Friday, June 22, 2007

The BFM 2K: Thoughts

I've been watching folks around the Baptist blogs talk about the recent decision and statement on the sufficiency of the BFM2K. There seem to be two camps. I've been asked my opinions.

A. About the Motion: On the one hand, I find it odd and rather humorous actually that those claiming it was too vague are making this claim at all. It strikes me as irrational.

1. They didn't really protest the motion on that basis, did they? As I recall, most of the protest arose over whether the trustees should be able to go beyond the BFM2k as they see it, using it only to "guide," not the motion's "vagueness."

2. So, it was too vague to pass, but not so vague to protest? That strikes me as "File Under: Grasping At Straws." That argument cuts both ways.

B. When we declare the Bible, as in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, to be the only infallible and sufficient authority to ground faith and practice, is that vague too?

1. The "no creed but the Bible" people don't think so.

2. When we talk about the doctrine of sufficiency in Scripture, I should think that when that day in Systematic Theology class, the students should know. So, what's the functional difference? Yes, the Bible has to be exegeted. Well, so does a confession of faith, so both parties lose a bit here when you get right down to it.

C. I think the difference is arising at least in part because the BFM2K doesn't address everything at least some of those opposing the motion want it to address. However, confessions aren't ever going to do that. The Apostle's Creed does not address modalism. Nicea-Constantinople, doesn't address Monophysitism and Nestorianism. The Ancient Creeds didn't address soteriology. The Second Helvetic Confession is remarkably minimalist for what we think of a Reformed Confession; so is the Belgic (more on that below). The Westminster Confession and its derivatives take time to address particular issues like election, providence, predestination, etc than the older confessions, and it is more stringent on some things like the covenantal schema than the Second London Baptist. On the other hand, neither one address PPL (private prayer language). So, confessions are in part descriptive and in part polemic. They are drafted as consensus documents often against the backdrop of particular concerns.

D. Which gets us to the idea of Baptist confessionalism. I wrote this at Les Puryear's blog, and I just reproduce it here:

t seems to me our forefathers wouldn't have gone to the trouble of drafting documents like the First and Second London Confessions or the others if they did not find it necessary to use them for something more than saying "look at what we believe."

I'm actually not a fan of the BFM2K. I've stated my reasons in the past. I'll not go into them again.

But that's not to say the LBCF2 is, IMO, the way to go, even though I heartily affirm it. Rather, I'm starting to think something along the lines of the 3 Forms of Unity would be the way to go or the Second Helvetic.

If the SBC finds it too hard to get along with the BFM2K, then what about something like those? The 3 Forms consists of one broad confession (Belgic) a clarification (Dort) and a catechism. The confession is remarkably broad for what we think of when we think of a Reformed confession. There's nothing on predestination and just one article on election that is very brief, and it construes election in single, not double terms, even though double prevailed in theologians of the time. Why? Because there was broad consensus at the popular level on the former, but the latter was a harder doctrine to express for them on the Continent without causing a debate that would be, at the time, divisive, particularly among those near the Lutheran states. Double was expressed later, because of items of concern for Westminster, Savoy, and the LBCF2 framers and by then double predestination was believed and understood properly among the people.

The key is the catechism, which is extremely good and very practical, and therein lies, I think, a problem with the BFM2K right now. Where is the real commentary on it? Where is the catechism? I don't mean the cute booklets, I mean the books like these:

Here

or

Here


What we need is a real book on the BFM2K that is analogous to these, or to Ursinus' Commentary on the Heilberg Catechism. I say folks petition Broadman & Holman to publish one; it needs to be on the order of their book on baptism that came out recently.

Let that be the standard reference volume for such questions as "What is a second or third tier issue?" within the SBC. The SBC need not speak as a unit, and if we go there, then we have to remember "What the SBC gives it can take away next year," All B&H needs is a cross section of our best theologians, and, where there is more than one view, let 2 or 3 of them interact, like they do in the "Five Views" series. It would also make a handy dandy study book for churches, something more than the little piddly things we have at present, and, yes, it might be a big volume, but I'd be worth it to have for every church library. In fact, they should publish it and send a free one to every church, period. The public has to purchase a copy.

