Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tom Nettles Responds to Paige Patterson and David Allen

In what will go down in Southern Baptist history as the introduction of a new genre of academic literature, last month Paige Patterson, David Allen and William Dembski combined to give a written response to Tom Nettles' review of Dembski's latest book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World. Dembski, Research Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, is well-known for his work in intelligent design.

The End of Christianity was written as "a theodicy that is at once faithful to Christian orthodoxy ... and credible to our mental environment" (4). The book was widely promoted by its publisher, B&H Academic when it was released last year. Nettles' review of Dembski's book was published in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. The review is engaging, respectful and takes Dembski's book seriously. Nettles raises some serious questions theological positions expressed in the book--one of which (regarding Noah's flood) caused the administration to have a heart-to-heart with Dembski for clarification and resulted in the author "abandoning" the view he argued in the book.

Because Patterson, who is President of Southwestern, did not think that Nettles' evaluation of Dembski was quite right, he commissioned David Allen, Dean of Southwestern's School of Theology, to write a review of the review. Patterson added a preamble to that document and Dembski added a "Clarification" resulting in, as far as I know, the birth of the first Southern Baptist "Review of a Review with a Preamble and Clarification." In it, Allen accuses Nettles of misreading and misrepresenting Dembski, of engaging in "fallacious" arguments that results in a "less than charitable" review that is "significantly skewed."

This document got a few bloggers excited. One "Baptist Identity" blog team even held a podcast to discuss it and the issues it raised. Only one of the participants owned Dembski's book and none had even seen Nettles' review. That, however, did not hinder their offering their opinions that Allen did a good job in correcting Nettles. Such is the state of intellectual integrity in certain quarters of the SBC Today.

Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has responded to this document in a letter that I am posting below with his permission. Since Patterson & Allen published Allen's review of his review, those who have read that document have a right to read Nettles' response. As you can see, Nettles finds no reason in anything Allen has written to change any of his evaluations of Dembski's book. The contrast between the two documents is stark and represents two different ways to engage issues of theological importance. And the issues raised in Dembski's book are of vital importance.

One of the major concerns that Nettles raises is that Dembski "has subdued the gown of theology to the lab robe of the scientist. He has given to natural revelation the task of tutor to special revelation" (p. 81 of Nettles' review). Allen chastises Nettles for this critique, calling it "inaccurate," leaving one to wonder if he even read these words written by Dempski in the opening paragraph of chapter 6:
The young-earth solution to reconciling the order of creation with natural history makes good exegetical and theological sense. Indeed, the overwhelming consensus of theologians up through the Reformation held to this view. I myself would adopt it in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it (55, emphasis mine).
Dembski freely admits that what nature seems to indicate trumps "good exegetical and theological sense," what he also calls "the most natural reading of Genesis" (54).

In the early years of the Conservative Resurgence we were regularly told by the bureaucrats in charge that we simply did not understand the nuances of the positions of those who put their theological views in writing. The keepers of the academy were ruffled when anyone challenged the published views of professors, no matter how well-documented and gracious the challenge may have been. It is both strange and disconcerting to see the same kind of response coming from those same academic corridors thirty years later.

Read Dembski's book. Read Nettles' review. Then read Allen's review of the review. After that, read the response below. Ask yourself which approach to theological discourse and debate you desire to characterize SBC and evangelical life today.

Tom J. Nettles
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
2825 Lexington Road
Louisville, KY 40280

Dr. David Allen, Dean
School of Theology
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas 76122


Though I have never given a public response to reviews of my books and chapter contributions [that I remember], I can appreciate several reasons that you might feel obliged to defend the work of your honorable colleague, Dr. William Dembski. Your reply to my review of The End of Christianity has raised several points, however, at which you seek unjustly to discredit my critique and call into question my fair-mindedness as well as my scholarly care. I thought that you and others interested in this exchange ought to see why your reply has not changed my mind on the issues with which I dealt nor has it presented the issues accurately.

I understand why you would wonder if I believe "the old-earth position is a legitimate Christian option." You go a bit far, though, in suggesting, "Though he does not state it overtly, he seems to deny that one can be an orthodox Christian and subscribe to an old earth creationist position." First and most relevant response: I do not deny that William Dembski is an orthodox Christian. I will not enumerate the many central doctrines of the faith in which he and I would be in total agreement. The list would be too long. In my 34 years of teaching I have known and counted as friends many men that hold an old-earth position who are confessionally orthodox and deeply concerned with the defense and propagation of Christian truth. Dembski's book was written to elicit response. Neither he nor you would think that it would be ignored. He has helped clarify what is at stake in the old-earth hypothesis. He has seen clearly what must be put in context from an orthodox Christian perspective. One, the relation of death and destruction prior to the time of human existence must be explained. Two, how does Genesis 1 relate to that explanation, and consequently to Genesis 2 and 3. These are the two issues upon which I have focused and at no point have questioned his orthodoxy.

You refer to my "assertion that Dembski believes the universe is 13 billion years old and the earth is around 4.5 billion years old," and that I view Dembski as treating this as "an undeniable conclusion that provides an infallible scientific framework for theological discussion." Then you ask where Dembski says it. I merely assume that Dembski says this, you claim. On top of that, I have missed "the fact that Dembski's book is an exercise in speculative theology."

