What’s Wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention?

Jared Wilson observes for the Gospel Allies the 10th anniversary of the religious reporting that put the New Calvinists on the map, Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. My first take is that it seems odd to celebrate the anniversary of a magazine article. Why not the 20th anniversary of John Piper’s Desiring God, or the 270th anniversary of Jonathan Edwards’s dismissal from First Congregational Church, Northampton?

But stranger is Mr. Wilson’s by-line. He works for Midwestern Seminary, which has been in the orbit of the Southern Baptist Convention since its founding in 1957 and not a subsidiary of The Gospel Coalition.

As an institution of the Southern Baptist Convention, Midwestern Seminary is guided by a board of trustees elected by the Convention in its annual sessions. The trustees in turn elect faculty members and administrative officers. Upon election to the faculty, each professor subscribes to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement adopted by the SBC in 2000.

Each of our faculty members participates in a local Southern Baptist church, teaching classes, serving as a deacon or leading a congregation as an interim pastor. On campus, our faculty is dedicated to equipping men and women in a variety of Christian ministries and is committed to the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and geographical backgrounds. Like our faculty and staff, our students are committed to theological education in preparation for the practice of ministry. Midwestern Seminary has awarded more than 3,500 theological degrees.

Midwestern Seminary derives the majority of its financial support from the SBC Cooperative Program. In addition to Cooperative Program funds and student fees, alumni gifts and endowments from special friends enable the school to further its far-reaching ministry.

Here’s the question: is New Calvinism synonymous with the Southern Baptist Convention or is the former a subset of the latter? Related to this, why does someone associated with New Calvinism not have a higher loyalty to the communion to which he belongs? New Calvinism (and Gospel Coalition) is parachurch, movement oriented. The SBC is a communion. So shouldn’t someone who wants to see churches planted and grow rather put his energies into a real communion than into a movement?

This is the problem with New Calvinism. It seems to be a cover for ecclesiology and churches that have no fellowship with Old Calvinist communions. There’s nothing wrong with being Southern Baptist. At least it’s a church ethos, to modify Walter Sobchak’s phrase. New Calvinism seems mainly sneaky and self-promotional.

Rah Rah T(eam) G(ospel) C(oalition)

Justin Taylor recommends Richard Lovelace’s pro-revival book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, and shows the telltale faults of the gospel allies. Taylor praises a book that is more theology than history as a work of church history, and he reproduces endorsements from TGC heavyweights about how important Lovelace’s book was for their ministry and careers:

There is not another book quite like Richard Lovelace’s The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (IVP, 1979).

It was published before Tim Keller and John Piper had written any popular books.

It was written back when Jonathan Edwards was hardly anybody’s homeboy.

It was written by an author who is a bit eccentric, but whose every page—agree or disagree—is worth wrestling with and pondering.

Tim Keller says that if you read this book, you’ll say that you now know where he got all his material. He still thinks we can’t do without this book.

David Powlison says he read the book multiple times in the 1980s.

Ray Ortlund has said that this book is rarely far from his thoughts.

So we have the problem of the veneer of uncontested scholarship followed by the problem of group think. Does anyone challenge Lovelace on historical or theological grounds? Or is Lovelace wonderful all the time because he means so much to TGC celebrities? (I suppose Justin has to adjudicate such questions sometimes as an editor at Crossway books but among TGC eminences such critical perspectives rarely arise.)

I ran a search of Lovelace’s book and discovered that it received no reviews in the standard historical journals (religious or secular). But at Reformed Journal, Mark Noll, then a relatively obscure young scholar, raised precisely the sort of concerns that should have dawned on Taylor, Tim Keller, Ray Ortlund, and David Powlison before praising the book in such glowing ways. Noll’s concerns are also those that confessional Protestants bring to the book:

The more diffuse second half of the book proposes programs for personal and parish renewal, while warning against emotional, spiritual, and theological errors which lead revivals astray. It contends for a faith that neglects neither personal spirituality nor doctrinal orthodoxy nor structural reform. It concludes with a potpourri of concerns pointing out the value to renewed Christians of remaining in their denominations, offering a blueprint for artistic revival among evangelicals, and stressing the need for a socially active faith.

The book attempts so much that it is bound to leave each reader unsatisfied at some points. To quibble, I found it strange that Lovelace would exalt Jonathan Edwards as a flawless model for ongoing spiritual renewal. However influential Edwards’ Narrative of Surprising Conversions was for the Great Awakening of the 1730’s and 1740’s, the message of renewal evidently did not permeate even Edwards’ own Northampton congregation, which dismissed him less than a decade after the flowering of the revival. Also, Lovelace’s repeated contrast between the spiritual vitality of today’s young people and the enculturated sterility of the older generation is naive.

