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Building our Idols

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This week, Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition published an article on their website entitled “When did idolatry become compatible with Christianity?” In his article he wonders when it became acceptable for Christians to “embrace and endorse homosexual behavior.” His answer is that there is no specific date, but it is part of a wider idolatrous movement in the church. He characterizes the issue like this:

At its root, the issue has more to do with idolatry than marriage, since same-sex marriage could not have advanced in America if believers had not exchanged the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for the God of faux-love, cultural acceptance, and open theism.

This idolatry, he says, takes two  forms. The first is essentially libertarian. Some Christians believe that because we live in a pluralistic society, and we do not have anything but a religious objection to marriage equality, we can’t really say it should be illegal. Carter says to do so is to replace

Jesus’ commandment—”You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—with the guiding motto of the neopagan religion of Wicca, “Do what you will, so long as it harms none.”

The second form of idolatry is  essentially just liberal theology he doesn’t care for. He says that they have “completely rejected the authority of Scripture and embraced the idol of open theism, a god who changes his mind over time.” He proceeds to use Rob Bell as a punching bag, which is becoming a pastime for Reformed theologians, I think.

He concludes that Christians who agree with him (as opposed to the idolatrous Christians who don’t) need to speak up. He concludes:

We fear that if we point out too clearly or forcefully that you can’t both serve God and endorse sin that they may leave our congregations. We seem more concerned with losing the volunteer for the Sunday morning nursery or the regular check in the offering plate than we do with the souls of those in open and unrepentant rebellion against God. We seem more worried about the judgment of the kids in the youth ministry than we do with the judgment of a wrathful and holy God. We are so troubled by the thought that same-sex advocates will fall away from the faith that we fail to see that they’ve already rejected the faith of historic, orthodox Christianity and replaced it with an idolatrous heresy—one that is as destructive and hateful as any that has come before.

I don’t need to tell you that I have problems with this article, but let me outline them.

Read the rest of this entry

The Southern Baptist Doctrine Problem

Since the 1970s, a vicious tug-of-war has plagued the Southern Baptist Convention. Early in the battle, on one side there was a fight for doctrinal uniformity (specifically regarding the nature of Scripture) as determined and enforced by the Convention. On the other side, many (who may or may not have agreed about the nature of Scripture) thought the Baptist thing to do was to leave such doctrinal matters up to the local congregations.  As the tug-of-war became an all-out brawl, many on one side raised their hands in surrender and took their toys to go home. These Baptists remained quieter voices in the SBC, founded new Baptist organizations, or left Baptist life entirely. The newly crowned tug-of-war champions for the inerrancy of Scripture (primarily) enjoyed their newfound position of power and went about reshaping the Convention and its auxiliary bodies (e.g., seminaries, publishing houses, committees, etc.). Some tug-of-wars are not supposed to finish like that, however, and now Southern Baptist chickens may be coming home to roost.

The debate this time is not about the nature of Scripture (though that may lie somewhere at its foundation), but about Calvinism. Recently, Eric Hankins (First Baptist Church in Oxford, Mississippi) released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” The preamble details the problem “New Calvinism” (or the “Young, Restless, Reformed” Movement) poses to Southern Baptists. The New Calvinist element in the Convention, Hankins says, has been pushing for an alteration of the Convention’s stance on theology. No longer are they content, he says, with the status quo of a plurality of theologies existing side-by-side. Instead, they are pushing their own soteriology as the one and only way to understand salvation (sound familiar?). Hankins proposed a “Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology that all could affirm, and that is what follows in the document. Problem is … it denies certain key tenants of Calvinism (e.g., the denial in Article One rejects some forms of election and Article Two repudiates total depravity … there are more.) Signees of Hankins’ document included former veterans of the great tug-of-war Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson among scores of other Southern Baptists.

