Thursday, October 20, 2011

What is the Problem with the SBC?

Last night before I went to bed, I was shocked to read a tweet from someone outside of the SBC saying: "SBC leader cites Calvinism as top challenge." I was even more disappointed to click the link and discover that the source reporting this information was a non-SBC source (the Associated Baptist Press, ABP). But I was most disappointed to find that the person behind this statement was purportedly Dr. Frank Page. Dr. Page is one of my favorite personalities in Baptist life. He was at one time a member of the church I pastor, and was ordained by this congregation. He was an excellent president of the Convention for two years (owing in no small part to the grass roots support of many Calvinists in the Convention), and I was so elated when he was named the head of the Executive Committee. If he had truly stated that Calvinism is the top challenge facing the SBC, then I would have been saddened by that statement. After hearing his predecessor, Dr. Morris Chapman, bash Calvinists from the podium at the SBC for multiple years, I was beginning to think that maybe the Executive Committee offices need to be checked for lead paint or asbestos or something. Turns out, this is NOT what Frank Page said.

What Dr. Page said is, "I think one of the issues which is a tremendous challenge for us is the theological divide of Calvinism and non-Calvinism." What a pregnant senetence! The words "ONE OF" are crucial. "A tremendous challenge" is not quite the same as "the leading challenge." And rather than singling out Calvinism, Page identified the "DIVIDE of Calvinism and non-Calvinism" as ONE OF the issues which is A tremendous challenge for us. The rest of the article, in which ABP seeks to unmask the Calvinist boogeyman, departs from Page's statement and digs up things that Page wrote in his book on Calvinism (from which he stated he was making a more mediating move during his run for Convention presidency) and various statistics and surveys about the rise of Calvinism in the Convention (http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/6862/53/). Of course, ABP has to always throw in a barb against Dr. Al Mohler whenever it can as well. If one wants to read the actual interview with Page, the one that ABP has radically distorted, it can be found here: http://sbctoday.com/2011/10/18/an-interview-with-dr-frank-s-pagepresident-and-ceo-of-the-executive-committee-of-the-southern-baptist-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=an-interview-with-dr-frank-s-pagepresident-and-ceo-of-the-executive-committee-of-the-southern-baptist-convention

Some of the supporting information that ABP uses to "unpack" its case is: (A) Page [not to mention, others] have asked for pastoral candidates to be honest with their congregations about their Calvinism during the search process; (B) that there is a court case going on somewhere involving an attempt to move a congregation into elder polity from strict congregationalism. It seems to me that in both these cases, Calvinism is not the issue, idiot pastors are the issue. Calvinists do not have a monopoly on idiots. And if we can broaden the issue to idiot pastors in general, we may have truly identified one of the leading challenges, if not the top challenge, facing the SBC.

Consider:
1) Calvinists need to be honest with the search committee. Agreed, but how does this work? Should the guy say, "Before we go any farther, I'm a Calvinist." Most members of Baptist search committees don't really even understand what that means, but they might know they are supposed to be against it. I am sure that any responsible pastor will answer doctrinal questions honestly in keeping with his convictions. And that is the key here: responsibility and honesty. If Calvinists can be accused of creating problems, surely non-Calvinists (I love how no one in SBC wants to be known as an Arminian) can as well. I know of a church which was recently put through all grades of upheaval because the newly acquired pastor lied about his education; another church wherein the newly acquired pastor lied about his philosophy of ministry, etc. Idiot pastors say what they have to say to get hired. Good pastors tell the truth, and as Rogers and Clark famously (or infamously) sang in "Ishtar", "Telling the truth can be dangerous business; honest and popular don't go hand-in-hand; if you admit that you can play the accordian, no one will hire you in a rock-and-roll band."

2) Calvinists need to stop trying to shove elder rule on churches. Perhaps there is some truth to this. However, let's put down our guns and talk for a moment. Are there Calvinists who have elder-led churches? Yes. Are there non-Calvinists who have elder-led churches? Yes. Are there some in both camps who have pressured churches to move to this model of leadership in an unhealthy way? Certainly. They move too quickly, they move too aggressivley, they move too uncharitably. Because they are idiot pastors. Read the New Testament and you will discover that there is a precedence for plurality of elders and a precedence for congregationalism. They do not seem to be mutually exclusive. It seems to me that the most biblical form of polity embraces "both-and" not "either-or." A good pastor understands this, and where he desires to move to elder-polity from pure congregationalism, he shepherds the people to a biblical understanding of the issue and allows them to make the decision according to their existing polity. But a good pastor also understands that the elder model is not the ultimate end to which he should lead the church. There are so many bigger issues that need to be tackled in most churches, a good pastor can say, "This one can wait a while," while an idiot pastor says, "Doggone the torpedoes (to paraphrase David Farragut), full speed ahead!" I might add that elder-led advocates do not have a monopoly on idiots either. Some idiot pastors have forced the church into a monarchial system where the pastor is dictator, or forced a church into a plural staff system which functions like an elder board, without actually calling it that.

3) Much to my surprise, the only boogey man that the article in ABP didn't raise up is the "Frozen Chosen" guy, who doesn't do missions or evangelism because he is a Calvinist. Most of my friends are Calvinists. All of my friends are passionate about missions and evangelism. Calvinists, including Calvin himself, have typically been strong advocates and participants in missions and evangelism throughout church history. There are some hyper-Calvinists who are not. And where a guy is leading his church that way, you guessed it: idiot pastor. But again, Calvinists haven't cornered the market on anti-missional idiots. There are plenty (probably more!) churches which are not Calvinist who do not engage in missions and evangelism. I would say that the hyper-Calvinist even has an advantage over these, because he can at least defend his position theologically (he's wrong, but he can argue it), while the non-Calvinist non-missionals are just hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another.

So, what is THE problem with the SBC? Do we need fewer Calvinists? Well, if the current state of rhetoric doesn't change, the SBC will get that, and it will likely leave those who are left still scratching their heads trying to figure out what the real problem is. I suggest we need fewer idiots -- idiot pastors in particular. I think that we need to start pointing the finger where it belongs -- not to a guy's theology but to his methodology and his character. 

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