More seriously, Lovelace exhibits a strange lack of concern for “steady state” Christianity. He focuses so intently upon the manifestations of spiritual renewal in local churches, denominations, and society as a whole—his enthusiasm is so great for the rare moments of dramatic spiritual quickening in Christian history—that he neglects what have been the day-in, day-out realities for most Christians in most eras of the church’s history. Work and family life, for instance, receive little attention here Yet if spiritual renewal is to be a sustaining presence in the church at large, it must certainly go beyond what theologians, preachers, denominational officials, and other professional Christian workers do for a living It must even go beyond what lay people do in devotion, worship, witness, and Christian social involvement. One group of Lovelace’s heroes, the Puritans, recognized the need for Christian renewal to remake relationships in the home and workplace. Yet, except for a few brief comments concerning “theological integration,” Lovelace seems content to leave untouched that artificial division between spiritual and secular worlds which has so bedeviled the church. (“Breadth and Longevity,” Nov. 1980)

Is Noll being unnice to suggest that Lovelace promises more than he delivers? Or that steady state Christianity (what some might call confessional Protestantism) is superior to the emotionally laden and earnest evangelicalism that Edwards promoted and for which the gospel allies are nostalgic? Are the gospel allies guilty of the same flaws as Lovelace? Who will compel them to see their weaknesses if critics don’t do it? If they refuse to listen to meanies like Old Life, how about Mark Noll?

Fewer high fives, more sobriety.

Engaged or Cohabiting

Thanks to Dustin who challenges the Old Life (okay mmmmeeeEEEE) manner of responding to The Gospel Coalition (aka Gospel Industrial Complex and related outlets) I have the opportunity to clarify this old Calvinist’s attitude to the Calvinist wannabes.

The problem with TGC is that is neither fish nor foul. It tries to do the gospel but it also adds a lot of clutter. So if I wanted to read a theological journal, TGC isn’t the place to go because it doesn’t go deep or academic (though it tries to strike a scholarly tone). And if I want to read about culture — TGC has channels from “Current Events” to “Arts and Culture” — why would I read their take before what I normally read — New Republic, New Yorker, American Conservative, and a host of blogs.

So the issue is that TGC doesn’t really investigate the nooks and crannies of theology and worship. How can it when it is a coalition of people in different communions? TGC accentuates the positive. In my mind that is overwhelmingly dull. TGC feels more like an organization interested in boundary maintenance and creating a feeling of belonging than in thinking challenging thoughts. The inspirational bits, whether from earnest piety or the fame of celebrity pastors, don’t overcome the predictability.

When it comes to arts, culture, current events, TGC seems to want to be neo-Calvinist but the New Calvinists haven’t done the intellectual heavy lifting that neo-Calvinist clearly have. As much as I take issue with the integralist aspirations of neo-Calvinists, they are smart, they know the importance of academic rigro rigor and are generally (in their intellectual demeanor) not interested in inspiring. They are especially proficient in philosophy. I don’t happen to believe that philosophy is the area of study to supply the foundation that gives coherence to all human activity — I don’t think such coherence is possible (hide human flourishing under a bushel? Yes!). But I give the neo-Calvinists credit for doing the hard intellectual labor.

I don’t see that kind of intellectual output — no offense — at TGC. Not to mention that I’m not sure what current events or the arts or food shopping on Sundays has to do with the gospel.

So TGC fails on two counts: they dabble at paleo-Calvinism; and they dabble at neo-Calvinism. If the allies want simply to be evangelical, fine. That is actually what they are — a repristination of the New Evangelicalism of Fuller, Christianity Today, and the National Association of Evangelicals minus the Wesleyans and Pentecostals. I’ve seen this stuff before. Not much to see and certainly nothing to take seriously.

In other words, I don’t engage TGC. I live in a world where TGC also lives. In some sense, we live together. But we don’t relate and we certainly don’t commune (or roll on Shomer Shabbos).

Tim Keller with Hair (and coiffed to boot)?

Let this be a lesson to the PCA where some want women to do the same things that men already do (sometimes poorly):

Since the 1990s women have found plentiful opportunities to fill positions in the upper echelons of the national security apparatus. Although we have not yet had a female commander-in-chief, three women have served as secretary of state and two as national security adviser. Several have filled Adlai Stevenson’s old post at the United Nations. Undersecretaries, deputy undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries of like gender abound, along with a passel of female admirals and generals.

So the question needs be asked: Has the quality of national security policy improved compared to the bad old days when men exclusively called the shots? Using as criteria the promotion of stability and the avoidance of armed conflict (along with the successful prosecution of wars deemed unavoidable), the answer would, of course, have to be no. Although Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Clinton herself might entertain a different view, actually existing conditions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and other countries across the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa tell a different story.