It should also talk about confessions and their proper use. At the very least, we need something like this:

Statement One

or Number Two

It should deal with Baptist tradition on this issue too. It's interesting to see how our forefathers used their confessions. Our history is littered with examples of calls to churches to repent for declension from the associational confession of faith and round robin questions from the churches with answers to questions about the confession or another theological subject that got answered and circulated. They could do that back then, but back then people believed in using things like the Charleston Catechism. What folks in our pews think is high falutin' theology today was stuff the kids learned from "yay high," so that when they grew up, they could read a long series of theological exchanges by our state newspaper editors or attend a theological debate and know what was being said.

I remember teaching a Sunday School class for the eldest men at a local church here a couple years back. This was the 65 and over group. The lesson was the first in our denominational lit for Easter, and I could tell from the lessons that they were going to teach on the 3 offices of Christ. So, I took the opportunity as the substitute, to give them a basic lesson on things like:

What is a Covenant?

What is the "Old Covenant?" From Hebrews

What is the New Covenant? Same

What is a Mediator? Same

What are the 3 Offices of Christ?

Scripture proofs for each office.

(Want the lesson? I've got it here somewhere!)

I came with handouts and copies with fill in the blanks for each one, and we proceeded to read the Scriptures aloud while I explained each one from the text briefly, and reminded them to go back home and check everything I taught from the Scriptures and study to see if what I told them was true.

They were blown away. They all told me that nobody had ever taught this to them. Most of them thanked me for taking the time to teach them the Bible and leave the literature for something really informative, you know, beyond, "Jesus came to save us; we should love and obey him; amen," which just, IMO, insulting to be teaching adults in Sunday School. The writer of Hebrews (you're still on milk!) would be rolling in his grave! One man just handed a blank copy to me and left in a huff. "Too hard."

Dude, I learned all of this as a kid in school, not college or grad school! I was fortunate to go to a Christian school here where we live, Les, when as a boy, we learned the Westminster Children's Catechism in sixth grade. Mr. Weber taught us basic systematic theology in 10th grade. Mr. Harvey taught us about apologetics contra Rome and the cults in our senior year. Kids today don't get that, and many don't even get it in church, much less have the benefit of going to a Christian school or even getting it in a Christian school. That shouldn't be. Why do I blog with eggheads like Steve Hays? Because I was taught well, by God's grace. I departed it from it for a time, but the Lord drew me back to it and made it my own in time.

Our "no creed but the Bible" attitude seems to have produced people that just don't get it, a people that are still drinking milk, when they should be feasting on meat. It produces discouraged pastors like a friend in High Point who says he has a dozen or so who get it and the rest are phoning it in, and they love Jesus, but just don't understand how untaught they really are. It's not about knowing arcane truth; it's about pursuing truth that God has given us so we can love Him and understand Him even more and tell others about what He is really like. Instead, we have one of three things in our churches now: a small cadre that "get it;" a group that's just plain baptized and unregenerate; and a third who believe in the theology of sentimentality who have "no creed but Jesus" but who, if they are allowed to do so, will let the church drift into declension in a generation or breed legalists with a shallow theology as a reaction, which in turn breeds atheists in their children (a fact we constantly run into in our work at Triablogue, I might add).

Contrast this with Shepherd's Fellowship in Greensboro. They're holding question and answer sessions after every sermon. They can ask any question, if they have a need, but they mainly concentrate on the sermon and the day's text. Some are really deep; and over dinner every other Sunday, you can listen and they're talking about what they learned in family Bible study, theological questions, how to evangelize their lost friends and relatives, and all sorts of stuff. Frankly, compare this to the average SBC church, and the difference is stark.

They use the First London Confession, and they all believe and understand it. Some understand more than others of course, but they can tell you what the believe and why and defend it; some deeply, some in basic terms, but they all "get it." They know what they need to believe to be a member and they know what issues the church has decided to call secondary, like a specific covenantal theology or eschatology, etc.

