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ANALYSIS: Texas committee embraces profs who doubt salvation alone in Jesus, Bible’s facts

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Few Texas Baptist churches would embrace the notion that faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation.

Or that the Bible contains errors.

Nonetheless, the newly released Baptist General Convention of Texas Seminary Study Committee Report points to scholars who hold to such liberal views as examples of “historic Baptist theology” worthy of support from Texas Baptists.

The study committee report, meanwhile, faults the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention for hiring faculty members who believe in the doctrines articulated in the SBC’s 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs and in the confessional statements of the respective schools. The BGCT report recommends that the state convention revoke funding for all non-BGCT students at the six SBC seminaries and reallocate money to three moderate theological schools in Texas because of a lack of “diversity” at the SBC seminaries.

“Faculty members with deep roots in Southern Baptist life were released,” the report states, “because they held traditional Baptist views that have recently become unacceptable to narrow theologies and philosophies of presidents and trustees.”

The report presents as examples of those holding “traditional Baptist views” Molly T. Marshall, former professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Alan Neely, former professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Wilburn Stancil, former professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Russell Dilday, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Marshall, a renowned feminist theologian, resigned from Southern’s faculty in 1994 before facing proceedings that could have led to her dismissal. Marshall had been under criticism from Southern Baptist pastors and lay leaders for years due to, among other things, her embrace of a theological position known as inclusivism, the idea that those of other world religions do not need to come to explicit faith in Christ in order to be saved.

Marshall’s book, “No Salvation Outside the Church? A Critical Inquiry,” based on her doctoral dissertation, articulated her viewpoint that there are other ways to salvation than belief in Jesus Christ. In the dissertation she criticized those who approach a Muslim or Hindu as one “already condemned before God.” Marshall also argued that those who never hear the gospel will be given another opportunity to respond to God after death.

Marshall’s inclusivist views are similar to those of missiologist Neely. The report criticizes Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for its “shift in theological diversity” with the exit of professors such as Neely, whom the report cites as being “accused of teaching Marxism in the classroom.” Conservatives indeed have been critical of Neely’s teachings, particularly his view that faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation.

In a 1990 journal article, Neely castigated Presnall Wood, then editor of the Texas Baptist Standard, for saying that those on the mission field who never come to faith in Christ are “lost” and in danger of hell. Neely said the idea that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation is “not my theology” because it “reflects arrogance, ignorance, and superficiality.” The idea that unbelievers need to hear of Christ or they will die and go to hell, Neely claimed, is not a “sound and wholesome reason” for responding to the Great Commission.

The departure of faculty members like Neely, the BGCT report says, “has fostered a one-sided view of the Bible that many churches of the BGCT would find unfavorable.”

All six seminary presidents, along with every other SBC agency head, have made clear that such “diversity” is not only unbiblical but would destroy the Baptist commitment to global evangelism.

Molly Marshall’s feminist theology has also led her to advocate references to God as “she.” Recently, she has also criticized conservative Southern Baptist views on sexuality. In “A Baptist’s Theology,” published last year by Smyth & Helwys, Marshall criticized “less nuanced approaches replete with proof texts and adamant denunciations” on issues of sexuality.

“Our understanding of sexual orientation, male/female equality, marriage, contraception, childlessness, and celibacy have moved far beyond the biological and philosophical perceptions of early Christianity,” she argued.

“Baptists have allowed the Puritan impress to linger in this area,” she continued. While “Hester Prynne of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter ‘feared no one but God,'” she continued, “we too often fear what others might think to forge clearer, more informed understanding in the realm of human sexuality.”

Wilburn Stancil, also mentioned in the report as a victim of “abuse” by conservative seminary administrators, was dismissed from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary because he believed the Bible contains errors in the areas of science and history. He reportedly also had taught that water baptism might precede Spirit baptism.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Charles Kelley was criticized in the report for not renewing the contract of adjunct professor Philip Wise. Wise, an Alabama pastor and activist in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has also expressed very public disagreement with the belief that the Bible is totally true. In a 1988 article in the Theological Educator, Wise asserted that the Bible does in fact contain errors and contradictions.

“The simple view that the Bible has no contradictions is simply not confirmed by close reading of the Bible,” he argued.

The report gives a clean bill of health to the theological commitments of the faculty and administration at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and the Hispanic Baptist Theological School in San Antonio.

“These three BGCT-supported schools have not departed from the traditional Baptist faith that was held by most Southern Baptists until the so-called ‘Conservative Resurgence,'” the report states.

This comes on the heels of a report in the Baylor University student newspaper, the Lariat, that some students of Truett Seminary theology professor Roger Olson are embracing “open theism,” the idea that God does not know the future.

Olson, who calls himself “open to open theism,” calls the new view more biblical than the traditional orthodox view of God as all-knowing, all-powerful and unchanging, the doctrine upheld in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

Last year Olson endorsed open theist Gregory Boyd’s book, “God of the Possible,” noting that “inquiring Christian minds” would love the book while “closed minds” would despise it. In the book Boyd argued that God not only changes his mind and is ignorant of the future, but he sometimes makes mistakes and gives inadvertently bad advice to his children. SBC conservatives such as Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. roundly criticized the book. Olson said he found the book’s arguments “difficult to resist.”

When the Texas theological education study committee visited Southern’s campus in Louisville, Ky., Mohler told the SBC Executive Committee Sept. 18, the delegation “forfeited and declined the opportunity to actually meet with the faculty and meet with students.”

Mohler issued an invitation to “any Southern Baptist to come and visit our campus, sit in our chapel services, sit in the classroom, hear what is taught, meet our students, feel their passion, see the evangelism on their hearts, see the Great Commission in their eyes, see the love for the Scripture as they hold it in their hands, see their passion to serve the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    About the Author

  • Russell D. Moore