You are right, on the basis of Dembski's material, I assume this. What other assumption could I have? I have invented neither these numbers nor the impression that they are so certain as to warrant his theory of retroactive-effects-lapsarianism. They were provided by Dr. Dembski. I am willing to look at others if he, or you, will provide them. If Dembski does believe that, do you think it is a problem? The only other option he provided was the young-earth chronology, which he obviously does not accept. He introduces, in the form of questions, these other figures and proceeds to develop his thesis with that as the model before the reader (49). "In that case, for hundreds of millions of years, multicelled animals have been emerging, competing, fighting, killing, parasitizing torturing." He never gives any other option, or no other case. He leaves us to assume that his theodicy, including his interpretation of Genesis 1, will keep this scenario intact, while demonstrating that it is a way to maintain this science and Christian theology too.

You are concerned that my use of the word "solely" compromises my meaning and misrepresents the overall project of Dembski. His reinterpretation, by his own admission comes solely because of science. The motive that he attributes to the friends of R. C. Sproul that have not followed him into young-earthism is "One thing and one thing alone: Science." (54) When a friend provides a possible exegetical explanation [footnote 19, 205], Dembski, probably accurately, rejects the nuanced genre and etymological studies as a sufficient explanation and contends that they were introduced under the pressure of modern science's conclusion on the age of the earth. If we have as a common starting point that evil is a result of Adam's fall, what would drive such a reinterpretation as Dembski gives? That he seeks to reinterpret does mean that he believes that any alternate view must be shown to be consistent with the Bible. He is not dismissive of the Bible. That is right and that issue drives him also. If you look at my context, however, you will see that the purpose of the word was to emphasize that Dembski's re-interpretation of the chronology between evil and the fall, and the consequent use of Genesis 1, comes solely from his acceptance of old-earth science. Nothing in the text of Genesis 1 suggests such an approach. Nothing other than old earth and evil's existence prior to human existence could engineer such a complex undertaking. What other reason could exist for such a reconstruction of the centuries old acceptance of the standing of Genesis 1 as it relates to the history of the world? Given our common ground, the sole reason for his departure is his commitment to old-earth scientific orthodoxy. I cannot disagree with your reminder that this is speculative theology (how could anyone doubt it?), but it represents what Dembski thinks is best in light of the necessity of rethinking evil and the fall, for science has assured us, as a part of its orthodoxy, that we are dealing with a very old earth.

You express concern that I am too zealous in pointing to the influence that science exerts in Dembski's discussion. I am clear on the fact that Dembski has taken issue with those members of the scientific community that espouse evolution and that he does not accept "all of these beliefs of the scientific community." I have indicated such in my review. That does not mean that he is tentative about his commitment to the evidence for old earth received from geology and astrophysics. He seems to be virtually certain of that when he says, "I'm hardly alone in my reluctance to accept young-earth creationism. In our current mental environment, informed as it is by modern astrophysics and geology, the scientific community as a whole regards young-earth creationism as scientifically untenable" [126] Where is my "blind spot," or what is "unwarranted" or "inaccurate" in my assumption that Dembski agrees with the beliefs of the scientific community on this issue in spite of the young earth position that "makes good exegetical and theological sense?" Why does he not accept that reasoning? Because "nature seems to present such strong evidence against it." (55) He may indeed hold the theory that any scientific judgment must be made with the caveat of pessimistic induction, but his hold on scientific orthodoxy seems so secure that even "good exegetical and theological sense" can not drive him from it. Is my presentation that he has made nature tutor to special revelation inaccurate in this case? His position on this may well fall within the parameters of acceptability, but I have not misrepresented him.

You fault me for not seeing clearly the distinction between "arguing his position on the assumption that old-earth creationism is accurate" (which he does) as opposed to "arguing his position using old-earth science for support" (which, in your estimation, he does not do). I am willing to grant this distinction; but it makes virtually no difference in the thesis Dembski defends or the theological and exegetical approach he takes. If assuming old-earth science is not quite the same as using old-earth science, I can't see that that disarms the analysis. If you are right here, I surrender to your perceptive powers in seeing such a "clear distinctive." But to me, you seem to be making a distinction without a difference. Does the "assumption that old-earth creationism is accurate" not involve "arguing his position using old-earth science for support." Why would he argue so tediously for such a strange view of cause and effect unless he were utterly committed to the idea that science has demonstrated that the earth is millions of years old and death, destruction, and corruption have characterized it from the beginning? He in fact does present data that he synthesizes in such a way as to support old-earth science and reject young-earth science. He performs the rudimentary task of synthesizing data and positing a working hypothesis for that data (chapter 6). He accepts it as virtual fact and argues a theodicy in light of his, not others', conclusion.

Again, I think you are making a vain objection in saying that I quote Dembski "out of context" in assuming his acceptance of the idea that science has discovered "momentous new truths" and has not gone "massively awry." These are the two options Dembski himself provides. Since he argues for a new paradigm, against the young-earth paradigm, it does not seem logical that he believes science has gone "massively awry" but has "discovered momentous new truths." Does he provide us with another way to conclude which of these he has accepted? On the positive side, his discussion seeks to correct the over-reaction of some thinkers that dissociate present evil from the Fall. His answer is not to dissociate them, but to give his retroactive interpretation. His is simply a different response but still an acceptance of what he has called "momentous new truths." He has moved in the right direction by maintaining the connection between suffering and fall but the consensus of the "current mental environment" (55), which in this case he does accept, drives his answer as truly as it does the others.

