Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Point of No Return

Ever since the conservatives took control of the left-leaning Southern Baptist Convention a few decades ago in the now-famous "Battle for the Bible," people have wondered what would be the next big issue. It seems pretty clear now: Calvinism!

It has already been mentioned that a "discussion" (not a debate) will be held this summer at the SBC's annual meeting in Greensboro, NC. Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, will meet during the Pastor's Conference to discuss the theological merit of the Doctrines of Grace in Southern Baptist life. Along with all the other issues to be handled at this meeting, the 2006 event should produce near-record crowds.

The interest in the discussion was surely fanned into flame thanks to some rather frisky back-n-forth on the Founders blog run by Tom Ascol. In a piece written on February 14, Tom Ascol noted that Johnny Hunt was going to be nominated to serve as the next President of the SBC. The purpose of the article was to discuss the method by which potential presidents are nominated. He rightly noted that the SBC's "kingmakers" decide beforehand who will next lead the convention and the annual meeting is closer to a "coronation" than an election. He asked for some good men as alternative candidates. What followed is mind-blowing!

As of this moment (9:13 PM on Saturday, Feb 18), there have been 188 comments posted in response to that article. Several have called for a true election by asking for a nomination from the floor during the convention. Several more have proposed men like Al Mohler or Mark Dever or Roy Hargrave.

Soon after, the conversation sadly degenerated somewhat into some attacks on Johnny Hunt. That is too bad. While I disagree wholeheartedly with some fine points of Hunt's theology, Hunt is a fine pastor and a true servant in the kingdom. He has served faithfully for years and would no doubt make a fine conservative president (unless those "fine points" become blunt instruments).

However, it cannot be denied that he has made some incredibly asinine comments regarding Calvinistic beliefs at last year's Pastors Conference and in the pulpit at his church (most famously: "Everyone that gets in is elected and He's elected all of us). Does that disqualify him from the SBC presidency? Not necessarily but people should be able to ask for clarification on these points without being labelled "divisive" or "hateful." Hunt is an incredibly well-known pastor (especially in SBC circles) so any comments he makes are rightfully deserving of public scrutiny. And it is not a personal attack to say someone is wrong!!!

Anyway, back to the point at hand. Ascol asked for all posters to return to the original issue of the SBC presidency. Soon after, Ergun Caner made his debut on the blog. Caner is the new dean of Liberty Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia. Caner has made a very big name for himself very quickly - and deservedly so.

Caner was soon joined by his brother Emir Caner, the president of the College at Southwestern (part of Paige Patterson's Southwestern). Sadly, however far the conversation had degenerated previously, it soon reached its nadir with the addition of the two brothers.

At about the 75-comment, Dr. Caner wrote this:
I BEG of you- PLEASE bring another name to the floor of the SBC. I would be thrilled to watch that person go down in flames, as we enjoy another conservative who has not adopted semi-Presbyterianism. On the positive side, you can always just "punt" and say it was predestined for you to lose.
Caner went on to say that "five-point Calvinism is a VIRUS." He wrote that Calvinism has "never" grown a church by conversions - only transfer growth of "the people we don't want." He even pulled off a great line, saying, "You guys are mules- you make much noise, but cannot reproduce." However clever that comment is, it seems obvious that Caner has forgotten about Capital Hill Baptist in D.C. or Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis or Mar's Hill in Seattle.

Speaking of growth, we all must admit that the SBC has been defined in the last 80 years as "Sandy Creek, do-anything-to-get'em-down-the-aisle and dunk'em-before-they-change-their-minds" types. The sorry state of the SBC (only 37% of SBC members bothering to show up on an average Sunday morning worship service) falls squarely in their own laps - not Calvinists.

Then the self-described "Caner the lesser" joined the fray and somehow the conversation went further downhill. He wrote:
Also, is it true Bethlehem Baptist has revised their hymnal to fit the mold of their hyper-Calvinist pastor? I hear they now sing, "Jesus loves some of the children, some of the children in the world..."

Let the nations be glad that God is the author of evil and takes joy in people going to hell...
Piper a hyper-Calvinist? Ridiculous! However, I can understand how a "hyper-Arminian" would think that way in a relative fashion. Caner the Elder has openly endorsed Dave Hunt's remarkably bad book "What Love Is This?: Calvinism's Misrepresentation of God." To hold Hunt's "scholarship" in such high esteem can only lead one to see Piper's theology as extreme, as well.

It was soon suspected that this "Caner" was an imposter because of some errors (John Gill would kill you for not baptizing babies and talking about "Armenians" (sic)). That suspicion was soon removed after some fact-checking and emails. It was the two deans, acting in a very unbecoming way.

A poster challenged Ergun Caner to debate James White of "Alpha and Omega Ministries." Several years ago, Dr. Norm Geisler wrote "Chosen But Free." White wrote a rebuttal to that book called "The Potter's Freedom." Geisler followed up with a second edition of that book that has been exposed by White for its sophomoric reasoning and research. Read that response by White and sit slack-jawed at the fact that Caner can write "As for the offer to debate, I would be happy to debate- a Baptist. Why should I debate Dr. White? Especially since Dr. Geisler so aptly decimated him in the second edition of CHOSEN?"

WOW! Talk about being blinded by your traditions! First of all, White is a Baptist (not SBC but so what). Second, White is an adjunct professor at a fellow SBC seminary - Golden Gate.

Caner later answers a poster's question by stating:
Do I see as synonymous 5-point Calvinism (supralapsarian) and "Hyper-Calvinism?"

So, Five Point Calvinists are all supralapsarians? I'm a "five-pointer" but not supra!

Ergun clarified his position, stating:
I do not believe that limited atonement and irresistible grace are biblical.

I even take issue, as a Geisler-type Thomist, with any description of Total Depravity that erases the imago Dei, and I believe that repentance preceeds salvation. No one is dragged kicking and screaming against their will into the Kingdom.

Thus, using the Scholastic Protestant definition, I am a fighting one-pointers.

Thankfully, I am not a protestant.
I am a Baptist, Free-Church dissenter.
What true Calvinist believes that the image of God is "erased" in mankind? I sure don't. It is marred, fractured, broken if you will but not removed or erased.

What true Calvinist believes that people are "dragged kicking and screaming against their will into the Kingdom"? I sure don't.

This shows an appalling lack of understanding of the opponent's position. It appears quite obviously that Caner has erected a man of straw, named him "Calvinism" and then finds great joy in easily knocking this straw man to the ground. That works for Dave Hunt - no one expects more from him. I would expect more from a seminary dean and professor of theology.

So, the debate will continue to rage in the days to come as we near ground-zero at Greensboro. The shots have been fired across the bow. The big guns will be coming out soon.

I have enough faith in God to believe that good will come from this. I just hope all the good that the conservative SBC has going for it does not go down in the battle.


Jim Pemberton said...

What concerns me most is the vitriol that biblical scholars have for one another. I suggest that they re-read I Corinthians 13. Their lack of charity for one another nullifies any knowledge they think they have, for what knowledge is useful unless it humbles a man to the point of recognizing the image of God in another.

As for a president of the SBC, I would think he should be theologically conservative as far the biggies like the deity of Christ and biblical authority. As far as issues like Arminianism and Calvanism (which are each positions historically held by respected conservative theologians), I would say that it is more important to have a Christlike temperament.

Benjamin S. Cole said...

I just found your site, and read this article. Very astute and balanced. Thanks for what you are contributing to the dialogue on these most critical matters in our denominational life.