Earlier, I wrote my first of five posts called “Total Inconsistency” to my series “Trouble with PAGE: A Closer Examination of the Five Points of Frank Page.” The purpose of these posts is to interact with the statements made (and haven’t made) regarding the presidential nominee, Frank Page. This interaction is not a compilation of judgments on Frank Page but simply my take on a few problems which I come across in reading his response through interviews, articles, and of course, his book Trouble with TULIP: A Closer Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism.
In an Associated Baptist Press article, Frank Page made the following statement:
There is a need "to pull together various factions" within the SBC, and he mentioned young pastors, "emergent" pastors, Calvinists, extreme legalists, strong denominationalists, and even the few remaining moderates.
Anyone who has been keeping up with the SBC knows that the SBC has become increasingly factitious over recent years, so anyone who would seek to unite SBCers and take a redemptive approach to reconciling divergent camps is to be applauded. Let me make my point clear: I believe that the desire expressed by Frank Page is a good one, and one that should be the desire of all SBCers. However, I do have concerns with his statement.
First, when Page throws out a bunch of names and titles, I am concerned that he may not know who exactly he is talking about; moreover, those who read this quote by Page also will think of these people with a difference reference point. For instance, there are those who think that anyone who is a five-point Calvinist is a hyper-Calvinist. Or, there are some who lump all emerging church leaders into the same camp and don’t make the distinction between the “Emergent” organization and the broader emerging church movement. The vagueness behind these terms, when they go unqualified or undefined, make it very difficult to seek cooperation when we do not all agree upon exactly who we are cooperating with.
Second, there are those in this list that simply will not cooperate in the SBC. Recent developments show that there is a narrowing of the parameters regarding cooperation in the SBC which go beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, and there are some who, as Landmarkists, refuse to cooperate with those who think otherwise. In my opinion, it is false optimism to think that there can be a collective convergence and progressive unity in a Convention that is fractured with people who simply have no desire to cooperate.
Third, there are those in this list whom I think we should not cooperate (and others in the SBC which are not mentioned). Simply because someone is a member of the SBC or there is a church that is and SBC church does not mean that cooperation is a good prescription. An uncritical acceptance of certain groups of people simply because they wear a denomination label is dangerous for the convention. Our cooperation must have boundaries which are drawn by the orthodox framework of biblical revelation. Secondarily, while it is not common today, the SBC is a confessional convention who makes its foundation of cooperation on the Baptist Faith and Message (after the Bible that is). At this point, I think it would be profitable to insert Mohler’s argument for theological triage. In his argument, Mohler makes the distinction between first level, second level, and third level issues. When it comes to cooperation, the first level issues that are essential to Christianity cannot be compromised, and any or every person or group of people who deny an essential doctrine should consequently be outside the bounds of cooperation. Whether or not that cooperation extends down to the second or third levels is still up for debate, but I think we can all agree that the essentials are a must. Therefore, when people deny such essential doctrines as the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture, the biblical and orthodox framework which under girds the boundaries and determines the parameters, cooperation is forfeited. As the future continues to reveal growing tangential theological trends such as Open Theism and other liberal offshoots, we must be careful with whom we unite with and not foster unconditional cooperation.
Finally, while we should seek cooperation among different groups in the SBC, we should do this with the acknowledgement of real points of incompatibility. Where there are differences which should not keep up from cooperation, there ought to be a call for fairness and restrained rhetoric which respects the differing views held within orthodox biblical Christianity. We should not unite under the lowest common denominator, for while here we would have cooperation, we would not have a healthy premise under which we cooperate. In other words, cooperation should not foster theological reductionism or a certain group feeling that it needs to capitulate or apologize for holding convictions when other folks in the SBC disagree with them. I say this because this is precisely what is happening with those who are Calvinist in the SBC. We are told that what we believe is wrong, that we are killing SBC churches, and there is the idea that Calvinists should repent and apologize for holding to such beliefs. Page himself has stated that Calvinism is a nothing but “manmade” doctrines “without any biblical support.” This certainly is not statements which encourage cooperation and unity within the SBC. The fact is, not only does Calvinism have tremendous biblical warrant, but it also has historical, baptistic, and theological warrant as well.
In conclusion, if we are going to seek cooperation and “pull together various factions,” then we cannot do this uncritically or unconditionally. There are some factions which will not cooperate and some which we should not cooperate. And with those who seek to cooperate, we should not denigrate their beliefs or misrepresent them and at the same time herald a call for Christian unity. We need boundaries, and we have them in Scripture and our confessional heritage as Southern Baptists. We want cooperation, and to do this will require leadership that will have the biblical discernment, theological precision, and a Spirit-filled disposition to both extend the right hand of fellowship and contend for the biblical faith and rich heritage which Southern Baptists have been blessed to have.