You also believe I have been misleading in my discussion of Dembski's use of kairos. Yes, Dembski does see occasions where chronos and kairos intermingle and the one carries the substance of the other. On this issue, however, Dembski states, "Instead of conflating chronos and kairos as young earth creationism does, I propose to detach them." (Dembski 126) This is one of the major issues that drives his entire book and one of the weakest points of your review of my review. I hope you can imagine my bewilderment when you mounted such an argument against my credibility on this issue in saying, "He charges Dembski with moving Genesis 1 to the realm of kairos (God's time) and thus denying that the events there happened in chronos (ordinary space-time). But Dembski makes clear that kairos and chronos are not mutually exclusive and do indeed intersect. As he writes in chapter 16: 'When the visible and invisible realms intersect, kairos becomes evident within chronos. The creation of the world and the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity are the preeminent instances of this intersection' (126). Thus, to say that Genesis 1 happens in kairos is not to deny that it also happens in chronos." In fact, that is exactly what he does, exactly what he informs the reader that he intends to do, and summarizes himself as having done. Dembski says in "pellucid" style, "Given that God responds to human sin across time (both retroactively and proactively), there never was a chronological moment when the world we inhabit was without natural evil (or a disposition toward it; it is, for instance, not apparent how, at the moment of the Big Bang, the universe could have exhibited natural evil.)" You also assert in opposition to Dembski's own presentation, "God does not create a fallen world. God creates a good world. As Dembski emphasizes, its fallenness constitutes a subsequent corruption." Dembski, however, wrote, "Our world is dynamic and messy. There never was any other, so far as we are concerned. . . . To be sure, in the intentional-semantic logic by which God creates and organizes the world--not chronologically but kairologically--evil is always logically downstream. In that logic God creates a good world, it becomes even better once human are created, and then it goes haywire once humans sin. Seen chronologically, however, the world has always been haywire." (171, 172) This insistence by Dembski, and quoted in my review, makes your opposite insistence puzzling. "Thus, to say that Genesis 1 happens in kairos is not to deny that it also happens in chronos." Dembski denies it precisely.

You further seek to correct my presentation, "As the context of The End of Christianity validates and Dembski's own clarification statement below makes unambiguously clear, he accepts Genesis 1–11 (and thus Genesis 1 in particular) as happening in ordinary space-time. It therefore fundamentally misrepresents Dembski's position to claim, as Nettles does, that the days in Genesis 1 do not have any palpable existence." I am glad you have the benefit of the "clarification," not only on the flood, but on Genesis 1. As a "careful reader" I see this statement on Genesis 1 as a correction more than a clarification. You seem to think that that is the view he presented in the book. If you really think this, it is an egregious error. You completely missed Dembski's point. I paid careful attention to the progress of Dr. Dembski's argument in several pivotal chapters preceding his interpretation of Genesis 1-3. He would be disappointed if someone did not consider carefully how he builds his justification for his important exegetical chapter. He lays concept upon concept as he constructs a philosophical matrix from which he gives birth to his hermeneutic of reading those chapters kairologically. In "Creation as Double Creation" he summarized his point in his statement, "In particular, God could make the effects of the Fall evident in creation so that those effects, though attributable to the Fall, come temporally prior to it;" (110) and "He can respond to the Fall by changing not only the history that comes after it but also the history that comes before it" (112), and in "Moving the Particles," he writes in anticipation of his treatment of Genesis 1, "The lesson of this chapter, however, is that God can also get information into the world without moving particles," (121) meaning that the historical progress seemingly presented by the temporal relation of Genesis 1-3 is not necessary if we accept the concept of "double creation" and his presentation of information theory. Also important is his presentation of intentional-semantic logic as non-linear (132) and how that affects the "Infinite Dialectic" in which God's anticipatory actions are related to his purposes or priorities, "priority here conceived not temporally or causally [chronos] but in terms of the intentional-semantic logic [kairos] by which God orders the creation" (140, brackets and italics his). All of this serves his interpretive purpose stated clearly, "Genesis 1 is therefore not to be interpreted as ordinary chronological time (chronos) but rather as time from the vantage of God's purposes (kairos)" (142, parentheses and italics his). In other words, that is the world God would have created had he not anticipated the effects of the Fall. The Garden of Eden, segregated from the fallen world in Adam's and Eve's actual experience, allows Adam and Eve to experience what the world would have been but never was and at the same time phenomenologically to experience a fall from perfection and resultantly enter a fallen world (152-53). Now saying that Genesis 1 is "not to be interpreted as ordinary chronological time" and saying that Genesis 1-11 "happened in ordinary space-time" might be saying the same thing. It doesn't appear that way to me. Mine is not a fundamental misrepresentation, but the fundamental truth of Dembski's approach.

