Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bro. Sword of Vengeance mealy-mouths around a theological dispute

I mentioned last week a post by Baptist minister and blogger Wade "Sword of Vengeance" Burleson. (Update 10/29/2012: The Rev. Burleson has changed the name and graphics on his blog to Istoria Ministries Blog; he seems to have kept many of the posts from his previous blog but not the one quoted here. As of this update, the post is cached here.)

I find the "manifest content" of these conservative evangelical theological disputes, including the "New Calvinist" controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) (now aka Great Commission Baptist Convention) to be pretty puerile. You've got bitter polemics over what today seem like hair-splitting nuances over exactly how free will and determinism fit together, arguments phrased in sterile abstractions with no real theological or historical context. I mean, when supporters and critics of the doctrines of Faustus Socinus (1539–1604) fought over his own twist on the free will/determinism controversies that were hot topics in European Protestantism during its first century, everyone involved knew what they were talking about and the context in which they were talking about it and in a way that Americans in the 21st just don't. Roger Olson mentions in the linked post accusations of "Socinianism", a reference to non-Trinitarian doctrines associated with Faustus Socinus, Italian name Fausto Sozzini.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, SBC ecclesiastical conventions apparently require a not inconsiderable amount of mealy-mouthing. In Sometimes I Write Things I Later Regret: An Example 07/08/2012, Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance seems to be generously acknowledging a correction on an historical point:

Every now and then I write something that I later regret. Last July 3, 2012 I sat at the breakfast table and wrote a post entitled Early London Baptists and the SBC: A Comparison. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the post, and stand by the content, but it was the last paragraph where I erred. I wrote: "There's room in the SBC for Baptists who flirt with pelagianism and flout humanism. However, let it not be said they are either historic or traditional in their soteriological and theological views. They are neither." You may ask, 'What's wrong with it?' The best answer to your question is given by Dr. Roger Olson, professor of theology at Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He called me out in an article he posted on his own blog. I would encourage you to read Dr. Olson's article and follow his logic. He is correct, and he is absolutely right in calling me out. Below is my response. I have eaten my share of humble pie in the past, and I have rightfully received a big dose tonight. Hopefully I can go on a diet soon! :)
Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance doesn't always bother to preference the polite puffery to his responses to criticism.

But Roger Olson's post, Why can't Southern Baptists just get along? 07/08/2012, actually takes Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance to task for, well, mealy-mouthing by defending New Calvinism in a fundamentalist style while pretending not to do so.

Olson points to fundamentalism, not so much the theoretical doctrines but the polemical, bullying style that is very common in Protestant fundamentalism, as what he sees as the real problem in this situation:

But my main point here is to ask why Southern Baptists can't get along? I’m not surprised, however, that they, the conservatives who took control of the SBC often using scare tactics and venomous, even unchristian, attacks on fellow Southern Baptists are now turning on each other. Is there something in SBC DNA that makes this inevitable? No, I don't think so. Over the years there have been long periods of relative peace in spite of diversity (e.g., between Calvinists and non-Calvinists) within the SBC. It's not SBC DNA that’s the problem, it's fundamentalism.

Here I speak not of fundamentalism in the early, ordinary, garden-variety sense of Protestant orthodoxy–belief in the five or six or seven "fundamentals of the faith." Here, by "fundamentalism," I speak of the religious ethos that entered into evangelical Protestant Christianity with the likes of William Bell Riley and J. Frank Norris – the northern and southern partners of aggressive, separatistic fundamentalism that added premillennialism to the list of fundamentals of Christian faith and questioned the very salvation of people who didn't agree with them on that and much else that has always been secondary doctrine at most. Not that all fundamentalists did or do that particular thing. Some have been and are amillennialists. The one doctrine is not the point. The point is the felt need, the compulsion, to use the rhetoric of exclusion (often couched in some "nice talk") to marginalize people who disagree with you about secondary and tertiary matters of faith–often misrepresenting their beliefs to cause people to fear them. ...

No, my friends, the problem is not SBC DNA. The problem is fundamentalism – as a spirit of division, of exclusion, of theological narrowness (not as an emphasis on generous orthodox).
Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance does respond to Olsen in more detail in the body of the post he opens with a cutesy-nice-guy paragraph about eating humble pie. But, in the mealy-mouth tradition, he concedes that a conclusion he drew was in bad spirit, but then goes on to defend the substance of the claims behind it. Olson's post is focused on challenging Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance's highly selective reading of a formative period in English Baptist history, and he doesn't deal with the substance of that issue.

Both Olson and Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance put in comments about how they "repent" of this or that. It would drive me nuts to try to frame arguments about theology or anything else that way. In a David Brooksian spirit, Olson demands, "Get civil." Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance writes, "Thanks for being willing to listen to the Spirit in calling me out." The tell there is "calling me out," a pretentious phrase suggesting that the sterile polemics Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance offers up is like a fist fight or a showdown at the OK Corral.

There is at least an echo of an historical controversy in this that interests me. Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance really, really wants to disassociate the SBC tradition from that of the Anabaptists. I wrote about them in The first Baptist theocracy 03/01/2010, which attracted a comment, "Baptist's [sic] have nothing to do with Anabaptists," nervous over the same point Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance is.

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