refrain from such slander toward a brother.
Ed Stetzer is not above criticism. My goodness, that facial hair he had earlier in the year was an abomination. I am certainly not convinced that his support of megachurches is completely warranted. He has strong opinions which he expresses freely and forcefully. Those opinions are fair game. But why the need to attack the man personally (please don’t tell me the accusation of treason is not a personal attack)?
Ed has written an article at Between the Times, called “Paige Patterson is Not a Traitor.” He shows that in Dr. Patterson’s recent commentary on Revelation, he interacted with and drew from non-SBC sources and in the process defends himself against Norm Miller’s personal attack.
My concern is more fundamental. That is not the way we ought to treat one another. We can do better than the kind of personal attack Norm Miller launched against Ed Stetzer, than the kind of personal attacks Calvinists sometimes launch against non-Calvinists or non-Calvinists against Calvinists. We can do better.