In light of all this, where you can find that Dembski accepts Genesis 1 as chronos in his book, I do not know. Of course, there is no doubt that he is "a realist about creation." That is not the point. What was actually created is the point, and what was actually created in chronological time was a fallen, dangerous, death-filled world. You have several paragraphs written in an attempt to make Dembski's view of kairological creation equal one of the eternal things that are unseen, while at the same time asserting the chronos of Genesis. Are you arguing that creation was an unseen eternal thing? God's purpose in creation would partially be in that category, but the result of the act of creation would not. Because I question this, you shift the "dangerous theological ground" to me by insinuating that my critique of Dembski means I don't believe in the imperishable and superior nature of eternal things as opposed to temporal. Let me assure you, as I do my own soul, that my hope is suspended on the Christ through whose completed redemptive work we are promised an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, that does not fade away reserved in heaven for those that are kept by the power of God through faith.

Also, in opposition to my view of the character of the animals that Adam named, your argument calls for a separate creation of a new race of docile submissive animals specifically for Adam's naming in the garden. If he were naming the animals of the original creation, according to Dembski, he was having blood-thirsty, carnivorous, fearful and fearsome creatures surround him for this exercise. Nothing in the text indicates that these animals were a distinct creation from those that God created on days five and six. It was "every beast of the field and bird of the heavens" that God had formed. In addition, the presence of a Garden does not mean that the rest of the world was undesirable and corrupt. A garden can exist of an especially appropriate environment for those made in the image of God while the rest of the world has differing degrees of glory for the habitat of the variety of both the plants and animals that inhabit it. God had different degrees of glory present in the creation from the beginning. Sun, moon and stars differ in glory; fish, birds and land animals differ in glory; angels and men differ in glory. Adam saw this difference in glory and knew that none of the other animate creatures was fit for him, leading to God's creation of woman. All of that which God made in the six days was unfallen. The placing of men in a garden is not an exegetical hint that the rest of the world is fallen.

You state, "but this attempt to disparage the distinction because it is associated with so heterodox a thinker as Tillich is clearly an unfair tactic." I do not disparage it because it is associated with Tillich. I doubt its validity because the New Testament evidence for it is nebulous at best and certainly does not warrant bearing the theological weight that Dembski places on it. You call my lexical work "fallacious" because "in certain contexts" the words may actually have "significantly different meanings." The examples I gave certainly are not exhaustive but are sufficiently representative to show that use of the distinction to build the kind of theological and exegetical edifice Dr. Dembski is attempting is the true fallacy, not my examples of verbal comparisons.

As for the "fallacy of guilt by association," I am not the one that introduced the association. I merely responded to Dembski's introduction of Tillich's distinction and lengthy quote of Tillich's explanation. It seems to me that Dembski wanted his readers to associate his kairological theologizing with Tillich's endorsement of that method. I did not go around fishing for a "heterodox" comparison, to use your word; it was provided for me with an invitation to draw the conclusion I drew. Tillich did indeed use the distinction in service of his radical existentialist approach to a Christianity which had no dependence on the historical existence of Jesus. Dembski's kairological enterprise perfectly fits in creation what Tillich did in Christology. It is not a "cheap shot" or an "unfair tactic" but an honest reading of Dembski's material. A careful reading of the book would not yield my comparison as "patently untrue," but as a sober interpretation as to why Dembski invited the comparison. You call my treatment "untrue" because, as shown above, you apparently do not understand how Dembski interprets the Genesis 1 creation narrative.

We should all be greatly encouraged that Dr. Dembski has publicly stated his reconsideration of the nature of the Genesis flood and has included his view of Genesis 1 as reflecting "ordinary space time." It will be interesting to see how this changed perspective works its way into his view of the chronos of Genesis 1, what that implies about the original condition of the whole world as God created it, and how that relates to the temporal relationship between the Fall and a cursed natural order.


Tom J. Nettles

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Ed Stetzer responds to David Allen

In my earlier critique of David Allen's review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, I did not mention his criticism of the research presented by Ed Stetzer on the growth of evangelical Calvinism within the SBC. Dr. Allen cites many problems with the research and the interpretations that were given to it.

Yesterday, Dr. Stetzer responded to Dr. Allen with a lengthy explanation about the research methodology and why the results should not be dismissed out of hand. Dr. Stetzer writes,
Over the years, we have learned a few things about research in SBC life. Research tends to get people in our denomination excited. Many people quote it, most like it, and some despise it. People will quote and misquote statistics regularly to prove or disprove whatever matters to them. Simply put, we are an enthusiastic, passionate, and often imprecise people when it comes to church research.

As such, when we do research, it gets a lot of debate and discussion. We do not mind at all--and sometimes we read a comment and think, "Good point!" or "We should have thought of that." As such, we very infrequently respond to inappropriate uses or criticisms of our research.

However, I do see a pattern developing. It appears that when one of the faculty members at one of our seminaries disagrees with the results of our research, they write a rebuttal or a criticism. We actually don't mind a (good) rebuttal and questioning the wording of questions is normal and expected. However, it does seem that the faculty at Southwestern is making a habit of taking time away from their important tasks to critique our research. I thought it would be wise for me to take this opportunity to respond in what I hope is a gracious way.
Dr. Stetzer's response is indeed gracious...and convincing. Read it here.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Brief Response to David Allen's Explanations and Rejoinder

Drs. Malcolm Yarnell, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and David Allen, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, and Dean of the School of Theology, both serving at my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have each recently deemed words written by me on this blog worthy of public "responses." Dr. Yarnell's is basically an amped up version of his final comment in the meta of this post. It so is rife with innuendo and misrepresentation that I will not take time to respond to it.