I'd also add that I've seen folks say confessions and creeds violate "Sola Scriptura." I'd like to ask what their definition of Sola Scriptura is. It does not exclude confessions, it subordinates them to the infallibility of Scripture.

Also, those most opposed to them also, in my experience, if they don't just wind up being untaught Christians, wind up falling into heresy. The Campbellites are a prime example in our own history. Alex Campbell got an exception from the association on a confession for his church while a Baptist. Then he proceeded to teach heresy.

And I've also watched, folks like our dear friends, Les, at places like WFU Divinity School go on and on about "no creed but the Bible" (as when the protested the changes @ SEBTS years ago) only to wind up being high churchmen, "mitred ones" as Steve Hays calls them, some of whom will appeal to the "Ecumenical creeds" as their rule of faith. I've seen some who go for the ancient creeds as their rule of faith use them to deny Sola Fide. That would be, of course, a denial of the gospel.

So, the middle ground seems to the historic position of our forefathers: Scripture is infallible, but we need some sort of confession to help us keep order and teach our people, which tries as best as possible to carve out a consensus on as many topics as possible, always correctable by better exegesis.

It must rest on the doctrine of Scripture (prolegomena) and the doctrine of God. Its basic boundaries for a credible profession of faith for a Christian in general it would include a proper, but not overly detailed, doctrine of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and justification by faith alone in Christ alone. For fellowship and cooperation with other Baptists, it would need a specific doctrine of Scripture, since that has been a point of contention in times past, a basic soteriological scheme if at all possible to elucidate in general consensus broadly (to support justification by faith alone, for that assumes certain other ideas), the ordinances, and basic ecclesiology, eg., for us, these issues would be general Baptist distinctives: basic believer's baptism, Lord's Supper, regenerate church membership, religious liberty, etc, but nothing that favors exclusion or makes the confession illogically linked (for one doctrine links to another). That's all we really need. Other issues can be secondary. On the other hand, it shouldn't be a document where too many parties can come and see their own views in it, when some exclude others by definition. That's irrational. If that's what the confession does, then it needs an explanation of the articles, e.g. a detailed commentary from the best theologians or a catechism that explains it.

That said, I fail to see how, for example, people can talk about PPL being a central issue, when the WCF and LBCF2, which are the most highly developed confessions ever published, don't deal with those issues, and the Reformed tradition itself has no consensus on those issues.

I also object to any confession that is constructed around "Baptist distinctives" however defined. That's an improper starting place. They come from too low in a theology to function that way. I'll be posting more about this at Tblogue soon.
E. I've also been asked about Dr. Mohler's speech. Some think I agree with him; others think I disagree. Actually I run on a middle ground. I certainly don't believe the Convention didn't understand what it was doing. If that's true, it would be true for both parties squabbling. That objection proves too much.

On the one hand, I agree with Wade, Ben, et.al. On the other, when it comes to the seminaries in particular, I can see Dr. Mohler's point. Wade admits there is ONE NAMB, IMB, et.al. There are SIX seminaries. I'm not so sure that what is good for one agency is good for all agencies, though I can understand the need for consensus and uniformity. That's what I mean by my middle ground position.

Also, in seminaries, in hiring faculty, there's a reasonable expectation that the faculty have a clue about theology, because, you know, they are being considered to teach. It goes with the territory. So, a seminary should have, I think, more freedom in its theological requirements. They can ask, as Wade Burleson stated. On the other hand, I think it's only fair that the SBC grandfather in those who are using the Abstract already.

On the other hand, I think it's a mistake to say that those who are continuationists only or cessationists only should be teaching there. Those issues are actually further down the list in a theology that even soteriological schema. Further, I'm not so sure that when it comes to those issues a theology professor should be indoctrinating his students on one view. Warfield argued vehemently against continationism, but in his work, he does at least present the other POV, albeit, IMO, not as fairly as he could have. The seminary is also an academic environment. A professor can walk in the door and say that he's an Arminian and then present Calvinism fairly and the vice versa, or at least one would hope so. What folks seem to be secretly assuming is that professors can't or won't fairly represent those views. I think that some of the hesitance to think that they can comes from the days when too many of us, myself included, had to sit in classrooms at SBTS and SEBTS and listen to a "devotional" that was a propaganda piece against "the fundamentalists," and then have our views trashed.