Southern Baptist leader, theologian, seminary president, and beneficiary of the great tug-of-war Albert Mohler celebrated its intentions but could not sign the document for theological reasons. Nevertheless, he followed that statement with an interesting train of logic in Baptist theology. First, he called the document (at least in part) “beyond Arminianism” and “semi-Pelagian” (terms few Calvinists have ever used properly, in my opinion). Secondly, he then asserted that surely the signees (all of whom he knows) did not actually believe what they had signed. “Surely, they’re smart enough to agree with me!” he seems to think. Then, he does something interesting, worth quoting. After he condemns “theological tribalism,” he says,

…we must recognize and affirm together that we have already stated where Southern Baptists stand on the great doctrines of our faith. The Baptist Faith & Message is our confession of faith, and it binds us all together on common ground. The BF&M does not state doctrines comprehensively, but it defines our necessary consensus. Every Southern Baptist is free to believe more than the confession affirms, but never less.

I found these statements somewhat confusing. As I grew up in a Southern Baptist environment, my leaders taught me that being Baptist was about freedom. There were several principles that comprised being Baptist theologically including (but not limited to): the priesthood of every believer, the competency of the soul before God, and the autonomy of the local congregation. Mohler’s words and his use of the BF&M seem to contradict every one of those principles at their core. Being Baptist is no longer a free enterprise about theological liberty but about uniformity and consensus. Yes, consensus is somewhat necessary, but Southern Baptists have always been non-creedal, that is, no document other than the Scriptures is necessary for an affirmation of faith. What Mohler did by saying that “Every Southern Baptist is free to believe more … but never less” than the BF&M was to make the BF&M into a creed. It is precisely this attitude that reinforces theological tribalism. New Calvinists can ardently back up their claims with the words of one of their own (Mr. Mohler, who, by the way, served as a primary architect for the current BF&M) as psuedo papal decree. When did a Roman hierarchy replace the Baptist congregationalism that has made our Church so distinctive for so long? (Answer: When Al started citing Humanae Vitae to support his new position on birth control.)

Southern Baptists are now at an impasse. Perhaps in the days to come, there will be another great tug-of-war. On one side, there will be a fight for doctrinal uniformity and on the other the stalwart defenders of the local congregation. Problem is, I have little sympathy for my Southern Baptist brethren and their new predicament, because they created it themselves. Now, they have to deal with the consequences.

Links:

Dr. Eric Hankins Statement

Al Mohler’s Blog

Jerry Vines’ Response

ABP News Article

Looking through the Christian Kaleidoscope

Photo of the Duomo di MIlano’s windows by Giovanni Dall’Orto via Wikimedia Commons

The Christian faith is kaleidoscopic, and most of us are color-blind.  It is multidimensional, and most of us manage to hold at most two dimensions in our heads at any one time.  It is symphonic, and we can just about whistle one of the tunes.  So we shouldn’t be surprised if someone comes along and draws our attention to other colors and patterns that we hadn’t noticed.  We shouldn’t be alarmed if someone sketches a third, a forth, or even a fifth dimension that we had overlooked.  We ought to welcome it if a musician plays new parts of the harmony to the tune we thought we knew.

— N. T. Wright in the Forward to The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

Plurality is the most vexing issue in the world today, of that I am entirely convinced.  The quintessential struggle of democracy is how to deal with multiplicity.  The Federalists attempted to resolve it with competitive ideologies vying for control, keeping each other in check.  However, today it seems like ideologies and perspectives are designed and argued in such a way that they want to force each other out.  The Republicans don’t want Democratic perspectives to be an option.  Tax increases can’t be on the table.  Democrats would rather Republicans not exist.  Everyone thinks they would be better off if they were the only perspective out there.

If they were the only ones, there would be no more struggle.

No more strife.

No more problems.

No more violence.

No more death.

Besides being hopelessly utopian, these presumptions are simply illogical.  No solution or set of solutions will solve all our problems.  But the most insidious feature of this mindset is that it is authoritarian.  It’s dictatorial and leaves no room for anyone but yourself.  It’s selfish, exclusive, dangerous and violent.

And Christians do it all the time. Read the rest of this entry

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