Dr. Allen's comments, however, are worthy of a response. It is refreshing to read comments from a denominational employee who has not forgotten that the seminary where he works is "owned and operate[d], through the trustee system, by the churches of the SBC." It is also encouraging to read these words from him:
Dr. Ascol and I not only differ and disagree on the subject of Calvinism, but in fact, our disagreement in certain areas is quite strong. However, for the record, let it be known that I do not view Dr. Ascol’s critique of my words as an attack on me personally.
My critique of Dr. Allen's review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, was never intended to be personal and, for the record, I do not take his criticisms of me and my views personally, either. I acknowledge him as a brother who is seeking to honor our common Lord and who deserves both my love and respect, which he has. My further interaction with some of his public comments is for the purpose of promoting understanding, accurate representation of the views we hold and mutual accountability--things that I sense Dr. Allen values as much as I.

I am grateful that Dr. Allen has willingly altered his manuscript to remove some of the condescending language he employed when describing Tom Nettles and Nathan Finn.

I am sorry to see Dr. Allen continue to defend his accusation of James White being a hyper-Calvinist. What I originally wrote has been largely vindicated. Thinking people are not impressed. The juxtaposition of the two following sentences by Dr. Allen does not help his case:
Incidentally, the attempts of Phil Johnson and James White at parsing words, nuancing or otherwise skirting the main issue at hand, have failed to show my initial statement concerning White to be false, in my opinion. I am willing to concede Johnson’s point that his Primer does not state what I interpreted it to state.
Dr. Allen concedes that he has misinterpreted Johnson's primer on hyper-Calvinism, which misinterpretation is the basis on which he leveled the charge against Dr. White. To acknowledge that one's premise is false while refusing to admit that the conclusion built upon it is in any way affected does not make sense. Here is the way that it comes across to me.

Original argument:
  1. According to Phil, anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist
  2. James is bald
  3. Therefore, James is a hyper-Calvinist
After Phil debunks the assertion that he has stated that anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist:
  1. I admit that Phil has proven that he never said that anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist and that when I said that he said that, I was wrong
  2. Nevertheless, this does not prove that my conclusion about James White is false
What is it that makes one want to maintain the conclusion that is admittedly built on a faulty premise? The rationale escapes me.

On November 24, under a heading that says, "Why I said James White is a Hyper-Calvinist," Dr. Allen wrote,
My main point, which seems to have been lost on so many people, was not to focus on James White and his hyper-Calvinism. My point was to show the unwisdom on the part of Tom Ascol in his willingness to team up with James White to debate within the Southern Baptist Convention. Many non-Calvinists within our convention are concerned not only about Calvinism, but about some hyper-Calvinistic tendencies in the convention.
Anyone who knows me well can vouch for my "unwisdom" in various areas. Dr. Allen could have chosen any number of ways to highlight it, had he wished. I am glad that he pointed out that this was his "main point" because I also was among the "many people" that missed it. Of course, if, as has been sufficiently demonstrated by Phil Johnson and James White and asserted by me, James White is NOT a hyper-Calvinist, then Dr. Allen's main point is not only hard to recognize it is without merit.

This sheds light on why Dr. Allen thinks that I continue to miss the point. He writes,
Apparently Ascol is either 1) unaware of this difference between White and himself, or 2) does not believe there is a difference between his own views and White on this subject, or 3) is unwilling to conclude that such a difference makes White a hyper-Calvinist, or some combination of the three.
I am fairly aware of what James White believes. He speaks and writes very clearly. He and I do not significantly disagree on this subject. We might state things a little differently, but we both agree that God's will must be seen in terms of decree and precept and we both agree that God will not be frustrated at the end of history. Dr. Allen simply does not understand James White's views nor, it appears, the theology of hyper-Calvinism.

Furthermore, Dr. Allen writes, "Can anyone say that Steve Camp does not meet Phil Johnson's criteria on hyper-Calvinism?" Yes. I can. Dr. Allen has conceded that he misunderstood and therefore misrepresented Phil Johnson's criteria. Thus, once again, the conclusion which derives from the faulty premise also falls.

The brotherly thing for Dr. Allen to do is to retract his statements, apologize to these men for bearing false witness against them and continue studying hyper-Calvinism.