I would propose the SBC consider the idea of "magnet seminaries." For example: If SBTS wants to be a primarily Calvinist/Reformed seminary, let it do so. If SWBTS wants to promote Anabaptist roots and semi-Arminianism (that's my new word for Dave Hunt type soteriology), then let it do so. If SEBTS wants to be a "liberal arts" sort of SBC seminary, let it does so. Each of those will have different needs, and I think a good case can be made that, on that basis, the trustees need the leeway. The thing about that, though, is that if the administration and trustees change their minds, there goes the magnet, so that sort of idea requires a great deal of commitment.

As to the Abstract of Principles, I'm a bit concerned that those "jonesing" to get the Abstract removed from SBC life might get wise to the motion and try to use it for that purpose. I can't help but wonder if that is what Dr. Mohler believes too, but he didn't exactly communicate that well. On the other hand, if SWBTS under its current administration can employ a covenantal Reformed Baptist like Greg Welty while flying the flag of the BFM2K, then I should think that we can safely say the BFM2k is wide enough to accommodate the doctrines of grace and Baptist covenantalism. That which is more narrow, on this view, is not exceeding the wider document, ergo the use of the Abstract should not be considered to exceed the BFM2K. On the other hand, I think what needs to happen, to placate those of us with my first concern, is a simple motion next year to grandfather the Abstract into the statement about our "approved statement of faith." It has been approved for over a century in deed, if not in word. The motion could even simply state the the trustees of seminaries with existing statements of faith other than the BFM2k (SBTS and SEBTS) should be free to apply them as they see fit, with the understanding the the BFM2k is the wider of the two and the Abstract fits within those bounds (for if not, Brother Greg should not be teaching at SWBTS, and I don't think Paige Patterson and his followers would argue for his removal). If they apply the Abstract for any case, then it needs to be documented accordingly with supporting reasons.

F. As noted above, I fail to see how, for example, people can talk about PPL being a central issue, when the WCF and LBCF2, which are the most highly developed confessions ever published, don't deal with those issues, and the Reformed tradition itself has no vast consensus on those issues. At best it has come to majority and minority opinions.

Also, there is but one IMB, for example, and, there, the IMB has a reasonable expectation that the candidates have been through a theological education. Apropos E, that should be enough, if they stipulate to the BFM2k. What more does one need? If that's a problem, then the IMB needs to go to the seminaries and tell them to jack up the quality of the education of the folks coming from them. What needs to happen, in my opinion, is some serious dialogue between the Executive Committee, the Council of Seminary Presidents, and the seminary and agency trustees. They need to all sit down and work this out together and figure it out instead of arguing about it like a bunch of spoiled children. We're all grown ups here, despite some of the comments that come out in the comboxes around the Baptist blogs, and we're all, I would hope, God's people. We ought to, by now, know how to sit down and work out an agreement that satisfies everybody involved when we come away feeling this way.

You know, when our Baptist forefathers couldn't come to an agreement and squabbled the way some of us are, they'd close the doors and get on their knees and pray together and "not let go of the horns of the altar" until the matter was resolved in consensus. It's time all the parties, and I mean ALL the parties do this, and stop acting like the SBC this year was just a church business meeting...you know the kind, where the church gathers, votes, and then different factions leave disgruntled and mumbling, all argumentative, and hurt. All of them know that's shameful, and I've heard some of them lament it in their own churches, so why are they doing it?

5 comments:

  1. Gene,

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. I have mixed emotions on the motion, and I am trying my best to think it through.

    On the one hand, I find it disconcerting that the IMB would take money from a church who agrees totally with the BFM 2K, but then refuse to allow them to send missionaries because they have non-cessasionist views. If that's who we are as Baptists, we ought to say so.

    I also agree that institutions must have leeway to determine the qualifications for professors, missionaries, and etc. Are we going to write divorce clauses into the BFM 2K, should this be an issue? (Just the example that popped into mind.)

