Lord willing, over the next few days I will be blogging through the GCR Declaration in anticipation of next week’s SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the third article in what I hope will be a series. As you read, please remember that while Between the Time is a group blog that includes a number of Southeastern Seminary professors, these articles (and every article I write) represent my own personal opinions. I speak only for myself, so please avoid imputing my views to any of my fellow contributors unless they have publicly spoken/written about these matters and you can cite their agreement. The comments are open, but because of the large volume of blogging I will be engaging in this week you will understand if I choose not to interact with many comments.
Article IV: A Commitment to Biblical Inerrancy and Sufficiency
I mentioned in a previous post that the GCR is, in my opinion, the logical next-step following the success of the Conservative Resurgence. This particular article, perhaps better than any other article, does a fine job of making that explicit. While the Conservative Resurgence was surely about more than inerrancy, there is little doubt that the full truthfulness of Scripture was the key rallying point for Convention conservatives. It is evidence of God’s grace that biblical inerrancy is, once again, a central affirmation of those who would draw a paycheck from our churches to serve as missionaries, teach in our seminaries, or work in our other denominational parachurch ministries.
Ditto on the GCR Declaration’s affirmation that the broader “Battle for the Bible” began just after creation and will continue until consummation. The Conservative Resurgence was just a single skirmish in one corner of the world, albeit one about which many of us care quite a bit!
As for biblical sufficiency, I think most Southern Baptists would agree in principle that, “It is not enough to believe that the Bible is inerrant; we must also be willing to submit to all of its teachings, even if that means we must relinquish our own preferences or human traditions”. The key is that we enjoy increasing unity as we seek to determine which of our practices might be “our own preferences or human traditions” (see below). I think this will be a tension point in our cooperation, but I don’t think it has to be a denominational “WMD” if we stay focused on Christ’s lordship and obeying the greatest commandments. Join me in praying that God will give wisdom to each of us, to all of our churches, and to every parachurch ministry within our denominational family.
Article V: A Commitment to a Healthy Confessional Center
I’ll probably camp out here for awhile. If you’ve been listening to podcast interviews with Johnny Hunt or reading the various print interviews with President Hunt or Danny Akin, you hopefully already know what this article does not mean. I am glad that they have made it clear that this document is not a rehashing of the argument from a couple years back that the BF&M is a “maximal” statement of faith and that no denominational parachurch ministry can articulate further parameters. While the BF&M 2000 is the document around which we choose to cooperate as Southern Baptists (and in many state conventions), every seminary or board should have the right to adopt entity-specific guidelines because each of them has a unique history, faces unique challenges, and embraces unique emphases.
I realize that some readers will take umbrage with this position because of the way they feel about specific guidelines (i.e. the IMB baptism and PPL guidelines, the SWBTS prohibition against women teaching Hebrew, or the use of the Abstract of Principles at SBTS and SEBTS). Now I think it is totally appropriate to debate the merits of a given entity’s guidelines, but I also think it is crucial to preserve the right of denominational parachurch ministries to adopt such guidelines. Remember that almost all Southern Baptists agree that our confession of faith is not an infallible creed but is a living document that is subject to revision as contexts change and new issues arise. It would be a tad awkward for us to claim that the BF&M says all that needs to be said, but then turn around in 15 or 20 years and revised it again (which you can bet will happen-it has happened once a generation thus far).
I like it that the GCR Declaration notes, “Like the best of confessions, the BF&M 2000 speaks most clearly to those doctrines wherein we enjoy greatest agreement and speaks more generally concerning areas where some differing opinions exist.” Simply put, the sections on ecclesiology are more specific than the sections on some of the finer points of soteriology for a reason (we are uniformly Baptist, but not uniformly Calvinist, Arminian, Amyraldian, Calminian, or “biblicist”). I would simply add that the BF&M also is silent on a number of matters wherein our churches are characterized by considerable differences of opinion.
To me the most important part of this article, at least in terms of our future cooperation, is the third paragraph. It is here that we find mention of the oft-debated “theological triage” terminology, a practice that I am convinced almost all of us affirm in principle. I don’t think most of us are debating whether or not we ought to practice such triage, but rather which doctrines fit into which categories (primary, secondary, tertiary). Is one’s position on the number of elders/pastors in each church secondary or tertiary? What about one’s views of election and the extent of the atonement? Are female deacons ever appropriate? Can women teach mixed Sunday School classes and/or choose to work outside the home? What about some practices traditionally associated with Pentecostal, Charismatic, and/or Third Wave Christians? Must one be properly baptized to participate in communion (this one’s particular tricky because the BF&M says one thing–and I agree with what it says–but many [most?] of our churches practice something different)? Where do styles and methods and cultural preferences and strategies fit in? Each of these is a live debate, and the list could go on.
I agree with the GCR Document that the BF&M will help guide us in these debates, but remember, as I mentioned in the last paragraph, the BF&M is ambiguous or even silent on some issues, including most of those mentioned in the previous paragraph. So even more than the BF&M, we will need wisdom and grace from on high as we interpret our inerrant and sufficient Bibles under the lordship of Jesus Christ for the sake of the gospel and the health of our churches and parachurch ministries. To the degree that we do this, I think we will be doing theological triage with biblical integrity and Christian charity.