Dr. Allen transcribes his comments from the John 3:16 conference with the following:
Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don't need to be teaming up with hyper-Calvinists. It's fine for Calvinists to get together and have debates with non-Calvinists. Fine, dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism.
I find this admonition incredible. Founders Ministries has been decrying hyper-Calvinism longer and louder than ANYONE in the Southern Baptist Convention. Anyone who has ten minutes and knows how to use the search engine on our website could learn that. Let me just set the record straight on this.
  1. In 1996, the Founders Journal published a letter I wrote to a father whose son was caught up in real hyper-Calvinism, trying to counsel him on how to help and evangelize his son. In that same issue, an excerpt from a small book I wrote was included under the title, "Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism: Issues Shaping Our Identity as Southern Baptists."
  2. In 1996, Founders Ministries gave away 2000 copies of Iain Murray's book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. We were ridiculed, chastised and questioned by friend and foe alike for "stirring up trouble when there is none." We pressed on with this effort because, as students of history, we know that hyper-Calvinism is a parasite and it only emerges where true Calvinism lives. Because we saw the danger of what might attend the resurgence of true Calvinism, we sought to educate as many people as we could about the issues.
  3. We have, on this blog and elsewhere, repeatedly addressed the error of hyper-Calvinism, calling it pernicious, damnable, and unbiblical.
When I read Dr. Allen's words that "it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism" I want to laugh and say, "Welcome to the party, I am sorry it took you so long to get here."

In his review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, Dr. Allen raises concerns about my involvement, and Founders Ministries' involvement, in the Building Bridges Conference and raises a question about "two Southern Baptist entities (LifeWay and Southeastern Seminary) partnering with a non-Southern Baptist entity (Founders Ministries) for this kind of conference." He writes,
My concern is with the involvement of the Founders Ministries. For them to be a co-sponsor legitimizes their agenda within the convention, an agenda which is counter productive in my judgment. For SBC entities to partner with any non-SBC group that is polarizing and that represents a small fragment of the convention is problematic.
In response to this, I made the following points: 1) Why then would he tolerate his own seminary's partnership with a non-lordship salvation group like Grace Evangelical Fellowship by hosting them on campus? 2) Why would he support and participate in the John 3:16 conference, sponsored by 3 "Southern Baptist entities" in partnership with Jerry Vines Ministires, a "non-Southern Baptist entity?"

Here is Dr. Allen's rejoinder to this:
First, Dr. Jerry Vines is a Southern Baptist with every right to express his theological disagreement with Calvinism through his own ministry.
Amen. No one is questioning this point. The same is true of me and Founders Ministries.
Second, there is a significant difference in Founders Ministries partnering with SBC entities for a bi-partisan conference, and SBC entities co-sponsoring a partisan conference.
Let me get this straight. If SEBTS and LifeWay had partnered with Founders to sponsor a partisan conference (let's call it, the "Acts 13:48 conference" :-) ), then Dr. Allen would have us believe that he would have had no problem with that? That strikes me as unlikely.

It gets even more confusing. He continues:
Furthermore, since non-partisan SBC entities partnered with partisan Founders Ministries for the Building Bridges Conference, it would seem to me Dr. Ascol would have no grounds to question non-partisan SBC entities partnering with partisan Jerry Vines ministries on this or any subject.
I didn't question him on this. I used his actions (participating in the J316 conference) as an example of doing the very thing that he protested about the Building Bridges Conference. For him to suggest that I was the one who raised this question is convoluted.

I am grateful to read of Dr. Allen describe himself as "one of those who genuinely want to bridge our doctrinal divides and live together with my Calvinist brothers and sisters in true unity and love." I believe him. My critique of what he has written and said do not address the question of his motives. Motives belong to God. I have simply tried to point out that much of what he has written and said has been detrimental to his own stated desire.

I have been informed that an open forum on Calvinism is being hosted tomorrow by Dr. Allen for students and interested parties in the Truett Conference Room on Southwestern's campus. This seems to me to be a good step and I will pray that it will go a long way to clearing up confusion and building more bridges. I recommend that you read Quincy Jones' admonitions at the link above if you plan to attend.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

SBC and Calvinism: Three events that widened the divide

Three events over the last few weeks have called fresh attention to one of the serious doctrinal issues currently brewing in the SBC. There are others, and they are not unimportant, but the one that looms large on the horizon is the debate over Calvinism or reformed theology. Terminology matters, so let me quickly assert that what I mean by "Calvinism" is exactly what the great Southern Baptist statesman, John Broadus, meant when he wrote,
The people who sneer at what is called Calvinism might as well sneer at Mont Blanc. We are not in the least bound to defend all of Calvin's opinions or actions, but I do not see how any one who really understands the Greek of the Apostle Paul or the Latin of Calvin and Turretin can fail to see that these latter did but interpret and formulate substantially what the former teaches.
What we are talking about is the sovereignty of God in salvation including unconditional election, total depravity of sinful nature, definite atonement of particular sinners by the death of Christ, the monergistic work of the Spirit in regeneration and the preserving grace of God operating in the life of every believer. We are not talking about sprinkling babies.

The three events that have put the spotlight on this issue recently have come from those who are not merely non-Calvinists, but are more accurately described as anti-Calvinists. They profess to have no axe to grind against Calvinism but their tone and treatment are unhelpful to the kind of fraternal dialogue that Southern Baptists desperately need to be cultivating at this point in our history.

1. Steve Lemke's article
Entitled, "What is a Baptist? Nine Marks that Separate Baptists from Presbyterians," in The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry (vol. 5, no. 2, Fall 2008), the good points that Lemke makes are marred by his numerous mistakes and misrepresentations of Calvinism in general and Southern Baptist Calvinists and Calvinism in particular. I will cite only two examples.