    At the end of the day I wonder how much of this is aimed at trying to agree on doctrinal issues, and how much is simply political posturing. This was my first convention, and I got the feeling that as I talked to people, even friends, that they weren't so much interested in my position as they were in which camp I was in. It made me sick to my stomach. (For the record, I'd be in the Founder's friendly camp. If they'll have me, considering I'm not a Sabbatarian.)

    I struggle as a pastor because I serve a church that has been without discipline for 60+ years. We are a plateaued/declining church, and I lament that after three and a half years of labor that many people in the church still could not clearly articulate the gospel. I've got 250 people on the roll that are completely AWOL, and I can't get those who remain to admit that this is a serious problem. Do you seriously think my biggest concern should be that a couple of those who remain are blabbing nonsense in the privacy of their prayer closet? And even if they were full-blown nut cases, how can we discipline them when we've got 250 others who don't even bother showing up who are up to who knows what?

    My point is I am hardly the only SBC pastor dealing with these issues. What I want to see our convention do is admit these problems and encourage people to hold one another accountable. What I don't want to hear is one more person crying about our poor baptismal numbers and our lousy committment to evangelism, and for heaven's sakes, I could not care less about global warming in comparison to my concern about the gospel being lost in our churches.

    We are insane if we think that the programs that got us into this mess are the way out of it. If people aren't being saved, I submit that it isn't through a lack of trying. It could be we are barren because we are largely preaching a gospel that God cannot honor.

    This may have been a bit rambling, but thinking on this gets me agitated.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I struggle as a pastor because I serve a church that has been without discipline for 60+ years. We are a plateaued/declining church, and I lament that after three and a half years of labor that many people in the church still could not clearly articulate the gospel. I've got 250 people on the roll that are completely AWOL, and I can't get those who remain to admit that this is a serious problem. Do you seriously think my biggest concern should be that a couple of those who remain are blabbing nonsense in the privacy of their prayer closet? And even if they were full-blown nut cases, how can we discipline them when we've got 250 others who don't even bother showing up who are up to who knows what?

    Brad...

    I'm going to quote this at some point in the near future, because I want the whole Baptist blogosphere to read it. A-M-E-N!

    We should be talking about PPL when we've got this sort of thing running rampant!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You know, when our Baptist forefathers couldn't come to an agreement and squabbled the way some of us are, they'd close the doors and get on their knees and pray together and "not let go of the horns of the altar" until the matter was resolved in consensus. It's time all the parties, and I mean ALL the parties do this, and stop acting like the SBC this year was just a church business meeting...you know the kind, where the church gathers, votes, and then different factions leave disgruntled and mumbling, all argumentative, and hurt. All of them know that's shameful, and I've heard some of them lament it in their own churches, so why are they doing it?

    Amen Gene. This right here is exactly what bothered more more than anything else this year. In the end I couldn't care less about the motions that passed or didn't because I'm so grieved by the behavior.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In all, very well considered and I don't recall disagreeing with any of it.

    The level of theological ineptitude you describe among church membership resonates with my sensibilities. I'm blessed to be in a church where teachers are welcome to delve into theological meat and opposing conservative theological conclusions are presented fairly and error is exposed for what it is.

    I offer this anecdote from my own family as a father pleased with the development of his children. My wife and kids are in Venezuela for the summer working with a church there. Steve Green was in Maracaibo and they had traveled there one day last week to hear him. My 11-year-old son has been reading the Left Behind series and has been interested in eschatology. So I sat him down and discussed the Pre-Trib view used as a basis for the story in the books. Then I told him about the other eschatological views and pointed him in the direction to study them. On the way to see Steve Green, he decided to share what he was was learning with my 8-year-old daughter who found the information rather distressing. However, I had been playing Steve's Spanish albums in the car prior to their leaving and she was well familiar with the music when they got to the concert. Then she started singing along and turned her theological fear into praise and worship.

    I suggest that this be our goal with theology - to bring us to a right relationship with God. This should be acknowledged in the SBC as well.

    ReplyDelete
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