The abysmal record of American statecraft in recent years is not remotely the fault of women; yet neither have women made a perceptibly positive difference.

Whatever Happened to Boomer Irony?

While the missus is still away, I watched a documentary over the weekend about folk music in Greenwich Village, Greenwich Village: Music that Defined a Generation. It was largely celebratory. Only scant attention to drugs, the cost of success and selling out, envy of Bob Dylan. And then there was politics. I had really hoped they would not go there but they did: folk music changed everything. The last segment included stars talking about how music changed the world. One example was how Harry Chapin rallied musicians to sing together (of all things) and so raise funds for worthy causes. No mention of how those funds were administered. No mention directly of folk music’s inspiration of either Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. And no images of Rev. King with ear buds during his marches while he listened to Don McLean or Peter, Paul, and Mary (and why did Mary come up last in the list?) and evaded barking dogs.

I’d have expected New Yorkers with New York sensibilities to be a little less self-congratulatory. But then there are the Yankees and their fans.

But amazingly, for a movie made after — underscore after — A Mighty Wind and Inside Llewyn Davis (okay, Greenwich Village and Inside LD came out the same year), how can you ever play folk music straight? Don’t you need a measure of ironic distance, a little self-awareness that you are the one touting yourself?

It struck me that folk musicians were for the left what evangelicalism is to Christianity.

And then comes this from another boomer New Yorker:

CoyrCxpXEAAcrLI

Forget irony. Whatever happened to the fall that follows pride?

If You Want to Engage the Culture, Don’t Publish with Crossway

Isn’t this the flip side of Tim Challies’ advice about reading the “right” books?

If you are an academic and you publish with a famous university press, that is wonderful for your career. If you go with a vanity press, that can sink your career. That division of presses also matters in defining whether a particular issue is part of mainstream debate, or way off on the disreputable fringe.

The problem in all this, though, is that some presses are very strong and reputable within particular fields, but that fact need not be known to university authorities. I can imagine a junior professor trying to argue to a department head or dean that a title with such a firm should be counted as equal in prestige to a leading university press, and struggling to make the case. Please understand, that would not be a fair situation, but I could see it happening.

Let me take a specific example. I am currently using a book that came out from Inter-Varsity Press some fifteen years ago. It is a really excellent piece of work, scholarly and well written, and IVP is a very strong and well known publisher from the evangelical point of view. Hence my surprise, recently, when I tried unsuccessfully to find a copy in the very large and wide-ranging library at Penn State University. They had other works by this author, but not that particular title. Like many major university libraries, Penn State has standing orders with certain mainstream publishers, and acquires pretty much everything they put out. That principle does not extend to well known evangelical presses like IVP, Eerdmans, Baker, Thomas Nelson, and so on. The more library budgets shrink, the harder they cut back on any presses they don’t see as absolutely core and necessary.

In itself, that decision is not disastrous for me, because if I want a copy of the book in question I can get it through inter-library loan. But the underlying attitude demands attention. These libraries are assuming that the presses in question are not fully respectable houses for academic work, they are partisan or denominational, and therefore they do not demand the same credibility as even minor university presses.

Maybe that explains why TKNY doesn’t publish with the company that subsidized the gospel allies.

UPDATE: a multi-author 16-page tract is not a book, and I’m guessing Ross Douthat hasn’t read it.

Ye Must Be Baptized Again

Tim Challies keeps explaining what he is not. This time, it’s paedobaptist — not.

What is curious about the post, aside from how circumstantial Challies’ theological evolution is/was, is his adoption of the Gospel Coalition policy of looking the other way:

I suppose I am credobaptist rather than paedobaptist for the very reason most paedobaptists are not credobaptists: I am following my best understanding of God’s Word. My position seems every bit as obvious to me as the other position seems to those who hold it. What an odd reality that God allows there to be disagreement on even so crucial a doctrine as baptism. What a joy, though, that we can affirm that both views are well within the bounds of orthodoxy and that we can gladly labor together for the sake of the gospel.

But if credos and paedos can all get along, why did Challies have to be re-baptized? He admits that he was baptized as an infant in an Anglican church. But then he became a Baptist:

When we moved to our new home we began attending Baptist churches. We eventually settled into one and, in order to become a member, I had to be baptized as a believer. By then my convictions had grown and deepened enough that I believed it was the right thing to do. Since that day my convictions have grown all the more.

If both views are within the bounds of orthodoxy, why don’t Baptists (Reformed or not) recognize Presbyterian or Anglican baptisms? Or why don’t Baptists like Challies object to Presbyterians like Tim Keller for baptizing unbelievers? I grew up Baptist and was baptized sometime during my misspent adolescence. So far, the PCA, CRC, and OPC have not required re-baptism of mmmmmeeeeeEEEEEE.