First, Dr. Lemke makes the following tired charge about Founders:
Founder's [sic] Movement Calvinists tend to look backward nostalgically to Calvinists of prior generations, to make their Calvinism the focal point of their ministries, to be rather assertive and defensive about their Calvinism, and to be less evangelistic than the average Southern Baptist church.
Dr. Lemke footnotes this by citing a "study" (which is actually his own methodologically flawed survey that has been clearly debunked since he published it) that leads him to his conclusion. Several months ago I applied Steve's methodology to churches that he himself pastored. The results are...well, let me just say that were I to publish them he would be hoisted with his own petard.

Second, Dr. Lemke completely misunderstands Timothy George's ROSES acronym, displaying a failure to understand both Dr. George's theological views and the so-called five points of Calvinism (he was previously corrected on this, also). By the way, Dr. George has been on the advisory board of the Founders Journal for over 15 years. I will not take space here to provide the documentation of Lemke's unfortunate failure to grasp what George has written, but simply refer you to Justin Taylor's and Tim Brister's demonstrations of this point.

2. David Allen's review

Dr. Allen published on the Baptist Theology website a 34 page review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue (B and H Academic, 2008), which is a collection of the papers presented at the Building Bridges Conference sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries last year. Dr. Allen uses over 500 words in an attempt to debunk research conducted by the the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Research, both of which indicate that Calvinism is on the rise in the SBC.

Tellingly, he defend's Lemke's previously cited "study" of Founders churches. Allen writes, "The fact is, some brands of Calvinism (hyper-Calvinism and other extreme forms of five-point Calvinism) are in fact less than evangelistic." So are some brands of fundamentalism and Arminiansim, as is evidenced by the general state of churches across the SBC, most of which are not Calvinistic.

I find Dr. Allen's defense of Dr. Lemke's "study" interesting, in light of the fact that, as I have done with churches that Lemke has pastored, I have applied Lemke's methodology to churches that Dr. Allen has pastored, as well. Suffice it say that, if I had a mind to, I could publish those results and, with no less authority than that which Lemke and Allen claim, conclude that "Southwestern and New Orleans seminary administrators" are a threat to evangelism and healthy church life.

Allen repeatedly writes with a condescending tone (examples: "I have been a bit tough on young Finn;" he accuses Tom Nettles of writing with "characteristic brusqueness;") that demonstrates his bias and detracts from his evaluations. Furthermore, his treatment of Malcolm Yarnell's chapter borders on hagiography. While high praise for his colleague at SWBTS could be expected, the detailed criticisms that mark his treatment of other chapters are absent in his evaulations of Dr. Yarnell's contribution. I find it particularly odd that he did not even quibble with Dr. Yarnell's identifying a heretical anti-trinitarian as part of the Baptist family. Any vision of Baptist identity that consciously welcomes heresy into the DNA is dangerous and I would think that other Baptists, regardless of their views on the doctrines of grace, would as well.

Additionally, when Allen finds mistakes in Yarnell's article that he simply cannot ignore, he chalks them up to "technicalities" or "generalities." He completely misses Dr. Yarnell's misunderstanding of a cited article by Mark Dever. Yarnell accuses Dever of using the New Hampshire Confession for the membership of his church but the 1689 Confession for leadership, a position that Dr. Dever has publicly repudiated and which the article Dr. Yarnell read simply does not affirm.

Dr. Allen writes his review with admitted suspicions that there is an agenda afoot in the SBC by Calvinists that everyone should come to hold to a reformed understanding of salvation. He calls attention to a throw-away comment, intended to be humorous, in my chapter. After noting that I was not suggesting that "everyone must or should become a convinced Calvinist," I added, almost parenthetically, "though you would hear no complaints from me were that to happen!" When presented orally, that line got some laughs. Unfortunately, when Allen read it, it caused alarm bells to go off in his head confirming his already suspicious thoughts of the existence of a nefarious Calvinist plot to "Calvinize" the SBC.

Moving beyond the book under review, Allen raises deep concerns about an article published in the Founders Journal, written by Tom Nettles and entitled, "Why Your Next Pastor Should Be a Calvinist." He writes:
I cannot imagine using such a title, much less arguing it in print. A church's next pastor should be the man God leads that church to call, be he Calvinist or no. Imagine the outcry if some group of non-Calvinists should publish an article entitled "Why Your Next Pastor Should not be a Calvinist." Please understand. Ascol is well within his rights to direct the Founders Ministries and to publish such an article in his journal. This is not in question. What is in question is whether such constitutes a problem for the SBC and for Ascol's involvement in a bipartisan conference such as "Building Bridges." Since one cannot distinguish between Ascol the Calvinist pastor and Ascol the director of the Founders Ministries, his presence on the program of the "Building Bridges Conference," given the stated goals of the Founders Ministries, is problematic in my view. Furthermore, what is the precedent for two Southern Baptist entities (LifeWay and Southeastern Seminary) partnering with a non-Southern Baptist entity (Founders Ministries) for this kind of conference? I have already stated I think the conference is a great idea. We need to have more. My concern is with the involvement of the Founders Ministries. For them to be a co-sponsor legitimizes their agenda within the convention, an agenda which is counter productive in my judgment. For SBC entities to partner with any non-SBC group that is polarizing and that represents a small fragment of the convention is problematic.
I would like to know why Dr. Allen has never raised an outcry over the dozens if not hundreds of attempts by denominational employees and others to tell churches that "your next pastor should not be a Calvinist." It is ironic that Allen thinks my presence on the program of Building Bridges was problematic. I am the one who originally suggested the conference.

