I just finished, for the second time, a short book that I bought at a flea market about ten years ago by Walter B. Shurden. The title of the book is “Not a Silent People – controversies that have shaped Southern Baptists.” Published in 1972, the author covers six major controversies that the Convention had endured up to that point. My interest of course was to read what he had to say about the “Whitsitt Controversy” and the “Landmark Controversy.” Which of course this particular author spoke well of professor Whitsitt, and not so well about the Landmarkers.
I do find it ironic, that the farther away from the Landmark side of theology the convention got, the closer they came to losing themselves completely to Liberalism. This book was written 50 years after the Landmarkers left the Convention, and a decade before Pressler, Rogers, Vines, and Patterson, had to fight hard to keep the Southern Baptist Convention from the liberal point of no return. In other words the book was written during the glory days of bad theology within the SBC. (even though they may be headed there again.)
Furthermore, I find it even more ironic that the same group is now struggling to find it’s identity in considering changing it’s name. They may be taking up the issue because of “regional” concerns; but the fact also remains that their tent has become so big, they have no idea who is living under their roof anymore.
Now let me say this. I have many good friends within the SBC who are rock solid Baptists, and some are Landmark Baptists. Many of my favorite preachers are Southern Baptist. My grandfather is a Southern Baptist Deacon. My ordination took place under the authority of a BMA church, inside an ABA church, with SBC pastors and deacons serving on the presbytery. The problem is as already stated, they let their theological tent get too big and now bad theology as attached itself to the good name Baptist, and has nearly hijacked the entire identity.
All of that being said, one of the “cracks in the dam” that seems to be coming into view for me, really shows it’s ugly head in this book, “Not a Silent People.” Much of the dissent toward those who held firm to the historic Baptist theology relied upon “modern thinking” rather than scriptural scrutiny.
One example of this is in the authors agreement with Whitsitt pertaining to the issue of church history, Shurden writes;
“Southern Baptists are learning gradually that successionism is neither historically demonstrable nor theologically necessary . . .”
It is not my point, or qualification to speak to whether it is historically demonstrable or not, because it does not have to be. Whether one can find it in history is completely irrelevant. The scriptures have declared in Ephesians 3:21, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages world without end.” That being said to believe the Bible, (theologically necessary) one must believe that the Church of the Lord Jesus has existed throughout every age since its inception.
My point is simple; much of what goes on in debate today seems to rest more on human perspective and point of view, rather than letting the scriptures tell us what to think, and how to think. I often hear, “God gave us a mind and expects us to use it.” Yes He did and He does. The glory of the it all though, is that even though He gave us a mind to think with, He does not “turn us loose” with it. The mind comes with Biblical instructions. The Bible tells us what to think, and how to think, and to think any other way is merely a product of an evil imagination. That’s exactly what discipleship is, it is learning to think the way that Christ Jesus wants us to think. The entire work of the Great Commission is to train people in what to think and how to believe.
“Let this mind be in you . . .”
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .”
“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind . . .”
Isaiah 28:9-10 – “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:”
. . . just to scratch the scratches on the surface.
One other example of a humanistic view of the scripture is the author’s “bird’s eye commentary” of a serious conflict as though it was a ball game being played between two equal sides. He writes:
“Spurgeon wanted orthodoxy, even if it meant restriction of some freedom of thought. Clifford wanted liberty, even if it meant the presence of what some believed to be unorthodox teaching.”
The author went on to declare ultimate victory for Clifford. This is from the author that stated with seeming approval; “Modernism wanted to reformulate traditional theological concepts and make them more amenable to the modern scientific mind.” Furthermore he also explained that the Modernist’s want the “right to reinterpret scripture.” These are often the same people who cry out under the banner of the “priesthood of the believer” which in many cases is nothing more than someone using Biblical terms as a license for “My right to divide the word of maybe.”
No wonder the Southern Baptists are having an identity crisis. Of the previously mentioned debate (Spurgeon/Clifford); they were not two equal sides in credible debate; one side was painfully wrong, and the other was not.
The Bible itself tells us what to think about the Bible itself. We have no basis, or power, or freedom, to determine how we are going to approach the Word of God. It approaches us. We do not have “freedom of thought” in the sense that the Modernists cry out for. We have no power to formulate truth, or determine how we want to read the Bible. The Bible can only be either rightly divided or wrongly divided; there is no other way. Liberty only exists in settled orthodoxy. When is a train more free; on the tracks or out in a field. No man has the right to interpret the scripture as he wants to. Every man has the right to be interpreted by the scripture. It is an anti-biblical theology that believes the truth of the scriptures are free to be reinterpreted by every generation according to their own new culture.
The Biblical doctrine of the truth does not change with times or cultures. We do not tell the Bible what to say, it tells us what to think. Whatever may be said of Conservative Baptists, and Landmark Believers, the one thing that will echo through the halls of true Baptist history is the Biblical view of Biblical thinking. We may not always come to the same conclusions, but we generally have the same processes, which are to let the scripture do the thinking, teaching, and talking for us.
The Southern Baptist Convention may be struggling with the issue of their identity and their name. For those within the Southern Baptists who are truly Baptist, and those of us who hold to orthodox Biblical Baptist teaching, our identity and our name are not changes we have to worry about making.