Allen's concern about the "precedent" for Southern Baptist entities partnering with a "non-Southern Baptist entity" is eerily similar to the response I got from the pre-conservative-resurgence-faculty of Southern Seminary to the sesquicentennial issue of the Founders Journal. They professed shock and dismay that I would publish a picture of "their" library (Boyce) on the cover of the journal. Perhaps Dr. Allen needs to be reminded of Baptist polity in the same way that those liberal professors needed it.

The "entities" and those who serve in them are answerable to all Southern Baptists, including those of us whose theology they may despise. The suggestion that an entity is not "Southern Baptist" because it does not receive Cooperative Program dollars is terribly provincial and betrays a bureaucratic mindset that is no different from that which prevailed before conservatives came to control the SBC.

Furthermore, if this is a matter of conscientious concern for Dr. Allen, then I wonder why he has not raised his voice in protest over the partnering of his own seminary with "non-Southern Baptist entities, such as the Grace Evangelical Fellowship, a non-lordship salvation entity that denies the necessity of repentance for salvation (their "Affirmation of Belief" states, that "no sorrow for sin" or "turning from one's sin" is necessary)? According to the Southwestern website, the seminary is hosting this antinomian Fellowship on campus March 30-April 2, 2009.

The same question arises over the joint sponsorship of 3 of our Cooperative Program-supported-seminaries with Jerry Vines Ministries in the John 3:16 conference. Given the anti-Calvinistic propaganda spread by Dr. Vines, Allen's participation in this conference makes the stated substance of his protest about the sponsorship of Building Bridges ring hollow. One is left to wonder what is really behind his complaint, since his own participation in the John 3:16 Conference betrays his professed reasons for concern.

3. The John 3:16 Conference
The recent John 3:16 Conference was sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. From what I can tell, this conference is the brainchild of Dr. Vines. Critiques from those who were there have been expressed on various blogs (see Lindsey, Mark and Burleson) and don't need to be rehashed here. Although I must say that any conference that accuses James White of being a hyper-Calvinist loses credibility with thinking people.

The most devastating critique I have read has come from David Miller, who has long been welcomed among the "movement conservative" leaders within the SBC as a stalwart defender of the inerrancy of Scripture and of the need to see conservative theology restored to the convention. Anyone who knows him will testify to his godliness and deep love for God's Word. David is an effective evangelist and his pivotal role in the SBC battle for the Bible is unquestionable, as he was a leader among trustees at Southern Seminary when that institution was in the throes of being rescued from liberalism.

David attended the John 3:16 conference and recently told me of his experience there. He also shared with me some of his evaluations that he passed on to a couple of the sponsors of the conference. The conference, he said, almost inspired him to write a book, the title of which would be, How Many Inconsistencies and Contradictions Can One Hear in Only Five Sermons. "The brethren (presenters)," he said, "not only contradicted each other but themselves as well" while building "straw men" and "knock[ing] them down with Scripture verses taken out of context...with measured sarcasm and no small dose of arrogance."

Do not misinterpret my critique of these events as suggesting that we should not be talking plainly about theological differences in the SBC. Pretending that we all agree, or suggesting that our differences are completely irrelevant would be no more helpful than the kind of dismissive misrepresentations of views that I have pointed out above. Nor am I suggesting that Drs. Lemke, Allen and Vines don't have the right to hold to and argue for their own views.

What I am suggesting is that the approaches exhibited in these three events undermine true understanding and therefore any serious effort to maintain unity. By God's grace there is a growing number of Southern Baptists who genuinely want to bridge our doctrinal divides where we can and who want to live together in true unity and love with those with whom we disagree on some points. Such efforts hold great promise for the future, if they can avoid being sabatoged by those who seem threatened by such a movement.

The John 3:16 conference, along with Allen's review and Lemke's article, do not represent a healthy way forward for Southern Baptists. In fact, if the mischaracterizations, inaccuracies and false accusations that permeate these three events are allowed to become the modus operandi of the non-Calvinists in the SBC, then I fear that those who have predicted the inevitability of a major battle over the doctrines of grace will be proven correct. In fact, some have suggested that this is precisely what certain anti-Calvinists want because they believe that a major fight that erupts soon is their best hope for running Calvinists out of the SBC.

Regardless of the purpose of these kinds of attacks, I pray that all Gospel loving Southern Baptists, whether Calvinists or not, will not be provoked into responding in kind. I learned long ago that another person's sin never justifies my responding sinfully.

Now is the time for Southern Baptists of all stripes to stand up and hold those who misrepresent brethren with whom they disagree accountable for their words and actions. Speak the truth in love and leave the consequences to God. The anti-Calvinists (as opposed to non-Calvinists) are becoming, as one seminary student put it recently, "increasingly irrelevant," especially to younger SBC leaders. While they are writing and preaching to themselves, more and more Gospel-centered Calvinists and non-Calvinsts alike are showing a genuine willingness to link arms in order to move forward to make disciples of the Lord Jesus.

The future belongs to the bridge-builders, not party-builders.

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